Horace Atoll

There is a place south of Saj-graf where eight stones rise just slightly above the knee-high grass.  The stones are thought to be remains of a meteor as they are different from the surrounding areas.  The place is called the Horace Atoll by the merchants that travel by.  They are used as a landmark, but never as a stop as many fear the circle they form haunted.  Several sightings of ethereal fire or other aberrations have been reported at all hours of the day, so it is hard to find one willing to linger in such a place.

It is here that Cerridwen waits for word on her next target.  She can for quite the distance that no one is around or approaching across the plains, and yet she hides herself close to the stones.  She lifts her head just above the tall grass like a predator in the grasslands with a keen eye hunting for a trace movement.  It has already been three hours of nothing and yet she waits hidden, for the word of her employer.

She has traced onto scrolls the writings and images that are on the sides of the stone.  This is not for her employer but so that she may understand what the place is.  She recognized two of the multiple languages etched into their sides, both no longer spoken here.  What words she does grasp mention a sealed portal due east of the circle’s center.  It is while looking in that direction she notes a raven in the sky.

She watches as a raven floats down from the sky.  It is following the unseen currents, gently being lifted up every so often before continuing its descent.  It spots Cerridwen and speeds toward her location, till it lands on the far side of her stone shield.  She reaches over with a small handful of meat scraps, gaining the birds trust.  While it enjoys the easy meal, she removes a tiny vial from the raven’s leg.

Cerridwen smiles at her new instructions.  She has always wanted to be part of the chaos in the world and she now has that opportunity.  Closing her eyes she focuses for a bit before sinking into the shadows that lurk near the stone.

It will be outside of Saj-graf on the way to Port Gertrude she will be seen again, if only for a moment.  Even then she will go unnoticed at the time as they will all be running in fear a Scoria Sprite.  These sprites are mischievous but have no real substance, unable to lift more than a thimble.  The folk of Saj-graf know not the difference from it and the normal sprite, which can do far worse.

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The Sound

There was a sound outside.  I knew not what it was.  I was quite content with what I had and felt no need to investigate.  So there I sat with indifference to that which had now made its self present.  Life went on and this new sound slowly piqued my curiosity because of its unyielding nature.  It was neither unpleasant nor annoying but the mere fact that it continued required some sort of investigation.

Out I went to explore that which I had no idea was or, prior to a short while before, had even cared about.  The sound was something that seemed to call out for me to investigate, yet I think that had I not I would have been comfortable with its seemingly ever-presence.  There is no doubt that it felt like it should continue to be and therefore questioned myself as to how sure I was that it nay did exist prior to its detection.

Try as I might I could not recall any such similar noise occurring prior to a short bit back.  The sound at this point was starting to fade into the tapestry that makes up everyday life.  Indeed I was losing track of its origin because of the harmony it maintained.  Like the sound of a car running or music in the background it had been a short while and yet already the noise was incorporated into my daily existence.

As time went on I could tell that the noise sometimes was not there and when it was not I missed it as though it was a favorite item.  Indeed it had become as natural as the desire to have a glass of water when thirsty or to eat when hungry.  The source of it though unknown, the sound never seemed gone long and as a result I became accustomed to its short absences.  Time progressed and I came to fall into a coexistence with its habits.  Though originally sad by its absence, the brief time without the noise made me enjoy its presence more so.

It was then I realized the sound never did disappear entirely and that it more so just faded out and became less dominant to the rest of the world.  It was as if it had the modesty to realize that the rest of the world may have as much importance as the sound itself and then when it may be completely gone it would renew its endeavor to be recognized if even only for a moment.

This existence went on for awhile and then as if something in the universe had shifted slightly I knew the sound would soon be gone.  Perhaps it was just a feeling or maybe I had finally realized the true nature of the sound.  Maybe the sound itself had indicated the course it was to soon follow and passed this information along with its existence.  Regardless, something that I had gone most my life without and had but a short encounter with was about to leave.  I didn’t want it to, I had grown accustom to its influence on the melody of daily life.  The noise was but a blip on the larger scale of life gone by and life to come.  However sometimes something fleeting can have a larger impact than that which is around us longer.

I felt like I had wasted all the time I should have spent listening to this sound.  Rather than memorizing it I had taken for granted, I had let its presence be squandered.  I felt like such a fool for not having done anything more than listen to it.  But then I reflected.  I had done what I could do to pursue it, I had seen all that there was for me to see.  The reality was I had taken as much advantage of the situation as I could.  I had incorporated the sound into everything it fit into.  I had appreciated it in every way possible.  The truth was I had done everything but waste it.

Then it was gone.  It was all over and I felt left with nothing despite the fact of what I had.  I knew the sound finally and its origin.  I knew what it had done and how it had done so.  I had enjoyed it and let it be.  I missed it, I mourned it, I searched for it, I chased it, and then I let it go.  It was not mine, but someone else’s now to follow.  I was left quiet, back to what had been.

Lord of the Night

In one of the oldest quarters in which the nobles keep their homes, lays a grey stone house.  The windows are outlined in black obsidian and the chimneys are covered in soot of the same darkness.  The walls are covered in rose filled vines, which in the summer can overwhelm the senses.  The upper windows are all of stained-glass, and, if one were inclined to take the time to notice, tell a story.  It is the story of the virtues of the Arubless, God of Wisdom.  Yet most of Saj-graf’s current residents would not recognize the depictions as this building predates their families settling in the city.

