Chalice Gate

Traveling south form Port Gertrude, one enters Saj-graf through the Chalice Gate. On any given day hundreds pour through entering and leaving the city. If you live in the city, odds are you will at least traverse the gate once. It is wide enough for three wagons to pass through when the fifteen foot tall wooden doors are fully open. At night the doors are closed and a smaller side door can be opened if someone truly needs to traverse the city’s boundaries. The name of Chalice Gate comes from the early days of the city when it was the only gate large enough for wine to be delivered through. The gate and the city were much smaller then, but as the city grew the name stuck.

It is through Chalice Gate that Kala returned from Butcher’s Field near twilight as the first of the two gates was closing. She was still trying to figure out why a Scoria Sprite was anywhere near Saj-graf. News had made its way back to town faster than her and stories traveled up and down the road of the brave city guard taking out the menace so quickly. Kala was not above letting them revel in the glory as she seemed to not be mentioned in the rumors. But her thoughts were interrupted when she saw a nobleman walking by. The albino stood out as she had never seen one before. He was quite well covered up, but the face was what struck her.

He smiled cordially as he walked by, a similar greeting he would have given anyone worth respect in passing. Kala however received a shock and felt a great compulsion to strike up conversation with this man. “Good evening my lord, may I walk with you for a bit?” She asked not of her own will.

“By all means,” He smiled at her. “I am just out for a stroll to the Hall of the Ardent Order, if that is on your path.”

“My path is where Latl guides me.”

“Kala is it? I heard the Latl’s Knight was in town. I am not certain what I can offer to a brave soul as yourself, but ask and I shall assist.”

“You may have heard rumor that there was a Sprite spotted and killed north of Saj-graf. I need to find someone to discuss this with and Latl says you are my key to this city.”

“I may be able to help in that regard, come with me I will introduce you to one of the Ardent Order, she may have some other news to help make sense of your puzzle.”

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Hector

There is a tall white stone manor house near the outer wall of Saj-graf. The age of the house is as old as the family name that owns it, the wood timbers twice that old. The family is charitable giving to each of the six churches of Saj-graf. The blood line though is slowly dying off as the younger of the brothers, still a bachelor, has long since kicked the older out. He is more in love with wine and philosophy than the women that would gladly line up for a marriage proposal. In the wine cellar of the lord’s manner sit three men enjoying a fine red wine. The dry, bitterness of the wine goes well with the conversation. The three men are discussing recent events in the city.

“Sudeman, do you really think there is a group of enchanters here operating outside the guild?”

“Crevan, I know so. An old friend came to see me the other day concerned his daughter, a healer, was up to more than just tonics and poultices. He mentioned one name who I will not say here as I do not want to spread word about those I do not know.”

“And what advice did you give?”

“That he should take no action till he has seen something. Without evidence, he is only listening to voices of thoughts and ghosts of doubt.”
“They are always in a rush to assume the worst.” Spoke the third person. He looked the part of owner of the estate, well dressed and groomed event while getting drunk in his own wine cellar with two of the wisest men in town. “Yet when they see the error it hurts all the same.”

“And what is your advice to Sudeman, Hector?” Crevan asked.
Hector paused, brushing a lock of his brown hair from his eyes, “Take notes of what concerns you and speak to the loved one. There is no reason for secrets in a family.”

“Did that work with your brother Corvus?” Crevan asked.

“Yes, though my fears were just not the right ones. He is after one man specifically and will not rest till then. The Prince, the one of the underworld, is his target. Yet no one can tell him who that is or where to find him. He has issued several formal challenges, and all he receives is silence.”

“The Prince…that is like the Lord Elwin they have in the Beggar’s Quarter. All noise and no substance.” Sudeman spoke up.

“Possibly so, Sudeman,” Hector replied.

And so the three men continued on debating the existence of leaders in the underworld. The lights in the vault of wines would burn through the night with no conclusion reached except that wine should be enjoyed in moderation.

Kala and the Sprite

There is a field north of Saj-graf that is level in a twenty by twenty foot square. On it are the remnants of a wooden structure complete with trap doors and a couple broad beams running across the top. The place is often used by children, climbing up and down the stairs on the far sides of it or jumping down to the ground from the platform while their parents usually cross the field at a slower pace. The older ones will jump up and hang from the beams which groan with the weight which would have once caused only a shrug.

