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.