In this noble house resides Lord Gabriel.  Gabriel’s life often involves waking as the twilight fades and the moon rises.  An albino, his skin does not fare well most days in the Saj-graf sun. Many in the town fear being summoned to his estate in the evening as the candles and lamps cause an eerie glow from the upper floor.  Once inside most respectable people are put at ease as they soon see a well-kept house with all in order.   Other lords do not think twice about calling on Gabriel in the evening as his hospitality and manners are usually better than their own.

There are others that tell of seeing people enter and never leaving.  These are the same that claim there are strange noises that come from the lower levels, noises that are not human. There is also talk about how Lord Gabriel is above the law, despite complaints from his neighbors he has never been charged with any crime.  Other stories go that the town guard is afraid to enter the estate in fear of what they may uncover.

This night Lord Gabriel can be seen on one of the balconies.  He is wearing a red lined black cape, to fight off the night chill.  Otherwise he is dressed like any other lord in a fine shirt and pants.   He sits with a pedestal next to him where his wine sits as he looks up at the meteors through one of the few telescopes in town.  As the night progresses and the streets thin of passersby he does another look around before turning his gaze down from the sky to the rooftops of the merchant district.

Across the city he watches as a black clad figure works its magic on opening a window and scampering inside a second story of what most likely is a warehouse.  He then changes his gaze over to the Jit tower and the changing of the guard, and ponders how much they would give for a spyglass to look out over the city.  He chuckles to himself knowing too well it will never happen.  He then shifts hi gaze to the Tower of Din.  There he sees her, Captain Katranna.

She was who he really wished would visit.   He had thought of many ways to introduce himself to her, but fate would never let their paths cross.  Tomorrow he would again try to see her by leaving his manor in the morning and visiting the Tower.  He had tried once before, but her duties had taken her out of the path of meeting.  Then again, it was not like they had never met.  She had come to his aid one evening when he had gone to the Durst Market and was mugged.  He could recall it like it was yesterday, and she had made an impression on him.  Yet he doubted she had thought of him any more than any other she has aided.

He finished gazing at her and again changed direction to the mountains in the east.  It was what he really trying to investigate.  There were rumors a wyvern had taken up residence in the mountains and the mayor was offering a bounty for proof one way or the other.  It may have been a condor or giant hawk that people saw, but if it was not then an expedition would need to be mounted to slay it.   Looking through the valleys he saw something just as bad, it was a fire with a green flame and white smoke.  He took a moment to focus in on the location and began to make some notations.  Then a smile cracked his lips, this may be the excuse he needed to talk to the captain.

Durst Market

The Durst Market was so named for the land that had been donated by Lord Durst in the city so that the merchants may mingle with all regardless of class.  Located in the heart of Saj-Graf it is accessible through many routs.  The place is packed closely with vendors of all sorts of wares and often items one may never have known they needed.  There are stalls that sell over a hundred types of knives and yet one is strictly for the butcher while another caters toward a fighter.  Only the merchants could explain why each was different.

Those that are lucky through wealth or inheritance own permanent buildings on the edge of the market.  A number of these buildings now serve as taverns and bakeries looking to feed off the idle money not in the hands of the merchants nearby.  It is not by reservation that one retrieves their space in the market itself.  Many a merchant come early in the morning in hopes of claiming a better spot, while others may spend the night if there location suits their fancy.  A few even sell through the night in hopes of finding a client regardless the moral compass.

It is during the third night of the meteor shower that Kadin made his way here.  Word had reached him that a seer from the south by the name of Sudeman.  Sudeman was a name Kadin knew from his youth, his father had always sought him out for guidance on important matters as he was known for having the utmost discretion.      Lately Kaisu had been hanging around a woman named Maeve and Kadin was uncertain of the effect she was having.

Much to his delight Kadin found him at one of the taverns, the Locked Chancery.  It was a tavern for those clever and sober enough to find the way in through a window on the second floor and then navigate a series of tight hallways down to the basement.  The bar was created by an entrepreneurial gentleman that started by adding a basement to someone else’s building as through a legal loophole the building’s owner did not own the land underneath.  And so the first iteration of the tavern existed, till the building owner built over the entrance.

After a case with the local law it was deemed the building could stay.  So the bar owner added on to the building above, while its owner was out of town, a false façade with an extra window and a ladder down to the tavern.  And so things like this continued till the modern iteration.  Naturally by now, sixty years since its building, the current owner has built a tunnel out to make deliveries easier.  Yet the novelty of the entrance attracts patrons and the annoyance of getting in keeps out the guard most days.

Chapter 14

The following two days Oren spent most of his time practicing how to avoid rocks and other things flying at him. The first day he ended up with lots of nicks and bruises, the second he still was getting hit, but less so.  It was easy to draw spirits close, the harder part was convincing the spirits to shield him. A small localized shield was easier than a large one as it equated to hiding behind the spirit.  Larger shields required him convincing the spirit to bend and contort in a manner to protect.  In addition to finding a spirit able to help him, he needed it to stay the proper distance away so he we would not come in contact with it.  If a projectile tore through his shield and hit him, he would start to feel as if the spirit had glanced off him as well.  The end result was him losing focus and control to the emotions it would set off.

Oren was certain the ring was assisting in all this.  When he focused using it the spirits would acquiesce to his commands.  The downside he noticed was the more he used the ring the less the spirits were near him.  It was as if they started to cower from it.  So as a result he refrained from using it when he could.  When he talked it over with Rowenn, she suggested he use it only for greater feats or if it was a dire need for them to respond.

Martell was gone during this time. It was in the evening, when practice was done, that Oren started to long for her company again.  He was distracted during the day, but as time passed he wanted her to see the progress he had made.