It is called Butcher’s Field from the days when there were executions preformed daily at the platform. The rule of the town Lord was feared during that time. He had no tolerance for breaking the law with punishments usually outweighing the crime. It was not that the laws were unjustly enforced, in fact they were weighed through a system of three judges and if all three found you guilty then you were to take your sentence no question. Most crimes involved incarceration, but just a second offense and society was deemed better off without you.

It was on Butcher’s Field that Knight Commander Kala encountered the sprite. It glowed with a faint orange light and floated in the air without a care for the wind. It was fascinated by the children and kept floating by to watch their reactions, while parents fretted about what it may do and tried to sneak off when it was distracted by another soul.

Kala kept her distance initially to study such an odd critter. She was not certain as to if it was toying with the people or was something that had no power to control them. She could hear the sound of horses approaching; likely the town guard uncertain of what they were coming to handle as there were never sprites in the cities. Communication with the sprite may be possible if Kala were one of the few that knew how to. Weighing her options she felt drawing a weapon may only escalate the scenario.

Her plan of action came together amongst the chaos. First she saw a clay jar on the ground, the water it held had flown out. She grabbed it and the top for it an deftly made her way in the sprite’s direction. Seeing the fascination with a child’s apple, she grabbed one from among the scatted items laying strewn on the field. She then whistled a happy tune to get the creatures attention, letting it see her place the apple in the jar. She took a step away from the jar. The sprite saw with delight the easily gotten food and flew over and on to the jar. As it bent over to get the apple a bolt flew through the air piercing its back.

“No need to thank us my Lady,” Spoke one of the guard as slung his bow back over his shoulder, happy in his done duty. “The sprite will harm no one any further.”

“No, it shall be no further problem,” She replied, looking at the twitching creature. “You have done well protecting the people.”

