Arleth II

In dirt, drawn a repetitious circle wide
Around hill past glen, where it subside
“It is there”, with stick point
Says Crevan, leader they’d anoint
Vargus beams and grins teeth yellow
Hoping to be rich soon with his fellows
Anita declines to be optimistic
Spins dust devils in language cryptic
Yvette cracks whip drawing attention
To road ahead and break of tension
Melrakki cleared the quintet’s tracks
Tidy up when attaching horses’ packs

Five united, off they ride to distant lair
Each with own reason and care
Fame and treasure each to claim
From Arleth’s hoard after he maim
Crevan the dwarf serious and wise
Anita the enchantress full of surprise
Vargus the mercenary looking to scheme
Yvette the archer formed the team
Melrakki the elder, found on the way
Innocent in looks, scouts ahead each day

They set out at each dawn’s light
To escape viscount’s curious sight
To the east, treading miles a day
Past lands of rule where judgement lay
Anita dissuades bandits’ wrath
While Crevan plots the quickest path
Melrakki, takes care of each repast
Yvette and Vargus guard the nest
For a fortnight they keep this pace
No knowing others are in the race

Inn of the Glen is where competition met
Around table as they talked of traps set
Curious bard sung and Inn’s patrons regaled
When Crevan’s wit he assailed
Entertainer’s flawed slaying story
Of southern giant’s reigning gory
For Crevan’s brother who fought
And giant’s downfall he brought
Bard said he mistaken with ale
Then slipped, and let Arleth plan sail
For bard was with band of brigand
And dragon’s demise quickened

The quintet said nary a plan word
Certain that such mention absurd
Of plans to release lands from dragon’s hold
And to claim her precious gold
When bard asked of travels
Vargus replied “We mercenary rabble
Our fate is where gold can avail
To a new source we sail.
Orchette company, out east elite
The risk is high, and pay is sweet”

Bard looked out window to moon lit sky
In thought till content in reply
Offered advice less to entreat
“Avoid the east and defeat
Go South to Viscount manor
Join under illustrious banner
Pay is decent under shire reeve
Help put an end to bandit and thieve”

Neither advice to give or take
Crevan thanked bard for effort make
In early quiet of morrow before dawn
Quintet snuck out and journeyed on
Haste was not their only tool
Boastful bard and brigand all soon be fool
Yvette made quiet quick work
Releasing stabled horses into the murk
Anita made weather cover trace
As quintet in darkness off did race

To Arleth they went to tempt fate
It a life ahead where all things were great
In distant sky broodlings fly
Melrakki says leave them to I
“This is where we shall split way
Please, set aside my share of pay
My actions will attract them North
Once they no longer circle, journey forth”

Melrakki, dug through his kit
Reached in and came out with it
A staff or branch topped with rag
Off on horse and raised like flag
Over next hill it burst in flame green
The dragon spawn had surely seen
Chase they started as Melrakki left sight
Onward went the four to Arleth fight

In day that followed landscape faded
Singed grass gave way to rocks graded
A few trees and grass remained
Marking fool’s error, bloodstained
Scavengers tested quartet’s might
Quick to scurry at their will to fight

On moon setting Crevan lead the way
Hillside cave of lair where Arleth lay
Ground shook under goliath beast
Sniffing morsels four on which to feast
Anita let fly from hand
Lightning bolt to protect the band
Arleth in defense folded wing
Deflecting bolt without a sting
Then cocked headed Arleth
Let out counter flame breath

Yvette dodged Arleth snort
And let fly arrow retort
Vargus ran under heated air
Charging with pike flair
Crevan in pool behind rock shield
Biding time before flame yield
Anita basked in flames heat
Smiling untouched after its retreat

Arleth screeched in anger
Stunning the quartet in her hanger
She lunged forward to take flight
Crevan took in the wonderous sight
In her each her back claws
A chest and an egg each he saw
The other three still with ears ringing
Were nicked with the rock wind flinging
And like that Arleth had fled
Leaving no one dead
Into her lair they went to plunder
Her treasures theirs to asunder
Melrakki returned in the dark
Bringing to the four a spark
Driving horses and cart
To load quickly then depart
“Be quick with your hand
Soon will arrive Bard and Brigand.
They hunger for a fight
And I am spent like daylight”

Crevan and Anita smiled
As Vargus and Yvette toiled
With last bits of coin and gold
Not worried what the dark hold
Soon Melrakki moved the cart
Anita now to do her last part
After slow chants and motion
Gold now looked like wares and potion
Melrakki headed south with whiskey in cup
Anita headed east covering trail up
Vargus and Crevan went west
Yvette went north for a rest

In two week time, at Harcourt fair
The public house of Smithy Bear
Vargus and Melrakki reclined ale
Talking with Anita about past tale
Yvette asleep, tired of waiting for word
From Crevan out talking with steward
The Spira Keep was up for taking
King exchanging gold for war making
A risky negotiation for Crevan to make
But this time no flame bath to take.

Reaper Passing

Twirl, whirl, and spin
Days that may have been
Wasted away in boredom and mirth
The day we wish for one more on earth
What of our thoughts will chime in
What regrets will make a hollow din
Will you sit and stew on chance lost
Ruing in tabulation of the cost
Memories drift of loves hand
Fading motivations of visited land
It will all fade one uneventful day
So enjoy now while you have some say

Chaos

I write the words you did not request
Grip that which you fear
Place it in the cage self-built
Live today and plan the future
Breath, it will be okay
All motivation without meaning
The way to move forward
Less panic, more planning
Accept reality when it crashes in
But do not let perception bind you
If a single line were enough
Silence would reign

Epilogue

Oren walked to the book shop, the same route from his house he always took.  It was still dark this morning, but that did not mean he was not eager to open shop.  It was not for the customers he was excited.  Teman had been by earlier in the week and dropped off a collection of books from Erridda.  He had been running that place as if he had always owned it.  It was only now that he started bringing in craftsmen that the rest of Iseb realized the wealth of artifacts that Devlin and he scored in taking up residence there.