He had sent the message to his parents on the investigation into Ziegman’s death.  It would be a week before he would receive back a message from his father saying that he should take advantage of being able to hone his skills.  His father further instructed that once he felt his skills strong enough, he should go to Erridda and see what they could find.  As for his dream, it was correct his house had been burglarized, but everyone was ok.  There was nothing missing but the mess was taking a bit to clean up and repair.

By the end of the week, Eston was curious as to where Oren was going daily.  He also was asking on if and when Martell would be back.  Oren was unable to answer either question.  Instead, he said that he was taking in the area as possible ideas for additional trade may be available.  He mentioned that there was a winery here and they might be able to export the wine.  It was all mere speculation, but it was enough for Eston to back off.

The following week, Rowenn continued training with Oren learning to protect himself with spirits.  Midway through the week they started trying to travel using them.  This was a far more complex concept for Oren.  The idea was for the spirits to first envelope him and then carry him the desired distance.  The problems stemmed from the spirit needing to make physical contact and Oren still maintaining control.  This put into perspective for Oren how easy creating a shield actually was.  The training alternated between the two techniques, as the transportation was taxing and often left him spending half the day recovering from the influence of some of the spirits.

Oren spent one afternoon cleaning the main hall as one of the spirits had decided the place was too dirty.  Rowenn was amused and pleased with the results, but it was a day of training lost.  A second encounter had led to Oren practicing combat with his staff as the spirit had been itching for a fight, but there was no threat down in the subterranean halls.  For that exercise, Rowenn was content with nothing being broken.

Martell returned at the end of the week.  She had brought back a suit of armor in much need of maintenance.  When Oren asked why she had not bought something in better shape, she responded that they were all inferior.  This one, when she finished cleaning it up, would be better.  He held a spaulder in his hand looking at the craftsmanship.  It looked no different from any other armor plate he had seen before.  He tossed it back to Martell and that is when it hit him that the metal felt lighter than it should.  Not thinner or less sturdy, but the actual weight felt off when it was in motion.

During the third week in training with Rowenn, Oren finally had to take a break to attend to matters at the trade house. He went with Eston to the winery to try and barter a deal for wine.  The idea being this was a trial to see if they could sell it up in Aleto.  The owner was more than thrilled with the idea of expanding.  After some haggling over price, Oren left Eston to take care of the logistics.  The hope was to have the wine ready to move by the time the next caravan came through.

After the third week, Oren was able to travel about three feet using the spirits.  This was not something that would progress as quickly as the shielding technique.  He would need more practice and a lot more patience to travel a distance much further.  The ring’s ability to help control the spirits was near useless in the transportation. It seemed to agitate them more than anything; as a result shortening his travels.

The armor Martell brought back was cleaning up nicely.  She said she picked it up from a merchant that deals in rarities and antiques.  She had seen the armor several years back and was not surprised he still had it.  Most people would look at it and think nothing more of it.  Years of dirt and tarnish had hidden the art and craftsmanship the blacksmith had put in to it.  Now, as it came together one could see the shine of the metal and the scroll work design in it.  The breastplate had a giant oak tree on it; the shoulders had a lion etched on the left and an eagle etched on the right.

Both Martell and Oren had a growing concern caused by a lack of contact by agents of Casapan or Dawsil.  No one had seemed to notice the absence of Rab either.  Eston said it was common that help came and went so he was not surprised by one person just up and quitting with no notice.

It was on the fourth week, returning from a day of training, that Oren received an invitation from Lord Hirameki of the Tethinger order.  Martell was not familiar with this person, and unable to shed any light on if this was someone that may be able to help them. He accepted the invitation with note that Martell would be joining him as a personal guard.

Oren arrived in as formal attire would be expected from a merchant.  Martell made a fancier show, wearing the breastplate from her restored armor under the Velgrey Tabard and one of her swords at her waist; she had chosen the rest of her outfit to highlight the white and blue in the Velgrey Crest.  They were greeted at the entrance by a page.  He was caught off guard by Martell’s presence, and then relaxed seeing Oren.  He led them into the order’s hall.

There were no servants; rather the initiates would work through ranks of menial tasks till they reached a point at which their training for knighthood would start.  This period was dependent on skill and initiative taken by the initiate. Also factored in was age, as no one under ten would be given a mentor directly.  The mentor chose who he or she would train so it was in the initiate’s best interest to gain favor with one of the knight’s early on.

They joined Lord Hirameki in a dining room.  According to Martell, there were numerous rooms like this so that business could be handled in more intimate settings than a grand hall.  Hirameki was seated, flanked by two other knights, Vaughn and Siira, as well as his student Clovis.

“Thank you for accepting our request,” Oren opened with. He was not certain the reception he would get. He was thinking of a tactful way to approach to the topic. “To be clear on my motives, I am here for matters other than trade.”

“I had assumed as such with the Velgrey name,” replied Hirameki. “Though if you are here for an okay on Martell being under your employment, that is of no concern to us.  She left the order of her own accord.  There is no hostility needed on that front.”  Oren could tell he was being sized up.  Hirameki was trying to lead the conversation to topics where he was prepared to address.

“Thank you, sir,” replied Oren. “No, our business is in regards to old lingering issues.  Do the names Dawsil or Casapan mean anything to you or your peers?”

“I recall we had some dealings in the past suppressing a Dawsil.  But he was killed and the matter was considered settled.” Siira spoke up.  She looked to be the elder of the three knights present.  “If I know your lineage properly, it was a grandfather of yours that helped us in the matter.”

