Chapter 32

It was two days out when they saw the smoke of a fire in the distance.  As they got closer, they could make out what were several tents on the horizon across the open fields.  The three slowed their approach, uncertain of whose encampment they were approaching and the reception they would receive.  It was a little closer when the three of them saw a pair of riders headed out from the camp in their direction.

The two groups met out on the plain.  Martell immediately recognized one of the two riders. “Fenton, Fenton of Scrimdale.  Is that you?”

“Martell?  What are you doing out here?  Don’t tell me that you were summoned by the Quartet of Priests?”

“No, I am out here for my sister,” she motioned to Rowenn, “She has business with Tabia.  We are merely escorting her.  I had heard the Tethinger Order was called out here, I didn’t know they had reached to the lords as well as the Orders for assistance.”

“No, the Latl Order of Vocknuera was short people to send.  Scrimdale has a longstanding relationship with them and I was selected to come here.  Not my first choice of places to come, but so far it has felt like a long trudge to the middle of nowhere.  They still have not told us what the objective is, makes me a little nervous out here.”  He paused “My apologies, may I introduce you to Yori, he is from the Order Vocknuera.  Let us go back to our camp and not linger any longer hear on the heath.”

The camp consisted of numerous tents spread in nested circles.  There was no straight pathway into the center where the priests were.  The troops gathered gave the impression of being some of the most experienced from what Martell could gather.  She waived or said a few word greeting to those she recognized.  Oren, for the first time saw the respect she commanded from those she had fought alongside from orders other than Tethinger.  When she approached there were some that saluted her and then there were others that ran up with a certain joy.  It was like they were seeing a friend for the first time in forever.

He had not realized the Orders all had done work together in numerous scrimmages to defend towns or provide protection to those traveling on dangerous roads.  Indeed what he was hearing and seeing was the nobler side to the Orders.  It was now that he saw her and put together the reality of the glimmers of what she could be doing verse the life she was now leading.  Where if she had followed the Tethinger Order, the forces she would have had at her disposal.

Many of the former comrades recalled a place called Therike Pass.  Oren would later hear the full story of the fight at Therike Pass from Martell.  The short version, she would say, is it was where the long sword came from.  The longer version was that she and a squad of fourteen, under her command, were to patrol a mountain pass and keep it clear of any hazards.  Early on it was easy goings, an occasional highwayman to be dealt with or simply clearing debris from storms.  It became more complex once a troupe of brigands tried to claim the roads as their turf. For several weeks, there were small skirmishes between her squad and them, each resulting in more violence.  To put an end to it she led her group on the attack and they found their lair.  In addition to putting an end to the menace, she freed a nobleman’s daughter.  As a reward for her safe return, she was given the sword.

When they arrived at the command tent they found only one of the priests there, an older man with shoulder length white hair. His face was plumper than his body would dictate and the magnifying glass he wore dangling from his neck did little to improve his image. He introduced himself as Obadele; his yellow robe had a castle with two white flames above it. The priest and Rowenn asked for themselves to be excused as they had to talk on some private matters.

Rowenn appeared a few moments later from the tent and invited Martell and Oren in with them to talk.  “So where are they currently?  Tabia has something I am in need of back at the temple,” Rowenn asked.

“The other two have gone ahead with twenty men, mostly from Tethinger Order and two from Vocknuera Order.  They are to clear the path for the rest of us and setup a forward camp.  The reality is we do not want to alert any scouts to the larger force we have coming towards them.  If they see a small force, they hopefully will assume that is it. Or our forces will be able to move swiftly enough to overtake them,” Obadele replied. “You are welcome to leave and catch up with them.  We have a few extra horses you may use to do so.  Otherwise we are departing in the morning as the last group met up with us just yesterday and we are integrating them into our forces.”

“Who are you after that requires so many to fight?”  Oren asked.

“We are after a man with great power that seeks to disrupt the order of Iseb.  It is not that the gods favor the king, rather they worry that the disruption would cost more lives than we will lose in the fight to come.  The man was known as Casapan back in his time.  He has outlived many generations in hopes all would forget him.  When his agents finally released Lady Nattan from her slumber the gods knew he was on the move.”

“Why intervene now?  Why not hunt him down when he was less powerful?”

