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.

Roux II

It was the burning eyes
Not the cut of the blade
That brought him down to size
Down in Avender’s glade
Where the forest flames grew
Brighter than the night
In purple and green hues
Where Roux lured him to fight

It had been legends talk
From fairy foe gleaned
That led Gunter on walk
To glade before seen not
Years in hunt he spent
In brutal chase fraught

Roux hid in shadows and wood
Avoiding fight and confrontation
Gunter after enchanted hood
Was left with consternation
Robe of secrecy and gateways
Was hers by right of birth
Control of surprise and pathways
Gunter saw its worth

Gunter Lord of the land and people
Not accepting of those unrelenting
Roux did not see him as equal
His reason and rule was her dissenting
It started when Gunter took her home
Forced Roux out to forest grand
Then built castles and walls in loam
It was then she took a stand

In Avender’s she would slip
Where Roux would not be scared
With Gunter’s fear he did try grip
But alas trials he not spared
As the two in glade did fight
Roux allies did come to aid
Till ultimately he faced plight
Gunter in glade now laid

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.

Korack

The top of the walls of Korack can be seen reflecting light off of their silver tiled roof from over 20 miles away. Odds are it is from the inner set of walls as the outer set have but only one or two such tiled spires. The inner walls date back some five centuries where as the outer walls have only come into existence a mere millennium or so ago.
The people of Korack do not take kindly to those outside the city. Trading houses had to spend generations to establish a reputation with those inside the inner walls. Even then it took another couple of decades to convince the natives that markets outside the city walls would not interfere with the reclusive nature. Those native to the city still do not trust the merchants that deal outside the boundaries of the two walls. All this given there is still much hesitation in any business that may take place between the two groups.
The shops depend mostly on travelers that do not even enter the city to fund their existence. This predicament of a setup has caused all but two shops to close over the past five years. These two stores and a humble inn are what most travelers refer to as Korack as few get beyond the gates to the city. Inside the walls are seen by few and often those that do are not ever seen leaving…at least though the main gate.
A bit of time could be spent debating what lies inside the city. More time could be spent by the few who may ask why the city of Korack has never been seen expanding in any way despite the fact on average the radius of the city grows by ten feet a year. Yet most people do not bother to think on this. And in actuality no person outside the walls of Korack has contemplated this beyond the first thought. For whenever such a debate is sparked, those involved find themselves on tangents five times removed and feel more desire to talk about those topics, while completely forgetting about that magical city of Korack.

Kit

Evening fog set abound
As nothing else made a sound
Kit sat a watch and trap
All part of the plan map
In dark green cloak he wait
As behind light egress gate

In temple’s yard with musty smell
Now deserted as sound distant bell
A shadow descends down temple stair
A patter of claws and no one is there
Fog now rising to the waist
Patience mulled as he paced

Warned he was about this place
Trials he would soon to face
The first would be a ghostly light
With which he could not fight
Second would be keeper’s sword
He was not welcome to that hoard
Third would be sent from above
Indefensible with leather and iron glove
Fourth would come to be the last
Do not accept it as repast

These warning were of no concern
It was such spirits he would spurn
Kit was here to collect their master
An ambivalent spell caster

Now came the glow in temple spire
Was this the ghost he could not retire
It came down to yard with great speed
As it clipped shoulder, he did bleed
It was the leaves in its wake
That caused him pain to take
Still Kit stood in patient pose
Ghost came round to see if they foes
When light came close again
It flashed a hollow toothy grin
And like that ghost left to find
Things to torment and bind

Fog now a sea up to his arms,
Thinning and seeping to neighbor farms
No alarm would be raised
By land no longer tilled or phased
Looking for clouds in motion
Tossing vials full of potion
When each glass shatters
They reveal what truly matters
Figments of anxiety on stress
Clear out from the mess
Bushes and stones of stories past
Memorials to things that do not last
Then the crunch of glass reveal
The movement of coming steel

Lithe comes the armored lad
Carrying the sword named Klad
K for the coming kill
L for loathing the blood it spill
A for atonement in its wake
D for the debt you make
Wielded by the last to hold
Bonded till someone else so bold
Klad thrust to the sky
Challenging him next to ally

No choice but to defend
Shield is what he send
In thickest fog of night
Kit was losing view of the fight
Yet near his trap he must stay
If he is to last till the day
“Meduser” he then spoke
Shield’s protection to evoke
Armor to the ground then fell
Sword then Kit tried charm and sell
His shield swelled in confiance
Rebuking pitch in defiance
Sword left temple ground
Back to creator’s mound

The fog started to dissipate
At some time around midnight
The quiet rest between trials
Let Kit’s mind wander miles
Thoughts temples past
Again filled with hopes this last
Caster could problem solve
If willing to let powers convolve
In one last try to flight
Scourge of northern plight

It was in quite reverie
That a choir hit sensory
Banshee terrors from temple’s Apse
Shriek’s his resolve it saps
Till once more Kit’s focus gained
Through mental powers strained
Grabbing out his enchanted helm
Their song he sought to whelm
He notched an arrow next
Looking at banshees vexed
He shot high into the air
Bursting light assailants scare

Banshees three did retreat
As night crept back from farms feet
Once Back to Apse safe keep
The fog at last had gone sleep
Kit took off cumbersome hat
And watched distant skulking cat
Thinking again lecture he would give
To magic user if he live