“That is right,” Vaughn chimed in. “Big campaign with King Hannon, some of the lords and even an enchanter got in on the action. I think Casapan was his master or something like that, and was proven to not exist.  Something about them having found the name in records somewhere and then pretending he was still around.”

The group discussed past events for a while as food was served.  The meal was nothing fancy or elaborate but was a pleasant change from daily fare. The servers weaved in and out among the dinners as conversation continued.

“I don’t know the details of the past, but there is potential that they or their agents are not dead.” Oren finally cut in. “I was assaulted earlier in my visit to the city. I am not certain for the exact reason.  Lady Martell was able to rescue me from the incident.  However, I found this note with one of the assailants.”  He handed over the note from Commander Erridda. The three knights each took a look at the note.

“That is quite disturbing,” spoke Hirameki after reading, “if there is someone that has infiltrated the city then we need to have the town guard alerted and they can flush them out.”

“Agreed,” Said Siira, “But how do we know who they are or who this Erridda is?  Have you a description or location they operate from?”

“Indeed, that is a good question.  I do not think we could help if you do not.  Though stories of Casapan and Dawsil relate to a harsh fight, the two of them would be quite elderly now…if they were still alive.”  Vaughn opined.

“That is all possible,” Martell spoke up, “Except that Casapan was an Enchanter.  Many of them have ways to prolong their life.  This would not be the first time one lived over a hundred years and still was young.”

“Again, we would need some sort of proof to devote resources.” spoke Hirameki, “By all means, we will keep an eye out for anything that would threaten Avo.  However, our services to the kingdom are already stretched thin with rumors of Channelers being able to overpower some of our most seasoned Knights.  Martell you know of this and it is why we need new tactics.  But to launch a campaign through the Vales to hunt out rumor is not possible.  For all we know someone else has located these names and is reusing them to spark unnecessary fears.”

Oren took in what they were saying and the subtext was clear to him.  Martell was about to speak when she instead reached down a hand and grabbed one of the initiates that had been working as a server. “Oren, check your belongings.  I think we have a thief in our midst.” She held on to the girl while Oren checked his belongings.  He was missing his purse but nothing further.

“Hand it over,” commanded Martell.  The girl returned it to Oren. “Lord Hirameki, we must be going.  I will leave this urchin to you.  If things have not changed too much, she will be punished rightfully by you.  No need to bring the city in to these matters.”  She paused a moment before adding, “However, if things have really gone the way I fear, do not praise her too much.  She was caught.” The two got up and made their way to leave.

“Martell,” Lady Siira spoke up, “Obedience and faithfulness are still main tenants of Tethinger. Do not presume you know what has and has not changed.  You abandoned your appointment.”

“Lady Siira, the order has stopped the initiates from seeking the wisdom of Varelle. That would give me pause to anything that now transpires in these walls.”  With those words, the building gave a slight shake.  “Obedience and faithfulness are just as common in thieves as they are in nobility.”

“Silence,” commanded Hirameki. “Let us not continue this any further. Oren you and your guest must be on your way.”

“As you wish,” Oren calmly spoke.

The two made continued from the dining hall to the entrance.  For the first time of the visit, Oren realized what was missing inside this building.  There were no spirits anywhere, not in the corners or shadows.  Even the empty rooms they had passed while headed here had not even the faintest sign.  It left him to think about how they had done that.

It would be later that Martell would inform Oren that Varelle was the name the Tethinger Order referred to Rowenn’s goddess as.  Varelle’s name was not to be spoken within the halls as the building had been a former temple to Latl, the god who was the contrast of Varelle.  The story was the Tethinger Order had taken over the Latl temple for Varelle, but in order to forge peace in the halls, they were sworn never to mention her name there.

Outside the Tethinger halls it was still a while before they spoke again.  Martell had clearly been shaken by the confrontation by Siira. She would have never called her departure abandonment.

“The problem is I raised issue to my mentor and my fellow knights.  When outside of the hall, each said I was right in my concerns. My mentor, I understood him staying.  It was his life and the order would take care of him till his death.  In the end, I am the only one that left.  The rest are still there.  I bet at least one of them used me as a step in promotion.  They were never shocked by my stepping down and each question I asked before I walked away they had an answer for.  Not good reasons, but answers.”

“So two of us against whatever is lurking out there in the strongholds? I like those odds. Though I will be relying heavily on you.” teased Oren. “In another week, Rowenn will have taught me all she can.  My mother thinks the threat is still real and that they will approach again in my sleep.  She also has been going through the collection of books and found nothing they should be after this badly.  No mention of anything that would grant power or insight that could not be gotten elsewhere.”

“You are funding this expedition Oren.”  Martell was perking up a little. “Where do you want to lead me to this time?  Erridda? Back to your place in Aleto? ”

“Back to my place in Aleto ultimately.  But I think we need to check out Erridda first if we want some peace. We will pass near Abbysta which is near the original Erridda.  We should look into there before going further into the woods.  We still do not know if the letter is a reference to the holds and if it is which one.”  It was then that Oren realized he had left the note with the Tethinger Knights.

Port Gertrude

At the port of Gertrude, just north of Saj-graf, sits the Desert Jackal, a small former corvette.  Originally built by the merchant Kicette, it is entirely made of redwood from the Javelin trees of the Sand Flow Desert.  The hard wood was treated and stained resulting in shade of brown that reminded Kicette of the jackals he saw while his men harvested the trees.  For a short while it was pressed into service by Saj-graf when the corsairs came to raid the lands where to its credit it served with no loss of crew.