“I do not know why.  Casapaten came to me and commanded we take up this fight now, as each of the gods came to their priests.  We are not endowed with knowledge of their motives, only what they have us do.”

“But what if you do not agree with them?”

“That is an interesting question; though if we are unwilling to do what they demand of us, we should never have become their priest or priestess.  This has never been the case from any records I know of; however, I would presume we would no longer be their representative.  As their priest, they can take control of us when needed so we may indeed do many things without our input as to if we believe it is the right thing or not.  Ultimately, it is a question of faith in the god as to if they are to be trusted.”

“Do you know why the gods would see him as a threat and not fighting against the Iseb family when they came to power?”

“Alas no, but then we are not like Varelle’s priestesses.  We do not record the history as that is not our domain. Rowenn has explained your need to find Tabia to me and I agree her concerns and yours are valid.”  He paused, “We have our rolls and I must fulfill mine.  I have no choice in this.”

“Thank you for your time.  I think we should move quickly and hope that Tabia has not encountered the enemy yet.  It will make it easier to retrieve the key from her.”

“Good luck to you in your travels.”  The priest handed Rowenn a parchment, “This will authorize you to take three horses.  They are not our best, as we may need them for things to come, but they will speed your travels.”

The trio headed out of camp after a quick meal.  They made good time across the open plains and reached the forest line by night fall.  They setup a camp, sheltered by the trees.  A few signs of an old trail and recent breakage of plants allowed for them to surmise they were on the right path.  They saw no signs of confrontations along their route, allowing their hope to run high that all would be well when they caught up with Tabia.

With the arrival of morning, the skies had cleared.  The sunlight was a welcome change.  The forest was quite alive this morning and almost indifferent to the groups presence.  Oren was quite pleased with the sound of the birds chirping and the sighting of a variety of animals passing within visual distance of the group’s camp grounds.  If they were not in need of a quick start, he would have taken in the melodies he heard and even seen what he could do with the spirits presence in this area.

Chapter 31

It was on the way out of town they ran across Devlin and Teman.  The two looked like they had just hit the roads themselves.  They had a pair of horses pulling along an empty wagon prepared to head south.  More than likely, they were off to clean up at Abbysta or Erridda.

“What brings the two of you out today?  Another expedition?” Asked Oren

“Yes, we are going to where we first met and then onto the place Teman visited you.  If we can clean it out before anyone is the wiser then we will retire from this and in luxury.  Where are you going?”  Devlin replied.

“Off to find Tabia; she went over toward the mountains.  She has something she forgot to give back to us.”

“Oh, was she the one that was in the full suit of armor I saw walking alone near the place?” Teman asked.

A distinct lack of location names was going on as they were still along a heavy traveled stretch of road.  Both parties did not know the loyalties or professions of those traveling passed them.  And the right word in the right ear could mean a quick end to their ventures.

The skies had been clouding up this morning.  From what few areas the sun or sky peaked through, it would have been a beautiful sunrise.  Despite the snow a while back the ground had dried since then.  It would probably be another day till the snow fell as its forces gathered in the clouds and bided its’ time for the temperature to drop.  Before the morning’s departure, Oren had sent out a spirit to locate Tabia exactly.  He was uncertain how well this attempt would pan out.

The rest of the time on the path was spent with casual banter.  When the trail split just inside the protection of the wards, the two groups parted ways.  Oren was promised by the two men that he would still get his books from Abbysta and if they could get the set from Erridda then he would have those too.

The trio encountered a large group of miners heading up the opposite direction.  They were calling it quits for the season in the mines.  With questionable routes through the snow for supplies, it took a certain desperate person to sign on in the mines through the winter.

“Hello sir,” someone flagged to Oren to come over. “I see you are heading out down these roads and I feel it proper to warn you that there are soldiers on the move.  They fly banners, the likes I have never seen.  They are friendly enough to those passing by, so I don’t know if a lord has sent people to deal with wolves or goblins or something.  They sometimes are desperate this time of year.  But mind you they are armed heavier than one need be for a trifle as small as them.”

“Did you see who was leading them?”  Oren Inquired.  “Also do you know what the banner was they followed?”

“Yes there were two groups.  Both lead by men.  I have to think for a minute on the banners.”  The man sat scratching his chin, possibly enjoying the warmth of his neck on his hand more than needing to think.  “The first group had something of a castle or keep with a flame above it.  And the second…That had something with a few birds on it? Sorry, but it was couple days since we saw one of them and a few days longer since the other.”