This delivery had been the books from the dungeon that a year ago he had had the pleasure of first perusing. Circumstances had changed for him since then.  Martell and he now shared an expanded home, and they were expecting their first child.  Oren’s father was teaching Oren how to manage the family business, which meant less time at the shop.  In another month, they would hit up the caravan trail to look in on Avo.  To help manage his store, he had taken on an apprentice to help with daily traffic.

Avo had changed slightly since he had last been there.  Word was it currently was operating without the Tethinger Order.  Tabia had come in to clean house, but at least those at their home had let the corruption spread far.  Tabia tried to recruit Martell to form a new order under Varelle.  Martell was honored but declined the invitation.  So for now, the Tethinger Order’s former home stood vacant and Tabia reviewed its members looking for a new leader. Word had also reached Oren that Varelle had a new priestess in training. 

The counsel of priests and the knight commanders had passed sentence on Lady Nattan.  She was to be held at the Vocknuera’s dungeon.  Her sentence was for life, though from what Martell and Oren had heard from Ba-shar, they may be retaining her on behalf of the Enchanters so that they may probe her for information on Casapan’s techniques.

Ba-Shar had been retired from field service in the Knights of Vocknuera and was now busy with training the new recruits.  Oren had offered him a job working with the Tsuminoe and his caravan, but Ba-shar had declined. With one less arm, he felt his days in the field were over.

The Channelers and Enchanters had received word of Oren and some of what he had done.  Both had requested to see the talisman that had allowed him to do such feats.  He had declined and was certain both organizations were now watching him, if not directly then through some network of agents. On occasion, he had kicked out a few of the guild members from  the shop, as they spent more time studying Oren than looking at the books they had expressed interest in.

The Neffians opened operations in Avo, against the wishes of the Lords.  However, since the town does not technically have an official hall they can do little to continually harass them.  The Neffians were quite frequently in the store, browsing books and researching whatever their masters had sent them in to look up.  They seemed to harbor no ill will against Oren or Martell, despite the rocky relationship they had gotten off on. Oren was certain they were also keeping tabs on him, knowing full well he did not give them access to his personal collection.

The three loyal knight orders were working toward restoring Wind Gait to working order.  The hope was to spread the teachings of Varelle and the other priests to the land beyond the mountains.  Tabia told Oren that once the place was cleaned up they would look to the Velgreys to help establish a route to the regions across the hills. Oren reached out to Eston and was waiting to hear if he wanted a new post and a challenge.

Oren’s parents were now able to relax from their monitoring of Casapan and the Wolves of Dawsil.  Though Oren was certain his mother was checking in on something occasionally, she was more frequently present in conversations.  He had pressed her a couple times for a reason for the checking in and all she managed to reply is that it was a hard to break the habit.

Oren spent the afternoon paging through the books, his mind racing with the new knowledge.  He was not certain at what point he dozed off with his face in the books, but when he awoke in his shop he it was dark outside.  There was a woman in the corner flipping through the volumes.  He went over to tell her it was time for him to lock up and leave.

He tapped her on the shoulder and jumped back at recognition of who it was in his store.  Lady Nattan looked up and smiled at him.  “O-ren you need not worry about me.  I just wanted to thank you for your assistance in freeing me from having to compete with Casapan.  The low born have no place in leading the world.  You have done the Drémores a great service, much like the Velgreys have always done, despite what father said of your kin.  In repayment for my life, I will leave you and your family out of my plans as long as you stay out of mine.”

“Are you not still in prison?”

“Why, yes silly boy, right where I need be for now.  Plans like this take time and patience.  Thanks to Casapan, I have time and thanks to you, I have a safe place to build an empire from.  Unfortunately, you will not remember any of what I have said when you wake up.  I really am in your debt and will never be able to repay it in full.”

Oren felt himself being shaken and heard Martell calling his voice.

“Oren, wake up.  You have fallen asleep; you should really go home if you are not doing well.”

“Martell…I…think I had a nightmare but recall none of it.”

“It is no surprise; you are working too hard.” Martell replied, “Let’s close the store and call it a day early.  You will feel better tomorrow.”

Chapter 42

They were able to make their way into the temple through the back door.  It was in an entrance located under the city hall.  Rowenn explained that the door would move as Varelle saw fit.  Oren and Martell were now welcome guests of Varelle in return for the service they had provided.  Oren would be allowed the privilege to view the history around the fall of Drémore but neither events further back nor more current.

It was here that Oren found answers to Tabia’s outbursts and rage.  It was in this text he learned many things of Casapan and why he needed to be stopped.

In his eluding the priesthood, we now see that Iseb was right in their revolt against the Drémores.  They had fallen sway to this Casapan and his deceptions.  His subterfuge in Aleto was discovered too late as he had visited this city most, allowing him to proceed in his experimentation.  There, he had already added wards to the obelisk preventing the mere mention of the gods’ names.  If he had gone undetected longer he would have copied these trials in the south.  This would have created a situation like Avo, where priests of Latl and Dahl and those in their respective orders feel pain when they enter the boundary of the city’s wards.  At this time, he offers power to any he thinks he can sway.  The enchanters have agreed with us to erect no further obelisks until a method preventing or reversing such enchantments can be devised. 

