Chapter 28

The final chains came off the door and Martel was free. Oren was relieved to have her back. Teman kept the locks and chains as payment for his services. The three agreed that they would investigate around Erridda after a good rest. They spent the night in the courtyard; Oren curled up with Martell enjoying the freedom from the chamber below.

In the morning, they started by looking through the second floor for more clues about what Lady Nattan and Katsutaka were going to do next. Based on Oren’s research, the assumption was they were headed to Wind Gait. Neither Oren nor Martell thought they were equipped to handle the task of stopping her. Their best bet was to regroup in Aleto and confer with Oren’s parents. Oren wanted to know how much more his parents knew about the Drémore family and if they understood the extent of the plans.

The exploration of Erridda yielded quite a few traps, which were easy for Teman to disarm. The wards prevented them from entering several areas. They found numerous maps and battle plans for assaults on cities that had long since fallen ruled by people whose bloodlines had died off. When Oren brought up the old gods to Teman, he recalled to the best of his knowledge that there were no priests of Latl around anymore. The last priest had died around two hundred years ago and since then the god had been silent. Dahl still had at least one priest in Gromdash and Casapaten had a temple somewhere in the western cities of Iseb. They still played rolls in King Hannon II’s court through representatives. Their activity and deeds were known more up north. He was not certain why they were not more widely revered in the southern portions of the kingdom.

Martell added that like Tethinger order holding fealty to Varelle, each of the three other gods had an order that served them. The specialties of each order and the priests divided much of the work and balanced each other out. The goddess Varelle had the Tethinger order; their duty to the four gods was chronicling events as they unfolded. The god Casapaten was served by the order of Kaddock. Their focus was on any task of a military nature. Dahl worked with the Vocknuera order. They provided judgment and mediation to lesser regions that lacked a lord to oversee it as well as certain issues that the king may wish to forgo handling himself. Finally the god Latl’s agents were in the Edostera order. They coordinated spiritual efforts between the gods. They had records of which god or goddess one should pray to for any conceivable topic, and if they did not have an answer, it was to them to dictate who had authority.

Searching through other parts of Erridda, Oren found some additional books, two that struck his fancy. The first was Manual of Wyverns. Some of the sketches he saw while paging through indicated designs of saddles and riders of wyverns. He would have to wait till later to find if this was actual information or whimsical portrayal. The second was labeled Eidolons of Power, it mention concepts that were alluded to in Penumbra of Nature and Meditations in Umbra, such as bringing the spirits form into reality and enshrining their essence so as to have it manifest in objects. It reminded him a bit of his forest encounter with the spirits and how enchanting worked.

If he read correctly, he could either call out the spirits in his staff to fight at his side or channel their abilities to manifest in the weapon itself. Oren got the idea from the book that he may be able to summon birds similar to the ones that attacked Tabia and Martell, but under his control. The thought of that type of power both excited and terrified him. It also had him concerned with the idea of what a Channeler’s Guild could be capable of. The idea of multiple people with that ability, or other abilities he had yet to conceive of, not bound by enchantments had no foreseeable limit. It was no wonder the Enchanter’s guild feared them.

These were feats he would want to make sure he understood before he tried to implement. Based on the summoning of spirits in the forest, this could easily go wrong quickly. He also debated discussing with Martell before practicing. He was uncertain if she had even read this book before. He figured at the very least to not discuss in Teman’s presence as he did not feel need to cause undue alarm with their friend.

Teman spent most of the time rattling off values of much of what they found in the place. He picked up a few trinkets that he could pocket and carry with ease. “Larger stuff would need a campaign to salvage the place, though I feel no need to alert others to the place now being unsealed.” He joked, “This is a great place to call it quits from treasure hunting. It‘s fully furnished too, all it needs is a large shipment of wine and I could be set. But then the guy who delivers wine knows about it and he tells some people and then they tell people and you get the idea. No peace and quiet to relax in.”

“You know the people who locked us up may have plans for the place to. I would not head back here for a while after we leave.” Oren cautioned.

“Maybe,” Martel spoke, “Though I think they are off to Wind Gait now. Do you know if that one is still locked up Teman?”

“That one is still locked. Also no one seems to be able to find it up there in the mountains and hills. You may get close, but the clouds are always there. You start off a clear day, see the peak and when you get up there nothing but fog and clouds. There are also goblins, sprites and wyverns up there.”

“I read in some of the books in the dungeon that Drémore had destroyed their nests and they were no longer a problem.

“Yeah they did clear out the wyverns at one point. But they came back, according to others that travel up there. They don’t mess with the vales, or anyone who leaves them alone. Aside from people looking for Wind Gait, nobody travels up that way. There are cities on the other side of the mountain; trails are there to prove it. It is probably why they built Wind Gait up there, to protect the pass. With the Drémore Kingdom gone, no one was left to maintain it.”

“So something else I read is that Iseb was part of Drémore and rebelled against them. Do you know if that is true? Or at least heard stories”

“I have suspicions of such thing from the ruins I have seen. However, like anything several hundred years old, it is hard to say. There are other records that say they died off and Iseb filled the need of a new ruler of the lands. Guess it is all up to you on who you believe.”

