Ontrothon - Saga of the Frozen Glass

The Demon and the Self

 

Ghorreamund smashed the vile vessel housing the spirits of the Fallen, and with the companions on his back the lord of the venerable mountaintop, strode towards the Sanctum of the Stars in order to defend it against the onslaught of the Atranaar. The battle that ensued there was fierce.

The hosts of the sanctum fought valiantly against the Elves and their enthralled giant of frost, and managed to defeat them but not without great casualties as Ghorreamund himself fell in the mountains defense.

Now only the Nameless Atranaar, the orchestrator behind the assault, threatened the altar. Atop it, Elonkara was conducting a forlorn ritual to call upon the manifestation of the mountain Goddess. But she needed more time.

“Kiko go into the sanctum and retrieve the scroll of the Last Verse. It lies within!” She commanded, speaking inside the child’s mind.

Thalldon and Alkanke defended the sanctum against the Harkaanathite Lord. He descended from above, wreathed in magical protection, and coldly charged the former paladin. His two long blades gleamed in the frigid morning as the Nameless Atranaar overwhelmed the defenders quickly, using both sword and sorcery.

His powerful magic, turned wind, stone and fire against them, and even the might of Onxar, was not enough to turn this foe away.

Speechless and relentless the Harkaanathite pressed on, and just as Kiko handed the scroll to the Helmaer witch, he stroke the child brutally. Had it not been for Thalldon’s intervention, this time the bard’s death would have been final.

Elonkara started chanting the Final Verses aloud, and this timeworn ritual was now palpably manifesting around them. The mountain shook and the clouds thundered, and a figure of inconceivably monumental proportions appeared within the mist. Taller that the highest peak and wider than the lengthiest cluster of clouds. Her divinity tangible and present and her bright eyes piercing the foggy haze.

Kharathandara, Avatar of Samuth had been summoned!

"THE MOUNTAIN HAS CALLED OUT TO ME. TREMBLE BENEATH THE RAGE OF SAMUTH AND BEGONE, VILE AND DEGENERATE ELFKIN!"

That resonant and sonorous voice was enough to halt the flight of the wind itself, and even the mighty Elf lord desisted and summoned a gateway portal to serve as his timely retreat.

“He leaves! The day is won!” Alkanke shouted in joy.

The figure of the Guardian dissipated in the same majestic tone as it had appeared, and a marvelous rainfall showered the sanctum at her departure. It was then that Kiko rushed ahead to the now fading portal. The child was instinctively drawn to the High Elves. Their demeanor found Kiko more enthralled rather than repulsed, and so, it searched the snow for the magical residue of the portal magic the Nameless one had just used. There, as if a leftover of bewitchment, or a token of lustful admiration for the Atranaar, the urchin found a golden pin from a cloak brooch. It was smeared with some of the Atranaars blood. It took it and hid it, like it was a relic from a lost love turned to foe. Or the other way around.

Elonkara levitated down to the ground. Her eyes still blazing with the limitless capacity she had just tapped into.

“Come”. She instructed. “We should discuss our next steps.”

Inside the Sanctum they resumed the discussion concerning the Helmaer family and how King Kantagor would be dealt with, but also of the Glass and the fate of the world.

 “I do not believe that the Golagond are considering allying themselves with us. Yes they have shown that they can take care of their own, socially and politically, but we should not expect from them to solve our own problems – we need to take action and do what we have to do ourselves.” Thalldon declared.

“The Golagond have no reason to trust us yet. We have always looked at their culture with suspicion even though their influence in various fields of life has been immense on us. Yet we still view them as the “others” just us they seeked to establish a connection with us. Those bridges have long been burned and their reconstruction is an effort to be undertaken by both sides, mainly by the ones who burned them in the first place. And that is us.” Elonkara deliberated.

The witch informed the companions that she is now able to depart from the Sanctum and return to the land of her birth in order to face, her father and King. Kiko and Thalldon spoke again of the first Stars and of the quest they undertook to unravel the mysteries behind them and to seek out the Movaru women who are out there in the world, with the same purpose – to reach the Glass with the power of the first stars- and so Elonkara agreed with them that before they all returned to Cewick Tower, the two companions should visit a very old and very mysterious monastery in the nearby plateau of Hanging Cliffs, a rocky grouping of large needle-like formations of granite, on top of which the castle monastery of the Sarakhil was built.

“Sarakhil?” Kiko remarked, suddenly remembering that race of dark skinned elves now nearly extinct.

“Yes, those dark skinned elves, in the years past, have been hunted down by the Atranaar and killed by the thousands. Only a handful of them, just a few social groups managed to escape the murderous Alabaster Supremacy of the High Elves and so they formed monastic orders, secluded from the world. Only the most daring of explorers and adventurers would seek out those places and if accepted, they would unlock the secrets found within and consult the wisdom of the monks. Now only one such monastery is left in the world. The one that you should be heading to. It houses a vast library concerning astral magic and lost history, and legend says, that within its confines one would even face their own inner demon. Travel to the east and take the Southern Road until you reach a cluster of huge tall rocks that pierce the sky like needles. In the middle of those formations you will find the monastery. You will recognize it as its candles flicker on the walls, forever.” Elonkara elaborated and bid them farewell. They would reunite in the days to come.

They immediately remembered the ruins were they met the Archangel Solarian.

And so the companions followed the directions of the witch and found themselves come Greylight, in the midst of this great plateau of huge cairns. In the middle, the monastery shimmered like a fiery crown atop a granite needle, a hundred levels in the sky, flickering ominously. They walked towards it and right beneath the massive rock, stood a figure. His skin was dark and his eyes were covered by a shawl.  As they approached, he turned his head to the side as if to listen more carefully. He seemed to be blind. Suddenly he spoke in a welcoming manner, like he was expecting them. At his feet, a candle burned.

“Greetings Travelers. Judging by your steps, one is grown and tall and the other younger and short. Yet the steps of the young one seem more certain even though the owner would wish for the contrary, and the steps of the older, seem more uncertain even though he would also wish for a different opinion of him to be projected to the world. Is that not so? Forgive my ramblings. I am Al’ Fahrazul, Sharakhil monk.” Τhe figure said cryptically. He extended his hands forward, shaping forms like a sculptor while he spoke.

Kiko walked up to him, fascinated.

“I am Kiko. I am a Bard.”

“I am Thalldon. We seek to enter the halls of your order.”

“Is that so?” the monk asked smiling. His visage was beguiling. “Yes it is so. I can hear it in the soft tremblings of your voice. Since you seek to enter our Monastery, I will not deny you. Enter freely and explore whatever knowledge you seek to find. There is one thing you need to remember, never let your candle go out. Within, you will find alternate pathways to knowledge and wisdom. But you will also find your own demon. There's the basket that will bring you above.”  He concluded and pointed to a large basket mounted on ropes that hung from the top of the walls high above the rock down to the cold earth, and the companions entered, silently succumbing to the mysticism that was already creeping inside their soul. As they ascended, widening below, they saw the valley. It already seemed like a shrunken distant memory.

Slowly they were pulled inside. Myriads of brilliant candles melted away on the battlements as they passed over. Inside the community, they saw glorious bronze structures, green gardens and running waters and yellowy walls, and monks both male and female were walking the pathways and entering those structures and conversed both verbally  but also in gestures and sounds! In the middle of the monastery they saw a slim and tall spire, also made of bronze and on top of it they noticed a silhouette standing like it was a lookout on the mast of a ship, high above the ground of the castle. It was wearing golden robes.

Immediately they were given one candle each. Then the monks lit those candles with the flame of their own. Every monk within the walls wore one colored robe out of three categories. Grey, Black and Red.

Quickly they noticed that those who wore Red and had hoods over their heads seemed to be deaf and would only read lips or hand sign language.

Those who wore Gray and had their eyes covered by a shawl of the same color, were seemingly blind and would respond to sounds and speech for communication.

Those who wore Black had their mouths wrapped and covered and would not speak or couldn't. They would use their hands to gesture and to create sounds for communication.

Thus, apart from speech,  an elaborate system of sign language, and the systemic use of coded sounds – a much deeper and profound connection was evidently also used by the monks to communicate. Therefore instead of a hindrance, the suspended use of their senses was a privilege. Thalldon and Kiko were baffled by this, as it was hard to grasp how a blind monk would communicate with a mute one, just through seemingly random sounds.

The sky above them burned blue and orange in the last moments of the Greylight as the triangular Sun departed from the skydome to give its place to the twelvemoon.

The two companions started walking around the monastery. Within its confines various structures served different purposes. Near the Southern wall three tabernacle roofed buildings stood next to each other. On their doors the following were carved. “The way of the sign” – “The way of the sound” – “The way of vision”.

Elsewhere within the walls, among the gardens and the pathways they saw an amphitheater, a large circular structure that they were informed was the mausoleum, a tavern, a large library, a barred and secluded graveyard to the right most corner the castle, various storehouses and other residencies and a very simple structure shaped like a dome, with a hole on its roof and a small door on its face that emanated a faint pulsating vibration from within.