Casapan is already suspect of teaching techniques to the Drémores’ children.  Our assumption is, he has their loyalty and could still assert control over them in some way they do not recognize.  It is unfortunate that he already slayed one of our order before she even suspected his deceptions.  The other priests will be convening with us to have a discussion on how best to rein him in.  There is word that the late priestess may have aided the Drémores in sealing up the stronghold of Erridda.  Whether she did so willingly or not we may never know.

We had cornered them at Wind Gait with the last of the Drémores and their loyal forces.  After a several day siege, they finally surrendered.  I am suspect of the body they provided of the dead Casapan, but with no one else around of a fitting description, we will take their word as to his death.  The King has accepted his fate of execution as he has lost everyone in his family in this fight.  Punishment for his loyal retainers will depend on judgments from the court held by the heads of the orders.

This was about all he could determine from what Rowenn provided.  Oren was certain that there were other records and more detailed accounts of the battles or tribunal judgments.  However, she was not at liberty to provide them and he was willing to accept this.   The average person would not have been treated to this much information. 

While Oren had read from the records provided to him, Martell had been off elsewhere with Rowenn.  Rowenn had pulled out some artifact from the cavernous vaults and it was proceeding to aid the healing of Martell’s wrist.  Oren watched as Rowenn continued to chant a prayer while bathing Martell’s wrist in water from a bowl.  With each pour of water, the intensity of bruising and swelling went down. 

After she finished, Rowenn spoke, “Your wrist is not fully healed.  You need to continue to wrap it up and take it easy.  This sped it up but it will not cure everything.  You should refrain from fighting for a while, if you can. ” 

“I will see to that,” Oren smiled at Martell. “She will be headed back to Aleto with me for some deserved rest.”

“Good, I do not want you here when Tabia returns.  She will try and recruit you to help clean house at the Order.  Varelle says for you to not be involved.”

“It will be nice to see it returned to a proper, respectable organization,” said Martell.

Chapter 41

The stone started to fall off of Dhavak and he quickly collapsed to the floor. He was alive, but his legs were crushed and his arm mangled.  He would be easy prey for the wyverns, if they made it to him.  Oren went over to Casapan and stood there debating if he should end Casapan’s misery.  He could feel the demands of the spirits in his staff for more bloodshed fighting with his own desire to stop it.  He pulled the dagger out from Casapan’s back and tossed it between his hands as the internal debate continued. 

The spirits hissed, “Casapan was who you have chased here and under his orders, there has been much pain for others.” 

“But I am not an executioner.  There are the priests who want him for what he has done.  Let the blood fall on their hands.”  Oren countered. 

“I have heard your thoughts and discussions about him and did he not succeed in breaking the bonds that were put on him?  Correct us if we are wrong, but he even tricked the young masters into freeing him,” the gravelly voice retorted. “You would let him live longer to trick yet more people with his power?”

Oren was quiet; he was starting to see their logic and it was starting to scare him.  “But is it my place to end his life, he no longer posing a threat?”

“He is only temporarily no threat because of the dagger in your hand” the spirit responded in a gravelly voice and then hissed, “You have no guarantee of how long this advantage will last.  End the menace.”

Before Oren could think further about what he was doing he was slitting Casapan’s throat.  A far quicker death than he deserved, but certainty in death was an end to the problem.

While this debate was going on, Martell ran to the back of one of the wyverns and dug her short sword in to the back of its head.  The other two did not notice as they were busy with Ba-shar.  One of them had Ba-shar’s blade in its mouth, trying to pull it away.  The other was snapping at him from the other side.

The wyvern was about to grab at Ba-shar’s side when it recoiled.  Martell had moved on to the second of the wyverns.  She had lost her short sword in the back of the first one and now had her longer sword in one hand and her knife in the other.

Ba-shar’s relief was short lived as the last wyvern snapped down on his forearm.  The crunch of bone could be heard across the room as the beast pulled back and blood flowed out.  It made several strange and awkward faces as its jaw cracked the bones in its mouth and worked the flesh into its belly.  Ba-shar was now on the floor screaming in pain.  The wyvern reeled back ready to strike down on Ba-shar.

Martell reached over with her knife striking at its exposed throat.  The young wyvern thrashed, wrenching her knife from her hand and causing a crack to resound from her breaking wrist.  Oren saw the look of pain etched in her face as her wrist now was disjointed by almost hundred and eighty degrees.  The wyvern fell back, gurgling as its own blood filled its throat.

Martell quickly made sure all the wyverns were dead, and then ran over to Ba-shar.  She rummaged through his backpack and found some cloth to wrap around where his hand and wrist used to be.  She tossed some salve onto the bandage and wrapped up the wound. 

Oren set down the staff and went over to Dhavak, who lay on the ground.  Unfortunately, he was too late to do anything.  Dhavak’s bones had been crushed and had cut him up internally.  He then went over to Nattan.  She was still breathing.  He debated briefly whether or not to allow her the same fate he had given to Casapan.  He rolled the dagger that had been used on Casapan in his hand deciding what to do. This time he did not hear the spirits and mercy prevailed in Oren’s thoughts and actions.