“Not a problem,” replied Oren, “I am a merchant and I want to know if any of the lords I deal with are off to war is all.  If they go get themselves killed I may need to be concerned, but it sounds like no one I am familiar with.”

Martell glanced over at Rowenn; she knew she was well aware of the symbols as were Oren and herself.  This was troubling, as this would make it harder to speak with Tabia if she was campaigning with some of the other priests.  The only good that would come from this is that would be a larger camp and easier to spot.

“Safe travels to you sir.”

“And to you as well,” Oren fished around in his robes before pulling out a small pouch he had, tossing it to the miner. “Consider it compensation for your time.  Your words of warning may mean the safety of me and my companions.”

Both parties continued on their way, distancing themselves before Martell felt safe to bring up what they were all thinking about.

“Rowenn, do you know why the other priests would be gathering forces?”  Martell asked.

“Not off hand. I know we had discussed that the gods for some reason did not want the Drémores to return to power but I cannot think of a reason they would gather forces to destroy them.  After all, they have nowhere near an army of followers to rebel against Iseb.  And even the families that were loyal to them are, in general, content with the status quo if they have any descendants around.”

“It may not be the Drémores the gods fear.  It may be Casapan.   He has not made a formal appearance yet.  Also we don’t know the power of Lady Nattan.  She seemed to have powers similar to whatever that clay or dirt thing was.  She may have even crafted it before her encasing at Erridda.”

“That is true, either one of them may have power beyond what we know of.”  Rowenn spoke.

There was a pause before Oren spoke, “Rowenn, do you know what this is?”  He pulled out the jar containing the copper.  It responded from being at the bottom of the jar to the side nearest Rowenn.

“I think…maybe.  If I recall it maybe something called a Sienna Paladin.  They are something that dwells between spirits and elemental essence.  They were created by enchanters and served in many temples, generally doing simple tasks like dusting”

“So do you have any of these at the temple in Avo?”

“There may be a few roaming the expanses under the temple, but I have never seen them.  I know of them because my mentor frequently lamented their absence.  Now thinking about it, they did come in a variety of sizes.  The largest about that of a medium sized dog.  Their bodies are very fluid, so they can reach out far distances but with the stretching comes a lack of strength to back that size.  If I recall correctly, with time the spirit slowly breaks the chains that bind it to the material world, hence why none would be around the temple now despite them having been there in the past.”

“Well you are welcome to this one if you want.  I have no use for him, other than I could sell it as a novelty or into further torment by an enchanter.”

Rowenn took the jar from Oren and opened it.  The creature made its way out of the container and down Rowenn’s arm.  She stifled a laugh as it tickled in its movement.  It eventually went into her backpack. She took it off to see what it was up to in there.  It looked to be burrowing through her belongings, assessing what was present and moving on to the next item.  The curiosity it possessed captured the party’s attention for a short while.  It finally settled into an outer pocket that had been empty and ceased moving.  They took that as it was time to move on with locating Tabia.

The next couple days were easy going for the party with the occasional snow flurries not hindering progress.  Oren did not hear anything back form the spirit he had sent out to search for Tabia. He questioned if that was due to him not staying put after sending the spirit out and now it could not find him.

On the third day they reached a fort, Fort Rullian.  The place was an outpost for travelers, guarded by men of the Kingdom.  During the springtime, this place would have been in chaos with caravans passing from the mines back to Aleto and other cities. Now the place was dead.  Its wooden walls offered a shield from winds, but did nothing to warm the cold.  The walls were large timbers that had been replaced in patchwork.  Places outside the walls had been shuttered for the season.  Inside the walls, the buildings were drafty with the occasional tapestry or pelt splayed across the wall as an attempt at insulation.  There were still a decent number of people that lived here year round.  This would be where they rested this evening and try to find word on the location of the priests.

“So what brings you out in the cold?  With two women no less.”  The person behind the bar asked.  His voice was gravely.  He was around Rowenn’s height, clean shaven, bald and had bushy black eyebrows. The man poured drinks for the three of them.