“Lets go to those weird houses near the spire!” Kiko said happily and blew Thalldons’ candle out.

A dark shade in the form of the former paladin appeared momentarily and then dissipated. Thalldon was taken aback by the omen but pretended to be only rageful towards the child.

The Helmaer warrior, quickly reached out to the nearest monk and rekindled it, looking angrily back at the bard. “Why do you always do silly and random things? Go where you please and lets meet at the tavern in a little bit.”

Then Kiko visited The House of the Way of vision. It was an octagonal stained glass structure. Within it monks were marveling at the warmth of the light on the vitraux walls, showered by the defractions from the illumination, showering them while they meditated. Inside only those who wore gray robes entered. They could not "see" the depictions, but could they?

Thalldon went inside the House of the way of Sound. Inside the building, monks wearing black robes sat on benches arranged in a circular fashion around a pedestal where an older monk was gesturing through hand signs while at the same time clapping his hands, snapping his fingers and producing various sounds with his arms apart from pantomimic movements. The students and the lecturer seemed to be having a complete interaction. Thalldon sat down and observed.

Kiko then visited the house of the way of the sign. The Red robed monks inside, where walking around various musical instruments mainly of the percussion variety, from the tiniest bell the largest gong. They would use them in succession and then they would stretch their bodies to the sound that was produced through them. It seemed to be a process of attunement. They seemed to be trying to “listen” to the sound, not hearing it through their ears but rather feeling it through their bodies. The bard sat in the middle and used the best and most unique musical instrument of the whole wide world to assist in the meditative process. The monks fascinated, passed their palms over the pulsating object.

The Black robed monk addressed Thalldon gesturing to him to express himself. The former Paladin did not understand this convoluted internal classification of signs, but later began to grasp the main tenets of operation. He was offered a black robe, and was gestured that if he would accept it, no other robe would be available to him. He understood and accepted. This method was inclusive. He liked that. It was something he lacked.

Kiko was offered a red robe, and the child too, accepted and wore it.

Now both companions wore the robes of a Path and they met outside the library. Kiko had waxed its ears and Thalldon had covered his mouth.

“You cant speak?” The child asked.

Thalldon nodded affirmatively and pointed towards the urchins ears.

“Yeah, I cannot hear anything. I like that now! I am trying to feel the music.” Kiko yelled, unable to grasp the volume of its voice.

Thalldon pointed at the library and opened his palms in front of him, mimicking the practice of reading a book.

Ok. I will join you also”. Kiko replied.

 

They entered the library. It was a very tall building, pyramidic in its architecture and full of bookshelves arranged in a labyrinthine manner. They had no visual index and no order. The wooden bookshelves themselves towered high towards the peak of this structure, and on their facade, equally tall ladders were attached to this mountain of books. Monks walked around the shelves taking and reading books, while others got lost deeper inside this entangling puzzle of wood, leather and papyrus.

Silently the two companions conducted their research. The former Paladin looked for books concerning demonology and the origin of demonic entities as well as the history of the Golagond peoples, while Kiko after playfully exploring this vast maze looked for books on the origins of Astral Magic, on the First Stars and on the origins of the Atranaar.

Miraculously, even before they would think of the book the desired to read, they would find themselves in front of it and as they opened them not only did they obviously contain inked words but each page was covered with protrusions possibly for the blind monks to be able to trace each letter and thus read the manuscript. In a nearby outhouse within the pyramid, other monks, scribes and illustrators were copying existing books or creating unique ones.

Concerning demons, Thalldon found the following information within a demi-rotten tome of thousands of pages. There are three schools of thought concerning demons – he read.

"One regards them as otherworldly manifestations of one's inner self, another describes them as mirror images belonging to an alternate dimension and a third school of thought portrayed demons as dark matter from dying Stars that fell from the cosmos and infested objects and subjects, living or otherwise, not necessarily with darkness or evil but with chaotic variation."

He also discovered an entry elaborating on the issue of possession, mainly of objects and he found the following passage:

“Onxar the invincible is  the Black Blade of Legends. It is said that swordmaster Sareul – the demon king – once walked Barastir in the guise of a man teaching mortals the ways of the blade.

Some say in order to deceive and drive them into violence and others say in order to weaponize them against their true oppressors.

When Sareul departed the mortal realms and ascended back to godhood, he left behind his black bones. Ikhael, his son, picked up those remains and forged them into a greatsword of absolute power, which he then infused with the unified element of frostfire, as in those mythical ages, flame and ice were indistinguishable from one another, forever thawing, freezing and rekindling the passion for gnosis.

Ikhael chanted and meditated in the hundreds of years that it took for the blade to be complete – entwining the immortal atrefact with dormant attributes that seek to re-emerge.

Onxar – meaning exactly that, frostfire –  then arose inside its own consciousness, because such primordial force is eternal and aware of its own immortality.

Its character is connected with those principles active in its birth but it will also seek to establish a symbiotic state with the moral compass of the wielder.”

Thalldon, shut this book loudly and gazed at his black gauntlet before opening the one about the Golagonds.

He collected information useful that were obviously severely distorted by the Helmaer teachings, as he recalled them.

“The Golagonds is not a race” the passage read “but more so, a form of social structure. Yes, it derives from the race of the archaic Golagonds, those who the humans and elves arrogantly dubbed "orcs" in mockery and jealousy of their advanced collective mind, but many centuries even before the Plunge, this race embraced anyone and everyone who wanted to accept and adopt their customs and their culture. This merge of tolerance and acceptance, known as the “Embrace”, brought the Golagonds to the forefront of world affairs. Their Arts and technology flourished and were preserved after the Plunge and the coming of the Glass, exactly because all their history and knowledge existed within their unified mind. They are the largest group of people in the world and the Golagondish is the common tongue, used everywhere.

Their society, credo and ethos, is formed around this collective conscious and unconscious called Shabathuk literaly “forever there.” The Golagonds of old, came into the world in the valley of Barad Dharma, where Ahraaserah  – the mother thought & Mehattefar – the eternal pyre, the leading Matron/Patron deities of the Golagond nation, walked the world in a time before time and left behind their thoughts, experiences, desires, knowledge, vision and even their own souls, in the form of six babies, now called “Easlu” the Exalted Six, the venerable gurus of the Golagonds. Anyone can become Easlu as this title is not of a leader but rather of a consultant, an advisor.

The Goladonds are nomadic by societal norms, forever adapting to the terrain, living off the land and their instinctual and magickal connection with nature and the stars. They have two major sites of religious, political and spiritual significance that also serve as cities for those who seek a more solid lifestyle. Barad Dharma and The lay of Usham.

Barad Dharma is where the temple city of their deities exists, and where every six years the Golagonds gather to perform a massive communal ritualistic meditation and project their will for their future, to the heavens.

The lay of Usham is a tent city built around a massive sarcophagus, the sarcophagus of Usham, the first non-Golagond to join the collective. He was a dragon and is revered as a pioneer by them. In the Lay, young and new Golagonds receive their rite of passage where their new names and inclinations (or professions) are received.

The Golagond remain within Shabathuk at all times, even after death. They can, (depending on experience and mental power) communicate telepathically with any other living or dead Golagond, anywhere. Respecting other peoples traditions though, the Golagonds will converse verbally, even amongst themselves, when in multicultural cities or even in the presence of a non-Golagond. They are in a constant undeclared war with the Atranaar.

The Golagonds have, in the last 30 years, intensified their study of the astral dome, the stellar movements and the cosmos, for reasons unknown but possibly related to the aversion or the managing of an upcoming destruction of the world. They also gather and mobilize their Algaz, their warriors, against threats mainly by the Atranaar.”

Kiko opened his book on the Atranaar. Mystified, the child read on.

“The ancient Atranaar ( meaning “the Superior” in their tongue) is a race of white haired and fair skinned faerie elves, though they have detached themselves from this family of beings, regarding their race as unique and above all others. They are immortal and appeared in Barastir, when their firstborn, Zaor the immaculate, mysteriously emerged within Alarbaranshad “the plains of Alabaster” (now called Natazaad mountains). Zaor fashioned his kin from alabaster and marble, thus if an Atranaar is slain, it returns to the stone that bore it, becoming a statue depicting its own moment of death.

They were once a vast empire, but most of them perished in the Plunge. Now they are the fewest peoples on the land, but by far the most hateful and power hungry. Their elitist society is based on the glorification of personal prowess to climb the noble hierarchy. They regard all other species and races as inherently inferior, useful only as subjects or slaves. They are ruled by a triumvirate of Kings – the Umbra Atranaara – who claim to be gods on earth. Nobody has ever seen these three Kings. Some say that the King is indeed only one, others that Zaor transfers his consciousness forever, through Atranaar vessels he deems worthy, effectively ruling since the beginning.