Oren searched her for any weapons or talismans she may have hidden on her and found none. Next, he bound her wrists behind her and gagged her mouth so she could not activate any talismans. Then he stood up, leaving her there on the floor. Oren went over to Martell and helped her set her own wrist properly and bind it to keep it in place.  Finally, the two helped Ba-shar to his feet and they stood quiet for a moment, taking it all in and mourning the passing of their companion.

“I think we can leave her for the army to get,” Martell spoke solemnly.  Let’s head back to camp.  There may be a healer that can assist Ba-shar and I.”

Oren went and collected Martell’s weapons for her.  He then came over to Ba-Shar to help support him as they made their way up the stairs.  It was a slow pace, but they eventually made it to back to the main room.  Outside, they could hear fighting in the courtyard. Oren set Ba-shar down on a bench and had Martell wait with him.  He was going to see what lay outside.

Looking out through a cracked door he saw a battle raging as several adult wyverns and scores of goblins were doing combat with the knights, not only in the courtyard but presumably also across the field outside the keep.  He quietly worked his way back over to the other two and explained the situation to them.

The three decided to take their chances sitting out of this fight.  They heard the cacophony of the battle outside grow and recede and though they were curious as to what events were transpiring, refrained from looking outside for an update.  From what they could tell, both sides were suffering from the fight. While they waited inside, Oren set up barricades to defend themselves from in case the battle did not favor their allies.  A couple tables were turned on their sides to serve as cover and they remained crouched down behind them as the ordeal progressed.

It was about half a day till the doors to the place were busted open letting in light and Tabia entered with Knight Commander Aarika, Gera the Silent and Knight Commander.  A few steps behind was Kala of Edostera along with several other knights in tow.  Tabia looked over and saw the three of them barricaded in a corner and ready for a fight.

“Ba-shar, is Casapan dead?”  Aarika asked.  She seemed almost indifferent to his state.  This could be attributed to the blood that was all over the group that had just entered.  There were several shields riddled with damage and a couple of the knights in the group looked about as well off as Martell.   Gera had a patch over one of his eyes, a casualty of the trek to the fort.

He forced himself up and at attention, “Yes commander, Oren slit Casapan’s throat himself.  Also, there is tied up below one Lady Nattan.  Dhavak died, we should have his body retrieved as well.”  He saluted again and sat.  Oren could hear the restrained grunts of pain.

“Excellent.  Kala, work with Attilio and round up the rest of these goblins and wyverns.  I will work on getting the Lady in proper chains and retrieve the bodies.” Kala departed.

“Martell, you and Oren have done a great favor to the priests.  Here is the key that Rowenn needs to enter the shrine.”  She handed them a key. “You will not need our guidance to get past the clouds.  The path down from here has never been the problem; it is headed up that they will confuse you.  Go straight down the path in the morning and it will seem almost intuitive on where to go.”

“Outside just watch your back.” Aarika said. “We have a path clear from here back to camp, but you never know who may lurk amongst the dead.  Ba-shar, you go with them as well.  You are no further good to our fight in here. Vocknuera will reward you for your service today.”

Back at the camp they slept for a while after consulting a healer.  In the morning, Oren and Martell bade farewell to Ba-shar and descended down meet up with Rowenn.  On their travels back to the Avo Temple, they relayed the tales of what transpired at Wind Gait. 

Rowenn was thankful that they had both made it through the ordeal.  Oren asked about what would happen with the Casapaten’s followers now that their priest was dead.  Rowenn explained the Kaddock Order will search out the next priest.  It is the Order’s job to carry on the practice if the priest is killed and there is no apprentice or heir apparent. 

Chapter 40

The stairway down was well lit.  The walls were hewed out of the mountain itself, with an unusual smoothness to them.  Whoever had cleaned them out had not left much in the way of tool markings.  When they got to the bottom of the stairs, they found Lady Nattan.  She stood with around ten people working to clear a path to a doorway that had been blocked by a cave-in.   The ceiling had a hole in it going up a ways.  This had probably at one point been as pristine as the place Nattan had been preserved.

“Work faster,” She hissed.  “I got the key; you were supposed to have cleared this out for me already.”

“My Lady, It keeps caving in.  Without proper supports our progress means nothing.”  One of the workers shouted back.

“I do not care; they will be here soon and we need my brother to fight them.”

“Too late,” said one of the men.  He put down his shovel and ran to his sword.  The others, taking the hint, ran to get their weapons as well.  Lady Nattan turned to them, fury showing in her face.  If they didn’t know better, they would have claimed flames were erupting from her eyes.

“O-ren, did you come to greet your new queen?  And I see your lackey survived as well.”  She reached into her pouch and drew out a sphere, hurling it at Oren and Martell. She muttered a phrase he had not heard her say before, the ball erupted in flame and came right at them.

Oren reacted by putting the staff out in defense, his hope that it would work as well as it had in the dream encounter.   The fireball lessened in intensity, but then it still went past his staff.  Oren felt the heat sear against his skin; he felt like he had just received a sun burn across his skin.  He also heard a voice in his head, “I told you we need practice, the real ones are stronger than what we have dealt with before.”  Oren felt frozen in place, as his legs would not respond to what he commanded.  Martell, thankfully, looked unharmed by it all and was heading over to face their opponents.

She stepped in to fight with her two swords drawn.  She cut down the first two attackers without more than a thought.  The next two wizened up and waited till a group of four of them could press the attack.  The din of the swords echoed through the room.  Oren felt helpless as he could only watch right this moment.  Lady Nattan walked over to him and was inches from him.

