Friday, October 20, 2017

A Solitary Crow - Elkall-Anuz - 6






























6
In the Morning Twilight

In the dark morning twilight, group of crows leapt out of their niches – to find food, not for themselves but for their children. All at once it went from quietude, to a perpetual noise – throaty calls and the beating of dozens of wings. The sky, at the moment, was still mostly clear – though who would know what it would be like, natural or not. Loria look down at the two sleeping humans, covered by her gracious invisibility – and she touched them each on their forehead – giving them rest. She had other plans in mind. So she set herself off towards the east, with the foothills waxing and if one had good site – beyond them lies the mountains which are the pinnacle of any that are on Hârn, with its towering mountains holding the island in equipoise, not responding to tectonic shifts which other continents responded to.

The trees were few in number, for they were constantly cut down by both humans and other denizens of the wood. There were few that lived here, but many past through here – to make the pilgrimage to the Temple, the Temple of the Dead – or so it was called. Loria had been here many times, though she had forgotten most of them, except times which were special – such as when long-term resided here. There were stories about these times, which she had lived through. The son would come up behind her, and light her back. She suspected that there was something untoward at the Temple - and not is why, even for these times - there were few people making a pilgrimage. The likely course of action would be the consumption of pilgrims, because it had not gone around that something inhabited the Temple. She was there to find out – though every step was agony to her. The power to walk gateways was traced into her bones – and the power that guided this temple, and many others along Hârn, and throughout the world, and into other worlds was the same kind, but different in nature.

Keeping beneath the trees, as best that she could, she was watching both the long pool, and beyond it to the Temple. As things were, it was a very simple structure – not like so many that were ornate. Even at this distance one could see a circular dome, and she knew well that there were two flat projections – held up by columns. As was the nature of the earthmasters leader style, the columns ever so gently bent inwards – making it seem as if they were perfectly straight. It was a trompel'oeil.

She moved through the glassed sheened surface of the pool, knowing not to touch it for it was pleasant. The trees behind it had grown a little bit larger, making a rough projection of the trees in the backdrop, with the Temple at its midpoint, and gradually the projections upwards of temple columns, which were the same as the once which held up the annular dome. Even though she had seen this many times, it was still an odd vision – the pseudo-stone remained the same, while the pushes, trees, and even mountains changed with time. She could begin to see that the arched vault was translucent in color. She did not yet see if there were shapes which could tell you if anything living was in it.

Moving past the pool, carefully controlling her pace – such that even birds would not notice the movement she created – that came a point where she knew that there was something living in the Temple – and it was alive, not undead.

If she were being careful, she would have turned around – and walking her to companions, and explained that they would have to enter it from a more hidden angle. The curtain would not enter the room which held a tower, roughly 7 1/2 feet tall, of an obelisk. They, like her, would feel the pressure in their skull from the transformative pressure that radiated outwards from it. If one knew how to do it, one could touch it and allow anyone following you to disappear and then reappear in another place – though not a different time. That was a secret that if the earthmaster's knew it, they had not encoded in the designs.

But She was not so careful as this, and instead weaved from tree to tree, so as to find out both the kind and the number of the gargun. She could already smell them, including the rounded figure of the Queen, who laid eggs, and the King - for as long as he was able – for unauthorized them.
The pattern of her spell made it possible to walk among the living, and if she was careful, if they had detection if they did not look directly at her. In this case, she had tuned the spell to resonate with the gargun, making it more difficult for them to see her. But it was hardly an invisibility spell, and eventually they would catch her in the act.It was also getting to be dawn – and in an hour the sun would crest the Eastern rim of the sky. Thus she had to be careful, and their was that balance between hurrying up, and moving quietly. But this balance was ingrained into her bones, and she did not think much about it. Gradually she made her way past the pool, and was struck by the smoothness of earthmaster construction. There was nothing like it in the world, every scheme was perfectly constructed – not even the ornate puzzlement of dwarves had the same effect.

It was obvious by now that the male gargun were sleeping around the Temple. They were just inside so as to be hidden, but not much inside, because the noise would creep in two drives them mad. This was not the underlings idea, instead it was a trap. The only thing that was good for everyone was the feast of humans that came through, but that was not the point at all.

Now it was possible that the legionnaire would draw his gladus – the name he used for his short sword – and we had into the thicket. Or at least he would think about it, though he knew that be wrong. Very wrong, even all three of them together would not have very much of a chance, and would have to sneak away. The problem was there Queen – because she alone produced eggs. Without the Queen they would have two weight for two years before a new Queen was raised. And another year for she produced offspring. Then there would be a fight, and the new King would have to take time to mature. It was a long process if the Queen was killed. If she knew that her time was limited, she could produce new Queens, and a batch of new Kings – and they would be ready to take her place, and his place whether you liked it or not. But having a hive here was definitely not good.

What actually needed to happen than, was they would have two engage in stealthiness – which was not what the legionnaire did. Or not the first time, she wondered why had been attached to this mission – there was something in the mind of the human who did so. It could simple – like having the legionnaire report to his superiors on the continent – but that would be less ornate than would be expected. The great Empire on the land produced much more scheming minds, even if there was something really to scheme about. It also probably was not just to annoy them – because even a dunce could see that nothing could annoy either of the two women involved. At this point a human would indulge in conspiracy fantasies. In truth, there was a case to be made for some of them – but only in a passing manner. That left the dark conspiracies looming ahead – which she dismissed, but only because she knew where there were secrets to be had – such as the leader of the Morgath worship in the Western most city on hard was undead. He would not be able to keep it a secret mind you, but for the few years he did so, he would be an excellent spy. But this was in no way connected with any of the real conspiracies. There was bets that were made, with no interest has two the outcomes – save for the interest of the betting parties. She rather suspected that that was the case, because even gods and their minions like to wager on the goings on of mortals. That is because mortals had free will, and thus could surprise the gods. This was different from the elves, who could fool the gods in little ways, but over the large scale they would be themselves, and the gods knew that.

Or thought they did. Because there were certain caveats, such as the born not on this world, and worshiping not to of the gods or goddesses who had enshrined them selves over this land.