Chapter 19

The clearing they stopped at was large enough for the three to spread out and sleep with a fire going. Martell liked that there were a few downed trees to act as short walls and block the wind from two sides. Oren was able to catch a rabbit for dinner. While they prepared it and the fire, Tabia chanted a prayer over the camp asking for her goddess’s blessing and protection.
Oren took the first watch. Uneventful, it allowed him to finish reading the Meditations on Umbra and start Penumbra of Nature. The new book theorized that out in the wild there were far more spirits to call to your assistance, despite not being able to sense their presence. Further, sometimes you could seek out a spirit that may be more inclined to assist in the task you desire to accomplish. For example, if one wanted to send a message a long distance, charging the right spirit could cut the transmission time down or could delay the message to the point it may not be delivered in the recipient’s lifetime. Finally, he stopped on an entry that theorized, if a method were deciphered on how to talk to the spirit directly then the person could get a spirit to do anything he imagined as soon as he found the one capable of doing the task. These were all great ideas to Oren, but far beyond what he felt capable of. He would for now focus on being able to see those spirits which may not be readily seen and focus on calling them close and repelling them back.
Martell was woken up to relieve Oren. “Time for you to watch over the rest of us while we sleep”
“Already?” Martell commented groggily.
“Yes, you are as bad at getting up in the middle of the night as Sonia was.” Oren sat down near Martell.
“Really? You are going to compare me to your wife?”
“You would have liked her,” Oren gave a slight smile. “She wanted me to go into my father’s business. I was set in my ways and comfort was an easier route than the adventure on the roads. I also didn’t want to be away from her.” Oren paused taking a deep breath. “Looking back I think she would have gone with me, but I never asked her.”
“You should have. The roads are not as bad when you travel in a group with others.” Martell sat up and moved a little closer. “In large caravans, and definitely with what I saw of your father’s, the two of you would have been safe.”
Oren got silent, her words pounded on the pain of regrets he still held tightly to.
“She would be proud of you now. You have done what she requested, and more. Not all men are suited to leave their home. You are no longer the humble shop keeper I met back in Aleto.”
“I suppose I am not.” Oren went over and tossed some more wood on the camp fire and then got into his bed roll. “You are not the same person I met in Aleto either.”
Martell thought for a moment and was going to add to his comment but Oren had drifted off to sleep.
While on her watch for the night, Martell saw a few different animals look curious or aggressive and approach the camp. Whenever they got within the light of the camp, they seemed to relax or mellow. It was as if whatever urged them to approach the camp had faded and they had lost interest in it and its inhabitants. She was curious if this was due to the prayers of Tabia or if she had a talisman that kept their camp safe. Martell knew the question would be just as futile to ask of Tabia as it would have been to Rowenn. The priestesses maintained a certain amount of ambiguity in where the powers of the goddess began and ended. She recalled asking Rowenn how the temple maintained the candles lit in such quantity and at a constant height. The only answer she received is it had always been that way and was just unknowledgeable as Martell to if it were an enchantment or her goddess that had an ability to do so. She spent the rest of the time listening to the creaking of the woods as the wind pushed branches slowly against one another and watching as Oren slept a peaceful rest.
Tabia took the final turn watching the camp. She woke up before Martell had gotten to her. Across the fire Martell could see she looked troubled. “Varelle is concerning me. She sends signs in my dreams that a problem will befall me in the days ahead. I do not know if it is inevitable. I do know it is where she directs me. I wonder if it is, why she let me linger for over a thousand years, was it for this.”
“How did you end up trapped in the shadows?”
“I was at the temple near Abbysta. Back at that time, there were usually three priestesses at a time. They were stationed such that the novice was at the temple in Avo, the junior in Drémore Court, and the senior at the temple near Erridda, then Abbysta. I had just finished five years of training the novice, and moved out to the temple at Abbysta. Initially, all was calm in the area, but then raiders started to assault the logging camps in the area. The soldiers requested I move into the stronghold for safety. I disregarded their request and obeyed what I thought was Varelle’s will. I stayed at the temple as many still visited seeking her blessing. One day, my visitor was one of the raiders. He wielded a maul and attacked the altar smashing a bowl that had been there. When it shattered, the place started to darken and a mist settled in. The assailant died from what looked like the vapors seared his lungs. I feared for my life then and recited my prayers to Varelle. She appeared to me and told me to not fear. She would take care of me and I would live to serve her another day. But my body faded. I was there but not there. I saw time pass and I witnessed changes always trapped in the temple. I heard the fall of the world and the tranquility of nature take over the temple. I saw as those seeking riches came and left disappointed by the empty chamber. Then earlier this year I heard from Varelle. She spoke to me and said it was time to serve again. She would send her priestess Rowenn to free me before the first winter’s snow. As it got closer I got antsy, I desired to move in the world, and I wanted to feel the cold of a snow fall for the first time in forever. I was tired of seeing shadows shorten and lengthen with the passing of days. I wanted to live.”
After a pause to take it in, Martell finally spoke “That is a long time to wait. I do not know if death would have been better after so long.”
“Now she tells me it might end soon. I had hoped to open the temple and again minister to her followers. It feels unfair, but I did reach out to her for help and she did answer.”
“Sometimes prayers are better left unanswered. She spoke to me when I wanted to leave the Tethinger Order. She showed me that this was the path to take when I asked. If she had not showed me which way to go, I would have the ease of being in the King’s court. I would be comfortable advising his knights and have a warm bed, not out in the cold…” Martell spoke calmly. She looked over at Oren and smiled to herself. “I cut many bridges when I left the order. But those I have met since have made the trials easier. I now also know I would be restless at the beck and call of the king, serving his interests only.”
“I see,” Tabia thoughtfully spoke. “In hindsight, you see the wisdom that Varelle had in sending you on this difficult path. Perhaps it is not my end she is foretelling, but preparing me for a change I would not otherwise make. Thank you Martell, I will meditate upon this while on watch tonight.”

Evening Thoughts

Strip away the bias,
Take away the labels,
That could be you.
Where would you turn,
If you lost it all?
Would you be happy,
To hear the words you said?

Listen to the words you speak,
Listen to the thoughts you think,
Would you smile if they were not yours,
Would you breathe easy as you listen,
Would you stand proud to receive them?

Is it fear of my neighbor
Or do I fear what I may do
If I were in their place?

