Chapter 24

Oren looked across the room in the poor lighting. He had successfully slipped under the door, and no one was in pursuit yet. Martell had done her part in directing everyone over at the side of the compound furthest from where he was. He had gotten from the door to a turn in the hall way and up a flight of stairs with no issue. But he needed something more than his freedom to help his friends. He couldn’t chance a look out any of the windows as someone may still see him. Oren could hear the loud voice of Lady Nattan down in the courtyard and realized Martell was about to open the door he had disappeared through. He covered the sound of opening this chamber door with the sound Martell made opening the door below.
Relying on what he could recall of Tabia’s description of the place, Oren found the armory. There were walls lined with sparsely stocked racks of weapons. He was left to imagine how formidable an armory it had been when the fort had been in use. Oren first found a bow and after a few pulls on its string determined it was still in working order. He wondered if the wood shafts of the nearby arrows were as well preserved as the wood in the doors. It was hard to tell in this light and with as few as he found he was reluctant to bend the shafts and see. At worst they could serve as a distraction. There were a few swords in the room, but he could not tell if they were still serviceable, the metal still glistened when the light hit, but he was not certain of the edge on them. He took a sword, the bow, and arrows. He gave one last look around the room in search of anything that was useable he may have overlooked, but found nothing.
Oren left the room pondering his next move. He moved over to a window where he heard Martell asking for Tabia to come read something on a door. That did not sound good. It was now Oren had another idea. He concentrated on a spirit to send a message to his staff. He wondered if the spirits there could transport his staff to him the same way he had traveled past the door. It was worth a shot, and the message should go faster this time as he knew the destination he was sending it. He sat focusing, repeating the message and sent the spirit off.
He looked at the arrows in the better light of the hallway and saw that they were still sound. Perhaps something with the wards preserved things in Erridda better than the outside world. Oren’s experience with a bow was limited to hunting deer and elk. His success then had only been when he had time to focus and aim slowly. He finally snuck a look out the window and saw the layout of the courtyard. There were around ten guards along with Tabia, Martell, and Lady Nattan in the courtyard. From the window his best view was of two men on the second floor on the ramparts. Thinking back to his hunting, he thought he may be able to get two arrows off before he was done. That would hardly be enough to help out his friends.
Martell and Tabia stood close to the door weighing the options before them. Open the door and face whatever is on the other side or do nothing and be killed by Lady Nattan and her forces.
“Come now ladies, we do not have forever. You can either open up the door or my archers can kill you. I have shown much patience till now. Do not press me to decide for you.” Lady Nattan’s voice was showing her agitation with waiting.
“Martell, let me handle opening. You go wait a distance away from the doors. I do not know what repercussions they have for breaking the seal on the door.” Tabia said calmly. “You stand a better chance of making it out of this place than I and you need not be hindered by what comes from it.”
Martell thought briefly of protesting but knew it useless. “Lady Nattan, she will open this door. I am going to stand out of the way.” Martell made her way to a corner. She looked up and saw what she thought was Oren peeking out the window from the second floor.
Tabia started chanting in a low voice as Martell walked away. She bowed her head and reached her hand up to break the door’s seal. As she lifted the paper away from the door there was a small quake in the ground. The staleness of the air started to dissipate. She used the paper as leverage to lift the wax off the door. As a gap between the wax and the wood formed, Martell felt the last of the ringing in her ears leave. Tabia finished removing the seal from the door and there was another shaking in the ground.
“Move it along dear, you may be enjoying the slow dramatic method, but I want inside this place now.” Lady Nattan’s voice echoed off the stone walls.
Tabia, placed the seal in one of the folds of her robes, and then went back to the door. She continued her chanting. Martell could tell she was asking for something from Varelle, but could not make out the words. Tabia finished her chants, looked at the door and pushed it open.