Their two main fortresses are found in the Natazaad mountains and in their Necropolis, found in the basin of Turgush. The Atranaar have the ability to end their natural life if they will it, within the Necropolis. By doing so they emerge as Exhenar –  White Lichs – able to shift dimensions and travel the planes. If an Exhenar faces the Greylight and the triangular sun, it is forever destroyed.

They have vast knowledge in magick and military affairs and have amassed great and dark secrets in their passage through the aeons.

The Atranaar travel the main trade cities in the last 30 years, applying hateful rhetoric to convince people to join them or conducting blood magick to get thralls to add to their imperialist cause.

Many deem the Glass as the big threat to Barastir, but others, more wise, realize that the Atranaar are equally, if not more, dangerous.”

The bard pulled out the golden pin and looked at it lovingly, before second guessing itself and putting it away. It then opened a book of the First Stars. The author described them as living entities in the form of tears that fell into the Corpus of the world, directed and perceived by The Voice Beyond the Stars. Their names and their last known locations are:

-Ontrothon –Tower of the astral thread

-Solathon – Wisper of Ø

-Valathon – the sunken pyramid

-Selkathon – Necropolis of the Atranaar

-Ixthathon – Unknown

-Algathon – Crown of the Fire Queen

-Xhalathon – The Glass

They closed their books and returned them to their original positions. While walking amongst the shelves, they reached the center of the library where display cases housed an assortment of relics and artifacts both magical and otherwise. Musical instruments and scrolls, and unknown stones and other marvelous obscure items were stored inside. In front of it, a woman, judging by her silhouette, wearing white wrapping everywhere around her body, stood holding two long fine blades crossed on her chest. Nothing was uncovered, neither her eyes nor her face not even an mere ounce of skin. They wanted to ask her what this cabinet was, but as if she already knew what they desired to know, she replied before they could even utter their question.

This is a display case for the items the visitors to the monastery have a gifted to the monks. You warrior -” She said pointing at Thalldon, “are now going to ask me if I am a also warrior of sorts.” Indeed that was his intention. “The answer is yes. I fight without relying on the surface of my senses. Meet me at the amphitheater now.” She said and resumed her guardianship.

They both left shrugging to eachother. This place was everything they had hoped for.

Thalldon visited the Graveyard, there, amazingly how, he saw the same woman, standing guard. “Entry is forbidden.” She announced. Within the steel rods of the gate, Thalldon saw that the gravestones were mysteriously unmarked.

He then visited the amphitheater and lo and behold! The woman was there also. Unless she was a goddess of some kind, this feat to be at three places simultaneously, was uncanny. Indeed she instructed Thalldon on how to dive into the deepest layers of his senses where his emotions would serve as  perception and understanding and while relying on other means of doing battle, he managed to grasp hints of what the woman warrior had achieved. He left the training wishing that soon he would be able to resume it.

While the bard visited the tavern and met with some other non-Sarakhil visitors inside, a tiny faerie and a troll faerie, and practiced his mischief in the process of cooking springrolls, Thalldon entered the dome shaped structure that hummed continuously.

Within it, a grand sphere levitated mere inches above the floor and rotated around itself on every possible axis. Its surface was smooth and dark, possibly made from some meteoric stone. Monks entered the room and placed candles beneath it. They would reach with their palms extended towards the surface of the sphere, but would not touch it. But Thalldon did.

Immediately he felt as if his body was ripped off of itself and was sent darting away into the atmosphere. He now saw the whole monastery from afar, hovering afloat in the air across it. Beneath the monastic castle, as if his eyes could pierce the stone, he envisioned like a refraction, that layers upon layers of areas extended downwards. Inside them he apprehended figures suspended in stasis.

Suddenly he returned back into his skin as if he had never departed it. The sphere hummed in front of his palm, a hairs length away.

Speechless, literally and metaphorically, he headed towards the tavern.

The two met inside the tavern yet again. Kiko had made new friends. This tavern was the only structure reminiscent of Helmaerite architecture. It had no patron or matron. Everyone helped themselves in there.

Thalldon noticed a middle aged man, sitting alone and reading a book. Using his basic grasp of sign language he tried to communicate with the man.

-“Ye –yes, I am from the south.” The man said. “I come from the Damorach lands. Eodoth lineage yes.”

Thalldon pointed at himself and then at the direction where the Helmaer lands extend.

-“You are a Helmaerite monk? Very good. Nice to make you erm, acquaintance.”

Thalldon rose and assumed a regal posture, imitating a noble and then pantomimed a crown on his head.

-“You are the King? No, you seem too young. What, the son? Oh! You are the young son? You are Thalldon!? I heard you were exiled. Makes sense!”

They both agreed on the danger of the Atranaar and Thalldon wrote a letter and sealed it with his signet ring and handed it to the man to be taken to the land of the Eodoth hoping this would set in motion a line of communication and the possibility of forging an alliance with the peoples who were hit harder by the coming of the Glass, having hundreds lose their homes, and forced to roam the lands as climate refugees.

As the Greylight ended and nighttime came, a mystical song fluctuated everywhere. It was not exactly sound but rather a pulse, an inner throb. A Calling. Everyone stood up and left the room without another moment wasted. Kiko and Thalldon, baffled, followed them out.

The monastery was suddenly empty. The night had come and only the golden figure atop the spire could be seen. Beneath it, hidden stairs leading inside the rock, had now opened. The two looked at each other and nodded and they descended holding their candles.

They found themselves in a cavernous room that lead deeper into the rock. Near the entrance they saw three stacks of folded robes. One of each color.

Kiko’s eyes widened. The child did not want to move further on. It felt constrained and depressed. Thalldon, not noticing the bards confusion, moved on bravely.

“I don’t want this anymore.” Kiko told itself and blew out its own candle. Immediately the shadowy mirror of the bard rushed ahead like a nightmarish shade and blocked its path above. It stood in front of the stairs holding a candle burning with a black flame.

The urchin rekindled its candle with the blackfire from its own projection, and burned the stacked robes, in an act of defiance!

ENOUGH WITH THIS ALTERNATIVE ORDER. ORDER IS STILL ORDER.” It shouted and rushed down. Thalldon had already moved further into the misty cavern around what seemed to Kiko to be an arraying of naked Sharakhil, standing motionless with empty eyes. A hazy blue sun shone above.

In front of them a figure wearing golden robes stood. From his back, two gleaming foggy wings grew. He wore a crown of horns on its head and had the face of a Sharakhil.

Looking at Kiko it charged!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

View
Sanctum of the Stars

She turned her eyes towards them, her fiery hair falling like flames down her shoulders, and as she descended from her levitating stasis, she spoke.

-“Thalldon, is that you?”

- “It is sister. It is nice to see you.” He said, as the four travelers approached the sanctum, navigating around the various petrified Atranaar corpses.

- “How did you reach this place? I am guessing that you found yourself back to the Tower.”

- “Indeed. I am sorry to see the family in this state.” He said embracing her.

She was everything but also nothing like he remembered, six twelvemoons ago when he departed the tower. Actually he had never truly noticed Elonkara. And that was his societies fault. To him, she was now a sight to behold. Proud and confident. Maybe she always was like that, but he did not have the eyes to see it.

- “It has always been in this state Thalldon. That is what we failed to acknowledge in due time.”

- “Maybe so. What is this place, and how did you find yourself here? I was told that you were exiled.”

- “That is what they were allowed to believe. The truth is that I led them to believe that I was getting exiled. That cretin we call “brother”, Aruthir, following our fathers abuse of power and our mothers voluntary inaction, accused me of “deviating from the path befitting a lady of the court” trying to control me and stop my arcane studies. Dozens of Helmaer soldiers died by my hand in self-defense. Soldiers that followed his orders to “seize me”. And so, not wanting to kill them all, possibly a regrettable choice in retrospect, I allowed myself to be “captured” and went along with their farce of a trial. The penalty was lifetime exile to the chasm of Samuth. They thought that the mountain would kill me. After all, no one had ever ventured into the chasm and returned. For me it was not a place of exile though, but rather a place of worship and pilgrimage. I knew of its heritage all along, and through my arcane powers I “suggested” I would be sent there.”

- “I always knew you had an affinity for magick sister, but I did not know for how long you had been harboring it.”

- “Since five years old Thalldon. And it was since then that I knew I had to conceal it. Who are those who you travel with? She asked looking at Alkanke, Kiko and Orsil.”

After the introductions were given and taken, Elonkara brought them to a hidden passage just below the sanctum that led to a hideout of sorts. It was furnished like a library and housed various contraptions and relics. It overlooked the sea of silver tears through an opening in its southern side that framed a large rectangular crystalike transparent material. A large telescope mounted on a tripod was turned towards the horizon.

Orsil the faerie dwarf had taken a great liking to Elonkara, regarding her as the Great Witch Helmaer of old.

Alkanke spoke about the Movaru women, a topic that Elonkara was rather familiar with. She had heard of the three Heroines that roamed the land looking for the aspects of the stars.