So instead of seeking a way – as a the would have done, nor stepping out and fighting, the way a warrior or mage – there was only two things that she had to know – where was the queen, and how did they have two kill her. The rest would play out the way they had wanted to, and she suspected that the way to kill the Queen was to get the Morgathi two do the deed. Because then she would have a surprise for the Lord God of death, they would step through pseudo-stone and vanish. Because the gods could not use the obelisk in that way, nor could any of their servitors.

At that point the trees had run out, and before her was the translucent dome, glowing with a light that was unnatural, for it did not come from the sun, or yael – the moon. So she had a choice to make, but she knew more about gargun then most people knew. One thing that she knew is that they were actually intelligent, as bright as a human being. But they did not live long, and therefore had no experience. So in quick judgments they were as nimble as any – but when it came to actually thinking, there they had problems. Which is why she was not going to reach into the Temple through the front way with her spell running, because even though it would confuse them for a few brief moments – they would eventually see her and attack her. And she healed very slowly, and eventually would be torn down.

Trickery was the answer – she gathered up small stones, which would be the road used by smaller gargun to beg for milk – and eventually she would throw them against the top of the dome, which would hit them from many directions. At that point, she made a guess that they would surround the Queen, which would be fine with her – because that would indicate where she was, though she was hidden. Then she would leave, because though and attack were possible – it probably was not going to succeed. And success, for an elf, was absolutely paramount.

The only thing that she needed to worry about, was the intrusion of others. Morgathi for most, but any undead or alive visitors who might be planning something. In other words, though she loathed to admit it, this would have to be luck – unless she had a plan. She thought for a moment, and realized she did not – though one would happen to her sometime later she supposed. That was the way of things – eventually you would come up with better solution, and implement it on some later moment. This is why humans pick a profession, so that they can use already planned out scenarios. This is why elves challenge enemies with different occupational hazards, and hope that they will not come up with anything better in the split second that they have two think about it.

So she girded up her legs and through herself into action.

All was according to how she planned it: the stones fell in random directions, the two guards woke up the sleeping ones, and formed a tight circle around the Queen, who was indeed hidden from view. Then they looked about for the danger, wall to nurse maids checked the little ones – in case they had wanted milk. She was going to sneak out. When something disastrous happened.

It was not that she did not expect it, but she did not expect it in the way that it happened. In a circle there were two gargun which had glowing eyes. And began attacking the other gargun. She could see that these were undead, and under the control of a black morgathi – who, like herself, was hidden outside the dome's light. She also knew that the undead creature would know exactly where she was, it was a gift to see in two the blind spectrum that bees and other things could see. She looked around, hoping to get a glimpse of the undead creature – because the gargun would handle their undead traitors with ease.

It was a race.

Somewhere in the tangle of bushes branches and tree bough limbs, there was a figure made out of dark, with only twin eyes that were white. And the only thing that she could look for was the hands that were shaping the conjuring part of a spell. It would be easy if someone pointed it out – and most hard if you had to be the first to see it. But the last catch was the hardest – when the hands stopped moving, she would feel a wave of pure hatred. And then nothing at all, she would be consumed into the shadow of the demigod – Klyss. Then, forever afterwards, there would be a sign that she was the underling of the dark God. What she knew, and few others did, at the very split second of the spell, she would have a choice. Go mad, or take the drink and be one with Klyss. No other choice was in any way – good. One was a torrent of madness, where one did not know that one served Morgath, the other one you knew you served, and had no choice about it. Was the lack of choice hanging over your head that led to despair.

It was almost up, this race – and she knew she was losing. Their was a distinct low sound – like the taming of a little drum – which said that her time was almost up. She looked up and to the Pine trees, and the Maple trees, and even onto the mighty oaks. She cast her glance down at the ground, both the grassy deck and the soiled earth – because it could seep deep in two the ground, with only its hands showing. But wherever she looked, or swept with her feet, there was nothing there. In the sky, in the trees, in the turf, and even below the ground, there was no sign of the Morgathi presence.

But then one of the living Gargun snapped his eyes up and to the left, and by instinct she knew that it was the shadow, and so pointed her bow at him and drew. Their was a short whistle, which was lower than any bow that humans drew, and one arrow – enormous in size, struck something, something which came from without, something which was not dead or living, but a queasy unlifelessness – which was not from this earth. There were no lights per se, but there was a distinct difference between dark, as morning were treated, and dark, as the other world made it. At this point, Loria poured another shot, and then another – and the blackness ran, though not in this world. She had not dispelled, it was she hoped it was going to recuperate in the land of Yashain, where it was reborn. But she was not sure.

She still had to avoid the living gargun, but that was significantly easier, especially as they needed to look for her – and she vanished behind an oak tree, a very old oak tree, dripping down one of its last mast of acorns. Then as the light grew stronger, she spirited away, eventually to tell her companions that they would have two find a different way through. Because this morgathi was not the one in the Barrows, but served him in looking for people ready, or unready, to serve his God. She knew that his power was much greater than hers, so it would have to be by treachery – which she could not use and would not discuss with anyone, because she was not sure, absolutely sure, that treachery would occur to either Gwynwyffer or the legionnaire. Sometimes she did not know what humans thought, it was a mystery, as the same went.

Then the sun came up and hit her face. The trees were knocked down, it was a ritual of the “barbarians”. Only she did not think of them that way, because only they met by pale moonlight with the dwarves and elves. They would share deep rituals that were from the older gods. The older gods that had learned that they should be secretive, and let the humans worship such pretenders as they did.

She cuffed her cloak, and proceeded in shadow. All the time figuring out what she was going to say, and how she would say it. Each time checking whether she would reveal things that humans ought not to know about either the elves, in general, or herself, in particular. Though she did wonder about what went on in the heads of humans, for example, why did so many of them fill the syllable “Mor” and ”Mur” with the air of death.


Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Solitary Crow - Elkall-Anuz - 5

Harn






























5
Barrows on The Avenue of the Dead

Just before sunrise, he heard something which sounded like singing – and he opened his eyes to find out what was the commotion. It was not really commotion on the large scale of things, instead it was more lasting in his head. The creeping nature of light – which was barely visible – he remembered that it was called “ wolf's tail” by people of the Inner Sea, made an impression. Right now it was a lighter blue that the shade of night, but was still not morning. But he knew he was certainly awake, with a mourning dove far away above him. It did not surprise him that Loria was awake, and it only partially surprised that Gwynwyffer was already scrolling up her bag that she had been sleeping in. which meant at this he should get a as well. With practiced movements he was ready at the same time as Gwynwyffer – she was surprised how fast he could be ready. Then in the morning mist, has he heard the warbling of birds, and the low humming from both of his companions – he surveyed the situation.