They continued to search, this time specifically for signs of the enchanter Casapan. He had entered and never left according to the logs at the entrance. No remains were found in the cells in the lower levels. They were beginning to wonder if he was part of the group that trapped the place, hence the reason for not leaving a mark for exit. However, why would he have been a prisoner? This place did not make sense in many regards. Also, if he was the same as the one that Lady Nattan answered to what was that connection? Was he part of the Drémore family?

They entered a room at the top of a tower to find the walls lined with shelves full of various gems and minerals. There were plant specimens in numerous glass jars on one set of shelves. There was what looked like a small furnace in one corner. There were a few tables in the room, one with tools for stone and wood work, another with tools for working leather and a third with a setup for a jeweler.

“This must have been where they did enchanting,” Martell spoke up.

“I agree,” said Teman, “Most of these items are still in clean useful condition. The tools have no tarnish on them at all.”

Oren was distracted by some papers laying on one of the tables, looking at the top paper he read:

Casapan,
With each talisman you bring yourself to freedom from your indentured time. I hope that Erridda more than exceeds your needs. I must also compliment you on the quality of your work. Your talismans are highly compatible with one another with little diminishing interference if our men use more than one. I hope you will come to appreciate what the Drémore Kingdom can offer you. Further I am asking for you to offer your services once your indentured time is up and not return to the harsh treatments you received in the Southern Baronies.
Your Friend and Master,
King Drémore VIII

Oren shuffled the other papers, they looked like notes on crafting or requests for more materials. Oren took the papers; maybe his mother would know what they were crafting, if anything out of the ordinary. “It looks like Casapan was here. Though, I would like to know if this is the same one that Lady Nattan called her Lord.”

“That would give him some age.” commented Teman.

“But that would not be a surprise. From what Oren told us, if they had truly slowed time here he may have been able to manipulate his own aging. If he is still around then he may pose a larger threat than Lady Nattan. With this many life times to improve his abilities, I shudder to think what he is capable of.”

“Oren if I may suggest, some of the items on these shelves are quite rare. Perhaps we should take them in case Lady Nattan does return with Casapan. The absence of key ingredients and certain tools may cause them delays.” Teman advised.

“Agreed, perhaps we split them between the two of us; you can sell some of it, think of it as payment for assisting.”

After checking for any traps, they pulled down various items from the shelf. The value of some of the random items would be worth some nice coin to the right buyer, according to Martell. It was after getting down all they planned on taking that Martell noticed a jar with a lump of what they had assumed was copper. But when she looked at it long enough, she swore it moved slightly.

“Do you know what that is?” she asked.

“That? Looks like copper.”

“Yes but it moved. Here I will tap on the jar and watch it.” She tapped it. The size of the lump increased slightly.

“I have never seen anything like it,” commented Teman.

“Hmm, give me a moment,” said Oren. He called out to it to come slightly closer and it did move toward him. He next tried pushing away slowly as he would with a spirit. Again the lump responded in kind. “It is a spirit of some sort, though the copper exterior puzzles me.”

“Should we take it with us?” Martell asked while looking at it.

“I don’t know. The creature could be an issue if we let it out. Unfortunately there is no way to know its intent.”

“I am not one inclined to let things out on the world. Based on my experience back in the forest, I would not like to repeat that,” said Oren. “Though I am not inclined to leave it here either. We will need to pack it up properly so it doesn’t break on the travels out of here.”

They spent the rest of the day searching for any additional information they could find. With nothing new revealed they agreed that the next day they would head back to Aleto.

Chapter 27

The Drémore Kingdom was fighting the Iseb Barons as they had ceased to pay tribute and send forces to fight in the southern forest border. Iseb had decided that the Drémore Lineage was weak and its leaders were bent on expanding the kingdom while their allies and internally struggled with finding funds and people to send. The Drémores had already taken many of the skilled builders and craftsman out to the south to build strongholds against the Princes of the south. This left the lands internally in poor repair and upkeep. In addition, many lords and barons were unable to continue their preferred level of living. The one upside was there was less strife in the kingdom among the lords as all the normal idle soldiers and knights were now stationed elsewhere.
The leaders of the uprising were the Iseb, Eitelwulf and Auben houses. In their ignorance, they failed to realize with the completion of the strongholds Erridda and Wind Gait the construction was at an end and many of the artisans would return. Also the number of soldiers needed to defend the border was about to decrease with the fortresses. This would satisfy the demands many people had. The taxes levied by the Drémores were some of the highest ever which may have led to the indifference by some of the lords to these promises. As the civil war progressed, the Drémore castle fell. Over time, those loyal to the empire retreated to the four strongholds that stayed loyal, Erridda, Abbysta, Wind Gait and Scoria. From there Abbysta and Scoria were first to fall. Abbysta fell to followers of Varelle who had switched sides when they saw where the power was flowing. Scoria fell to the Tethinger and Vocknuera Knight Orders. Once an order of loyal knights, their ranks had now become swelled with sons of noble families opposed to the Drémores. In both cases, before ceding control of the strongholds, loyal enchanters assisted in sealing many of the important rooms and stores so that they could not serve the enemy.
With two holds remaining the Katsutaka family, the original commander at Erridda, agreed with Lady Drémore to have her daughter Nattan Drémore preserved with the stronghold. She would be locked in a room safe from enchantments and sealed with the blessing of gods. There would be further enchantments done to freeze the state of her being and the structure. And finally one born from Southern Drémore would need to open the seal of the outer gate. The goal was to consolidate forces at Wind Gait with King Drémore and then make a push to take back Drémore Castle. The Wolves would remain in the south and to make the rebellion think they had not abandon the fortress. If the attempt failed, then the prince, next in line, Tariq would be similarly sealed at Wind Gait. This would help preserve the bloodline for the future. The Drémores were not going to surrender to the rebellion. As for the Drémore children, neither was keen on being locked away. It may be questionable if the children knew how long they would be sealed away.
The Wolves of the Vales were an elite scout unit. There are numerous stories of them protecting the borders of Drémore and saving its citizens from dangers of nature and man. Originally, the group was light infantry sent to guard the farms in the vales from wild beasts and the occasional bandit raid. They rose to prominence when the company tracked down and killed a nest of wyverns in the mountains. The winged beasts had appeared from nowhere, and had started hauling off livestock. In several instances, farmers were killed or wounded by the attacks. The attacks were originally written off by the kingdom and the Wolves thought them embellished stories. When the Wolves were finally sent out to investigate the complaint, they found more destruction had been done than reported and immediately campaigned to end the problem. The Wolves lost only nine men in the assault through the mountains while they in turn took down at least ten adult wyverns and several lesser ones. Eventually, they found the nests of the creatures. Some attempts were made to tame the babies, but they proved as strong willed as their parents. In the end all the wyverns were slayed. Where the wyvern’s nest was is now where Wind Gait sits and is the base for their command. They were called to serve in the forests near Erridda prior to the rebellion as guards for construction. The vales at the time were filled with bandits and raiders from neighboring lands. Once the rebellion broke out, there were never orders issued to return so half of them had stayed stationed in the woods. The head of the Wolves in the forest was called Dawsil in honor of the original captain that led the group. This also led to much misconception by their adversaries that he was invincible as he would wear a similar armor style and his face obscured by a helmet face guard.