“What will you do with the first star Thalldon?” She inquired.

- “We have undertaken a quest to reach the glass and unearth the secrets behind it. Ontrothon is the key. Or so we are told.”

- “What is the purpose of this sanctum?” Kiko asked while looking through the spyglass over to the end of the world – trying to imagine its beginning.

- “It was built by the gods of the giants in the old days. It served as an observatory – as a temple to the stars. The astral energy it amassed was passed on to various ancient runic monoliths scattered around the peaks, connected with ley lines, thus creating a massive network of astral magick around the mountain tops above the chasm of Samuth. Most of these monoliths were rendered inactive through the years after the death of Lady Helmaer, the last human to ever reach the peak and study its power in the years when the Voice Beyond the Stars fell silent. The Faerie and the Golagonds infused them with wards to keep the Atranaar away, but the magic eventually waned and so now the elves return yet again to destroy or nullify the last monoliths in order to easily reach the sanctum to steal its secrets. I, following the steps of our great foremother, defend it.” Elonkara elaborated, tenderly caressing Orsil who was slumbering heavily after his resurrection, inside her arms.

Kiko listened at the archwitches recount and turned the viewing instrument towards the northwest, attempting to scope the Natazaad mountains, ancient bastion of the Atranaar. There between the dark nebula of the rain clouds the child saw the alabaster spires piercing the skies, when suddenly as if guided by an overforce, the dark cloudy nebula concealed them.

-“Barastir is facing its Doom or its Recreation. The Golagonds are taking action and will soon strike. It was not by mistake that their culture remained strong and flourished even after the Plunge. They will not care to distinguish between Atranaar and Atranaar sympathizers.” Elonkara added.

- “The Helmaer lands are in complete disarray. We must stop our father, break the alliance with the Atranaar and provide true leadership to the people.” Thalldon suddenly announced.

- “The Helmaer lands I fear are beyond redemption brother. The very people that you would lead are the ones who allow this to go on. They are the ones who man the armies and the ones who share the speciesist cause that the Atranaar operate on. The Helmear lands must be purged.” Elonkara retorted confidently.

- “Purged? Killing them will not stop the Atranaar.” Kiko cut in. “The common people have no choice in this. They man the army because they need to feed their families.”

- “And while they eat the food that the Atranaar brought to their table, they completely ignore the hundreds of families of humans and non-humans that perish inside and outside our borders, hunted by the elves, by the frost or by both.” The archwitch responded abruptly. “They should grow a conscience or face the consequences of their actions.”

- “That is why they need a strong leader. You. Me. Alkanke. Someone with vision and a hunger for equality and justice.” Thalldon rose and declared with conviction.

- “It is not true that all people in your lands are completely sold on the Atranaar ideology. Some openly denounced it. Many yet may still hold opposed beliefs, but fear the revenge that would strike them if they voiced it.” Kiko explained, still gazing far into the distance, its eyes wandering, through the amplification of the telescope, on the stormy waters of the ocean. An amplification of vision but also of wanderlust.

- “The Helmaer lands are facing a crisis that I cannot yet focus on solving. I cannot leave the sanctum. Not while the Atranaar still attempt to reach it. They hail from a nearby watchtower of the ancient days. They seem to have opened a wormhole within it, and waves of them rush the sanctum each passing day. If I am led astray from its vicinity no one will be able to harness its power and defend it.” Elonkara explained.

Before Thalldon could speak, Kiko announced that they would go and clear that tower of every Atranaar presence. Elonkara gave them magickal potions, restorative and stimulant draughts that she had mixed and enchanted. She also gave them a magickal ring decorated by a vibrant orange stone.

-“Use this to energize any monolith you find in your path. That will awaken the hibernating giants and the snow beasts of the olden times and bring them to the spiritual hub of the runes. It will also destroy existing elven portals and block them from re-emerging.”

Alkanke remained at the sanctum to assist Elonkara and Orsil, while Kiko and Thalldon departed the next morning towards the Watchtower to the southeast, following the archwitches directions. She spoke of a long rope bridge that led to it, beneath a waterfall.

Soon they reached a small canyon on the body of which, the ominous faces of giants were carved on the limestone. Out of the eyes of one of those faces, streams of rushing water fell to the depths of several consecutive platforms down the slope. This was clearly magical water, Kiko felt it. The air and the temperature in the canyon was a lot warmer than the rest of the absolutely frozen mountain that surrounded it. How else would the cataract be running and not solid ice, Kiko thought. Across the whole cascade and down to the first platform, a series of interconnected stone bridges descended. They all led to cavernous entrances.

Kiko started walking on the first bridge and halted half way, observing a mass of thick vines unnaturally hanging and moving over it. They all originated through the walls just above a large green plant-looking mass.

- “This is scary.” Kiko reported worried. “Best be careful.”

- “Let me go first.” Thalldon said and walked ahead.

Suddenly the vines rose and darted towards him extending their length, stretched like spears!

Before the blackguard could call upon his blade, the vines pierced between the shoulderguards of his armor drawing blood.

Kiko remained crouched behind Thalldon awaiting his reaction. Indeed, the former paladin called upon the might of his black blade and slashed at the creeping plants vines, severing them. As they fell, they slithered like snakes and crawled back into the wall.

-“What sorcery is this?” Thalldon yelled, and adjusted his battle stance. A third vine lashed at his arm and whipped him, while a forth slid under his guard and looped around the former paladins ankle, tightening more and more at each passing moment.

Kiko had noticed a skeleton of a humanoid wrapped inside a huge tangle of those vines, just below their point of origin. Preparing itself, the wee bard sped ahead and using Thalldons heel as a springboard, jumped over him, evaded a number of vines that thrashed at it, rolled mid air and finally landed in front of the entangled skeleton.

Thalldon was cutting vines left and right when Kiko felt the encroaching plant tentacles smothering its small body, pressing it against the wall. There the urchin saw a bulky mass, two feet wide, resembling a pulsating lettuce. The bard knew what was required in order to stop the vines but was unable to move as the green tentacles constricted it.

After some struggle Thalldon managed to reach the ledge where the tangled mass was, and started hacking at the vines above it thus loosening the grip they had on Kiko, who taking advantage of the opportunity, pierced the thumping mass that grew inside the ribcage of the skeleton. Thick ochre ichor seeped through the wounds and as if operating on alarm mode, the vines multiplied, lashing violently at the companions.

Finally they managed to destroy the murderous plant and washed themselves on the waters of the waterfall. Apart from washing the toxic ichor away, they felt refreshed and invigorated.

They entered the opening in the wall and there, just above the winding staircase that descended possibly to another bridge, they found a large urn decorated by the same ancient symbols they had seen at the temple of the old gods.

Processions of giants holding mountains on their shoulders or holding huge bodies with arms extending towards the cosmos. The urn was full of mud and dust and other debris, but within it Kiko discovered some relics. A very large belt possibly belonging to a giant and a jewel of sorts, a ring or a bracelet that was decorated by numerous small gemstones.

-"Let me try your magickal die, Thalldon!" Kiko asked wearing a big smile.

-"No. This might be a game to you, but not to me."

-"Oh come ooon. Please!"

-"No."

-"Ok fine". The child said and moved behind Thalldon towards the steps. Passing near him, Kiko attempted to pick the blackguards pouch, but Thalldon noticed and grabbed the bard by the shirt.

-"You seek to steal from me?"

-"No, I just bumped you. I am sorry…"

-"Listen child, I don't want you to -"

-"I SAID I AM SORRY. NOW TAKE YOUR HANDS OFF ME!" The warlock inside Kiko spoke, as its eyes darkened. Thalldon recoiled and let the child go. They did not revisit this issue. Now they knew that the darkness and sorrow of the world had seeped deep inside both their souls.

They continued on their path and finally they reached the platform where indeed, penetrating the thick white mist they saw a narrow rope bridge swaying violently in the frozen wind. The magic cataract was no longer present and the icy nature of the chasm had returned.

To the left and the right of the bridge, two magical pylons stood energized by the power of Iblys. Their magic was meant as protection for the bridge against the elements of nature.

- “I see a dark structure ahead! Let me go first, there might be magickal pylons here, but I doubt that this bridge can hold us both at the same time.” Kiko announced.

The child traversed the length of the rope bridge. Halfway on it, it noticed an old structure over to the other side, built on the edge of the mountain. It featured two dark spires on its slim facade.

Just as the child was getting ready to announce that it could not see any garrison, a distant figure on the other side of it was attempting to nullify the magic of the pylons that were also erected there, sword in hand, possibly meaning to neutralize  the ward and cut the ropes of the bridge.

Immediately Kiko called upon a rare spell that it had discovered. Extending its small fingers a prismatic array of colors projected off to the face of the Atranaar, and the elf bedazzled by the magic, fell paralyzed.

The companions rushed ahead, and Thalldon apprehended the guard and placing  Onxar the Black Blade on the elfs throat, jerked him violently attempting to wake him up. As the Atranaar opened its eyes the blackguard warned him.