Though there were low clouds, still it was just before morning. This meant that the sky was mostly clear and would become clearer as the sun rose. The Hunter's bright star was just winking out, with daybreak to come in about an hour. Then he turned his attention to the ruins – on his left – and the Barrows – on his right. Right now, he was facing West – and in the distance he saw the mountains which surround the vast inner city – called Lake Benath by its inhabitants. The problem that he was facing was this – should they go directly for the earthmaster dome – or should they explore the Barrows, in case they would come out this way again. Because there was something unusual contained within their twists and turns.

Turning his head towards Gwynwyffer: “I am the about exploring the tombs before venturing to either the ruined fortress – or the dome. What do you think?” most women would be flattered to be asked, but not Gwynwyffer, she took it as her due.

“If it were my decision, I would definitely explore the Avenue of the Dead – before we venture to the glass dome.” She of course was speaking of the psuedo-stone, which they both knew was not glass at all, and in fact they had never seen glass that was anywhere near the size. Not even close. Not that it was transparent, more translucent – it did not have that opacity of real stone, but it had the solidus that reminded one of it.

Realizing that something was wrong, he again kicked himself - because Loria had become invisible again, and he almost discounted this. Obviously, it was not just seeing that was absent, in this case, he did not even think of her. He wondered whether this was true for everyone, or if it was only him.
Two of them went up the gentle slope that carried them to the Avenue of the dead. The Avenue was East West facing, and has a white cobblestone layer which is about 10 yards across. Once they were on the road, it was clear that it was rather easy going compared to the dirt or grass. It was clear that the builders paid attention to this, for which he was grateful – it reminded him of the roads which the legionnaires marched on.

Though it was about an hour after sunrise, there were still shadows on barrows. Coming from East to West, there was a difference between the newer ones and the older ones. The ones, at the East and closest to them, were made of stone. There were five of these, largest one being by itself, with no pair along the southern side of the road. But the other four were placed to along the south side into along the north side. The nearest two work different in their nature, along the southern side there was a cross, wall on south side it rose up to form a trapezoid. Then the next two were basically the same, this being like the other trapezoid shape. Then there were five pairs which were just a mound, though they formed an oval like construction. It was obvious that they grew larger until the northern one had a distinct series of smaller burials which made it seemed grander somehow grander.

The last one on his left was completely different from the others. Either the 10 mound, or the four stone burials. First of all it was more than twice the size, and it was made of stone, but an entirely different kind of stone. It also does not have a runic stone between the road and the Barrows, but instead the writing is more modern script. The legionnaire imagined that there were names, but he was not close enough to read them. The two stone like barrows near him had been ransacked, and pillars were strewn to get at the contents. Or at least that is what he hoped, the other possibility was to ghastly to think about.

As silently as if she had been enspell, Gwynwyffer came up on his left shoulder, and waited just a minute, before asking: “ so what do you think of Lothrim's Avenue of the Dead.” He was going to reply, but then from behind them, the sun rose above the trees. There was something magical about it, and they could pull see a reflection in the last tower. The reflection was brighter than anything other than the sun, and swirling of many colors. For a moment it blinded both of them, and even when it did not – there was something elusive about it. There was no denying that it was meant to be an attractor, leaving no doubt that it wanted to be looked at – even though there was a darkness to it.

“That is exceedingly odd, and I would guess that there is some kind of illusion to it.”

“You do not know much about magic do you?”

“I work with miracles, not magic.”

“Illusion is a specific kind of magic, and there is no illusion to that. It is magic, but not all the kind you are speaking of. Mind you, there is illusion about the place, but it is a different spell entirely.”

“What are you saying?”

“In all my other voyages to this place, this is the first time that anyone has seen that, as far as I know.”

They had had conversations before, and he knew that Gwynwyffer and Loria had been here before. 

Though how many times he could not extract from either of them. Though he had many attempts at this in Trobridge. Apparently it was one of the myriad things they would not talk about.

“Are you say that it is new?” He queried.

“To not saying that. What can be said that this is the first time that anyone I know of, has seen it. When it was conjured, this is not public knowledge - though someone probably does know, but is keeping it a secret.”

There was a great deal of information, both said and unsaid, for the legionnaire to ponder on. But what should the apparent to anyone, was that the dome was important to the earthmasters, and venerated by succeeding waves of humans. And looking around him made him suspect that there was either something attractive, or repellent, to the elves. Which one would be answered by whether Loria was closer to the dome, or further away from it. There was something, not in his ears, but in his head. It was a kind of moaning, and distinctly heard the elves residence in it. Thus he imagined that there was something about the dome which disturbed Loria, but this was a speculation. Perhaps by talking with her, he would finally get out of her what it was. At least that was his hope, but hopes where the two of these were concerned were often frustrated.

In the end, they were transfixed by the multi-colored round object on the penultimate tomb – so some unknown wit had called it – and begin to walk towards it. Every so often one or the other had seen in the shadows of one of the crypt what looked like a face, or a body. But when they looked more closely, it did not seem to be anything. But they were careful nonetheless. Perhaps there were gargun. He did not want to think of what could be worse, though his mind conjured up visions. This went on as he glanced under the oak and maple trees. The also noted that there were no inhabitants – human or otherwise – that he could see. He hoped it was because they were absent from the area, but he rather doubted this.

Without a great deal of aplomb, the two set their courts for the second tier of the mausoleum, to discover what had created this flash, which was now gone. It was odd pacing this pyramid, holding some secret that was new to both of them, there was a kind of excitement in it – a thrill which was cerebral in nature, like a great artwork. It was at least an hour before getting to the base of it, it was stressful – and it seemed that there was magic involved. Every step was torture – so while they were excited, they were also tired even though the sun had not reached 8 o'clock. Finally they had to rest, and waited for an hour before tackling the obelisk itself.

But tackle it they did, though there were no stairs – and each of the four layers was almost 15 feet tall. At first they tried to climb it, but that did not work – it was just too high. Finally, the legionnaire cupped his and lifted Gwynwyffer – and then jumped on to the next level. They did this again, and it was smoother then figuring it out the first time. Then they did it again, knowing that they would probably find out what the material was that caused for a moment the flash that they had seen in our ago.