Oren finished this part of the books as Teman finally picked the first lock. The chain pulled away with some ease once it was no longer locked. He set to work on the following lock. Oren pulled down another couple books from the history of Drémore.
Avo cheered the creation of their ward obelisk. This was to be the centerpiece of the town hall. At last, it meant the town was free of roaming goblins and ogres that otherwise raided their lands for food. The wards would need to be charged to increase the radius of protection, but the fact there was now one created would allow the town to flourish. The hardest parts of building a core out of crystal and then crafting a housing or enclosure were already done. The charging would require the focus of at least three enchanters and a period of two years. After that, they would need to send in a senior enchanter and have the obelisk receive the blessings of a priest on behalf of each god. Avo did not know they were a test for the makers of the obelisks. There was at the northern end of the kingdom the town of Stigen, where three years prior an enchanter perished when a flaw went undetected in the construction of the obelisk. The end result was that the obelisk summoned the beasts of snow that it was to have protected against.
The alliance with the Eitelwulf family came after a two year war. The family agreed to an alliance with the Drémore Kingdom, never admitting defeat, but none the less they were surrounded by Drémore on all sides so had little choice but to agree to something. After three generations, the Eitelwulf family became complacent and less proud and eventually the terms of the alliance were replaced with servitude. They were still of nobility, but no longer independent. This may indeed be what led them to join Iseb rather than fight them when the borders of Drémore receded. It is believed that Iseb has again dangled the carrot of freedom before Eitelwulf, but had no plans to follow through. If Drémore could only prove they would be no better off, then Eitelwulf may be reclaimed.
Eitelwulf has influence over Auben through family, and now Iseb has proposed to take a wife for its prince from Eitelwulf. Auben will follow suit and leave the Drémore Kingdom soon. If not all of it at once, at the least the nobles would go and then the commoners. It is not known why, but the commoners in Auben’s land have always unquestionably followed the lead of their lord. It would be something for a King of Drémore to have that pull over his entire kingdom.

It was here in his readings that Oren heard the second lock undone. Martell was a step closer to freedom. He could now hear as Teman released another chain. Oren had only a little more time to look through the books. It was a book between the end of the history and the prayer books that caught his eye.
Neffian was arrived from the north, he denied that the four gods existed and was exiled from Drémore. His teachings were such that though the four gods existed in some manner, they were not gods but the creation of enchanters that had tapped into a new source. Rather than be accepted as beings that controlled daily life and have worship, they were merely a new source of energy to do enchanting.
Velgrey was lord of the North East. He allowed those that enchanted objects to practice freely in his domain as long as they passed their knowledge on to the records of the lord’s manner. Neffian was allowed to visit the Velgrey manor. During his stay he stole several volumes of records from the estate. The books were recovered and Neffian was seriously wounded. This was the last ever heard of Neffian.
The Velgreys donated their entire collection of books to be transcribed by the Enchanter Guild. However, the guild claimed several volumes were never received. The Velgreys confirmed that all their books were sent and that it is only the guild hungry for power that was trying to press for more information. The disagreement lead to the Velgrey’s being banned from ever being full members of the guild. The Velgreys retaliated by taking back their library. It is believed the guild only transcribed about a quarter of the collection.