Since then it has exchanged owners a few times till now employed by its current captain, Heranado.  Hernando is a middle aged man standing at about six feet and a shock of grey hair in the middle of the otherwise brown hair.  His beige shirt and black pants he currently is wearing don’t befit the title of captain but are far more appropriate for the amount of work he does on his own ship.

Desert Jackal sits looking as proud as ever, having pulled into port this morning.  The ship is now being offloaded by the longshoremen that have done this task numerous times before.  This evening its more valuable load of cargo will be unloaded from its hidden hold, a set of crates from the Fareson, for a lady Kaisu.  Hernando saw no issue with the contents as he inspects everything he is going to haul whether it is black or grey market materials.  To him it was a variety of plant samples and metals.  His best guess is she is a healer with a connection to goods.  If she has a proprietary formula that works, he understood the need for secrecy from normal suppliers.

Hernando had made such shipments for the nice lady Lyph and once for a priest of the Neffian order.  In both cases he had suspicions of them, but the reputation he could get from his contacts was they were both on the up and up.  Kaisu had come up as a fine member of the immigrants from the south, respectable and did provide minor healing and guidance to her community.  Hernando had then gone a step further and taken time on the voyage to confirm that none to the contents fell into the thirteen items that were a hangable offence by the laws of port Gertrude.

He had one other package on board for Ertle, this was one he could not open as it was a lock box from a lord in Iseb.  It included fancy papers that authorized free movement of the cargo.  This was not contraband or even grey market material.  This was just that important that he was to be paid in gold by Ertle himself when the box entered his hands.

Hernando, watched while the men unloaded the ship with their normal efficiency and thought to himself, the sooner this was done, the sooner he could get back to his cabin and close the books on another outing.   The port bursar would log his profits from this trip and if his calculations were right he could take the next three months off without the slightest dent to his wellbeing.

It is while standing admiring his ship, a woman completely out of place on the docks walks up to Hernando.  She is almost his height, wearing boots more suited for riding than sailing.  Her brown cape shifted in the winds contrasting with her well fitted white shirt and brown pants. “Captain, I am in need of a small box you have.  What do the pirates say?  Hand over your valuables and you may live to tell about it?”

Chapter 13

“Martell, back so soon?  I thought Oren and you had lots of trade and commerce to tend to,” Rowenn teased.

“What do you know about Erridda?”  Martell spoke; she was not in the mood for pleasantries from what Oren could see.

“Erridda…Erridda…” Rowenn closed her eyes, thinking deeply. “It is one of the old strongholds from the Drémore.  It is the furthest south of the holds if my memory is right.  Why do you ask?”

Martell paused, weighing the need and desire to explain the real reason she was in Avo again.  “Rowenn, we are here for more than just trading.”

Martell explained the reason for their visit.  Rowenn took in the new information. It was a large amount to be given from a sister she had not seen in over a year.  “I will need to go consult the temple records to be certain about the location of Erridda.  However I do not want you to be out in the open here.”  She went over to the temple entrance and raised her hand and started to chant.  A stone started to rise from the ground sealing off the front of the temple.  After the entrance was sealed, another stone opened to a stairway behind the altar. “Follow me, and if you ever breathe a word about this place, the goddess will strike you down.  She may only be worshipped here but her reach is far.”

Rowenn grabbed one of the candles and motioned for Oren and Martell to do the same before following her.  The stairway lead about fifty steps, and then lead into a hallway.  At the base of the stairs, Rowenn reached out and pressed stone in the wall.  They could hear the stone above the stairs sliding back into place.

“This goes on for a ways. In a little while we will reach where there is a torch, we will then be able to put out the candles.  Oren you will carry it for us.”

After grabbing the torch, they continued down the hallway.   The walls were of the same construction as the old town of Avo.  A shiver ran down Oren’s spine as he recalled waking up in the room of similar construction earlier in the day.  With the light of the torch, Oren could see more details along the ceiling.  There were intricate carvings and artwork the length of the tunnel.  His mind wondered how long these had been here and who did the work.  His best guess was multiple generations had dedicated their lives to the crafting as the style changed as they progressed along.   Oren also noticed the hall was in a slight decline and was curious as to how far down they were going.   He kept his observations inside though, as their host was saying nothing and he was uncertain if it was safe to speak.  The candle that Rowenn had started up in the temple was noticeably shorter when they came to a large two story room.  There were shelves of books all along the second floor.  The first floor was more to take in.  There were works of art on the walls, several pedestals with sculptures and decorated vases.  The motif of trees and a woman with sylvan features was seen across the works, regardless the age. The floor was made of slightly uneven tile. There were also numerous chambers branching off from this one.  Looking at the walls he now noticed the numerous lanterns burning, shedding light and shadows around.

“This is the work of generations of priestesses. The artwork is from them and items left by followers in the temple.  Each of them was a sign of devotion to the goddess.  If you look at them her name has changed over time, but her depiction is constant.  The books here are records of my predecessors, literature inspired by the goddess and items that we have salvaged when chaos has ruled the area.”

“This is an honor Rowenn.” spoke Oren. He was in a daze like state, taking it all in.  “The wisdom here, I could spend a life time learning it.”

“If it were allowed,” Martell quipped. “Our visit here will more than likely be too short.  We only need her to find a location of a stronghold.”

“That is correct Martell; I will need you two to wait in that room.” She pointed to a chamber off to the side with a table in it. “I will go retrieve some books from the period of the Drémore Kingdom and between the three of us we should be able to figure it out.”