-  “Shout and I shall cut your throat immediately. You will answer our questions and the manner on which you respond will make all the difference between life and death.”

The elf terrified but still defiant, growled and eventually complied.

“How many of you are here?”

- “Apart from me one. Just one.” The elf said and started cackling hideously.

- “What is this place?”

- “An observatory.”

-“What are your Master's plans?”

-“I would not share our vision with a lesser race. Even if I told you, you would not have the capacity to understand, human.” The Atranaar hissed.

Those were his last words. Thalldon slid his blade slowly across the elfs throat cutting it open. The Atranaar extended his tongue outward, drinking his own blood and drowning on it. Its eyes rolled back and from the tip of his mouth, as if it was a liquid that spilled over, the deathly petrification started. Soon his whole body turned into a horrid statue. They kicked it over to the ledge after taking the key chain that he held and a small disc that was hanging on a chain around his neck, mere moments before the items were also petrified.

A light flashed over the top of the tower.

- “We must proceed with caution, he might have been lying. Maybe there is a whole battalion of them in there, hiding.” Kiko warned and crept ahead.

The blackguard followed holding his frostfire blade. The Observatory was completely silent. The large metal door that served as its entrance was closed and had no visible keyhole apart from a disc-shaped recess on its surface. It was there that Thalldon placed the disc they had procured from the guard. With a sudden crack the door opened and the smell of decay rushed inside their nostrils.

The main room of this Watch Tower was completely empty. Only a vessel, a large container made of some obscure silver material engraved with the forms of souls getting exhumed from their bodies stood in the middle, wreathed in a purple light shown from above.

But then their eyes fell on the walls where dozens of chains hung in pairs, attached to cuff locks.  Those chains restrained numerous spectral humanoid forms on their ankles and wrists. Their ghostly bodies and faces transfixed in expressions of anguish and pain. A slow mournful weeping sound emanated from them and a incandescent mist seemed to be rushing out of their mouths and into the vessel.

-  “This terror is surely the work of the Atranaar. We should investigate further.” Thalldon announced in anger.

The two companions investigated the room and then decided to take the left flight of stairs that led to an alcove above. There a large viewing instrument was turned towards the skies. It resembled a series of large circular lenses of descending sizes stacked one behind the other. From the first ten foot one, to the last and smallest which was no bigger than a fingernail. A steel spine connected the whole structure to a seat. Beneath the machine, on the floor, a carving of the stellar dome was depicted and on its lowermost point it bore a circular seal similar to the one on the door.

- “I will take a look.” Kiko declared and happily sat on the machine. The child peered through and saw a dark purple portal open to an unfathomable distance in the skies, magnified intensely. Through it, the phantasmal bodies of Atranaar elves cascaded through the air and into the lenses and then disappeared. The child then turned the machine towards the sanctum of the stars. Much to the urchins dread, a portal had opened there also, and Elonkara was fighting off Atranaar warriors with the help of Alkanke. Kiko let out a cry and sprang from the seat. “They are summoning the ghosts of elves into the watchtower and opening portals on the sanctum!”

At that very moment, Thalldon was placing the disc into the ground. In set the machine in motion. The lenses started interchanging positions with one another, and the cosmic carving on the ground seemed to have miraculously changed its depiction.

- “For better or for worse, I seem to have set something in motion.” Thalldon noted.

- “let’s return to the bottom floor. We need to shut that portal down.” Kiko said with conviction.

As they returned to the lower floor, the chained ghosts on the wall had vanished. Immediately they consumed the magical potions that Elonkara had given them and they felt refreshed and full of celerity. They noticed a tall hooded figure standing in front of the vessel. Through the ceiling the apparitional elven forms collapsed on each other, passed through the container and finally merged with the figure.

They stood in the presence of an Atranaar Soul Harvester. An ancient sect of dread occultists, trained in the necromantic arts. It seemed that somehow the instrument above enhanced a grim ritual of astronecromancy.

The man wore a heavy armor and held a large blade. His straight white hair hung low beneath his belt. A hazy purple aura of dread surrounded him. He raised his weapon and wailing like the deepest astral nightmare, he attacked Kiko descending upon the child like a black hole.

The bard was unprepared and the strike lacerated the urchins body from shoulder to thigh.

-ONXAR!!!” Thalldon howled and the black blade materialized within the grip of the former paladin. He immediately intervened and blocked the Atranaars second swing. Kiko rolled backwards and sped up the stairs. From there it unleashed an Eldritch blast towards the vessel. As the energy from the blast hit the container the ghostly images of the elves halted their procession and the necromancer halted his offensive paralyzed where he stood.

- “Keep hitting him! I will focus on the vessel.” Kiko yelled and recited a powerful incantation that heated the gauntlet of the warrior magus, who cried in pain but clenched his sword even tighter instead of dropping it.

Thalldon suffered severe and ferocious blows from the Atranaar’s blade but pressed on. The blackguard feigned fatigue and pretended to drop his guard as the necromancer fell for the bait and raised both his hands preparing a high strike that left him exposed. Thalldon rushed forward and delivered a tallied compination of blows. One left, another one parallel to the first from the opposite side and finaly a third and mortal strike. A barbarous thrust to the chest. Not even this powerful and formidable opponent could withstand this attack, and black blood rushed through the rend armor and the open wounds of the Atranaar as he fell dead on the floor.

The companions regained their composure and looked around. They still needed to find a way to shut the portal down. Still the ghostly form passed through. The body of the Atranaar started moving again, and his spilled blood, as if magnetized by an inner force, returned back inside him.

-“He is regenerating! Quick the vessel!” Kiko cried and rushed towards the silver container. Thalldon started hacking at it with his sword and the bard pushed it, aiming to tilt it. The blackguard aided the bards attempt and moments before the Atranaar was able to return to life, the vessel fell over and the spectral forms dissipated into the astral weave that bore them into existence!

- “No time to celebrate.” Thalldon declared. “We need to look for monoliths and see if indeed the portal is closed.”

And so it was as they soon found out. The astral portal in the skies had perished as had the offshoot of it on the sanctum. Though there, the two women were still fighting bravely against numerous elves.

They two frantically searched the backside of the tower and discovered a small wooden door. The sickening smell that the main floor exuded was obviously originating from behind this door.

They opened it with the guard’s keychain only to witness a spectacle both terrible and infuriating. Inside this large cellar, dozens upon dozens of hideously murdered and decaying bodies of various races, from humans, to fearie, to even animals, lay stacked on eachother, forming a hill of utter disgust and grim sorrow. Both of them remain silent and felt their fury gather.

It was all obvious now. The rumors were true. The Atranaar had been gathering bodies and souls to feed their dark magick.

Behind the tower they also found a dormant monolith buried in snow. Thalldon touched the surface of the stone pillar with the ring. The hum of the mountain thudded below and the monolith became energized.

“BhhuuuuuuughhhhhHHHUHUHUUUU!” A battle horn reverberated within the ancient slopes.

-“Oh no… More Atranaar!” Kiko said in desperation.

But the child was wrong. Instead of Atranaar, the companions witnessed the glorious cathode of the Giants Of Old. Ancient sleeping guardians of the mountains returning to the call of the monoliths. On their helm strode a Ghorreamund, a Lord of the Venerable Apex.

The wild blew in tune of the giants march.

View
The Roots of the Mountain

 

The three companions again found themselves on the frozen steppes of the Helmaer highlands. Studying their map they decided on a course towards the chasm of Samuth where Thalldons’ sister was self-exiled.

Thalldon pulled out his weird talisman, a bone dice.

“You roll it now!” He demanded of Kiko.

“No, I don’t want to! I don’t feel like it.” Kiko replied abruptly.

-“Why not? You said its effects are benign.”

-“Well, not always. No…”

“You rascal you!” Thalldon barked feeling his rage gather. He willed himself to fabricated calmness and put the dice back into his pockets.

After a two hour hike, in front of them, a winding pathway was escalating the face of the northern mountains and there, inside the gloom, a deep chasm tore the rock in half. It was both deep and wide. That pathway led inside the chasm and opened up to ledges that run across it to either side. The air inside was stale and an aura of unmistakable magick emanated throughout the area. The cold was piercing and a subsonic hum pulsated from the roots of the mountain.

“We better waste no time.” Alkanke warned. “Nightfall will be upon us soon and regardless of your mother’s efforts, we might still be hunted by random Atranaar patrols.”

“Indeed so.” Thalldon said, nodding in agreement.

“I think we need to find a place to rest.” Kiko insisted. “It was a harrowing day for all of us. I have just the spell.” The child announced and started moving its hands in the air as if sculpting a tower of sorts out of nothing. Its gestures were followed up by arcane words and a transparent hut was summoned, one that only the three companions could see but before they could enter, three sudden golden flashes in the form of rifts appeared from the other side of the ledge and from inside them, three Sorrakuth’s rushed and charged towards them, hissing curses and demands in their mysterious language.