Chapter 26

It was sometime later when Oren brought up his plan. “Martell, I don’t think what I do is an enchantment. I just need to focus to get outside the door. Will you be ok while I go and find a light source so I can get you out of here?”
“Sure, not like there is anything else in here.”
“Okay, I will let you know when I am outside the door.” Oren’s attempt to move beyond the door worked perfectly. However, his staff stayed behind, he assumed that must have been blocked because of its enchantments.
“I will be back for you Martell.” Oren spoke as he fumbled around the room. He wasn’t even sure where in Erridda they had been locked in. It may be where they found Lady Nattan or a completely new place.
His hands ran along the wall ahead of him grasping in hopes of preventing a run in with the walls. He found a door, but passed on going inside. He was trying to make a map in his head as he made his way, so the fewer rooms the better.
This process went on for several hours with him slowly working out that they were in no place they had seen on the way down. He found a stairwell and went up to the next level. It was still dark, but shortly after the stairs found the remains of a door and its hinges hanging to the wall. Was this the door where Lady Nattan had busted through?
He worked his way around the perimeter of the room slowly. There was definitely rubble strewn across the floor. He felt around on the floor and after what seemed like an eternity found one of the torches that they had had with them. That was a step in the right direction; now he needed something to light it with. If only he had asked Tabia to leave them the flint and steel.
With that, he now proceeded to search the walls for a small cabinet like Tabia had retrieved her set from. There was none in the current room. He preceded up the stairs another level to the first level of the basement. He turned down the hall to where they had not previously been. It was here he found a cabinet on the wall. Inside were flint and steel along with some other materials, possibly what Oren would need for another torch, if they had not gone bad.
Oren lit the torch and waited a bit for his eyes to adjust to the change in light. As he adjusted to the light he could see the decoration in the room. The room was laid out like the other with two altars. This one had a one side with flames and various shades of red across it. From the remnants of the statue on this side, the clothing the figure wore a tabard with two flames rising above a castle. The other side of the room was decorated in lightning running down from the ceiling to an anvil on the wall. Under the anvil were fields of gray, maybe dust or ash. There was another statue destroyed on this side as well. The figure on this side had wielded a hammer similar to one used by a blacksmith. There was nothing else he could determine about the figures here.
Oren went over and checked the other materials that were in the cabinet. They all still seemed functional so he brought them with. It was time to go back and get Martell. He hastened his way back down to her.
When he got down to the door, he called out, “Martell, I am back. Are you alright in there?”
There was a pause before he saw her face at the door. “Yes, now get me out.”
Oren looked at the door. This was going to take some time; Oren did not feel the need to ponder where Nattan and her men had gotten the locks to reseal the door. “Martell, you know anything about picking locks?”
“No, situation has never come up for me to break out of a place. I have always been more concerned about my wellbeing in combat, not so much concerned about being locked up.”
“Have any lock picks or small pieces of metal I can tinker around the lock with?” Oren asked.
“No, can’t help you there either.” The humor in Martell’s voice was fading.
Looking around the room Oren saw a place to at least hang his torch. He put it in its fixture and started to look around the room. He put together another torch with the materials he had found upstairs and lit it. He then went to go check out the other room on this floor. Inside he found it with book lined walls. If he was not trying to rescue Martell, he could have been lost for hours in here. He quickly perused the titles. They covered history of the Drémore kingdom along with some prayer books to each of the gods. There was also candleholder on a table and a box of candles. There was nothing to light them with.
This may have been the library Katsutaka and his assistant had been referring to. He relayed his finding to Martell and expressed that they may need to peruse this collection before they departed. She agreed with his assessment. It was around this time Martell confessed she was getting hungry. Oren would have to go out and find some food for both of them.
Oren exited into the courtyard; the place was strewn with rubble from destroyed statues. There were still a few statues that remained standing, presumably the ones that did not animate themselves. The doors out of the stronghold were open again. Oren climbed up to the second floor to look out and get a feel of who was left around outside the gate. When he looked out the windows he saw that all of Lady Nattan’s men had taken off. He made a quick stop back at the armory to grab a sword in case anyone was still out there.
Oren left the stronghold in order to go get their horse and what supplies they had left. They still had some food in the packs. Also, they did have a couple tools, maybe something to open the doors with. He found their horse and belongings where they left them. After returning to the stronghold, horse in tow, He proceeded to look through what was left behind by the departed knights. He found a bit more food, along with a couple tents, three more torches, and Martell’s other two swords.
Once he had collected everything necessary, Oren closed the gates to the stronghold and started a small fire inside the walls. He wanted to have it going before night came. At this point he was not worried about Nattan’s return. As soon as he had the flames going there was a knock at the gate. Oren headed over to see who was knocking with a sword at the ready.
“Oren you in there?” a familiar voice asked.
“Yes, and you are?”
“It is me, Teman. I wanted to see if you were ok. There was a large group of men that headed down the road away from here. They did not all look in the best of shape. I was coming to see if I could benefit from your excursion here while Devlin took care at Abbysta.”
Oren cautiously opened the gate. He saw the same short, black haired man he had left at Abbysta. He had two dead rabbits slung over his shoulder. “Get in quick, I was about to barricade the gate for the night.”
Teman slipped in and Oren shut the door, slipping a cross in order to seal the gate. “Where is Martell? Is she busy with preparing dinner?”
“No, but I am glad you are here we need help getting her out of a room.”
“Oh? Did you trigger a trap?”
“It was our reward for roughing up the party that left here. Well, really, it is more complex than that. I will explain on the way to where she is.”
They arrived in the room outside where Martell was locked up. Teman took a look at the door and let out a whistle. “You, friends, got yourself a big dilemma if you had not run across me. Those locks are not going to bend to any enchantment. Sure, any one of those chains on their own and you could use one means or another to break. No, this is going to take mechanical know how.” Teman was running his hands down the chains, as if sensing from them the wards on them. He picked up one of the locks and examined it. “Quality locks too. Looks like height of the Drémores’ time. Still better than many made today. This will take some time.”
“You sound so encouraging,” Martell quipped.
“Well let’s get started. Oren if you can handle getting us all some food, that will help all of us. Feel free to use one of the critters I brought to bulk up whatever it is you make.” With that, Teman unfurled his collection of lock picks and started to probe the lock and figure out how to open it.
It was after preparing them all dinner and while Teman had a ways to go on freeing Martell that Oren sat in the small room. On a wooden stool he sat, with candle light coating the table, while he opened the books on the history of Drémore. It was nice of the person who shelved them to have left them in order. Oren would have preferred to read from the start, as history works best in context of what came before it, even if biased by the author. He did not have a luxury to do so at this time. He went to the last couple of tomes till he could find something on Iseb. His goal was to determine if Lady Nattan was crazy or actually telling the truth about the fall of the Drémore Kingdom and if someone had written of her incarceration.