From temple step did figure descend
Toward Kit it did now wend
Speaking words in lang ancient
Kit strained to understand patient
As shadowed man came near
He felt a tinge of fear
Was this really an demon old
And kit fool and bold
As hood rolled back from gray hair
Magic user gave stop and stare
She changed to modern dialect
Asking Kit was she who he expect
No came his calm reply
For he had expected less spry
But confident in offer made
He waited for his leave be bayed

Out reached bottle in hand
Drink she said in voice bland
Exhausted Kit reached for the drink
Then in back of my he did think
Hesitation filled his soul
Was this the fourth trial’s toll
But if sorcerer he did offend
Upon who then could he defend
Wisdom did prevail
As his grip then did fail
Bottle then did sail
Shattered upon temple shale
Glistening in her eye
Kit did now espy
For not this was only sprite
Who taunted with delight
Floated off in dismay
Kit had not fallen for display

Light now crept from horizon in
Fog gone with rooster din
Then silence in air hung
And trap lay sprawled unsprung
No caster of temple curse
Kit without further trick in purse
Morning maiden up path came
To open gate and songs proclaim
Smiled at him as she passed
His eyes in respect he uncast
Then thought stuck with a jolt
After her Kit did bolt
Begging a moment of her day
Was last night all her display

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 23

Martell feigned sadness; she had an idea of what happened, but no proof. “May I at least have one of my swords? If there is anything lurking behind one of these doors I would like to stand a chance with it.”
“Oh very well, you look so sad darling. I know you could do harm to us with it, but that face and your teary eyes just cut me to the quick. So you may have one, but do not be daft about it. If I or any of my men see you raise it near us you will have more arrows in you than a porcupine has quills.” She motioned to one of the people to fetch her short sword. “Into the courtyard with you dear, we will toss it to you. Some nice distance so you may not be inclined to turn upon us in a rapid fashion.”
Martell chose to go to the path lined with canines. The realism of the carving was impressive and accurate as far as she could tell from the creatures she had encountered. She paused briefly at one that was the size of a pony, hunched over like an ape. She would have sworn its eyes followed her as she went to the door. When she looked again and nothing was different or out of place. At the door, she examined briefly if there was anything out of the ordinary to see. Nothing popped out at her and she reached down to open it.
The door swung open easily, there was a hallway going each direction with rooms leading off of it. The lighting was quite poor as little natural light made its way in. “It is open, and I am still alive,” She called back.
Lady Nattan and her men started to make their way into the courtyard. They looked around; a few headed up to the second floor and took position, training arrows downward at Martell.
“Good work, nice and simple. You can move to the next door now, you can choose again. This is getting to be fun. You know dear, a few of the men are taking bets on what the odds are you will safely open two doors here. Let us find out who amongst them has the winning bet.” Lady Nattan’s voice crackled with delight.
Martell went over to the second door. She bypassed the walkway through the statues and walked the perimeter of the courtyard. At this door, she saw it was locked with a seal of wax and an emblem of a manticore on it. Hanging down from the seal was a sheet of paper tacked across the door opening. The writing was not any language she had run across. Martell walked on after seeing that. She was going to deal with the other door first.
She stood at the third door and studied it. She could see no sign that it had even been moved by Oren. It was a good trick if he was now somewhere safe. Hopefully, he was either getting help or had a plan to save her and Tabia. She paused as she saw what looked like a wire going from the door, running back into the courtyard. She followed the taut line back down the pathway; it wrapped back up the far side of the courtyard to a downspout. She motioned for the people to clear out of the way, and then cut the wire. After hearing a feint series of clicks, three arrows shot from the wall opposite hitting the door followed by three more. Everyone waited another couple of minutes before moving. Martel felt confident that trap had been disarmed.
“Impressive work dear. You care to open the door now?” Lady Nattan teased.
Martell glared, it was far from hard work. She went over to the door and flung it open. It was a hallway similar to the other side and just as dark. The only difference was she saw that the floor had recently been walked upon. She quickly pulled back on the door to stir up more dust and at least hide the footsteps to anyone else who may peer inside.
“I will open the third door next,” Martell said. “However, I need her,” she pointed at Tabia, “to see if she can read something on the door before I do. There is a something written there and she may know what it is.”
“Very well, darling. It is the least I can do before I let my men take care of you. I shall think of it as a last request.” Lady Nattan stated, and then turned to Tabia, “Go, be close to your friend one last time.”
Tabia came over to where Martell was. As she got closer she saw what Martell was looking at. Tabia looked at the paper and immediately was able to read it. She whispered to Martell “Life for Drémore, Break the seal, Death to its enemies.” Tabia paused, “There is something bad locked up hear. Not just the wards and traps like Abbysta. These types of seals were written so that those who read the language knew not to open the door. The only people that would open them was either ignorant of the language or wishing death upon themselves. Someone from Drémore would know not to open because of the Manticore.”
“Well, we have to open it, any suggestions Tabia?”

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.

Part 7 (Final)

On hobgoblin shoulders born
Elf slows the progress
Allies time has bought for all

But for Topaz time is forlorn
As life takes its egress
Dragon flies to goblin call

Landing in front of path
Topaz makes quotes in rasp
My kin will save the tree

They shall not exude wrath
Though pain is within grasp
Use tonic elf and none for me

My spell in one day cast
So seal the arbor safe
And reptile guard inside

Do not avenge our world past
Though the memories chafe
My final wish do abide

Hobgoblin, Elf, and Goblin heed
Upon this spot hospital do build
Granting aid to friend and foe

Show where final gate path lead
For those who are strong willed
The remaining arch will show