“Xrratatxa thaaoh Ontrothon! “Xrratatxa thaaoh Ontrothon ghuis Onxar!”  Their leader, a slim and tall Sorakuth wearing bronze robes shouted, pointing at Thalldon.

"Oh not again." Kiko murmured and entered the hut, only for it to deteriorate around the bard. The robed Sorrakuth had used his magick to dispel it. While Alkanke and Thalldon assumed battle positions, the little bard, annoyed that its wee hut was destroyed by the Sorrakuth, retaliated with a song of sleep. One of the Sorrakuths in the front succumbed to deep slumber, while their leader teleported to the opposite ledge and began weaving a spell of his own.

Thalldons eyes darkened as he uttered dark words that commanded the very mist to form in the midst of his adversaries. From within it blades twirled and flew in circles, ravaging the Sorrakuth warriors.

Alkanke hesitated seeing the black mist, and the Sorrakuth leader wasted no time and extending his long fingers, unleashed an elemental force of lightning that crackled and crashed onto the unprepared companions, shocking their bodies and bringing their bones nearly to a breaking point.

But Kiko’s arcane power had considerably multiplied since the pyramid, and as the child lowered its hazy silver eyes, unleashed a flurry of intolerable dark mumblings towards the leader, confusing, stunning and bringing his offensive to a halt, as the Sorrakuth magus cowered in fear and leaned back towards the mountain side.

Thalldon and Alkanke made quick work of the extraterrestrial swordsmen, and so the leader, realizing that the battle was lost, threw himself over the ledge of the chasm and let a long feather swim inside the mist while uttering a series of occult words as he fell slowly in the deep crevasse, cursing the companions.

"They came again." Kiko said while it searched the dead bodies of the extra dimensional warriors. The urchin found nothing of interest this time.

"They hunt you? What are they? "Alkanke asked.

"Yes! Or rather they hunt the Ontrothon and other rare treasures. They are beings from another dimension." Kiko explained.

"We should rest. This cold will break us if we do not find shelter." Alkanke warned as she investigated the surroundings on the frozen ledge. There were various cavernous openings that would protect them from the unforgiving blizzard and the lashing cold winds. She managed to find a small cave, maybe six feet deep and high, and all three of them nested inside, covered in their winter clothes and using each others bodies as a source of warmth. Alkanke secured her summer cloak on the entrance, covering it, after smearing it with fresh snow to provide camouflage and act as a wind breaker.

In the silence and utter darkness of the cave, the ominous hum from the mountain roots throbbed denser than the breathing of the companions and spread throughout the bowels of the rock. In their dreams they were visited by colossal images of giants. Their long beards running down to their feet and into the ground. They seemed rooted to the ancient stone. With arcane eyes these giants pierced the dreaming souls of the companions, measuring them, judging them, summoning them.

They awoke refreshed but very cold. Still the bosom of the mountain called and hummed, as those dreams faded and became sub layers in the aura of memory. Thalldon raised his eyes on the sky looking for the golden hawk, remembering the words of Algaragan. None could be seen.

They continued on their hike, looking for clues or tracks and reached some winding stone steps that lay on the side of the chasm, next to a massive mountainous body that fell in the middle of the abysmal crevasse, dividing it. Instead of walking into the icy corridor that continued inside this large glacier, they decided to climb the stairs that lead to a frozen rock slab that in turn narrowed down to an upward pathway hugging the mountain. On the slab Kiko discovered the frozen body of a dwarven faerie. It had curled and hugged its own small legs. Its frozen body had turned into a well preserved icicle. It had a horrid gash across its chest and arms. Inside its clutched fingers, the bard discovered a parchment. The child removed it carefully from the dwarfs grasp, fearing that it would crumple if jerked too violently.

“It holds something.”  Kiko announced, thawing the note with magick.

“This seems to be a diary page. It has a dating form that I cannot comprehend.”

“I am near the witches temple – The hum intensifies – the energized Heerriafr are all attuned – My giant brothers will soon awake and uproot the mountains “.

“The entry stops for a number of days or months. It resumes here.” Kiko explained.

“The Voice from the stars fell silent, and silver tears are falling into the ocean – The Mountain calls out to me.”

“What is Heerriafr?” Thalldon asked.

“That literally means ‘Star Rocks’ ”. Kiko informed him. “I don’t know anything else about them.”

“This sounds like an omen or a prophecy.” Alkanke deliberated. “Either this faerie died here a long long time ago, or it had become ridden with madness. Or both.”

“We must take the body of this poor being and bury it according to faerie customs. We need to deliver it to the roots of a tree.” Kiko declared.

“I will carry it then.” Thalldon stated halfheartedly and picked up the dwarf faerie. It wasn't larger than a newborn human.

As soon as they ascended the stone steps, a shriek resounded on the slopes, amplified by the echo of the mountain range, followed up by battle sounds, the clanging of weapons and the flurry of legs running and shuffling the snow.

Thalldon wasted no time and rushed ahead to investigate. Onxar was calling him to battle. He felt a newfound rush for power. For dominion. For the exaltation of victory. The others followed drawing their weapons.

As they rushed ahead on the upward pathway, they lay eyes on the majesty of the mournful clouds as they encroached on a nearby mountain peak. On its cragged slope, laying  with its back on the rock, was the titanic skeleton of a giant of old. Its skull now the nesting place of Murgerheim – giant eagles, and its body that was blanketed in eternal snow, covered the whole mountain side – as far as their eyes could see. A gargantuan sword lay plunged into the rock, inside the ribcage of the skeleton.

The companions froze for a moment, and stood there speechless, as if the mountain itself demanded of them to pay respects to the ancient fallen. After that silent moment of awe, they continued on the path and they reached a small mountain top, a snowy plateau.  On the edge of it, a tall and wide monolith of Greyhuth – a rare type of marble – towered wreathed in the orange hue of the ley lines and the unknown runic markings that run across its surface. In front of it, a Snow beast – or Yeti – as the humans called it, was battling three Atranaar spearmen. The eyes of the beast glowed with the same orange color.

ONXAR!” Thalldon shouted, placed the faerie body on the snow, and charged the Atranaar in the middle. Alkanke crossed blades with the elf to the right while Kiko crept near the Snow Beast, attempting to observe more of its possible connection to the huge pillar.The beast was holding its ground against the Atranaar, flailing its clawed arms, big as tree trunks, and growling menacingly.

The Hum was stronger than before near the pillar.

The third spearman, after blowing his battle horn and sending a boisterous blast across the skies, lunged at Alkanke and skewered her with his spear. She let out a cry of pain, grabbed the spear tip with her right gauntlet and bend it off, breaking it while it still protruded from her side, and riposted the assault with her longsword, cleaving the face of the elf. Her strike was so powerful that the pale blue eyes of her opponent were torn from their sockets and fell petrified on the snow, both gazing upwards at the darkening skies, beneath which, the face that once housed them, fell down to meet them once again in marble unison.

Kiko realized that the Snow Beast had either some sort of magickal shield near the pillar, or its simple mind warded off the child’s spell, exactly because it was simple.

The Beast grabbed the Atranaar from the legs and bit it off from the waist up, chewing and spitting the mangled body on the snow. The elf now lay there, a pile of crumpled steel, hot innards and severed limbs all turning to stone.

"See this Elf?" Thalldon roared addressing the final Atranaar that stood its ground fearless and in contempt. "I bet you can make a better statue than these. I am the better sculptor you see!" The blackguard added, springing into a barbarous offensive. His black blade violently tore down all of the futile defenses that the elf could muster and finally fell through its forehead cracking the skull open. As the gaze of the Atranaar became empty and lifeless and the brain fluids seeped through the wound and down to its legs, the elf stiffened and solidified into a grotesque statue.

Before they could decide what to do with the Snow Beast, an enormous winged creature appeared on the horizon and soon descended upon them. It was a huge dire raven and on its back an Atranaar protowarrior was holding the reins while another elf rode behind. The bird neared the ledge and the protowarrior dismounted and immediately charged Thalldon, while the second Atranaar engaged the wounded Alkanke.

"Ith elebethe oklier jie qyuith! Ethuicarh!" The protowarrior shouted as he delivered two ferocious blows on the torso of the former paladin with his long fiery blade. He moved with uncanny speed and precision, despite, or rather because of, his extended age. The Atranaar were after all, immortal. Wisdom and experience came with no toll to them.

Immediately after his strike, Thalldon felt immense heat emanating from the body of his adversary and before he could react, the protowarrior radiated white energy while a sudden burst scorched and burnt the blackguard and Alkanke, both suffering grievous wounds from the sudden inferno.

When the firestorm subsided, the protowarrior, obviously unaffected by its own magick, laughed and taunted Thalldon. The former paladin reeling with pain and perceiving the huge body of the Snow Beast dropping on all fours to the side and preparing to trample them, withdrew cautiously from the melee.