The small chamber had a table and one chair in it.  Rowenn had intentionally put them in one of the sparsest nooks in the place.  Oren could sense the spirits at the edge of the room.  They sensed him and tried to reach out to him, eager for interaction.  He was able to keep them at bay far easier than when he started practicing.  Part of him did miss the spontaneity they had provided in his life.  He also would have liked to see if these spirits were different from the ones on the surface.  Oren’s thoughts then started to wonder if events would have unfolded this way if they had not the same influence on him.  While they waited, he took out his copy of Meditations of Umbra.  He started flipping through the advanced techniques listed.  There was allusion to travel physically through shadows the same way he had sent a message to Martell.  There were other hints of being able to use them to deflect objects flying or falling at you.  He asked Martell if she had ever encountered anything of this nature.  She shook her head, but did not think it impossible for Oren to do so with practice and training.  Her experience with channelers, for better or worse was mostly with Oren.

It was during this discussion that Rowenn returned with a stack of five books.  “Oren, those things are possible.  Though, depending on the person they can take years to learn.  I’m sorry, but it was hard to not overhear you in all the silence.”  She then paused as if listening to someone else and then continued in a different tone, “How long do you have here?  I can train you in both of those arts.” Oren recognized the tone as the same she had spoken in when handing him the ring.  Rowenn paused; her speech then continued in her regular voice, “Apparently the goddess thinks you have plans that align with her goals.  She will not say anything further than to offer to teach them. I warn you it will be her that teaches you despite my body doing the instruction.  I know nothing of the techniques she is referencing.”

“I can take the time,” Oren spoke happily. But then took a different note with realization, “Your sister however has to decide on some things before tomorrow.”

Rowenn looked over at Martell quizzically before Martell spoke up. “Rowenn, may we speak in private?”

Oren was briefly flummoxed by this request.  He thought it was simply her choice to go to back to the Neffian temple per the order sent or stay put.  But it was her sister, so he relaxed; accepting that simple choices could become a world of debate once family is involved.  The two left to another part of the hall.  Oren took the moment to open one of the books and start paging through.  The one he grabbed was called Fall of Drémore.  It spoke of the decline of the Drémore family.

It was a common tale of lack of proper leadership tearing apart a kingdom.  There was mention of choosing to maintain order in the kingdom instead of expanding further into the forests. This writer clearly thought ill of the King’s decision to withdraw many forces from the strongholds in the forest.  Though there was mention it may have been made because of misinformation on a plague affecting the garrisons stationed at two of them, Erridda and Scoria.  These two were located furthest into the woods, but did not specify any further details on their location.

It was in these books that Oren saw the crest that he had seen in the ruins to the west of the Xomen’s inn.  The crest was listed under the houses that were loyal to the Drémore family.  They had been some of the most loyal retainers and had lost numerous members of the family in the defense of the King.  The family name was Katsutaka.  The records did not indicate them residing in the region near the inn so he was uncertain to why the crest would have been there.

He set the book down as he noticed the two returned to the room. “So what has been decided?”

“It has been decided that Martell is staying.  She will send back her decision with the messenger in the morning along with their armor.”  Rowenn answered.

“But I do need the rest of the payment your parents offered as an advance.  I cannot continue to assist you without sufficient funds.” Martell smiled at Oren.  “We should send word to your parents of the status of our investigation as well…but I think you can do that one.”

Oren was relieved by her choice. “I can handle those requests.  Do you know what you will be doing during my time studying under Rowenn?”

“Yes, I will be busy tracking down the armor your parents are buying me.” Martell teased, “I need something that better matches my swords.”

“Glad you two have settled that business,” Rowenn commented. “Now let’s figure out where Erridda is located so we can get on to training for you Oren.”

The next several hours were spent paging through the books with little or no help as to location.  There were numerous pauses as some accounts of things conflicted.  In some cases it was spelling in others it was the location.  As with any history, depending on the author, events unfolded in different lights and ways.  The books did lead to them learning the names of the four other strongholds: Wind Gait, Korrack, Ferneray, and Abbysta.  They also indicated that several of them had been rigged with traps or enchantments to keep them from being used by bandits or those hostile to the crown.  It was somewhere in one of the logs for the temple that a several maps of the Drémore Kingdom were found.  Here they discovered that there were a total of three strongholds named for Erridda.  The first one was located at the south end of three strongholds, after this one fell another two strongholds further south were added on.  The second one with the same name was built north of the line of five strongholds.  This one too fell for some reason not listed in any of the books currently pulled.  The final one was built further southeast of the center line of strongholds, at the peak of the Drémore Kingdom.  And that is the one that still stood at the time of the records.

Chapter 12

Eston went with Oren to the Lariant House, leaving Martell to further look around the Velgrey house with less prying and oversight.  The Lariant house was in far better shape than the Velgrey, though that may have to do with its more recent construction.  The three story house used the bottom floor for business and living spaces for the family were above. As such, the place was alive with several generations living in the spacious manner.  The solid wood columns at the entrance were a reminder that the family was wealthy from the timber.  It took Eston pointing it out for Oren to recognize that two of the columns were actually living trees.