Once they were on top, they moved towards the east, and sited the exact point where the gleam had occurred. And finally they did so. At first they imagined that it would be a part from the repository, and would be obvious to all who had looked for it. But this was not the case, instead there was a6 feet wearing on the crypt itself, and why it was visible only when the sun had just crested became obvious.

A sorcerer had tried to open a way in to the barrow, only to be entombed himself. One could just barely make out his position, because he walked, and then was caught. In the bright light, one could see him, as if the vault was telling everyone that this is what happens to those who profane the dead. There was a chill in of their bodies, clearly there was still magic, magic which was lethal in its intensity.

“I can see that you and Loria are not the only people to test this place.”

“We know there is protections on these monuments. Especially the Barrows.”

“At least you are disturbed.” Because he distinctly saw her shaking like a leaf.

“Who would not be? Perhaps one of the undead would pass this off, but know one else.”

“Perhaps this is why no one comes to this place.”

They have had enough warnings, it is only the stupid or the clever who attempt to abscond with the precious contents. The gargun and the Chelini do not have to do much. But we are here just to make sure that there are no inhabitants, nothing more. Now that we know that this is not a threat, I think we can discount it.”

“I think we need to test this.” Very suddenly he reached into the barrow. He was wondering if he could reach inside, and found out that he could. “That is what I thought – this portal is open. I can reach inside” Then he held his hand away. “It's cold.”

“This is surprising you? Are putting your hand inside what looks to be solid, but it is not.” In the late morning light, though they could see a figure, it apparently was there. “ it seems to be what my people whisper is a hologram.”

“Have never heard that word before, explaining what you mean by it.”

“It is a way of encoding the three dimensional image, from a two-dimensional construct.”

“Still do not understand what you mean.”

“It is still a mystery to me, as well. But it is a technique – from where is another question – where a two dimensional image is projected on to a three-dimensional object. I studied this once upon a time, but it was a long time ago.”

“This is a subject which is a mystery. How does a flat image and as if it were a sculpture? Makes no sense.”

“But have seen what it does, and we should move away from it... taking note that there is a hole here.”

“You still do not understand, what if something comes out of the hole. What are we to do? We cannot just leave, and hope that all will be more the best.”

At this point it was Gwynwyffer turn to ponder. She thought for a great deal of time, and then responded: “ the problem is that if we reach into the tomb it will probably be very cold again. So it seems like we have to leave things as they are.”

“Could we plaster, or something that will cover the hole?”

“Do you have something?”

“No, not all.”

“Since it seems like a kind of magic that neither of us possess, it seems that we will have to live with it, even if that is not the best solution.”

“Perhaps when we find Loria, she may be able to shed some light on this.”

“Do not tell her this – but this area evokes great pain and her. It is part of the earth master complex, it seems that it eats at her, in ways I do not understand. Is probable that the same properties which make her attuned to the monolith inside the dome, also are painful.”

“You will have to explain this better than you have.”

“She can tune to a structure, but it is painful for her and indeed any elf. What I do, simply put, is erase the pain as she is working on it. That is really what I do, she does all the work. But I basically massage her mind. let us depart from this place, we can do nothing about it.” the legionnaire agreed with this, and he helped her down before jumping himself. The rest of the day they wandered all of the Barrows, but found nothing in them – but they had to inspect each of them thoroughly. At times they thought they found something, but in all of the cases it was just rubble.

They then camped at the same place, and for just an instant – each of them thought they saw the elf – along side the Avenue of the Dead. They did not see what she was doing, but he noted that the position was the same as Gwynwyffer's explanation. That is, the elf did not like the tomb or anything inside it. He looked again, and saw her – perhaps chanting. The moon – called Yeal – was just a sliver, but it was bright all the same. It seemed to him that she was praying to it, but that could be an illusion on his part.

He went to sleep, but it was a disturbed sleep. He then got up well before the sun, and he saw Loria still pray at her appointment spot. He doubted that she had moved, and therefore he was worried. It was not exactly human, but then that was natural. The elves were a different kind of creature, and he would have to adjust to their rhythms, then begin to understand their patterns.

It occurred to him that sleeping was not going to happen, so he got up and practiced with his short sword. Eventually Gwynwyffer got up as well, and meditated – though he did not know upon what. 
That back there equipment, and set off for the fortress, though they kept a close eye on the Penultimate Tomb– and hoped they would not find the ultimate tomb.

Gradually, the Avenue of the Dead grew smaller, and the fortress grew larger. It was not the greatest structure that they had ever seen, their was no wall which had escaped damage, unless it was hidden. The other thing that was interesting was that the rock that it was built on was black, and very precious. It would have to be from a long way, perhaps from Azadmere, or beyond. But then if one had a portal, the distance would not be a problem.

Coming from the direction of North, they found little of the walls. It was almost as if coming from the north was a tide – perhaps of Jarind – who swept aside all that they found. If one believed the tales, the foul spawn was that hated. Here and there they stopped and looked at the walls and other things, taking time to admire the structures, as if they were simply viewing. Then they found something.

It was old, it was ruined, but the complex was definitely gargun in nature. It looked like it had been deserted for a long time, but they would have to make sure of this. Gwynwyffer seen this before, but had realized the extent of it. So rather than dig, they discussed what to do. It was here that Loria's absence was most glaring. Then, the two humans slept.




Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Solitary Crow - Elkall-Anuz - 4

4
Like Summer Tempests Came His Tears


It was not a manor – that cornerstone of medieval life – but it aspired to be one. Just as it is owner wanted to be a knight, with all of the details that came with it. Instead, the aspiration was clearly a sham - though it is owner did not what was wrong. He had a keep – or so he thought. And the keep was at a forge of a river. It did not occur to him that the bridge was unmade, and people had to cross at a low hanging rapids. It also did not occur to him to treat his peasants – at least once in a while – with a degree of respect, or even ignoring them. Instead one could see by the welts and bruises that any infraction which a serf or a peasant would be set upon brutally by the owner. This had three effects. One was since it was the only ford for miles around, he could get away with it. But, on the other hand, no one was going to make more of the owners status then was absolutely necessary. Which brings us to the third thing, the owner was not particularly smart: so they would come to sample his food and wares, telling him that he could be knighted – and then leave not to think of him again until they need something from him.