While Alkanke was besting yet another opponent, at the cost of her now dwindling vitality, the giant Raven hovered above, and snorted heavily, a blue mist forming around its nostrils. Kiko knew what was going to follow. The child sped across the plateau and stood behind Alkanke, gesturing and recalling arcane musings inside its head. It was preparing a complex and strong augury.

The onslaught of the Snow Beast caught the Atranaar protowarrior unaware. When the snow cloud from the yeti’s charge receded, the companions, instead of seeing the Elf stricken and broken, they saw him on the back of the Raven yet again. Evidently his innate affluence to magick provided a timely escape.

Kiko knew that this was the time to act. The child placed both its palms over its own eyes and uttered the final obscure words of the spell. Both the Atranaar and his mount reeled and turned mid air loosing their balance. They were both blinded! The protowarrior tried to regain control of his mount in vain, as the bird went into a frenzy and jerked him off its back while they hovered just above the gigantic skeleton on the nearby mountainside.

The Atranaar paragon plummeted and fell onto the immense blades edge that lay beneath him, and met his gruesome demise as his body was cloven open upon impact and completely torn apart to pieces of pristine white marble, which hailed down the slope and disappeared into the cruel drift of the frigid mesa.

The Raven flew afar, kited by the winds, before regaining its sight and rushing off into the dark horizon.

The companions looked at eathother and then at the Snow Beast which seemed to quiet down as it stood in front of the pillar.

"It seems to be ignoring us, let’s leave it be." Kiko said while mending Alkanke’s wounds with its magick. Thalldon picked up the faerie corpse and the three steering clear of the pillar and the beast, decided to explore the glacier grotto below. After all the diary mentioned a "Helmaer witch". That could mean Thalldon's sister.

“I don’t see the point in carrying the fearie with us. It is highly unlikely that we find a tree in the mountain top.”  Thalldon said, only to receive the disapproving gaze of Kiko who retorted that it was their duty to bring rest to the soul of this brave explorer.

And so, with the frozen corpse in their hands, they entrered the subterrainian cavern that opened next to the stone steps beneath the slab. They found themselves within a very large cave. It was uncertain if there were stone walls beneath the ice or if it was actually the titanic frozen mass that loomed around them. The answer to this question was soon found when they saw the face of a structure opening up deep within the grotto.

It was chiseled out of the same material, of the same Greystone as the pillar on the plateau and on its facade three doors opened up too dark and unknown destinations. The central gate was very wide and tall, an architecture that somebody would expect being made for giants or beings of large stature, while the other two where mysteriously of humanoid proportions. All three doors were covered by thick mist.

"This is the work of giants surely. "Alkanke noted.

"I think we should enter the middle gate." Thalldon said, trying to peer through the obscurity of the passageway.

"Lets take the rightmost door! It is more of our measurements." Kiko insisted.

The other two hesitantly agreed and they traversed the misty door that opened up to a gloomy corridor. From within, the Hum was louder than ever but it felt as if it undulated more as a palpable entity rather than a frequency of sound.

The long passage led to a stone balcony that overlooked a large subterranean hall. That huge cavity had no visible top or bottom. It seemed to be hundreds of feet wide. To the right of the balcony, the mountain rock could be seen, as this area was both warm and illuminated by the afterglow of a large pyre that burned atop a thin colonnade that rose up from the bottomless bowels up to the same height of the balcony but to the middle of the cavity. Further left, another balcony could be seen, probably the end of the path that originated from the other door.

As their senses slowly became attuned to the vastness and the undoubtable divinity of the place, they finally saw the Gods.

Five Giant bodies stood with their backs against the walls of the monumental cavern. Their sublime size, was surpassed only by the antiquity of their immortal aspect. It was tangible, omnipotent, unmistakable.

Four of them had huge long beards falling into the void like the very curtains of the cosmos itself, and within the hair, the projections of the stars themselves intertwined with the curvature. The middle one, possibly a female, wore a striking spectral crown, argent like the bright moons. Their eyes gleamed in an orange hue, much like the markings on the pillar.

As the companions stared with wonderment, the Gods spoke. Their voice booming yet soothing, undeniable yet dreamy, resounding yet hushed.

-“Will you pay your respects to the heart of Samuth?’’

-“We will.”

-“Present your offering.”

Kiko nodded to Thalldon and the blackguard extended his hands and held the body of the dwarf faerie high, and as he withdrew his palms from beneath it, it levitated diagonally towards the pyre and burst into flames.

“We accept our kin in our company. Go. The second path is open. Receive your blessing there.” The unified godly voice announced.

“There!” Kiko remarked in mournful glee. “The roots of the mountain are still roots!”

The companions exited the gateway and entered the leftmost one, seeing that the middle was still obscured by the arcane mist. As they reached the second balcony, they saw that the body of the dwarf was levitating from the fire back to them. Thalldon took it back into his hands and they saw that the faerie was breathing anew, thawed by the fire and resurrected by the love of the giant gods.

All four exited the corridor back to the main entrance, as the dwarf squirmed and whimpered, much like a newborn would do. It opened its hazel eyes and stared long at the travelers.

“Who – where – what?” The creature said bewildered, trying to gather itself.

“Easy there friend.” Kiko told him smilling. “You had been taken by the cold but you are here with us once again. What is your name?"

-“I don’t, I don’t remember… I am… I am Orsil! I was on the trail of the Helmaer witch. I was following her pilgrimage to the sanctum of the stars around here when, when a whitehaired Atranaar descended upon me. Then all went blank.”

“That was a long time ago friend.” Alkanke whispered in his ear in a soothing voice. “Ages have passed.”

“Do you mean Lady Helmaer, the archmage, the matron of the Helmaer lineage?” Thalldon asked in anticipation.

-“Lineage? No It is just her and her three children. She is not noble born. Yet she is wise and powerful!” Orsil replied. The faerie had effectively escaped time itself.

“Yes!” Kiko jumped in. “The Helmaer witch is around here still. We are seeking her out too! Come with us!” The urchin did not want another being experiencing the dread of reincarnation as it had felt it. The burden of life and death was enough on its own. And so the companions let the faerie believe it was never killed in the first place.

The mist was now lifted from the middle gate and the four of them walked through. A staircase ascended in front of them and led to another archway that opened up to the legendary Summit of Samuth were lore says that the Sanctum of the Stars was constructed by the deities of the giants, eternal observers of the cosmos.

Three stone wards hovered on the top of the staircase. Each marked with three shapes.

A triangle, a circle and square.

“The aspects of the voice beyond the stars! United they are a blessing. Divided they represent the potential for destruction. These three symbols separately, are taken up by the three godkings of the Atranaar. The Umbra Atranaara. The Giants and the Golagond placed these wards in the likeness of these symbols to keep the High Elves away from the power of the Sanctum. But now they seem inactive.” The faerie announced.

As they walked under the archway they saw numerous petrified Atranaar in their death poses, scattered around the peak. In the middle, they saw a magnificent structure made of greystone. The figure of a woman floated suspended between its two large obelisks, harnessing its power.

Thalldon recognized his sister. Elonkara.

View
Return to Cewick Tower

 

The magical waters welcomed them once again, and they swam out of the lake that was within the lake and traveled across the sandy expanse in the middle of which the once frozen pyramid had now melted and stood before them in its fleshless, inner, alabaster glory. They entered the ancient structure as if for the first time and within it they now saw that no room, no labyrinth, no trap existed any more, other than a glorious hall, grand and illuminated, in the middle of which they marveled at an imposing monument. It was made of alabaster itself and surrounded by magical nature.

The triangular shape that it depicted was levitating ten feet above the ground and was rotating in the air. Within it, an alabaster cube was rotating in the opposite direction to the triangle frame and within the square, a sphere was rotating in a chaotic manner and on every possible axis.

Beneath that magnificent monument that was as large as a hilltop, the portal that the hierophant created for Thalldon was still standing open and through it the former paladin could discern the northern pass that lay on the borders of his domain.

 “Let’s go.”  He said and all three of them passed through the waygate.

“I should close this if it is within my power.” The blackguard announced.

And indeed he felt that he had a connection with the magic of the portal and with a swift gesture from his hand the gate collapsed within itself and disappeared out of thin air.

They had reached the cold steppes of the Helmaer realm that were geomorphically defined by a large mountain range called Haathoogard “Giants Bones” that surrounded Cewick Tower as natural defense. On the slopes of the mountain, lay a small region of forests, the “ghosts of spirits past” , where it is said that was once the site of a massive genocide that the Atranaar elves conducted on their former cousins, the Faerie. On the outskirts of that forest that lay on the crossroads that connected the Ocean  of Silver Eyes to the northwest with the inland empires of old to the northeast, one could find an old inn, the Black Fox Lodge, whose chimney now smoked in the darkness of the deep winter. It was morning when they passed through the gate and now it was nighttime. The magic of the lake was at play when they went through the wormhole.

“Are we going in there?” Alkanke asked. “If so, we must agree on our course of action. Who are we and what are we doing here?” She added.