Upon opening the door fog poured out, covering from the ground up to a foot tall. Tabia stood there watching it slide past her. Martell took a defensive stance, unsure of what was about to happen. Several of the guards either retreated back toward the entrance or up the stairs on either side of the courtyard. Lady Nattan moved at a speed far faster than one of her age. She ran past Tabia and into the keep with Katsutaka and two other guards close behind. Oren watched this unfold from his vantage point up.
Oren let an arrow fly his intent to hit Lady Nattan, but he had underestimated her speed and hit one of the guards in tow. The arrow pierced through the joint in his armor at the back of the knee and he fell to the ground. Martell ran over to Tabia and pulled her through the doors. She stood there debating her next move when the doors to the courtyard closed keeping them out of the courtyard.
Oren saw as the doors closed on all sides of the courtyard. He would have to circle the perimeter to get to Martell. He continued watching as the fog that had entered the courtyard lingered near several of the statues and they slowly started to animate. Oren pulled away from the window hoping the beasts below did not notice him. He heard the sound of arrows fly and screams as he heard stone hit metal. Oren tried to put the cries of pain out of his mind as he got ready to move. He had missed that his staff was now next to him waiting to serve.
Oren made his way down the hall sneaking past the windows, trying not to alert the stone creatures of his presence. From what he could overhear, Lady Nattan’s men had taken down at least one of the creatures. Swords seemed useless against the behemoths, unless, like some of the arrows, they were able to hit in the eyes. In general, as he scampered around the corner to the side of the compound, it did not sound like Lady Nattan’s troops were faring well.
Oren continued along the hallway, it was slower going as he squatted past the windows. He was about three quarters of the way down the hall when he heard the wall crack and the building shake slightly behind him. Oren prepared to defend himself, but continued on not looking out to see what had caused the damage. As he turned the final corner, he could hear the noise fading. It sounded like the stone beasts had won the battle. He was almost to the stairs when he saw Martell and Tabia. The two were huddled low and slowly were moving from the stairs, hiding below the windows. Martell grinned, speechless at seeing Oren alive and well.
The three remained quiet while Martell snuck a look over the wall. It looked like there were two of Nattan’s men alive on the wall furthest from where they huddled. For some reason the stone creatures had decided not to attack them. The creatures, which numbered at eight that were moving, were headed to the door that Martell and Tabia had gone through. One of them, a winged biped, was raising its arms to hit at the door. The door shook and its hinges creaked but held fast.
Oren whispered, “Where is Lady Nattan?”
“She went downstairs, looked like she knew her way around here,” replied Tabia.
“Should we go after her?” asked Martell.
“I think so, if this is what was set up for protection of this place, clearly something is stored here that should not come back out.” Oren theorized.
“Agreed,” commented Tabia, “The seal you had me remove was powerful. I think there may have been things more powerful than the statues sealed behind the doors. I think that is what Lady Nattan was after. By the way Oren, how did you get your staff?”
“That will have to wait till we are out of harm’s way and can talk.”
They went back down stairs in pursuit of Lady Nattan. As they passed by the door to the courtyard, they could hear the creatures pounding at them. The doors would eventually give way to the constant assault; it was just a question of when they would break. The persistent banging was unsettling and they were pleased with how quickly they found the stairs and could get away from it.
Tabia directed them to a cabinet at the top of the stairs. Inside was flint and steel, just what she needed for the lantern she had managed to keep the guards from taking from her. After a few attempts she lit it, finally giving them some light. The trio descended the stairs single file with Oren in the lead, Tabia in the middle with the light and Martell bring up the rear. The stairway spiraled down to the next floor, where it opened into a foyer with three hallways leading off. Each of the hallways was rather clean for having had no one in them for some hundreds of years. The stone archways over each were in spectacular condition as if the ground itself had done no shifting. One may have expected signs of rodents or other vermin, but they would have been disappointed in this place.