The owner did not understand why this would happen – through the peasants new, and would make themselves scarce in that moment between that moment where the owner was desperate for a title.
For the three compatriots, the days days were long, especially for the legionnaire. Loria was not concerned with all of this, and would sleep very little and draw endless pictures of the stars. She explained that there were interlopers – comets and so on – that would appear, and she was obsessive about drawing them. It was clear that her eyes were more sensitive than his were, probably she could pick up a quarter of light that he could. But then, the stars were not his desire – other than knowing a few that would point him in the correct direction.

Thus, the spring left, and it was summer when they left the inn. unlike most people, they did not continue along the so-called “Salt Road”. Most people were headed to Tharda, the only Republic on the island, or to one the kingdoms beyond it – Kanday, or the evil Rethem. Rethems politics were dominated by the segments of Morgath, and of Agik fighting orders. It was at this point that the legionnaire listened, not to Gwynwyffer and her excessive talking, but to Loria and her explanation as to why the evil gods held sway in the West but not in the East.

They had not been bothered by any people – or assorted other things. It was Loria's theory that the attack was just too delayed them and the real assault would the at Ekall-Anuz when they got there. So the main practice of the legionnaire was to sharpen his skills with fighting, and with language – which he was better at than before. He met a few people – and drank with them – learning what he could about the politics and geography of the island. He noticed that there were very very few people from off of Hârn. From the mainland he had never thought of going to Hârn – and he saw that this was the case for most of the people.

From the East, he heard of the ins and outs of the Senate, which met in Cornan – and the goings on in Golgotha – a free city, so-called – which was entirely in the hands of the most wicked people imaginable. It was governed by a Council which was openly in the hands of the Morgath. Their people would be hung – and worse – for the most minute infractions of the rules. And the rules could be made up almost daily.

From the West, there was continual speculation arises out of when the king – Miginath is his name – will die. In Kaldor, when the old King dies a succession counsel is convened. When there is a clear heir, it will generally vote for the heir to be the next ruler. But when there is not, and the monarch does not make it known who he wishes to have succeeded him, there is a more delicate process. Since the King would rather have people guessing among which of the bastard sons he wishes to have in his place – there being no legitimate successor – there is already a great deal of politicking as to which person will inherent the thrown. The legionnaire had spent a great number of nights listening to people have their say, but in reality there are at most a dozen people who will be listened to.

The one thing that was important, was to keep secret Loria's existence. But he knew how to do this, not by asking the innkeeper, but by a trick which Gwynwyffer told him: go to the Severed Hand, which is an inn which normally does not take guests until Trobrigde his full, and arrange a long stay with him – paying a good deal extra for the convenience. This way, he can let the innkeeper deal with the proper authorities. This way the supposed innkeeper – Kurson – will take a cut, but will not make himself known. Or at least openly known, though he might quietly do something.

And he did, for within the tenday a group of Kaldor men came riding up. The ingratiated themselves into the Severed Hand, and searched the rooms. Needless to say, they did not find anyone but the legionnaire and Gwynwyffer – and there was no sign of anyone else. They departed, guessing that if there was anyone else she would have gone south into the Shava forest, and into Evael – the kingdom of the elves.

There was a great deal of discussion between the legionnaire and Gwynwyffer, wondering if more forces from Kaldar would be coming. So every morning they checked from the East, but no sign that they had been discovered by the nearest human kingdom ever came out. So they by day the hours of light grew longer and then shorter again, and it seemed as if they were not going to be attacked in Trobridge. But in the night, they caught a few glimpses of shadowy figures, which definitely were not human. But they stayed well out of the town, creeping around in the woods. It all three new that these were servants of Morgath, either directly, or more likely indirectly through one of his demigods. They watched and they waited, but no attack was mounted while they stayed within the village limits. Seemed as if they would have to defend once the were out of human site.

In last there came a day, which even as it kept over into mornings twilight was different – because the Elf got up that day, and prepared herself for leaving; it was 1 Larane, of the second month of summer. Loria had not said anything to either traveling comrade, nor it seems did she need to. Their was a silent court among all three, perhaps it was some magic from either Gwynwyffer or Loria. This meant that the other two also would get out - legionary paying a good sum of money for their stay – and they sent off North, towards the earthmaster city. Obviously they did say they were going to the ruins, but you can see from number of the faces, that one or two had guessed or suspected they were. There was not much to the north of Trobridge, and they were not the first to want a look at Lothrim's tomb, or the older sites.

By common agreement, they stole away without crossing the rapids – legionnaire again disliked how they had to pay for streaming the ford, it was distasteful to him. It was a bright sunny day, and it seemed no one had noticed there going, accept the owner of the Severed Hand – promised to say nothing. With the bright light of the sun at their backs, they sent forth as the woods grew to a misty deciduous forest; and then they started climbing, which gave way to a coniferous forest from time to time. They were cautious, because at any moment there could be followers of Morgath, roving Kadoric knights, or a band of male gargun – there are few females, and they keep in side of their hive, primarily making babies and running things as they see fit. The gargun culture is decidedly matriarchal in nature.

Birds, and assorted herbivorous animals was all they saw– they saw nothing for the first two days. But on the third day, when from the South came a drizzling of rain, things were quite different. First of all they got up – or at least Gwynwyffer and legionnaire got up – it seemed Loria was still awake – and it was colder than the night before. This plus the weather made for a miserable morning, and they packed up in silence, and were ready to go at the first signs of morning. Though they could not see the sun, there was light coming from it. But then things got worse – as the clouds became thicker, and the temperature dropped still farther.

At this point Loria pointed at the ground, and noted that there were Gargun tracks on the ground, and they were very fresh. They did not know whether or not the were living gargun – or the kind of undead which they saw just before Trobridge. Gwynwyffer shivered at the prospect, because though she was capable with her sling and quarterstaff, there was something about an undead gargun with upset her – though it was a quiet upset.

They started moving more slowly, and listened very closely to the surroundings. And they were not disappointed. Because the gargun, in this case, were noisy – blaring their way through the woods as if they did not care who would notice them. Normally they would attack at night, and while they were not extremely stealthy, they were better than the majority of people were. But this time it was different, and it seemed from on top of a hill that they crested, the gargun were spread out looking for them. It was clear that they were not hunting for them, but set out to capture them. Which means that they were under instructions. Because normally the only plan that gargun have is to eat whatever they find.