Chapter 25

The two exited the chamber and then went down the middle hallway. From the base of the stairs they could hear Tabia fighting the statues. Martell would have liked to go up and see what her methodology was for fighting such beings but the search for Lady Nattan and her men was more pressing based on the message Tabia had given. Down the middle hall they went, it was smooth stone walls all the way. The quakes had not phased the infrastructure here. At the end of the hall they found a room with several doors off of it. They were all open, but Oren and Martell could not see in to any of them from their standpoint. Martell took initiative and headed right in the lead. She looked into the first room. It was of simple furnishings with a bed in one corner and a table next to the bed. There were no windows and if the door had been shut the only way light would enter was a small window in the door. Oren followed behind Martell; as she was checking out the room, he took a defensive stance so as they could not be sneaked up on.
They searched three rooms this way till they got to a door that had a stairwell further down. A quick check of the other rooms confirmed no one else was in the area and the only place to go was down the stairs. The two debated on whether to proceed. They checked around for any marker as to what was further down, but to no avail.
The two made their way cautiously down to the next floor, uncertain as to what to expect. When they reached the bottom of the stairs there was another room with a hallway leading out of it. Oren motioned quietly to Martell that he heard noises down the hall. It sounded like someone was moving chains. Whoever was working ahead let out an “ouch” before the chains continued to move. Oren and Martell quietly moved down the hall closer, they left their torches in the room so as to not be seen.
When they got close enough, it became clear it was Katsutaka and the other guard. They had broken through a couple locks and were now undoing chains that crossed over a door. “Lady Nattan, we will have you out shortly. We just need to remove one more barrier on the door.”
“Thank you”, said a voice unlike anyone Oren or Martell had heard before. “You shall be rewarded for your efforts.”
Oren and Martell ran in weapons drawn. Katsutaka drew his sword, “Get our Lady free. I will hold these two.” Katsutaka thrusted his sword at Oren, he parried the blow, but not before it nicked him on the arm.
Martell lunged at the opening only to strike air as Katsutaka sidestepped her. He brought his sword back for another assault on Oren. Oren parried again with his staff and countered hitting Katsutaka’s shin. Martell ceased her assault on Katsutaka and moved past him to prevent his colleague from opening the last lock.
Oren continued his assault on Katsutaka, pivoting his staff in his hands to land a strike on the jaw and then a blow on his gut on the opposite side.
Martell slashed at the fingers that were prying at the lock. The man withdrew them before she could cut him. He drew out his sword and prepared for her next slash.
The door shook as Lady Nattan pounded on it. Martell then heard one of the words she had heard up at the battle near the altars. She jumped back in time as the door shattered and wood and stone went flying everywhere. Lady Nattan’s allies got hurt just as badly as Oren and Martell. It was mostly scratches and cuts. More than likely there were a few bruises and splinters that would not be felt till later.
When the debris cleared out a woman was left there. She looked to be about forty, and was wearing a dress. She had shoulder length light red hair and glowing copper eyes. “Enough of this fighting,” She spoke. “I am going to walk out of here and Oren you and your friend are going to let me and my associates leave. “ She was very intense, as if focusing on something as she spoke this.
“I will not yield to you Nattan, nor will she,” Oren motioned to Martell. “You are not to leave this room.”
“Curious, Oren.” Lady Nattan seemed vexed, as if something was not happening the way she thought it should. “If you do not bend to my will then I shall need to remove you as a problem.” She pulled out two balls and tossed them at Oren and Martell. She uttered a different word than they had heard before. The balls expanded into lightning emitting spheres.
Oren, almost reflexively, called on spirits to shield himself, when he saw the spheres come out. With the speed they answered his call; he also attempted to protect Martell from the impending assault. Oren’s quick move spared him and Martell the shock that would have followed. Instead they dissipated with loud thunder following, but no harm to the two of them.
“Well, are we not full of tricks Oren?” Lady Nattan mused, slightly annoyed. “You may not be able to get out of this one.” She tossed another ball, into the air above her this time. He heard her mutter a new phrase. And with that all went dark, followed by a resounding slamming of doors shut.
When Oren could see again, he was in a small room with Martell. There was a vent in the door where he could see a small flicker of a flame dancing on a torch.
“You will not be a bother to me in there.” Lady Nattan’s voice could be heard. “You will enjoy the same fate my captors gave to when they realized I would not bend to their will. The chains across the cell door each ward against a different enchantment. If I was unable to break out without them being removed by someone else, neither will you. It took me five hundred years till I found someone willing. You will wait much longer since no one even knows you are here.” With that the torchlight went out. Oren could hear talk coming from down the hall. “Katsutaka you did well in serving me. This will eventually be yours, but we have one last place to go. Besides, what good is a keep like this if there is no garrison to staff it and no farmers to feed it.” Darkness settled in. Martell and Oren sat in it thinking, locked away.
“Martell?”
“Yes Oren?”
“Do you know any way out of here?”
“Nope, you got any ideas?”
“One.”
“That is enough if it is the right one.”
“How long until they will have left Erridda?”
“Couple of hours…?”
“Okay, we can talk about it then.”
“Think they will be back?”
“No, worried we may have to fight them again is all.”
“So sit in the dark till then?”
“Yes.”
“Oh.”