They stood listening if they could determine the hall that Lady Nattan had gone down. The cleanliness of it all also meant that there was no dust down here to track movement in. Martell looked at the walls to see if she noticed any scraping along them. Nothing made its presence known to them. Tabia tried to think back to the layout and recall if she knew what was down here. She knew a prison was down here as well as altars to the four gods.
The ground shook again.
“Let’s first go this way,” Tabia whispered. “I think I know where she may be.”
They walked briskly down the hallway to the left. The hall widened slightly as they went further down. There were doors off to the left and right. All of them were still closed; passing by Oren checked the handle on two of them, both were locked.
They arrived in a room with a tall vaulted ceiling. The walls were decorated in two motifs. Near one end, it was filled with trees and plants and an altar; the other side was decorated with very geometric patterns behind sparrows and had another altar opposite the room from the first. The patterns met at a line of blank stone halfway through the room. The room was empty other than two altars, one on each side.
On one altar, stood a statue was of a woman in full armor standing two feet tall. She had a shield the full length of her body in her right hand and a halberd in the left. The shield had on it an ash tree, similar to the logo on Tabia’s robes, and a young oak. Her stance was that of someone holding their opponent at bay, legs apart and the halberd blade forward. Martell noticed it was affixed to the altar in a wax similar to the seal on the outside door. Again there was a paper attached. Tabia translated “Guardians arise with broken seals.”
On the other altar was a statue of a lithe man. He had on no armor and wielded a rapier in one hand and a dagger in the other. He was posed as if he just parried something with the dagger and was thrusting at a second opponent with the sword. He had three sparrows in a column down his shirt. Like the first statue this one was held in place with a wax seal. The paper here read “We stand against Casapan.”
The ground quaked yet again; dirt and rock fell from the ceiling. “That is another of the seals broken,” surmised Tabia. “They will come here next; we must make a stand against them. Whatever was locked away here should not be released.”
“Do you have any idea who or what was put here Tabia?” Martell asked.
“No, but the last time the four priests sealed something of this nature away it was an enchanter. He had gone corrupt with power, but his name eludes me right now. He was held in a similar prison, sealed by the four priests. He died in the cell and the seals were removed after his death confirmed. The fifth one, the one in the outside doors, I do not know what that means.”
Tabia dimmed the light, hiding it in a corner. Oren and Martell waited on either side of the door way, waiting for their adversaries to approach.
Footsteps were the first sign that someone was coming, followed by a hint of light from their torches. Then was the voices, they were the whispers of two men talking. As they got closer Oren could tell it was a disagreement between the two.
“I don’t see why we didn’t wait for the others to follow with us.”
“When she talked to us privately she said we would need to move fast. If no one else caught on that it was time to move then they are left out. Lady Nattan is a good leader and rewards well if you follow orders.” The second voice was Katsutaka.
“I understand that, but why bring our entire group only to ditch them to face those beasts in the courtyard?”
“Everyone here had been at Scoria when we breached that hold. They knew the risk, if they were not ready to face death as an outcome they should have stayed home…” Katsutaka had just walked by Oren and received a blow to the back of his head.
The other one gasped as he felt Martell’s dagger at his throat. “What are you hear for?” she whispered.
“To help Lady Nattan rebuild.”
“Rebuild what?” Martell turned the blade so he could feel more metal of the dagger pressed against his throat. The blade now angled at the back of his jaw.
“The Drémore Empire and the Wolves. She will bring it all back.”
“What do you mean bring it back? There is nothing to restore.”
“So say those who subjugated these lands. Drémore preserved it all before losing control. Casapan left it all for those who knew what passed.”
“Shut up…you idiot,” Katsutaka was coming to. “Shut up, they are not to be trusted. Lady Nattan warned us about talking of things to them… “He then moaned in pain as Oren pushed down on the developing bruise on the back of Katsutaka’s head.
“Keep talking, or not. Your lady knows we have you or she is deaf.” Martell chided.