From the distance along the hill, the three of them watched as the gargun slowly and methodically checked everything, whether trees or holes or rocks. And their were such rocks here as could only have come from the mountains to the west. Clearly, there were markings on them – which Gwynwyffer recognized as Jarin burial designs. The letters were of a runic variety, though much older then the Ivinian type which came later.

The legionnaire took command and squatting bind one of these runic pieces, told the other two to get over here the river – which they had not strayed from – and attempt to sneak around this party. After all, if they were under orders, it would be probable that they would not be doing a good job – since everyone knew that the gargun were lazy about following orders. Only the very powerful could get them to do anything, such as Lothrim. Anyone else would have difficulties.

Grottoes in mist - eventually they reached the deep, torrential river – and the sound of it was deafening. It seemed that no one could hear them over this flood that came from the scattering of water. There was a spray, casting off rainbows from the rocks, stones, and pebbles. Even with the clouds, there was something spectacular in it. They had hit a minor tributary of the river, a bit outside the lake which was forming just ahead. When they reached the halfway point, that would be about half the distance to the ruins. If he could recall correctly, it was not a large lake – but with the gargun working there way across it, it was not size that mattered.

What he feared was that there would be falls, because he did not know what was in store for them – and he did not want to ask his two traveling partners. The map had been sketched, and not well. So he hoped that there was no interruption in the course of the river or its tributaries. He also hoped that the barbaric tribe was quiescent – if they were not the masters ordering the gargun to march. Then he definitely heard a twig break, and that usually meant that someone was creeping up on him. Where he found himself was in a V neck, with a stream flowing down the center, and firs going up the inside of it. It seemed that the noise had come from above them, and all of them stopped – they had all heard the sound, and all of them wanted to know what it was. It was probably something ill.

He looked at Gwynwyffer – because suddenly Loria had disappeared – and she looked back. Her face was calm, and serene. She got out her sling, and prepared to use it. Then there was an ominous quiet, as if both sides were trying to figure out where the other side was. Normal person would have had their heart racing, but he was extremely calm. This was the sort of thing that he lived for, and if need be die for. There was a flash out of the corner of his right eye, away from the river.

Quickly, he dove behind a tall fir tree – and he noticed that his human companion did the same. From the same direction as was first fired from, a stream of arrows came crashing down. It seemed that at least three were firing from the same position. For several breaths of air, the legionnaire and Gwynwyffer stood behind their respective trees, hoping that they would not be surrounded. At first it seemed that it might be an elf, or group of elves, so rapid was the pattering. But finally he got a glimpse, and realized that they were Rangers of Kaldor – and they had been following them for quite some time. He recognized them from the inn – and suspected that they were waiting for him.

With the Rangers, and the gargun, chasing them – it seemed like they would be frustrated from entering the ruins. But this only redoubled his determination to enter – because neither group could do what he hoped Loria could do – enter the pseudo-stone. If he could enter in, and then leave by the portal – it would be something that no other man from his army had done for, and a report of this would be a further in his cap. But it would take both strength and cunning, and the first problem was getting rid of the arrow. But he realized, that while they were shooting, they could not move. Thus a plan began to emerge in his mind. They were firing has fast they could, which probably meant that they did not know where their targets actually were. So his plan was to strike, and strike deliberately, aiming very carefully.

He unstrung his short bow – and then ignited with the magical flame that he conjured. Ordinarily the bow would not be hot enough, but it grew in intensity as it flew. Until when it crashed down, it made a spark. This was not enough to burn them, but it was enough to make them scatter. Then he made other arrows ignite, and let them loose. Instead of taking shot after shot, he aimed carefully. The first hit was on target, it was a tall man, with a heavy beard that was black. He got him in the beard, and watched it like up with thaumaturgical pyrotechnics. This made to others stop – and keep him another shot. But also from his left came a stone from a sling – he had immediately guessed that this was 

Gwynwyffer in action. Then another surprise occurred – Loria appeared right on top of two others which were aiming their bows. Unlike all of the humans, Loria was stretching forth the greatest bow that anyone had ever seen. So while he was pulling another arrow that was burning with fire – her shots were on target. It was something to see – the arrows that she was heaving were a mighty shot. He knew that he could not even imagine how much force would be behind it. But the damage was immense, each shot through the head brought an enemy down. The remaining Rangers scattered, because they saw what could be done to them – both by his fiery arrows, and by her great bow. And that was enough to teach them lesson.

Now came another question – to they case after them, or not? Remembering that the gargun were probably right behind them. Then he decided to signal the other two, and make a retreat, because after all there target was the dome and the ruins, not chasing after a few Rangers. He made hand gestures both to Gwynwyffer and to Loria. They understood his meeting, and took flight towards the river, and away to temporary safety.

So up the ravine they went, and when they got to the top, they saw the lake, emerging closer than they thought. It was a bit of trouble to cross the river, and eventually they decided that the best way was to open out into the basin, and find a place to wait as far as they could. When they could go no farther, they began to swim. It was at this point that he noticed that the lake probably have a basin beneath it, so cold was it. Did not know what this meant, but it meant something.

Over the course of the next few days, they saw nothing except gargun in the distance. They hoped that would be all, because they were hoping to escape from the pseudo-stone. They were careful, and stuck close to either trees or large stones. A couple times they hid from the gargun.

Then they came directly on to the ruins, and beyond that the dome that was made out of what they did not know. The trees empty out – and they saw a large tapestry. In the foreground, facing West, there was a toppled fortress – a castle that was built for the slope. This was unusual, because most castles or fortresses sat on top of the highest point. The fortress was unusually broad, and behind it on the right was a series of barrows, designed before the fortress. They carried over a broad highway – that was apparently for the dead. These were piles of stone, and were aging rather badly. Obviously, these were human – because elves do not bury their dead, and dwarves bury them underground. Behind the fortress was a hill dedicated to Lothrim, and on its peak was a designed pool, that was built by earthmasters.

Beyond that, they could see a dome, but only in the distance. The these were designed first, they were pristine. The fortress and the barrows were aging badly, the walls of the structure were crumbling. The entire area had a few trees, but only a few. Largely it consisted of meadows. Which meant that someone, or something, was clearing out the area. In the distant courtyards, and the portals, there was an uneasy feeling, as if someone was staring down at them.