Saj-ur

In the Saj-ur foothills, east of Saj-graf, there are many places to work where you can obscure the city from your view. In the past the place was seen as a nesting place for bandits. This came to an end when Saj-graf was annexed by the Iseb kingdom and a sufficient sweep could be done of the land. There are still wilds where a person could hide, but they pose an issue of quick egress.

Occasionally these locations were locations where contraband would be smuggled through. A year ago a tunnel had been found leading from Saj-graf to these outer reaches. A feat that had taken some years to accomplish and it was shut down by the town guard when several barrels made from inferior wood broke spilling wine from a shed in the slums. The shed, on top of a hill, should in no way have that much mine stored in or near it. It first attracted the attention of many in the slums curious as to why their street now had a flowing stream of wine. As the crowd gathered, the guard became concerned and sought to bust up the gathering. Realizing it was not an uprising they followed the flow to the source and arrested those that owned the shed. They are still serving their sentence out by filling in the tunnel.

Katranna was poking through the foothills trying to get to where Lord Gabriel had directed her. She had brought along Zahar and four others to investigate what was out here. It had taken most the day to get this far and had seen no signs of anything other than squirrels and birds. There were a couple ravens that Zahar would swear were following them, though it could just be his own ignorance.

They arrived in the clearing with ample light to see everything. There was a rough 5 foot long table covered in dried clay and iron. On the far side of the clearing looked as if something had trampled the ground, perhaps a group of knights in full armor?

“Zahar, what do you make of this?” Katranna asked.

“I think his Lordship was right with concern. There are no chairs so I doubt much sitting occurred at the table. Iron is usually used in crafting something to enchant. I am at a loss though as to what they were enchanting, maybe someone’s armor?”

“That is a good start Zahar,” Katranna replied. “Nahuel, do you want to fill in Zahar on what he is missing?”

Nahuel was one of the older members of the Ardent Order. He had been around longer than Katranna. Having no desire for the leadership position, he was an expert on what Enchanters were capable of doing and had corresponded with a couple in the guild in regards to research on understanding concepts. “The clay is key here along with what Gabriel spoke about. These creatures are too large to work on in an Invoker’s Lantern and the excess magic burn comes from nobody really knowing how much to channel into their creation. The Iron is a casing or reinforcement for whatever homunculus they were probably cresting. Looking at the scraps it may have been a couple of them being created. If you come over here and have a look at the trampled ground, you can see some prints in the mud of poorly formed feet as opposed to metal boots. My guess is they were not creating something to pass off as human, rather something to inspire fear.”

“Study a little more to know the adversaries we will be dealing with Zahar. You will need your hammer to deal with these creatures when we hunt them down tomorrow. Hopefully they are still just in the foothills.”