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.

Chapter 22

There was some commotion outside. Oren assumed it was Tabia setting the key in the gate to open up Erridda. A few more moments of silence passed until there was an earth shaking boom and then more silence.

The guards outside came in and grabbed Martell and Oren. They said something but Oren and Martell’s hearing was still recovering from the boom. They got on their feet best they could and were then taken out of the tent. They saw several of the guards trying to shake off the noise’s disorientating effect as well. Things got better as they got closer to the gate. The two saw Tabia was ok and waiting there as well.

“Well that was fun, I guess even I miss some of the finer details at times,” said a grinning Lady Nattan. “Alright Oren you are up, just open the doors for me and I will let you have the privilege of gazing upon the courtyard inside first. Oh and if you refuse dear, I let your friends go and if all three of you refuse I cut you down here and now.”

Oren went forward and pushed on the door, slowly it budged open. Metal and rust shifted against each other, creaking, as the hinges remembered how to function. Oren smelled a musty scent as he made his way inward and the door retreated. The air felt as if it had not moved in forever. Looking around the courtyard, he saw several statues of beasts lining the walkways to the rooms along the walls. To the left was a path lined with various canines, to the right the path was lined with serpents and lizards and the middle looked as if it were lined with winged beasts. Each path started with a quadrupedal creature; slowly the forms grew in size and stature with the ones closest the doors being bipedal. The place looked almost frozen in time.

The effects of a spirit started to take hold on Oren. It was panic, fear, as if something ominous was to take place. He was in control, but the feeling was there. It wanted him to run toward the wall, to one of the rooms in the entrance way and hide. Slowly, Oren followed the compulsion, but without the reckless abandon he would have been slave to in the past. He opened the door and stepped in to the room. It was a five foot square, a small desk stood in the room with a ledger. It listed the comings and goings for the day. Oren was impressed with the clarity of the ink was and the integrity of the paper for something so old. The last name he saw listed was Casapan, with a destination of prison.
“Oren, are you still alive?” Nattan called out. “Dear, feel free to open anything you like; but after all if you die, do not fear we have two more to take over where you leave off.”

“I am fine,” Oren replied back as he stepped out of the room. Then in a very overtly sarcastic tone, “I wanted to see if there was any additional mechanisms to disarm for you is all.”

“Oren, that is very thoughtful of you. But I am not so worried as to what is in such a small room. Please go a little further and open one of the main doors off the courtyard.” Lady Nattan’s voice cut through the air.

Oren didn’t really feel a motivation to go beyond where he stood, and if his companions’ lives were not hanging on Nattan’s whim he would have probably stayed put for an hour or so. However, seeing them there helpless and unable to do anything otherwise to assist, he went forward. Oren went over to the door at the end of the pathway with lizards and studied it for a moment.

The door looked of sturdy wood; there were no visible mechanisms that he could see to indicate a contact trap. He tried best he could to see if there was any other trap that may be waiting on the other side. Then it occurred to him, a plan to at least get himself free. It did require their captors knowing nothing about his ability, which was possible. Oren started to focus on the spirits, drawing them in. There were quite a few in here as he sensed the rush. They had been without contact outside the stronghold for so long that something new calling to them was intriguing. He reached to the door as he felt them clamoring closer. His hand reached out in contact with the door itself, Oren disappeared.

Lady Nattan’s troops were silent as they watch this all unfold from the entry way. “Oh well, he was a brave soul.” Lady Nattan spoke. She then turned to Martell, “Very well young lady, it is your turn, I hope your armor offers more protection than his wits offered him. I will give you a sporting chance; you can pick any of the three doors. I would not choose the one Oren went through, but then again what are the odds the same trap is still rigged for twice the entrance. My darling, you have a moment to mourn the passing of your friend, but do not tarry long. I doubt whatever got him will leave much behind.”