Upon entering the great room, just inside the front door, the two gentlemen were introduced by the butler to Clayst Lariant, head of the Lariant family and trade house.  Clayst was a portly gentleman, with a hearty laugh and a firm handshake.  He welcomed them into the house with all the proper pleasantries.  He recalled early on there had been another family that had reached out to Flynn for trading the lumber.  However, when Flynn came to meet the other family they turned out to be charlatans and were trying to trick him out of his coin.  Clayst had overheard the fiasco and tried to step in, but Flynn had his guard up and initially dismissed him.  Clayst finally won him over but then the following season it was colder than usual and he did not have timber to meet Flynn’s order.  Flynn was going to have to deal with an additional merchant.  But Clayst had his teams scour the country side for anything he could scrounge up and ended up with sufficient lumber and impressed Flynn again. Clayst also gave his regards on the passing of Ziegman.  Clayst and Eston got on rather well with each other; it was as if they were speaking their own language.  One would goad the other enough, but then turned around and had them on their same side again.  The conversation up through dinner turned to the prospects of if Oren would take over the Velgrey business.  He playfully gave no affirmative, but smartly alluded to the Lariants not needing to worry about their position either.

Oren spent the night with fine dining and getting to know the Lariant clan.  There were several attempts made to find out if he was an eligible bachelor as there were single ladies in the Larient clan.   He sidestepped answering this several times over.  He did not want to admit the vulnerability he had with Martell in a crowd of strangers.  Rather he stuck to the truth that his wife was dead and then added he was not ready to move on yet. In turn, he was introduced to several ladies, and each he politely turned down.  This was a game he knew from his occasional social outings in Aleto.  His thoughts eventually wandered back to concern on how things were going for Martell and the search in his absence.  He regretted not insisting she attend, but knew it was the right choice from social protocol.

After the dinner, Eston and Oren headed back to the Velgrey house.  They both thought the night a great success and had added to the ties for future business.  The truth was there was no one else currently situated to take the trade from the Velgreys.  Halfway back they passed by a tavern, Jess’s Treasure.  Eston excused himself here, he had friends he wanted to stop and talk with.  Oren, who was ready for a few quiet moments, was happy to let him loose on someone else’s ear.

Oren continued on back to the house.  All in all a good night he thought.  And now time to go back to a welcoming face.  He was enthralled with her, the first time in a while he had met a woman that had all his attention.  His thoughts lingered on her black hair down past the shoulders, her black eyes that held a fire when he looked at the right angle, her thin lips…and then things went dark.

Some amount of time passed before Oren came to with a headache.  He was in a stone room, one of the older buildings from what he could tell of its construction.  There were four walls, a door, and a bucket in the corner.  Oren tried the door, but was not surprised to find it locked.  He sat down in a corner and massaged where it ached from the hit.  “What had happened?” He muttered.  He still had all his belongings, didn’t looks like anything else had happened aside from the knock to the head.

After ten minutes of hearing nobody pass by or another noise outside the room, Oren decided it was time to try out his skills as a channeler.  He focused on the ring he had received earlier.  His thoughts were of one of the spirits coming forward from the rest to assist him.  He then thought of the message he wanted sent to Martell and repeated it in his head to the spirit that had come forward.  He then let it go seek her out and bring her here.

It was all he could do, as this was his first time of trying what he had read in Mediations on Umbra.  He could now only wait and see if she or his captors would come first.  In the meantime, he took to practicing calling the spirits to himself and then sending them away at the last moment.  The simple practice did a good job of relaxing his body and clearing his mind, but did nothing to dull the pain from the hit.

“Good Morning Oren.” He heard called from on the other side of the door. He recognized the voice, but did not place it.  “Opening up with your breakfast, stay away from the door and don’t try to get out.”

The door opened and there was Rab.  He set down a wood bowl filled with some sort of liquid. “Hi, you may as well settle in for a while.  You’re here till your parents pay the ransom and maybe a little longer.”

“What is this all about?”  Oren was still confused.

“You see, you are what we call a high value person.  You have at least three parties interested in you.” Rab closed the door.  He continued safe on the other side, “You got your parents, the Wolves and…” the rest was cutoff in garble.  From under the door he saw blood starting to ooze into the room.  There was some movement outside the room, probably Rab’s assailant searching or moving his body.

Oren took as defensive of a stand as he could in the confined space.  His mind was racing as to who might be outside the door.  This time when it opened, his hands went down and he let out a happy sigh.  There was Martell, in full armor.  She motioned for silence from Oren and then dragged Rab’s body into the room.  She cut off Rab’s shirt and tried best she could to get the blood off the floor outside the door.

“You are getting better with you skills.  I got your message, but the path here was hard to follow,” she said in a hushed tone. “Your messenger probably led me back in the same route it found me.”

“Where are we?”

“Somewhere under the town hall, this place is cavernous and has numerous entrances.  It is why they sealed it off from above.  As kids we would all poke around down here, but never this far in.”

She opened the door and looked down the hallway both directions before motioning for Oren to follow.  They made it down the hallway before it forked.  “To the left is our exit, but I suspect you want to poke around a bit before we do so.”

“Yes, I need to know who else is involved with this.”

The two headed down the tunnel to the right in search of any details that may lead to who the kidnappers were or their contacts with the Wolves. Martell handed her dagger to Oren so he would not be unarmed if it came to that.  After checking numerous side corridors and chambers, they found what they were looking for.  There was a room with a couple tables and chairs.  On the desk was correspondence ready to be sent out to Oren’s parents. Oren skimmed through them.

He whispered, “Looks like they would have done the exchange at Xomen’s Inn.  Might be a reason they chose there.”

Martell had found another letter, “Yes, they have another letter trying to ransom you to the Channeler’s Guild.  The meeting is at the same location.  Do they know that you are a latent channeler or are they betting on something with your mother’s family history?”