Chapter 18

The next morning, Teman and Devlin brought Oren up to the third floor. They had found what must have been a commander’s room as there were several books, most of which were related to tactics for battle and against siege. Oren arranged for Teman and Devlin to drop them off at the shop when they came back through, if the books were still there. The title that did catch Oren’s attention was titled Penumbra of Nature. He flipped through the book; its author seemed to be the same as the book Meditations on Umbra. This one started on the premise that spirits in nature were not visible, but still could be called out to assist. Perhaps alluding that one not gifted like himself could still use them. Oren took the book with him for further study.
After viewing the books, Oren discussed with Martell and it was decided the two of them would move on today leaving Devlin and Teman to continue their endeavors here. The men understood the reason for departure, but it did not prevent them from teasing Oren about being too scared to spend another night in the place. They could not offer any advice as to what was at Erridda as neither had been. There had been no recent expeditions out that far into the woods as of late that they heard of.
After parting ways, Oren and Martell headed over to the temple to see Tabia. She was waiting for them outside the temple. “Good day to you and the blessing of Varelle upon you. I see the lizards did not harm you last night.”
“Good day to you Tabia,” replied Oren. “They were no problem for us. I am impressed they did not come for you at all. We are headed out to Erridda today. There are two, Teman and Devlin, who are staying behind here. Has your goddess directed your path to you yet?”
“She has done so. After keeping me safe from harm last night, I am to travel with you to see something,” she responded calmly. “If you allow me to travel with you, I am to assist you as I can, but I may not cause harm to anything in doing so. She will let me know when I have seen what I am to witness. At that point I am to return here for further instruction.”
“You are welcome to travel with us,” responded Martell. “We are not certain what we will find at Erridda either. We also may not be free to escort you back here after we finish there.”
“That is okay if you are unable to do so. Varelle will guide me safely in my travels.”
Tabia took some time to gather some items located within the temple. Martell and Oren assumed it was like the one in Avo and had some hidden chambers or storage with items hidden within. She emerged wearing some heavier robes, carrying a backpack, a walking stick in her hand, and hanging from her waist was a lantern. The robe had the insignia of two crossed ash trees. Tabia would explain that there were always two trees over the Avo temple. Currently the oaks; back in her time as head of the temple, they were ash trees. If someone had been priestess at the time of transition between trees the emblem would have been one of the old on the right and one of the new on the left.
Eston was finally proven right on the predictions for a snow coming. The sky got darker as the day’s travel progressed, with the sun retreating far earlier behind the growing clouds, instead of over the horizon. The cold crept in behind the sun’s retreat, making Oren happy for the cloak Martell had gotten him. He noticed she had not put on any additional layers with the cold, yet was unbothered by it. Out of concern, he mentioned something. In response she held out a beaded necklace she had been wearing under her clothes.
“Each one of these is enchanted. One protects against cold, another against heat, another will keep me dry despite the rain falling.” Martell explained. “They protect against but do not prevent the long term effects exposure. For example, I will still get frostbite in cold enough temperatures, but with what it is now, I am ok in lighter clothes to stay just as warm.”
The trio made decent progress, despite the snow starting to fall. In the evening, they made camp in the shelter of a rocky outcrop. All three knew the forest would be covered in snow by the morning. Tabia had been useful in guiding them through the forest. Though she claimed no knowledge of the woods, she managed to direct them past any dangers and to proper places to refill water and make camp. Her explanation was simply that Varelle guides her steps.
During the following day’s travel they found a place where remnants of stone walls stood. The construction looked like a crude or earlier version of the walls of Abbysta. They speculated as to if this was where the original Erridda stood.
“There was something larger here at one point,” Oren commented as he followed the length of the wall.
“Agreed, I don’t expect to find much in the remains here to indicate one way or the other as to what it was.” Martell chided back.
Tabia paced around what had probably been the center of the ruins. She was periodically hitting the ground, and then listening to the stone or dirt complain about the hit. She finally found something that made her pause, a hollow din from some stone.
“Did you find something?” asked Oren.
“There is a something under here. Come help me find the entrance down to this place. Maybe something to assist you in your travels will be in there.”
The three of them poked at the soil till an entrance was found. It was a wooden door that pulled up from the floor. Based on the age and wear of the wood, this cover was made sometime in the past decade. Martell decided to wait above the place and keep watch while Oren went in to have a look. The stairs went down a good ten to fifteen feet. The passage opened up into a single room basement. The one wall had drawings depicting a fierce battle between two armies. Another had the crests of numerous legions on it. In the corner furthest from the stairs was an Invoker’s Lantern, similar to the one that had hung in his shop, spreading light across the room. He went over to inspect the corner to and further inspect the device and a workbench near it. There were tools present that felt as if they had recently been used given their warmth.
