“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.