“There are those who know their lineage. Know that they have been relegated to much simpler lives than what they were due after generations of faithful service. Katsutaka’s family was granted lordship of these lands, but the Drémore kingdom was at war with Iseb. He and his kin were robbed of this and its future. Lady Nattan has promised to restore him to his rightful seat.”
“Where did you find out this information, from the Lady herself?”
“No it is in the records of these old strongholds. That is what she is after here. What is ever sealed inside is of no consequence to her.”
“Shut up,” Katsutaka blurted out. “Are you really going to keep talking your head off? They will kill us both once they have everything they need.”
There was a shattering as the statue on the altar to Varelle fell to the ground. Everyone looked over to see Lady Nattan headed over to the other statue. It was only Tabia that saw the wisps of smoke leave the statue. She felt immobilized and speechless as they came at her. The wisps reached her, one entering her mouth, another wrapping around her body, a third forming a wall in front of her and the fourth elongating into a large pole.
Lady Nattan was almost to the statue when a voice cut through the air. “Trespasser!” It was a deep female voice, though it emanated from where Tabia had stood, it was not hers. “You defile the altar of Varelle and her equals.” The cover on the lantern was knocked over as what lurked in the shadows moved. The light revealed something resembling the statue from the altar, but was now larger. It was walking toward Lady Nattan. Tabia was not seen anywhere.
Lady Nattan threw a ball at the walking figure, upon release she uttered a single word and it burst into flame. Oren and Martell started to sweat from the heat it expressed. Her opponent blocked with its shield and the ball burst pushing back the arm slightly, but the figure did not stop its progress toward Lady Nattan.
Lady Nattan took out a knife and scrapped at the paper attached to the seal while chanting. To Martell, it sounded something like what Tabia had been saying outside when she removed that seal. The difference was Lady Nattan was destroying the paper whereas Tabia had preserved it. Lady Nattan took out another sphere and threw it at her opponent, this time uttering a two word phrase. The ball morphed into a liquid and then froze from the ceiling to the ground. She then leaned in and started to scratch away at the wax under the statue.
It stopped the progress but only briefly as the ice shattered from the force exerted against it. This was followed by a lunge with the halberd pushing just within reach of Lady Nattan. Lady Nattan well aware of the weapon, rolled across the altar out of the way. She was now away from the altar and statue. She pulled out a third ball and this time threw to hit the statue. Oren and Martell did not hear the command uttered this time, but the ball changed to a large boulder. The statue shattered upon impact.
Engrossed in the activity, Oren missed that Katsutaka was up and running away until he heard a stumbling down the hall way. As the earth shook, he was certain Katsutaka was not fairing any better than those in the room. Everyone was trying to maintain their balance. This time was far worse than the previous ones. The other guard took this moment to run off as well. Martell looked at running after him but did not have a light source to take as their torches had gone out.
The armor on Lady Nattan’s opponent started to shrink to a normal human size. Having maintained its bearings through the shaking it now within reach of her and poked diagonally down at her. It pushed its blade deep into her torso. Rather than blood, a dark tar like substance started to spill out. The façade dropped away and what was left looked like a something crafted from dirt.
The person in armor came over to Oren and Martell and lifted off its helmet. It looked like Tabia, but something was off. “Varelle has called me to another purpose.” The voice sounded right. The two were uncertain as to how to react. “She has released me from my vows and ordered my return to Abbysta. You will be able to handle what lies ahead without me. They did not foresee things going this far. They can only offer that that was not Lady Nattan and she is still here and a problem. I will clear the courtyard for your departure; Varelle has spoken mercy on the remaining people outside, if they still live.”
Tabia relit the torches for them and then exited the room before either could get a word in to question Tabia’s choice. They quickly scouted the room for anything salvageable. There were fragments of the statues and other bits of stone but nothing else. After searching the body left behind, they found a couple more spheres. Oren slipped one of the spheres into his pocket; his intent was to ask his mother if she knew what they were.

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