It was almost reflexive as he called the spirits to shield him from the arrow that came at him from the dark. The arrow bounced off harmless. He turned to see what had cast it at him. He made out the shape of an elderly man, but could not focus on the details. It was as if his eyes could not decide if he was really there or just a mirage. To Oren, it looked like he was reloading a crossbow but he didn’t see the weapon in the man’s hands. Then Oren heard a speech like noise come from the direction, but if it was words he did not comprehend them.
In order to see his adversary better, Oren focused on the spirits to move. Slowly, they pealed back from obscuring the old man. Oren saw the old man, he looked old and feeble. This image was betrayed by the steady hand he had on the crossbow he was aiming at Oren. After catching this glimpse, the old man was again obscured by a rush of spirits.
“You are not one of them.” Oren could hear the man say. “Let us put down our weapons and talk.” He then laid the crossbow down on the floor.
Oren dropped his hands to his side, still with his staff in hand. “Who are them, and why attack me?”
The shadows started to recede, letting Oren get a good look at the man. Between the hunched back and the long beard he looked ancient. “”Them” are the group of bandits in the area, they call themselves the Wolves. They have been looking for me to make them more talismans. I told them no, they said they would be back. The name is Enchanter Senkoo.”
“Senkoo, we are only passing through the area. We are looking for Erridda; research had indicated that one of the places with that name was around here. We are not here to take anything from you.”
“That I can see, you must be a young enchanter to have control over spirits like that. What is your focus? Or do you have a talisman that does disruptions?”
“I have a ring that I use as a focus,” Oren thought he was referring to that. “Though I must admit, I am still learning the boundaries of its abilities.”
“Young man, you are doing well with it if you can make such disruption in my shield. May I come closer to have a look at it?”
“Approach slowly,” Oren said, still not trusting the man. He held it out for the man to look at.
Senkoo looked over the ring, and rotated it around Oren’s finger to look at it from all sides. “You have favor from Varelle? The band is her workmanship. The pearl on it has strong bindings on it; I see why you were able to push harder than I, a fine Focus. Best you hide it from the bandits. They have something that can detect a talisman’s presence. Their master stole it from an enchanter named Vargas Armiger. I saw the device function and I know Armiger work when I see it. I know they stole it because they brag about it as if it is something to be proud of.”
“So did they steal your work as well? I see several empty shelves here.”
“Mine, yes they will take anyone’s. However, they did not get it from here; no they stole it from my house when I lived above ground. But if they come down here, are they going to be sorry. They will be sorry if they bring that detector down here,” Senkoo spoke with a mischievous grin.
“Do you know anything about the stronghold Erridda?”
“Yes, you are standing in the last usable structure of this one. As to the one that still stands, it is locked up tight. The Wolves walk around it wanting in. They have forces growing outside it, but its wards are too strong. Many have died trying to enter, but the Drémore Kingdom cursed the place in addition to the wards. There is something strong inside and they are drawn to it. I do not think they can control it if they let it out.”
“Do you know what is inside?”
“Son, let me tell you, there is power that once locked away should be left alone. You have a promising enchanting ability. I suggest you pursue that. Now if are bent on the power inside Erridda, I can offer no other guidance. Please just return the door the way you found it on the way out.”
“One last question, does the name Casapan mean anything to you?”
“Casapan? I know of Casapaten, he is the one who fought with Varelle to the obscurity she now knows. But no Casapan.”
“Thank you for your wisdom Senkoo. I will leave you to your work and will conceal your door. Good luck in your endeavors.”
Oren came out from the chamber and relayed to Martell and Tabia his discussion with Senkoo. Tabia looked concerned. “You are against Casapaten?” she asked.
“No, from our best understanding is that there is an Enchanter with the name Casapan that we are after, or are at least trying to confirm is alive,” spoke Oren as he started to cover up the door way.
“A Casapan was killed in a great religious war that occurred during the sixty-fifth priestess’s time. He claimed to have a link with the Casapaten and was doing his bidding,” replied Tabia. “He had no such connection, but Casapaten’s followers here in the south believed the stories the Casapan spun. He knew the god’s legends and teachings. The sixty-fifth priestess did not know of the lack in communication with the god until she raised her own followers and allies quelled the uprising. There was speculation at the time as to why Varelle would not have directed her priestess to remain neutral. The conclusion by Varelle’s followers was that she watches over those who do not know Varelle. Their ignorance of her does not deny her protection.”
“That is very kind of the goddess,” Oren commented.
“Yes, but what they did not know was that like Casapaten to his priests, Varelle had gone silent to her priestesses for several generations. Since then, she speaks as that which banished her weakens, but only the priestess knows if it is her own voice or the goddess who is talking.”
“So which was it for you and your decision to come along with us?” asked Martell.
“It is both. She shows a path and I must make the call on whether to follow it. To do no harm is my vow from when I became her priestess.” Tabia paused a minute, contemplating something. “You freed me from captivity, Varelle has her reason it was you and now. She will show me why, when the time comes.”
They finished covering up the entrance to Senkoo’s lair, and then proceeded on their way. The snow fall started as they left the area. If not for the forest canopy it would have hampered their progress and visibility more. It would be a few hours more till they would find an area suitable for camp. Along the way, the trio collected what would work as wood for a fire and packed it on to the horse to carry.