“Well, a variety of things bring us out.  I myself am on a mission for a merchant from Aleto.  I finally had time to venture out this way to look at potential for trade routes to the mines.  But I also heard some rumors that there are people out this way we might need to bring fancy stuff from the big city to.  Looks like he could make a killing here on the right food or some stone.”

“Aye, you could; if you could find someone with the wealth to afford it.  Most us here for the winter are just getting by.  Now if you could setup a warding obelisk here then you might get more people to stay.  Though that would not fix the reason no one stays here in the winter.  We occasionally get a bout of either goblins foraging or assaults by wild animals or like one year when we had some snow sprites.  I figure it was one of the lords that sent the troops through a day ago.  They claimed to be after some wolves.”

“Wolves?  Why take them on here?  It’s not like there are cattle or crops in this area to protect.”  Martell spoke up.  “No offense to you or whomever they are off to defend, but usually the nobles only send out a patrol when it will impact them directly and usually then a few people have died in advance of them caring.”

“You are observant and beautiful young lady,” the bartender responded. “They say wolves, I smell something bigger.  Maybe it is a feudal tiff.  There are a few lords that have had a fight out here and claimed their doings were for the good of us common folk.  A few days later, they come back through with a few dead and someone’s honor feels properly respected.”

“I had heard such things went on, you know rumors and all.  But never expected they would trudge out here in the midst of winter.”  Martell replied.

“Those pretty boys will do anything and inconvenience their men as they see fit.  I should know, served one of them bastards for ten years.  First five I din’t know any better and the second five because you can’t just up an leave ’em.”

“I agree.  They get upset if you leave them; complain about the time invested and equipment.  Never care that you are tired of risking your life.” Martell commiserated. “That is why I am now protecting him,” she pointed to Oren. “Merchants pay better too.”

“That they do.  Who did you have the privilege of serving?”

“A few lords, you know Lord Worven?  He was the worst.  At attention at sun up and at sun down for inspection.  Not a clue what he was inspecting, but the armor was pretty and the blades sharp.  It was an easy time but I got let go when he could not afford to keep up appearances for everyone.”

“That’s not as bad as I had it.  You know Lady Beauglade?  She would demand we march from one end of her holdings to th’ other just so her subjects knew she was protecting them.”

The conversation continued like this for a couple hours.  The bar keeper eventually got the point this was all talk, but appreciated the change from the normal quiet.    Martell did catch that the troop had headed further southeast toward the brink of the forest, apparently to meet another company that would help in the culling of wolves.

Oren looked over at Martell’s sister.  Rowenn sat unnoticed by the bar keeper, actually she sat unnoticed by everyone in the room.  She was there and Oren was aware of her, but somehow others were not.  He wanted to remember to ask her about this later, but could not recall why he wanted to ask her. He was about to ask her a question and draw her into the conversation, but he opened his mouth and no words came out.  He looked quizzically at her and she smiled back.

When the barkeeper left to attend to some other clientele, Oren looked over at Martell and everything was fine, he talked with her as if his thoughts and concerns about Rowenn never existed.  Rowenn joined in the conversation after a few minutes as if she had been there the entire time.  They ate dinner at there and then made their way to the room for the night.

“Oren,” Rowenn spoke up, “Downstairs, something was off, but you didn’t say anything are you ok?”

“Yes, but I don’t recall anything being off.”

“Are you sure?  You had a puzzled look on your face and you were going to ask me a question.”

Oren concentrated for a bit, then recalled, “I am curious as to why the bar keeper didn’t make an approach on you.  You look like your sister, yet he was only focused on her.”

“I do not know.  He would have made about as much progress with me.”

“Rowenn, I don’t think anyone even noticed you down there after our initial entry.”  Martell spoke up.

“Well, I did not have much to contribute to your conversation.  But no, I don’t think anyone said anything to me.  I saw a lot and recall everything perfectly that I saw and heard…actually better than I would expect.”

“Let us see the little Paladin.  I am curious.”  Said Oren.

Rowenn went to her pack to look for the creature.  It had moved.  No longer in the pocket, it took a while for the trio to locate as it was now lining the inside of Rowenn’s cloak.

Now focused on it, Rowenn realized the weight of her cloak was now slightly heavier.  It looked like it had woven itself in as a thin liner as there were no breaks around the edges and it moved fluidly with the movement of the rest of the cloak’s fabric.