“I would assume they are betting on my family history.  My guess is I would have ended up with the highest bidder.”

They looked through the remaining paper work, half distracted by every creak or scurry mice in the tunnels were making. It was a few minutes later they found what they were hunting.  It was written as follows:

I do not think you would reach out to the Wolves unless you were certain you would be able to capture the Velgrey heir.  We have agents in town already, and they have taken care of the Velgrey problem in the past.  They were able to do so without alerting anyone to their presence and leave the guard clues.  But if you manage to capture him before us, we will be willing to discuss compensation for your troubles.  Remember, we need him alive.

Commander Erridda.

The two decided it best to get out of these tunnels.  They put back the paper work as best they could remember, though they took the note from the Erridda.  Stealthily, they exited without running into anyone else down in the tunnels.  They ended up in some hills on the outside of town.  They took a minute to poke around before further making their getaway.

The two went back to the Velgrey house.  Oren wanted to get a good meal and rest in himself.  Martell agreed that there was no reason to suspect everyone else at the house only because of one person.  However at her insistence, she would stand guard while he rested.

At the house, Eston greeted Oren.  “Are you okay?  They said you never made it back last night.  Then this morning your guard takes off in full armor without a single word as to what she is up to.”

“Yeah, I got a hard knock to the head while walking home.  I think they were content with my money.”  Oren spoke heading up to his chambers.

“How horrid. You should say something the commander of the guard here.  It is not good that a citizen cannot walk within the city and feel safe.” Eston motioned to one of the servants passing by, “Have a meal prepared for Oren.”

“I might do so. It could have been worse,” Oren commiserated. They were now up at the room. “Eston, you do a good job running this place.  You can relax a little, the job is yours.  You are taking over Ziegman’s post here.”

Eston leaned in and kissed Oren on the cheek.  He then glanced over at Martell, who was about as confused as Oren, “No need to worry young lady. I am not after him; I already have someone waiting for me at home.”  He then left back to his business before anything could be said.

It was a short wait till the food arrived and Oren tore into it.  He had forgotten how hungry he was.  When Eston checked back in to make sure food had arrived, Oren enquired about if anything was heard from Tethinger.  To no one’s surprise, they still had not responded to the request. He then thought to ask if the name Erridda was one he knew.  He passed it off as he recalled one of his attackers say the name.

“Erridda…the name is familiar to me, maybe someone in the guard?  Were they afraid to be caught by them?”  Eston paused.  “You should check with the guard, I can fetch one if you want to.”

“Not yet, I need to rest.” Oren replied.

It was after his rest that Oren recognized the name Erridda.  He went over to his bag and pulled out one a piece of paper had made with a makeshift map of the Drémore Vales.  He looked to the strongholds in the woods and found the name he was looking for.  Erridda was the name of the one closest to Avo.  That is more than likely where they are operating out of.

It was now that Oren looked up and saw Martell was gone.  A slight panic was starting to build, as he had not slept too long to warrant her going off for anything.   He went down the hall and she was not there.  It then occurred to him that downstairs there was no noise of workers.  He went back to his room and grabbed his staff.  As he turned to leave he saw someone sitting in a chair.  It was the same woman that had come to his shop.

“Oren, you make things far more difficult than I need them.  And your parents make this even more taxing.  Where are the rest of the books?  Do not worry we have already been to the house and I can assure you those were not what I want.  But you knew that.”  She screeched.

Oren stood in a defensive pose, waiting for her move.

“Your staff cannot help you here.” and with those words it was gone. “Now where are they?”

Oren was fighting something but it was nothing physical.  It was as if a compulsion was building to tell them they were with his parents. He went to run but it was as if his legs had already betrayed him to favor the woman.  His hands groped around looking for something to use till finally in a pocket he felt a small piece of obsidian. It was the small piece he had retrieved after his encounter with the sprite.  Using all the focus he could muster he threw it at the woman.  When it hit her, everything went dark for Oren.

He woke up in bed again, sweating.  Martell was there looking at him, calling his name trying to wake him.

Oren looked around, and slowly grappling what had happened.  His head was still a rush with thoughts and the conversation.  What was it she was looking for?  He explained the bits and pieces to Martell as best as memory would serve him.  Like recalling any normal dream the details fled from his grasp as he reached out to salvage what he could.  The simple fact was she was looking for a specific book, but which one she was not saying.

Oren then went to leaf through the maps he had in his bag. He found the one he had dreamed about and looked at it.  There it was written on the map Erridda, but now it was on the stronghold furthest from Avo not the closest. Oren brought it over to Martell and explained the quandary.

“Normally I would say we should talk to the Tethinger Knights, but they are not interested in talking to you.  Maybe Rowenn knows this place.”

“Should we both go to see her?  I fear I may put her in danger with whoever that woman is.”

“Yes, Rowenn is not defenseless. Her goddess will watch over her.,” Martell snapped. “I do not need you left unsupervised at this time.  Also I told Tsuminoe that we will not be returning with him tomorrow.  I have sent word to your parents on our status with him.”

Oren got the feeling she was holding something back. “What is the rest of it?”

“The Neffians, they have declined your parent’s request.  They want me to return and face judgment as to my future with them.  If they do not hear back from me, I will be determined to have left the order and labeled a deserter.  That means they will not assist me in the future nor will I be granted access to any of their temples.”

“You told Tsuminoe that you are not returning with him.  Does that mean you have made your choice?”

“The message arrived today.  I have till tomorrow to answer, when the messenger departs.  I will send my response to the order with him.  Let us go see Rowenn.”