“Let us watch your servant fight, my O-ren.  She is so masterful with her technique. I wish I could have at least one ally with her sword skills.”  Lady Nattan paused, as if she expected Oren to speak. “Oh, you are right, I could step in and help them, but you have my attention right now.  I know about your abilities with spirit control and it could easily undermine my authority here.  That is why I am keeping you and your staff out of the fight.”

She paused again as if he was expected to say something, “Really, I should be a little more useful to them.”  She tossed another sphere, this time at Martell.  This time her words charged the sphere with electricity. Martell jumped to evade the sphere, but the metal of her armor still received a shock.  She fell to the ground.

Lady Nattan stood there with her hand outstretched from throwing the sphere, smiling like someone that had just won the bout.  An arrow flew across the room piercing her hand.  Lady Nattan looked over to see Dhavak rushing over to her, sword drawn back ready to strike.  Ba-shar was clumsily trying to re-tension the crossbow for another shot.

Martell lay there feeling helpless.  She tried to figure out what just happened while a sword rose above her in hopes to strike a killing blow.  Everything went black.

Oren had gotten the break he needed, Nattan could not maintain the hold on him and the spirits in the staff while dealing with the bleeding hand.  Seeing Martell in a dire situation, he shielded her while maintaining his stillness.  His hope was to not tip Nattan off too quickly.  He then stealthily moved the base of his staff by her feet and then pushed her over using the staff to disrupt her balance.  With her on the ground, he brought the staff around and up and then down onto the top of her head.

The four workers not quite engaged in fighting were confused by the sudden change in events and yielded.  Meanwhile the other three tried to attack Martell, who had after being able to see again, rolled a bit away from them.  She was now with Dhavak at her side.  They were able to make quick work of their opponents.

“Thanks, Dhavak,” Martell finally said as temper’s cooled.

“Not a problem,” he replied.  “Oren, is she dead?”

“No, she is unconscious.  May wish she was dead after the priests get a hold of her. Ba-Shar, you got an eye on the rest of them?”

“Yeah Oren.  But what should we do with them?”

“Well, let’s have them carry her out of here,” said Oren as he reached down and pulled the key off her body. “Best keep this out of her reach too.”

Lady Nattan stirred slightly and saw Oren grasping the key from her hand.  “Amar…” she whispered before passing out.

They heard a rumble and the ground started quaking.  The pile of rubble started to shift.  The four workers panicked and rushed to the exit. Ba-shar let an arrow fly when he thought they were rushing him.  One of the men took it in the arm and seemed indifferent, running past him up the stairs.

Martell and Dhavak jumped back as they realized the pile of rock was moving.  Oren assumed that the door was opening beneath the rubble. He hit down on Lady Nattan’s back in frustration.  The three spread out preparing to take on Tariq.  They had no idea what he was capable of or what his reaction would be to his sister laying beaten on the ground.

“Thank you,” said a voice emanating from the clearing rock pile.  “Lady Nattan you have done well releasing me.  Unfortunately, your brother died during the wars for the kingdom.”  A dust cloud obscured the view of whoever it was walking out from behind the chamber.  “Oren is it?  You were quite helpful too in waking me up….” there was some incomprehensible chanting.

Ba-shar had heard enough. He let a bolt fly at whoever it was coming out.  The shadowy figure flinched as it was hit, but the chanting continued.  Ba-shar dropped the crossbow at the sound he heard next.  It was claws rapping on stone.  Lots of them and they were headed down the stairwell.

“We have something coming down the stairs,” Ba-shar commented as he reached to pick the bow back up.

“No, need to worry yourself,” the voice said.  “Just my pets coming down to greet their master. But you have the option to either being a treat for them or assisting me in my endeavors.”

A quiet filled the room as the four exchanged glances. Each with the reluctant acceptance the fighting was not over.  Ba-shar reached to reload the crossbow while moving himself out of the doorway. He was clearly trying to figure a way out of his predicament. Dhavak looked to Martell and they rushed to assault the man in the shadows.

Oren stood; sensing spirits in the room retreating from the individual he now assumed was Casapan.  They feared him, at least the lesser ones did.  He was fixated on trying to grapple with the why of it.  In his distracted state, he almost missed the figure materializing behind him.  Oren shielded himself from a blow from a mace Casapan was wielding.  When he turned to face him he had already retreated across the room.

The speed he moved caused Ba-shar to miss the shot.  He saw the man appear out of nowhere swing something at Oren and then was gone in a flash.  Nothing had ever moved with such speed in the battlefield.  He reloaded preparing for the wyverns approaching.  At least those he knew he could harm.

Oren called to Dhavak and Martell.  The two of them had still been looking for the adversary in the rubble.

“Your choice has been noted.  Though, your besting of poor Lady Nattan was a good indicator.”  Casapan mocked.  He then threw something at Dhavak while muttering a few words.  Unfortunately for Dhavak, it caught him off guard; the object hit him in the left arm shattering and as it did so; it encased most of his arm in stone.

Dhavak shrieked in pain as the stone crushed in on his arm.  It took all his mental strength to focus past the pain and charge at Casapan.  For the first time he was hit.  Dhavak chopped with his blade into Casapan’s shoulder.  Casapan dropped the mace he was wielding, but otherwise did not react.

It was now that the first wyvern poked its head in the room.  It saw Ba-shar and made a beeline for him.  Ba-Shar held the crossbow steady, aiming till he felt he could hold no longer.  Firing the bolt flew, straight into the wyvern’s eye.  The beast cried an unearthly screech; it made the room feel as if it was shaking.  All five of them were slightly disorientated by the sound as it reverberated in their ears.