“So Rowenn, got any idea that they would do this?”  Martell prodded.

“No, I just recall being told that they were servants.  Though this may add explanation to the Paladin in the name.  I am curious as to the larger influences that this may have aside from what Oren observed earlier.”

The following morning the three set out south and would cut over eastward once they felt they had wandered far enough from the fort not to be seen and were certain no one had decided to follow.  The flurries had continued on with little dustings occurring on random tree branches.  The wind had died down from the night before, but it did little without the sun to make it feel any more pleasant while trekking.

Chapter 29

The three returned to Aleto and Teman departed from their company there. He had to go about his business and catch up with Devlin.  Oren was happy to be back in his hometown and at his parents again.  It was the safest he felt in a while.  His parents let them rest and get a good couple of meals in them before asking for the finer details of their excursion since leaving Avo.  Oren’s mother recalled hearing about a Lady Nattan from her father, she had some relation to the Drémore Kingdom, but other than that she was not certain.  After describing the events at Erridda, Oren’s father showed some concern that he had not indicated earlier.

“Son, you saw that the Velgrey’s were banished from the Enchanters’ guild.  However, it had not so much to do with books we did not hand over. There was suspicion that our ancestors had abilities similar to ours, but the Enchanters could not prove it.  Our family chose to keep the skills hidden and have never written about them.”

“That is fine, but what is your concern now?”

“The books were correct about the fracturing of the Drémore Kingdom.  Time has distorted such things since then.  But the story passed down in the family goes that the Velgrey’s were far more powerful once upon a time. When the Enchanters chose to remain neutral in the conflict, the Drémores came to our family for help.  We did help them, loyally and dutifully, but not to the end.  We surrendered to the rebellion and were allowed to live in exchange for our holdings.  The Drémores took the Velgrey surrender as betrayal.  Following that, the Drémore’s made several attempts to assassinate the remaining family with varying success.”

“So if they mount an attack, you fear they may come for us out of petty revenge?  But then why not just kill me back at Erridda?”

“I don’t know.”

“Mother, what do we do now?”

“Well, from what I can gather Casapan is still alive.  He is the one that probably created whatever that thing was that called itself Lady Nattan.”

Oren and Martell left his parents for the evening and made a quick stop back at the shop.  The shop was doing quite well and Devlin had made good on the delivery of books from Abbysta. From there, the two headed back to Oren’s house.  Outside his house someone was waiting.  When they got close enough Martell recognized her as Rowenn.  As they walked closer the two could see she looked like she had been in a fight or roughed up.  At the sight of her bruising, Martell rushed over to embrace her sister.

“What happened to you?”

“The Knights of Tethinger.  They said that Priestess Tabia of Varelle had come to them demanding that they join her in the assault on Wind Gait Stronghold.  They told her they needed proof she was a priestess of Varelle.  A group snuck over to the temple demanding to see the body of the Tabia or at least her ashes.  There was no body to show because she was not dead.  I had spoken to Tabia and warned her before she headed to Tethinger Hall.” Martell could see how Rowenn was holding back her emotions while trying to explain.

Oren opened up the house and ushered the women inside so they could talk more talk with privacy.  He went over to the hearth to light a fire and to start some water boiling.  He felt some tea may make the next couple hours pass more easily.

Rowenn continued, “The Knights did not believe my words.  How could they forget that I had helped them with their discernments for joining the order?  Or that I had been there when they were knighted.  They kept saying they knew we had a secret chamber and this was all a ruse to get them to do Varelle’s bidding again.” She paused for a little bit to collect her thoughts.

Martell hugged her sister and tried to speak something that would comfort her.

“That was when the abuse started.  They tried to have me tell them the secrets of the temple; as if the pain they inflicted could break the vows I took.  They had no idea of the binding we priestesses go through when we take an oath to be the goddess’s servants. I couldn’t say anything to them.”   Rowenn was at tears at this point.  “They left me there beaten in the temple.  I was there for hours before I got up the strength to move again.  The temple is now sealed till Varelle tells me how to open.”

“I am sorry,” Oren spoke.  He was trying to understand what would have turned the Knighthood on the temple like that.  Or what have warranted that type of response from a request for man power.

“The Knights, the elder or senior ones at least, cannot turn down Tabia’s request.” Martell spoke up, “They will have to serve or commit someone in their place.  Rowenn, do you know how many she was given command over?”