Arriving during high summer – with the twilight coming right behind, and various forms of flowers and fruits beckoning to them, Gwynwyffer stopped and sniffed the lang. She warned both of them: “Do not taste anything, because everything is very poisonous.” They set up camp for the night, but it was a cold camp – so as not to disturb either men or other creatures.



Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A Solitary Crow - Elkall-Anuz - 3

3
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

During the next day, rain came. But all three of them were use to it and trudged onward. Then when they rested, Gwynwyffer told them the geography of the region. Which Loria knew better than she did, but the legionary listened. Though only partially interested, he put on a face that said otherwise – it was the polite thing to do. And, he reasoned, many things that he liked to talk about probably were not of interest to his two companions.

The isle of Hârn was, in fact, a cloud of islands surrounding the main island. Hârn, itself, was easily larger than all of the other islands – and in fact the link which was in the middle was larger than the rest. Of other islands, however, there were several that judgment out prominently. The first of these was Melderyn – and if Harn was the wizards island, then Melderyn was the heart of it. In fact, it could be said that this island was the human half. While it was nominally a kingdom, it was rumored that the real power was wielded by a Council of wizards – but no one knew exactly who was on it. Call it more of an understanding, rather than an actual league. There were a series of smaller islands which clung on to this island kingdom – but there was also a few other key islands which had their own properties.

To the south and west, there was the island of Adaenum – after Melderyn the largest single island attached to Hârn – which was nothing special other than its size. Of a few herders raised goats, and other than the occasional ship – raised most of what they needed. Off of Rethem, there were few all scattered bits of land which were nominally held by the kingdom – and its quarreling mash of the evil gods: Naveh, Agrik, and most of all – Morgath. On the north side of the island were lands that had very little to do with organized structure. It is not that it has not been tried – mind you – but like the islands south and west, they were particularly stubborn. North of the island there are a group of Vikings which squashed the local Jarin cultures, but still wrestle with them for control. There are still three Jarin castles which swear allegiance to their Ivinia overlords. Then to the east of the island there is the point of Keron, which juts out from Hârn and is home to many of the strangest of little creatures – perhaps summoned by a mad wizard.

Then there are four creatures which are not human – the elves and towards he knew of, but there were to more. One was a giant – called Pradeylki in the Ivinian language – who settled here because he did not want to pledge allegiance to the local god, Sarajin – a God of the far north, involved in trading, raiding, and conquering. His name was Norn. The other interesting feature of this Hârnic island is its own restive God, who cares not for anything other than the creatures that he spawns. Thus, it does not care what the giant - or anyone else - does.

The legionnaire listened quite closely as Gwynwyffer spoke of all of this, but did not understand why he should remember any of this once he had left the island.

“This is all very well good – if I were to stay here – but unless you are offering me a position. And I will not that I accept – what good is this to me. Even assuming that all of this is true.”
It was at this point that Gwynwyffer rolled her eyes: “ is it not interesting to you whether there really are gods?”

“Of course there are gods.”

“You have seen many of them – yes?”

“I have not seen any of them, I just believe has everyone does.”

“Ilvir is a resident God. You may get to see him in the flesh, or perhaps his minions. And you will certainly see Morgath reaching out to you with his forces. Because he wants to know how the pseudo-stones work, and if he can send creatures through them. This is an just a place of humans fighting other humans – or even demi-humans. This is a land of magic. Which is why the majority of humans stay far away. Very far away.”

“This is all well and good for your scholarly mind, but I am just here to deliver the special object when it is time, and report back to my – all say it bluntly – boss. I do not care how the world is run. Its not very important to me, other than perhaps knowing that the goddess I worship is one of the true goddesses.”

“And which got us to you worship?”

“Larani, I assume you worship Peoni.”

“For me you assume correctly. But Loria is a special case.”

He looked around to see whether Loria was somewhere about the place. Then he realized that her obscurement was in full force, and he would have two look directly in to her. Only then would he in fact see her.

See that he was trying to locate Loria, Gwynwyffer motioned to the left and pointed her out. “There is a gift to knowing where she is. You just have to concentrate.”

This made sense, and the legionary nodded in his assent. He finally saw the tall elf, and would make a note of it so as to remember.

“So what has brought you two together? It seems very odd for you to to be together, if you do not mind my saying so.”

“Not at all. We are not together, but it seems like I have used to her. She puts up with my chattering, because when it comes time to … how do I put it? It is so much easier for her to manipulate the stones when I am about. I do not actually think she likes me, but that is neither here nor there.”

But, in all earnestness, the legionary was looking directly at Loria. “How are you a special case?”
At this point, Loria moved her head directly in two his, and said: “When my people die, they are sent to the Blessed Realms, which is a different world from where you as humans go. There is an understanding between my God – Siem – and Larani. I must do work for her, and she – in turn – will give my people the secret to accessing Yashain. Because otherwise those who are caught by the death gods are lost, and will not have either the Blessed Realms, nor go to Yashain.” Then she fell silent.

The legionnaire sat by the fire, and thought. He had not really worried before about how the gods functioned – it was, in his mind, something beyond his pay grade. Emperors did what they did, pontiffs did what they did, and obviously gods and demigods did what they did. None of this had any meaning to him. But now it was different. There was a God on this very island – Ilvir. There was at least one demigod on the island – Norn. This had been said to him, but it only begin to seep in to his skull. There were greater forces then merely human ones, and they were interested in what humans did.

Turned to the human woman, he said: “So what does this God, Morgath, want from us? It seems he could manifest himself wherever he wants.”

“He can manifest wherever he wants, and his demigods may do so to. But humans cannot, and so he wants a way to make them vanish and appear at will, on any major continent – and one way of doing that is by using Earthmaster technology.” the word technology was not a usual word in this time and place. Mostly people did not think of technology advancing, they lived a life very much like their parents and grandparents did. So the legionary again thought on what this meant.

“Your speak of the advancement of inventions as if it were a regular part of a known cycle.”

“That is the way it appears to me.” Gwynwyffer was looking away and unpacking her gear, and was beginning to rest.

“I hope you realize realize this is a different way of thinking than most.”