Out of the people in the room, Martell regained her senses first.  She looked over to Oren to make sure he was still standing.  Above each of Oren’s shoulders a small flame started to appear.  As they grew, Martell recalled seeing something like them once before.  The flames at this point were growing larger into the shape of ravens.

Casapan was next to shake off the disorientation.  He took some object out of a pouch from his left hand and held it against Dhavak while chanting something.  The stone started expanding over more of Dhavak’s body.  One of the birds dove at Casapan, distracting his focus.  This left the left side of Dhavak’s torso and all below his waist encased in stone.  It seemed to stop causing him pain, as he was no longer screaming.  The diving bird had singed some of Casapan’s hair, which was still releasing smoke.

The second bird bore down at Casapan running into his waist.  It broke a belt that held on several pouches, and resulted in Casapan cussing at the creature.  Meanwhile, three more young wyverns made their way into the room.

Martell drew the second dagger she had received from Oren’s family and threw it at Casapan.  It wedged into his back.  Casapan let fly a string of expletives as he unsuccessfully tried to use his talismans.  The birds of flames dove in and started pecking at him, like real birds picking at a carcass. His anguished cries were drowned out by the wyverns as they closed in on Ba-shar.  The bolts he fired this time were not on mark.

Chapter 39

They climbed the stairs which seemed longer going up than down.  When they finally got to the next opening, they were not in the main hall but in a room some ways above it, possibly on the third floor.  It was hard to say with no windows to the outside in the stair well.  The four decided to exit the stairwell and look at the room now before them.  This was some sort of music room.  There were several stringed instruments mounted along one wall.  On a table were a variety of hand bells.  A piano sat off in a far corner adjacent to a door to the room.

They went over to the door and it went out into a hallway going off in two directions.  They took the way that headed toward what they assumed was the front of the stronghold.  There were a few rooms off of the hallway.  They peaked in them as they went by. The first one was an interior bedroom, for someone well positioned in society.  The second was an exterior room that was sleeping quarters for a large group of people, perhaps the guards.  It had no windows, so it was of no use to them.  They continued to a third door that opened up on a walkway that looked down on the great room below.  They ventured out on to the walkway to look for a place to possibly secure a rope and climb down.  Ba-shar was testing the strength of a railing when the room below lit up.

There were lit torches along the wall illuminating a clean room with goblins seated at tables underneath.  They were watching a woman enter from a door off to the side.

“Let me set the scene for you little goblins.  It was a cold winter’s eve and the Lady had finally returned to her brother.  She rapped on his door and he did not stir.  She called his name but there was no response.  Oh, if only she had a key to the door.”  She put on a very distressed look.

The four of them stayed put, unable to move.  Dhavak wanted to grab his crossbow, but clearly could not move it.  Martell tried to move and reach for her dagger to throw, but her body refused.  They heard the door they had entered the room from swing shut.

She then looked up right at them.  “O-ren, you decided to be nice and bring me my key.”  She smiled dramatically. The goblins howled in delight as if they understood all she said. “Thank you my hero.  I shall be united with my brother again and we shall sleep no more.”

Against his will, Oren started to reach into his pouch and pulled out the rod.  It was then he heard a voice call to him in his head, “We can break her control.  But only for one of you, let us know who.”  It was the spirits in the staff reaching out to him.  “Know that we demand blood in exchange for help.”

“Free Martell and you will feast on the goblins below.” Oren thought back to them.

“Very well,” They responded in a delighted tone.

Martell felt herself suddenly back in control of her body.  She found one of the daggers given to her by Oren’s mom had and sent it sailing down at the woman.  It left her hand a moment before Oren released the key flying in the air in the same direction. The woman grabbed at the key and dodged the throw of the dagger.   As soon as the dagger hit the ground, near her, her control over the other three broke.

The goblins, sensing something off, grabbed at their bows and took aim at the group.  Dhavak ran for the door but it would not budge.  Seeing him stuck there, Ba-Shar got a rope out and started preparing a way down for them.  With no real cover, he was not going to let himself die a pincushion.

Ba- Shar slid down the rope to be greeted by a rush of goblins. Once he cleared the bottom, Martell went down, followed by Oren.  Dhavak stayed up top and continued shooting at the goblins.

Oren did not recall much more after that, the fighting was a flurry of movement from his staff.  None of it was at his command. The movements flowed from him as natural as his breath, but it was not due to any skill or training he possessed. He recalled hearing shouts of pain as his staff cracked the bone of the goblins it came in contact with.  There was soreness in his arms he never recalled experiencing before.  His clothes were littered with an abundance of tears and rips.  He saw no blood anywhere on him, a feat he stopped trying to grapple with.

There were dead goblins strewn across the floor.  The sight made him queasy in the stomach.  He looked across the room to Martell who was wiping her swords off on some piece of cloth she had found.  Ba-shar stood stretching, looking at the accomplishment of them all surviving. Dhavak came down from his roost above.  He looked through his inventory and had about half his quiver left.

“She ran through the door over there,” Dhavak pointed.  “We should move quickly, maybe we can stop her before she wakes up her brother.  I got one hit on her before she left, so it might slow her down.

“May not, you saw how she had us frozen up there,” quipped Ba-shar.

“Alright, let’s go, but cautiously.  No idea who else she has waiting for us,” Martell spoke.  She went over and picked up the dagger she had thrown.  She handed it to Oren, “I think that used up the enchantment on it. But the blade is still sharp.”

“Should one of us go back to camp?  The doorway out is right over there.” said Oren.