Chapter 21

The three gathered up everything and continued following Tabia’s lead. The conversation on the path was a mixture of Oren and Martell explaining their reasons for heading to Erridda. The following few days were less eventful. Oren and Martell spent time practicing fighting, improving Oren’s skill with his staff. Oren spent time reading though his books. He had moved back to reading Eitelwulf’s journal, as he thought a break from Penumbra of Nature was needed. Though dry in reading, Oren was hoping to figure out where the campaign had traveled and if it were anywhere near their destination. Martell spent time talking to Tabia, catching her up on history and changes in the world, as best she could.
Tabia meanwhile explained to Oren and Martell the songs and chants of Varelle. They were enchantment like in nature when done right. Songs had the effects to boost morale and courage at times while other times they could calm down and relax the listener. Chants, like the one she had used when the spirits attacked, were pleas for assistance or protection from Varelle. The manifestation of Varelle’s action was often unpredictable. She would not always answer either; this would often be if you were capable of acting yourself. Other times, you may ask for assistance and the response would be delayed. Tabia agreed that the goddess could be frustrating at times, but no more than any other aspect of life.
Oren asked Tabia, “Who are Latl and Dahl. I had not heard of any of the four gods that you mentioned prior to travelling to Avo. But Varelle and Casapaten had been covered in enough detail for me from others. In Aleto, those from the city acknowledge the existence of the spirits and they are a driving force of things, but their actions or being were not worshipped or talked to. There are also the Neffians from up to the north, but they are more focused on the acquisition of knowledge.”
“Latl was in balance of Varelle and Dahl was in balance of Casapaten. Varelle was patience, natural progression and life. Latl was about entropy, impulse, and accomplishment without consequence. Dahl was balance, contemplation, and preservation. Casapaten was about chaos, confrontation, and destruction,” explained Tabia. “I do not know if there still are priests or priestesses of the other gods. I am not out to oppose or suppress them. My job is to aid those who wish to know Varelle. I offer guidance to those that follow or are in need of her principals. Many soldiers of the Drémore Kingdom prayed to Casapaten for guidance and victory in battle. Each of the temples used to have a priest or priestess in the Drémore court. I would speak more on them if I could add more than that, but my focus on Varelle has come at the consequence of not knowing the others so well. The gods are not at war with one another. Though this does not mean fights cannot break out between followers devoted to separate gods.”
It was another day and a half till they saw a white stone structure on a hill top above the forest. The walls looked to be at least as tall as Abbysta. There was smoke rising from somewhere within the stronghold. Someone was using Erridda.
They were still at least a day of travel off from Erridda. That was assuming they did not have any setbacks in the forest between now and then. If this was an active stronghold, then who knows how long it would be till they reached the fort. Oren could feel his nerves getting to him as he ran multiple scenarios through his head. Would there be a large force present or would it only be the three who came to see him in his dreams? It could be a group like Devlin and Teman, just there to loot the place and cause no problems. Either way he needed something to occupy his mind while they closed in. Oren decided to pass the time trying to communicate with the spirits he had just bound to his staff. The task was tiring; the first step he had to do was figure out how many spirits he was dealing with. He knew at least two different personalities, but was uncertain if it meant that there were two spirits. Adding to the difficulty of understanding the spirits was his divided attention between keeping up with the women and trying to coax the spirits to communicate with him. This took about half the day until he finally determined that it was two that had occupied the staff. There was a certain dependence one had on the other to exist. Further, the two of them in conjunction were far more effective than each on its own, or at least that is what they lead him to believe. Oren was still trying to determine what their residency in his weapon actually meant. What benefit he would see from them being there was unclear.
There was less conversation as they got closer. The three assumed if the occupants of Erridda were who they expected it to be, then they would have patrols out in the woods. The last thing they wanted to do was to give a patrol a heads up to ambush them.
It was the prevalence of mistletoe in the trees that caught Oren’s attention. He pulled out Eitelwulf’s journal and flipped through to near the end. The fort near the final confrontation had a forest with a prevalence of it nearby. Eitelwulf’s diligence in descriptions finally yielded some method of tracking. After defeating Dawsil and the Wolves, the army had gone to the fort to investigate, but had found it sealed and warded. They found from the captives that Dawsil was trying to gain entrance to the place, but Eitelwulf and his forces had caught them prior to entering. Some of the Wolves were happy to not try entering the place as they had heard stories of a few scout groups that had died from the wards trying to gain entrance to the structure.
Oren relayed his findings to Martell and Tabia. This made Martell start to think. She whispered, “Maybe they have not gained entrance yet. The smoke may have been from near the building but not inside it yet.”
“Perhaps the smoke was from a trap or ward?” Tabia mused.
“That would make any confrontation easier.” Martell answered. “But I would not count on it. My guess is if it is a small enough group they would have shut the doors on the way in to keep people and creatures from following from behind.”
“The place is larger than Abbysta. Erridda also has a large underground structure. With being on the edge of Drémore they wanted it to house more soldiers and they wanted it to have supplies to stand a siege longer,” said Tabia. “Erridda also had a full functioning blacksmith’s workshop and stables within the walls. Unfortunately, there are no hidden ways into the place that I know of.”
“That is okay,” Oren smiled. “As long as there are no wards, and the gates are not too thick I can get past them and inside. I have been practicing certain skills during my nightly watch.”