“Of this, it cannot be helped - what other humans think is none of my concern. Though I can say that I regard their kind of thinking as been rather...” She stopped a bit, and then continued: “ most humans do not actually think, they simply drift along through life. And earlier it was my mission to get them to think. But that was a hopeless proposition. So I have set myself to other things, which have been more fruitful.”

“That is a very different opinion, and it might seem a bit arrogant.”

“You are strange. Much of the world consists of people avoiding the obvious answer, and though it is not easy to admit … there is nothing I can do about. You have to decide whether your going to face the fact that there are other beings in the world which have greater power, more intelligence, and in some cases a singular gift for making life difficult.”

“And what order shall we list our enemies at?”

Their was a motion, near where Loria last enunciated, then both of them saw her. She began: “ I would say that the top of our list would have to be Morgath. He wants what we are close to delivering, and he wants it for himself. And what is more, he is mad god, and there is a reason why he is often called the Dark God. Unlike any other, he has a hatred for life. All of the rest of the gods at least remain neutral. Some of them even do favors, for at least some portion. But the dark God wants to swallow everything up inside himself. And we have earned a place at his special table. Though he wants to find out what we know. But there ever afterwards, he will kill us. And then he will do other things that are worse to our souls.”

At that point there was a moment of quiet, and then the legionary responded: “Why does not he kill us now?”

“He is not like a greater God, who can see inside our minds. He still has to wait for us to discover before he can pillage. Their is a difference between different worlds. And on this one, the gods are weak and reach in delicately from other worlds. And compared to many of the worlds, they are rather puny and have only limited power. But that does not mean they cannot crush us once they can procure the information from us. But they have to wait, and this is our advantage.”

It was at this point the legionary whistled. “I certainly have gone up in the world – I would never have been involved in any kind of conversation like this. But I will warn you – I do not actually believe all that you say.”

“That is good, because we do not believe in all of it either. Its just the best guess that we have going forward.” Gwynwyffer was talking very slowly as she went to sleep.

“You should take a rest, and leave it to me to watch over you.” Loria was talking gently, almost as if she was soothing both of them to sleep. In fact the neither of the humans could stay awake for very long, but it was not magic – just the limbs of tiredness resting upon them. Through the night while the humans slept, the elf knew that they were being watched by a member of the undead. She did not know what kind it was, but she could feel its presence – and thus speculated that it was a free undead, with some will of its own. She felt it panting, and speculating in that way that human creatures do – it was a lot of speculation which emanated into her head, almost driving out any thoughts of her own. She knew it was a member of the Dark God's retinue and would be reporting back to him. She also knew that the object given to them by their employer was in reality created by Morgath, and in the hands of one of the undead humans would work like a sword. But the substance of it was before Morgath touched it, and it had properties which were not from his creation. And it was those properties which Loria was interested in.

After a little while, the legionnaire awoke - and he knew that he was in trouble. In all of his training, he knew a stampede when he heard one – long before other people did. Guessing that the elf would also recognize it, he turned over and quietly woke his human companion. But as she awoke he put his head quietly in her face, and with his right hand quietly blew on his index finger in order to tell her to be quiet. Then he rattled in to his armor, with a quickness that few people could match. 

Unfortunately, some of the arrows which were sent hit Loria, and even with the protection – she was unconscious. He needed to figure out what was attacking them, and how long they had for the main force hit with swords, or axes, or spears. So he looked out in to the distance, and he could just barely see some humanoid – but clearly not human – figures in what looked like leather armor. He guessed that this was the Gargun which he had been hearing. Not only only were they ugly – but who is to say what ugly is? There countenances said that they were evil. He thought for a line which would describe them, but he was not so mellifuous. In fact, he had only read the word – not heard it spoken in any language that he had the privilege of speaking.

Taking his arms, he got up and saw Loria lying unconscious, and decided to stand where he was and fight the horde right there. Could see four running up to him – and he realized they were going to have a shock. Just than a wall of fire leaped from the branches – it was a spell given to him by Larani. 

The Gargun were distraught – they had not imagined that they would be expelled in this way. As they were roasting in the fire, he cut one by one, until all of them were dead. But the his enemy was cunning, and the second wave pulled short. They then reached for their bows – and were just about to use them. If they had, he would have been a pincushion. But at this point Gwynwyffer appeared suddenly buying them, and dispatched one with a pair of hits that were extremely vicious – it was clear that she was extremely good with her staff. It was at this point that the beasts collapsed. It seems they were not living beings, but on automata controlled by someone else.

With a great shriek, what looked like a man, but black, came out of the forest – though it was not heading towards them, but away. They could hear the shrieks for several minutes – growing wider with every breath. He was looking for it, but Gwynwyffer was involved in something different – that is checking Loria for wounds. Them suddenly, they were heaving with gulps of air.

First Gwynwyffer asked the question: “What was that?”

“Do you mean the fire? That is a protection from my Goddess.”

“It seems you did not say that you had such a thing.”

“I have surprises, not everything is as it looks to be. There is magic, then there are miracles. I do not do the first, but occasionally I traffic in the second.”

“She is going to be out, and then healing for a great while.” His companion said. “At least 10 days.”

“It is a good thing that we were close by.”

“Unless I miss my guess, it is very likely that she was giving us time to prepare. Otherwise by herself she would not have remained.”

“That is possible, but I think you are in awe of her strengths – and not enough aware of her weaknesses.”

Gwynwyffer said nothing. But gestured for the legionnaire to carry the female elf. The next station long way was Trobridge, and it would be slow because of the wounded nature of Loria.
Fortunately a caravan caught up with them, and they could bargain for passage, with both of them doing work. It was a long time for they were able to go. There were many stitches which Gwynwyffer made, and it was a very slow healing process. They manage to scrabble into the small wall village, and with the money which the legionnaire had on him, were able to rent a room. It was not even a village, and it was unwalled.

While it was called Trobridge, there was not any bridge, but a ford. And what made it annoying was they charged for it as if it was a bridge. For legionnaire had never seen anything like it, and while on his face he was polite – inside he was furious. Once again he was reminded that while it was a great wizards island, the accommodations were substandard. Very substandard. And the keeper of the Tavern styled himself as a Lord, though he had no right to bear arms. Another strike against this place.

For not the first time, he swore to himself that he would not be going back to this island if he could help it. It was not what it was advertised, the patina was of a great mysterious place, the reality was that humans largely did not go here and left the island to the beasties that lived here.