“I say we continue on,” Ba-shar replied heading to the doorway to follow Lady Nattan.

“Agreed, they will come when we do not report back by dawn’s light,” stated Dhavak.

They went to the doorway and saw it led in a downward direction.  Looking along the ground, Oren spotted some blood, perhaps she was hit after all.  Following the hall, it went down a floor and split into three directions.  Trying to get a sense of what direction to take they looked for any traces of blood.  Lady Nattan must have known she was bleeding as there was a blood trail down all three hallways. Martell and Oren voted for the middle route.

The hallway continued downward into the mountain.  The group had relit their lanterns to see down where they were headed.  Oren paused as he heard from behind them the sound of a shriek.  It reminded him of the wyvern, but was very distant.  He whispered his concern to his companions.  The other three acknowledged that they heard it as well.  It did not bode well for their friends back at camp if there was another one stirring.  However, this was not the time for them to run back to assist.

The hallway opened up to another chamber.  Oren and Martell agreed there was a certain familiarity to the chamber, they saw one of the doors open and the group made their way over to it. They had traversed half the room before they heard some of the doors open.  There was the sound of arrows firing, and Oren immediately moved to shield himself.  When the darkness faded he saw a familiar face charging the group.  Out of the corner of his eye he also saw Ba-shar reeling on the ground as an arrow had pierced into his knee.

Oren took a defensive pose near Ba- Shar while Martell charged to meet Lord Katsutaka in combat.  There were at least four other men with them from Oren’s count. There may have been one more as he saw Dhavak lay down his crossbow and draw a sword.

Martell met two of the assailants, within one strike the first was down on the ground.  The second one hit Martell on the upper left arm, catching her slightly off guard, as she had been more focused on the other attacker.  Oren, meanwhile, waited for one of the men to come over to fight him.  His goal was to keep them away from Ba-shar while he focused on the arrow sticking out of his knee.   Dhavak went to confront Katsutaka.

Oren ultimately found him fending off two of the guards. He found defense to be working far better at this moment as each time he pressed an assault on one of the attackers the other tried to flank him.  Ba-shar had not yet been rendered useless.  He helped parry attacks from his prone position.  Martell had finished off her second assailant and moved to help Oren.  Meanwhile, Dhavak was finding himself well matched against Katsutaka.  The two were doing a good job of tiring one another out, but aside from that, neither was landing a blow squarely on the other.

With Martell’s assistance, Oren was able to break the assault of his attackers.  At about this time Ba-shar removed the arrow out of his knee.

Dhavak finally got the upper hand with Katsutaka and with a final blow that found its way past his armor, cut his neck.  Katsutaka fell over limp.  Dhavak came over to the others to check on Ba-Shar.

“Dhavak, will you stay here with him?”  Oren asked.  “I do not think he would be much use further down here and I would hate to leave him here alone”

“Yes, I would offer to go back to camp if I hadn’t heard the shriek on our way down here.  No telling what is outside currently.  Help us get him to one of these side rooms.  At least he won’t be out in the open then.”

“You do know I am right here,” Ba-shar spoke up.  “Just give me one of the bows, some arrows and my sword.  I can fend off the goblins for hours.  Just need someone to help bandage and splint the leg and I am good.”

“No, you are not,” replied Martell.  “You have no idea if they used poison. The goblins may also bring a wyvern down here and if they do you are not going to be able to fight that. No, the two of you will be a rear guard for us.  At the very least, you can put up a better fight when we are ready to leave and Oren and I are fatigued from what is to come.”

The four bickered a bit longer, but ultimately it was agreed the two would wait here while Oren and Martell went on.

Oren looked to Martell and smiled at her as they proceeded though the door leading to a set of stairs down to where they hoped Lady Nattan and Tariq were.

May I Walk With You

May I walk with you
In time things will ensue
But in this now let us share
A moment without a care
Let us stroll as far as we can
No thought of consequence or span

Take my hand and lead
We can take turns as need
You know places I do not
Possibilities beyond my thought
I can show you new places
Help when life has no graces

Allow me to keep your company
Raise you up when feeling sullenly
I may need the same
Would you grant future claim
Take time and think it through
May I walk with you

Chapter 38

Eventually, someone came to wake them up to prepare for the operation.  They were fed a warm meal before they departed and, under cover of dark, the four stealthily made their way to the giant stone walls.  The moonlight was sufficient for their travels.  It would be useless for any finer mechanical work of disarming traps, but that was what the lanterns they had were for.

“The gates look bashed open,” whispered Dhavak. “Possibly wrenched off their hinges, but I would need more light to determine that.”

The four walked slowly inside, watching for the slightest thing out of the ordinary.  The doors to the rooms just past the main gate looked to be ripped off their hinges.

“Ogres?” asked Ba-shar quietly.

“Maybe” replied Martell.

They continued across the courtyard and up a flight of stairs to the entrance of the main hall.  .  They were about to walk up when Oren motioned to stop. He pointed down to a tripwire across the ground.  He leaned down and looked across to see if he could view any more wires.  Seeing none, he motioned them to go over the wire and they continued to their goal.

Further down the path, Ba-shar put his foot down on one of the stones and felt it sink into the ground.  This caused him to stop dead in his tracks.  The trio looked around to see what may be triggered if he lifted his foot off.  A task near impossible in the dark.

“My suggestion is for us all to move away from him, he can roll back.  We have no idea where whatever is triggered will be released from,” commented Martell.

“I agree,” said Ba-shar.  He rolled back and they waited for something to happen.