“You are quite diligent in your studies Oren,” replied Martell, “that is just one of the many things I love about you. But we need more than just inside the place. Tabia, do you know what type of defenses might be holding the gate shut? We should have a plan of what Oren needs to do before he gets in there.”
The three agreed and held their position for the day. Oren and Martell questioned Tabia on the lay out of the stronghold. Her knowledge was sketchy at best. It would have to do as they had no other resources at their disposal. At one point Martell climbed up one of the trees and confirmed there was still smoke rising from what looked like inside Erridda. The night passed without incident. They were each restless on that night’s watch in anticipation and concern of what would be found tomorrow. Tabia was still having dreams of change or trouble coming in the days ahead; Varelle was no clearer as to what it would be. She was not certain if she should continue on with Oren and Martell. When she asked for guidance from Varelle, she received none.
The following morning, they resumed the journey; they left the horse behind to make quieter progress to the camp. Quietly they progressed till they were close enough to find a slightly worn trail toward the entrance. Martell paused looking at the path, “It looks like no one has passed for a few days. The snow has made the ground muddy, but I see no marks from movement in it. Let’s move along through the woods and see if we can get a good view of the entrance. Oren take the lead, I will be at the rear and try and cover our tracks as best I can from here.”
They back tracked slightly before heading back in the direction of Erridda. This time they went further along the walls, hoping to not cross the path. It took about an hour till they could start seeing the stronghold again. As they got closer they could smell the smoke, when the wind shifted to their direction. It also brought the aroma of someone cooking; Oren could hear his stomach grumble at the smell of a hot meal. It had been several days since they had cooked a meal, they had held off for fear that someone may see their fire from the towers of Erridda.
They finally spied the entrance to Erridda. The gates were sealed shut, a campfire burned amidst some tents outside the gate. Looking around a quick count yielded seven people. No leader that was distinguishable by clothing or actions. Looking further down the walls away from the gate, Oren spotted two more. That was nine, but still no leader among them.
It was probably some combination of talismans or other enchantments that prevented the three from hearing their adversaries surround them. The ensuing struggle was short lived. The offenders made their presence known first to Martell by trying to grab and restrain her. They only saw her armor and assumed an easy target to immobilize. The one who had first laid a hand on her now sat nursing a broken wrist. If it had only been the four that tried to restrain them, Oren and Martell could have handled things. But the assailants wanted them alive so had quickly motioned to the archers a small ways back. Also with the commotion the two men on patrol had now headed over to see if their friends needed assistance.
Oren, Tabia, and Martel now sat bound in one of the tents. They had been disarmed and relieved of their equipment. That said, Martell still had her knife hidden somewhere on her, a slightly easier feat since she still wore her armor. The leader of the offense had asked nicely for names and what they were up to, but none of the three spoke up. He made some threats, but in the end it would be their leader, Lady Nattan, who would make the call as to what to do with them.
When Lady Nattan entered the room, Oren went pale. Martell and Tabia were silent as they saw Oren go white. They were uncertain as to the cause of his distress. Thoughts of whether to fight or defend himself rushed into his mind. She was not who he wanted to see here. Lady Nattan was her, the woman that had been contacting him in his dreams. Now they were here, at her mercy, and he was uncertain as to what to do.
She looked at the trio; she was shorter than how she appeared in Oren’s dreams. “Oh Oren you came to me,” she said in a less annoying tone than Oren recalled from his dreams. “You brought friends…but only two. I do hope it is not because you only thought I would have had only two with me as well.” She paused, smiling to herself. “Katsutaka, help me out and bring me Oren’s belongings. I wonder if he brought me a gift.”
One of the guards handed his backpack to her. She riffled through it till she found what she was looking for, pulling out Eitelwulf’s Journal and dropping Oren’s bag to the floor. “You see dear, I did not need the whole book, but rather a part.” She undid a knot on the binding, pulling out the sinew that held the book together. “You see this sinew is from a stag that was used in the enchanting of the wards here, gods only know how Eitelwulf came into it, but regardless, I need it. The ward keeping the door locked here can only be opened with the right key. I have said key, I got it from Dawsil before Eitelwulf’s men killed him, but what Dawsil did not know was that the key alone was not enough. So many of his men died trying to open the doors, they tried other enchantments to open or other protect themselves.” She took the sinew and threaded it through the top of the key. “Well now, we have two of the components, the third one I cannot rush, but will be in place later today. You really are quite sweet handing it over with no fuss, and I do feel bad asking one more favor of you and your friends. I need one of you to handle opening the doors. I would be kind to the ladies and ask you to do it young Oren. However, the ritual is very specific that a person of the Drémore Empire must open it. I know you are not of that kingdom and nor is it likely the young lady in her armor there.”
“Please escort the robed lady outside, we will need her soon.” Lady Nattan motioned to Tabia. “If I did not feel like using you to trigger wards and traps inside the gates, I would kill you now. But then I may lose my loyal guards and that is bad for moral.” Lady Nattan moved to the exit of the tent. “I shall be back for you in about five minutes if all goes well and if it does not go well, I will be back for her.” She was smiling as she pointed at Martell and then turned to leave.
Oren looked around; he could not see Martell from where they left him in the room. He was taking stock of what was around and how to get out. From his seat he could see that there was one guard in the room along with their belongings. There was at least one more guard outside. Freeing himself from the chains he was bound with was not the issue. It was how to free Martell and Tabia that posed the problem.