“Fifteen.”

“Part of the rituals for entering the Tethinger order is that your name is written on a slat of wood.  The slats of wood are held by the Varelle priestesses till the knight turns forty.  At any point the priestess should be able to call on the knight whose name is written on the slat.  In exchange, Varelle offers a talisman that protects against illness and poison.  After the fortieth birthday, the talisman is yours to keep, but it does not seem to help anyone other than the person it was given to. If you fail to answer the call, the talisman can make one fall ill.  It has been several hundred years since anyone has put the negative effects to the test.”

“I don’t know if Tabia knows the help she is asking for means constantly watching her back,” commented Rowenn.

“Rowenn, we need to tell you about what happened after we left Avo.  Maybe you can shed some light on what we can expect.”

After a couple hours of catching up, Rowenn had a better understanding of the events.  She was still puzzled as to why Varelle would have a grudge with the Drémore Empire.  To her, something was missing in the records Oren had seen. She was convinced that she would need access to her temple and its records to have a clear answer.

Martell concurred with her assessment, “But Rowenn, how do you get back in?  You said you locked it such that Varelle would need to reveal to you how to regain access.”

“Indeed, I need her guidance.  There is another way in, but I was never told.  I need a quiet place to pray and await her response.”

“I can get you a quiet place in the morning if you want to rest here tonight,” Oren offered.

“That is nice, but where will you sleep?”

“Out here near the fire.  Besides I am going to read some more tonight.  I have a feeling my skills need more practice if we head back with you to Avo.”

“Oren, I thought you had enough with traveling and wanted to get back to your shop,” teased Martell.

“That would be ideal.” He paused in thought for a moment, “The world is telling me to go see where this goes.  It also may be more exciting than sitting and hearing about it second hand.”

The following morning Oren took Rowenn over to his parents and made arrangements for her to have a quiet space.  Martell met up with him a few hours later at the Cloak and Frog.

“So this is where it began?”  Oren mused.

“Yes, well really, it was at your shop where my life started to intertwine with yours.  It was a good hunch I had about you…after I calmed down.”

“Yes, I do recall there were a few accusations being thrown around.”

“And with good reason.  Someone under my protection had died.”

“I do not think it was your fault.  I went with you down to the Drémore Forest and now have returned safe from harm.”

“True…” Martell got quiet.

“Do you think about it still?”

“I think about everyone I have lost at one point or another.  She was not the first death I experienced, but a rare one…to have occurred not on the battlefield.  Part of me wants to blame not going with her to the graveyard.  But I know I would have made the same call every time.  She was not a child.  Also if I had gone with her I might be dead as well.”

Oren moved in closer, embracing her. “I don’t envy your past…your future is another story.  You do not have to carry these burdens alone you know.  When we are done with this you are welcome to stay with me if you can handle a quieter life.”

“You talk as if this is simple.  These things are never simple.  After this you will have a reputation…whatever the outcome.”

“As will you.  I plan on ignoring it to the best of my ability, hopefully with someone at my side.” Oren spoke plainly.

“That is a good proposition; I will be there to see how it plays out.”

The two had been reminiscing for a while longer when Rowenn came in.  She wove her way through the crowded tavern over to them, interrupting, “Hello, I now know where the entrance is, but we can not to go back there yet.  We should adjourn to a quieter place to discuss this in detail.”

Back at Oren’s house, Rowenn was finally willing to talk with them. “The key to the secondary door is with Tabia, from what I could discern of Varelle’s message.  The key is a necklace she is wearing.  We need to find them, and hopefully meet up with them before they get to Wind Gait.”

“Did you get any insight as to where they currently are?  It could be quite a wide area to search for them in. Or they might still be in Avo.”  Oren prodded.

“They have left Avo, or at least should have, based on what Tabia told me when I last saw her.” Rowenn replied, “They should have left two days ago.  They are to meet up with some other people at the base of the mountains, and follow some old road through them to the stronghold.”

“That does not leave us much time then does it?  Let us prepare this afternoon and set out at first light.”

“I will leave you ladies here at my place tonight.  Meet me at my parents in the morning.  I need to talk with them and will then spend the night at their place.”

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
Among forest unpreened
Along valley descent
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?”