They waited, holding still for a couple minutes before preparing to move on.  Perhaps it was not a trap or maybe it no longer functioned.  Either way, it was time to make their way to the doors.  Martell, having learned from the last time she was at one of the keeps scanned the courtyard for any statues.  She smiled to herself after seeing none.  Oren was busy examining the door.  He was looking for any type of seal over the entry.

“The two of you do this often?” asked Dhavak

“We were at Erridda when it was opened to free Lady Nattan.  Experience is just making for extra caution is all.  They set up all sorts of traps in these forts.  There may even be wards against creatures, keeping them in or out of this place.”  Oren replied.

“Thanks for the warning.” Dhavak retorted.

Oren found nothing amiss on the door or any seals in place.  He proceeded to push gently on the handle.  It gave way as the door swung inward with relative ease.  The room was dark and colder than outside.  Oren lit his lantern illuminating the room and giving them a better idea of their surroundings.

He saw glimpses of several wooden columns.  There were pristine tapestries along the walls with heraldic symbols he had never seen before on one of them.  Another depicted a story of some kind, but nothing he could make out.  The four made their way past the threshold looking up to see a ceiling that went up to the second floor.

The rest of the room was not as pristine as the tapestries.  There was furniture strewn about as if some fight may have occurred. There were tables turned on their side, some with burn marks others with arrows lodged in the side.  There were two doorways off the main room along with a spiral stairway going both up and down in the corner.

The doorway in one direction was missing the door while the other one was closed and still in good shape.  The group went over to the stairs and investigated for any indication of use.  Not to any surprise, there was no indication. Based on the last stronghold they had entered, Oren and Martell voted for investigating downward.

They made it single file down what was probably two floors based on how long the stairwell was.  The stairs opened up to a room half the size the one above.  They cast the lantern light around.  It revealed they were in a kitchen. There were several ovens and stoves down here with ventilation leading upward.  There was a door at the far end of the room, slightly ajar.  They searched the room and found a few old, sealed bottles of wine.  Oren, Ba-shar and Dhavak each took one and stored it in their bags for later.

They continued to be on the lookout for additional traps, still weary of the courtyard.  Oren took the lead to open the door while the other three stood back.  As he pulled the door open he saw a flicker of light down the hallway.  It was something moving away from them, best he could tell.  The hallway itself was wide enough for them to go down two across, maybe three if it were really needed. Shining a light down the wall, the area was definitely meant to be traversed by servants as the wall were rather bare except for a few places where a lantern or candle may have been placed.

The four of them continued on still in single file; along the way there were a few doors branching off.  Most of the doors were still closed and intact.  There were a couple that had been damaged and one or two that were left open.  Based on the open doors, these must have been stores for food and other goods in the keep.

As they proceeded down the hall, they started catching up to whoever had the light.  It sounded like two or three people ahead, whoever they were. They decided to close in on the group and at least see who they were pursuing.  Picking up the pace they got close enough to see three goblins walking down the hall with a torch.  They appeared to be checking doors, looking inside ones that opened up and passing on locked ones.

The goblins would look inside, mumble to each other and then close the door.  They were indifferent to the amount of the noise made and seemed to be bickering about something as they went along their business.   The four of them could easily have overtaken them as the goblins looked unarmed.  They held back trying to figure out what they were up to or if more were ahead.  Based on the lighting there was no indication of others ahead.

They continued on like this for another little bit before one of the goblins turned back and saw them.  He shouted something and the three turned to run.  Dhavak, quick on his crossbow took a shot at one.  The bolt flew well and hit the goblin in the leg, bringing it to the ground.  He tried to reload to get another off, but by then they had turned a corner out of sight. He released the second shot, finishing off the one he had grounded.

The party went over to the goblin’s corpse to look for anything useful.  A quick search found nothing, unfortunately.  They looked in the room they had left open.  Inside was a giant egg, about the size of a goblin.  It rested on a bed of straw or hay and other fibers.  Martell put her ear up to the side of it.  She could hear something inside, moving around.

“We will need to report this back.  After we take care of Casapan, we should clean these creatures out of here. The last thing the Vales need is several of these.” She said calmly.  “My guess is it is a wyvern, but who knows.”

“Why not take care of this one now?” asked Ba-shar.

“Time,” replied Oren. “Unless you know how long it would take to kill it.  I have no idea how aware and able bodied these things are when they are broken out.”

“Alright, but if we have to fight it before leaving here, I am holding you accountable to the decision.”  Ba-shar grinned.

They pulled the goblin body into the room and closed the door. The four proceeded down the hall, a little less concerned about quiet since some goblins knew they were here.  The hallway started to widen as they went further along.  They realized the walls were less brick and more stone, perhaps an indication they were going back into the mountain itself.

They got to a point where they started to see a light up ahead.   The way it acted led them to think it was mounted in place.  As they moved slightly closer they could hear voices, it was nothing any of them could make out.  It was here that Martell ordered the group to halt.

“Let’s go back up.  I think we have enough reconnaissance to return to the commanders with.” She said.

“That sounds like a wise plan.”  Dhavak said.  “I have no plan of going up four of us against who know how many goblins and possibly wyverns.”

The four turned and high tailed it out of the area.  They made quicker progress, not checking the rooms along the way back.  Oren and Ba-shar took turns glancing back to make sure they were not being pursued at the moment.  When they got to the stairwell, the adrenaline started to wear off.  The group took a moment to catch their breath before going to climb stairs.  Ba-shar would take the lead and Martell would cover the rear with Oren next to her for support if needed.