“We can pose as a group of mercenaries that seek to enlist to the Helmaer ranks and join their upcoming conflicts.” Kiko suggested.

“That is a descent idea.” Thalldon said nodding in agreement. “In that case though, we should split. You two go ahead and enter the inn and I will scope the area for a while and enter later. It would be best if we feigned that we are unacquainted.”

All three agreed and so Alkanke and Kiko went inside the lodge, while Thalldon skulked about cloaked, and spied the mesh hall from the window to the back.

The cold was piercing even more so than the darkness of the steppes.

“I am Alorna and you are my squire.” Alkanke told Kiko who frowningly agreed to the scheme.

“Squire… Everyone thinks of me as a squire.” His angelic eyes mournfully looked towards the dark skies. The child still kept the vision of its death close to its heart. That Movaru Goddess and that tune were now paramount to its being, to its new life, as the Urchin felt it at least.

The interior of the inn was more welcoming than it was warm, regardless of the rather large fireplace that covered the southern wall. It was as big as a room, housing an antithetical to its size small fire, and its face was almost as large as the main entrance to the mesh hall. Under its cragrock mantlepiece, a dwarf sat, holding an iron rod and shuffling the embers.

A long wooden table made of bodagot root, run across the length of the inn, and on its equally long benches, only a gathering of human male hunters sat, old and younger, conversing and drinking ale.

On the other side of the room, just in front of a small storage room door, the innkeeper, a short-clean shaven man in his seventies, roasted meat on a barbeque slab. Across the place, various mounted heads from animals and beasts decorated the walls, the “crown jewel” of which – resting above the fireplace – was a Jhahkar – a forest dragon long extinct now.

“How rustic and manly. Alkanke whispered and sat on the edge of the table, across Kiko. “The look on their face seeing a woman in armor entering a tavern is similar to the look they would have seeing a Jhankar walk in and order ale.”

“What can I bring you, strangers? “ The innkeeper asked.

“Ale and food.” Alkanke replied, removing only her left gauntlet.

“Coming up. What brings you to our icy steppes? You are not from around here are you?” He asked smirking, in his heavy accent. He spoke a variation of the Golagondish tongue which was the human dialect.

“We are!” Kiko rushed to respond before Alkanke could.

“Oh! Where from? From Pine Fang to the west maybe?” The man continued, in an interrogating manner.

“Yes! That’s my homeland.”  Kiko declared happily.

“We are mercenaries. We come to enlist to the Helmaer army. Heard they seek swords. I am actually from Cewick Tower. Returning after some years. This here is my squire.” Alkanke cut in to announce, kicking Kiko’s leg below the table.

“I see, I see. “ The innkeeper said and went back to the slab to prepare the order. Thalldon who overlooked the scene from outside, saw him whispering something towards the small storage room in the back.

“Pine Fang is not in the west. It is an abandoned village to the southeastern hills. He was testing us.”  Alkanke whispered to Kiko. “Let me do the talking from now on.”

The hunters across the table regularly looked over towards the two travelers, giggling amongst themselves.

“Ok I will!” Kiko replied, got up and walked over to the fireplace where the dwarf sat.

While the child was walking across the room, a group of three men, soldiers, wearing the Helmaer colors, walked in. One of them was an officer of sorts, Kiko could tell by his snobbish demeanor. Another was an older man, gruff and moody, and lastly a youngster, with a red nose and barely any facial hair. Immediately the innkeeper brought a small table and two stools and set them up near the corner next to the fireplace.

The officer and the older man sat down and the youngling stood behind them, tense and nervously looking at the ceiling. Kiko sat next to the dwarf. A thick and long dirty cloak hung over his shoulders. He wore a long mustache that moved funnily in a wavy motion while he chewed on something. Possibly a herb. Kiko could smell it. It had the odor of mint and orange flakes.

“Hey there lad.” The dwarf said without raising his eyes from the fire. “I would be more careful ‘round ‘ere. The Helmaer lands aren’t so welcoming as of late.”

“It seems so! Who are you?” Kiko inquired while rubbing its small palms near the fire. Its knuckle cut mitten gloves were nearly frozen.

“I would be Kloverdan. And you?” The dwarf said and spat a blackish blob into the fire. It scintillated and flared up, scenting the room with spearmint.

-“Kik- I mean Starly.”

-“Nice to make your acquaintance Starly. The dwarf remarked and smiled.

-“What are you Kloverdan? A warrior?”

-“I am a naturalist of sorts. I collect and sell rare gems and herbs on the side.That’s the only reason the humans still tolerate my existence here.”

-“What’s YOUR cover child?”

-“Well, ehm. We and the lady there are mercenaries.”

-“I see! Well, be careful lad. And stay clear of the main road. Atranaar and Helmaer patrol it. And trust me; they are more inclined to break the peace than keep it. If you know what I mean.”

Kiko nodded, stood up and walked over to the soldiers. It stood in front of their table, cleared its throat and spoke.

“Are you with the Helmaer army? Me and my companion wish to enlist!”

Everyone in the tavern started laughing.

“Is that so child?” The officer said, wiping the spilled ale from his beard, using his beard.

“Yes! It is! We-“

Before the bard could finish the sentence, Thalldon walked in.

The patrons turned towards the door. Some of them knew Thalldon and recognized him, while others had heard of him but never saw him in the flesh before.

“Prince Thalldon!” The innkeeper exclaimed. I did not know you would be honoring our lowly establishment! Please have a seat.” He said and rushed to bring plates and mugs for the Helmaer noble, behaving as if overcompensating for something.

“It was not a planned visit. Nor do I usually need to announce my steps. Do I?” The blackguard said and looked straight at the soldiers table who were still sitting down.

The officer noticing Thalldons' glare, dropped his half eaten mutton in the plate he was holding, stood up and ordered the other two soldiers to stand attention in the presence of the former paladin. They complied as hesitantly as the order was issued by the officer, except for the youngling who was already as stiff as a cane to begin with.

“At ease. Bring the soldier here a seat. Why is he eating standing?” The former paladin directed pointing at the younger patrolman. “Eat and then you will escort me to the Tower.”

-“We cannot do that my lord. We have orders coming from the king. Specific orders.”

-“What orders are those?”

-“We are not at liberty to divulge details to anyone.”

-“Anyone? I am not anyone. I am the king’s son.”

The soldiers remained silent.

“There have been rumors.”  A hunter remarked.

“Rumors of what kind?” Thalldon turned and asked.

-“Regarding your travels and the Atranaar.”

-“And you would hold rumors coming from the Atranaar as more valid than the history of what I personally have done for this land?”

-“The Atranaar are our allies. Much needed allies if you ask me. We need to reclaim our lands and secure them from unwanted trespassers like the orcs and the various raggedy nomads and refugees that come and go. This is OUR land.” The hunter said and grimaced grotesquely, his face displaying both pride and hatred, as if he had just killed an elk with a headshot.

“Clear thinking is our ally. Not the Atranaar. I have seen their ways. They do not befit our heritage. YOU best remember that.” Thalldon said and walked out, knowing where this would escalate had he stayed.

Right after his exit, the patrons resumed their murmuring and the innkeeper, after spiting on the ground in contempt, leaned in the storehouse once again and whispered something, that sounded incoherent to Kiko who was eavesdropping.

“We need to leave also.” The child told Alkanke who agreed and dropped a few coins on the table.

“Where can we rent a horse around here?” She asked the innkeeper.

“A horse? How did you come all the way here in the first place?” He responded confused.

“Our horse died of exhaustion a few hours before we reached the inn. We continued on foot the rest of the way.” Kiko responded swiftly and with conviction.

-“I see… Well there is a farmer right outside who keeps a couple of horses. Maybe he will rent you one, if he is still awake.”

“Thank you.” Alkanke said and the two left the tavern within nerve-racking silence.

The two met up with the former paladin just outside, near the farm and away from the prying eyes of the patrons of the tavern. The snow was falling rapidly while they were inside and now it had covered the main road that run between the mountains all the way to Cewick tower. They stood there ankle deep into the cold powdery whiteness, in Kiko’s case, knee deep.

The Stars hung from the sky hazy and dim while the twelve moons of Barastir reigned above them like an argent crown.

As they were conversing in the dark of midnight, a lone rider sped inside the gloom and got lost into the night over the horizon. “The Innkeeper send him off, I am sure. He had been preparing something with someone in the small room behind the counter. He's trying to inform the authorities of our arrival.” Kiko explained trying to make out the riders features to no avail. Had the child succeeded, it would have recognized Crane, the old errant man that met with Thalldon at Olsahir.

“I think we should take another road not the main one. The dwarf inside informed me that there are Patrols there.” Kiko suggested.

“Yes that would be a good idea, provided that we do not run into wild beasts or worse.” Alkanke added.

“There are not many things that I would call worse than the Atranaar elves.” Thalldon noted as he looked at the dark slopes of the mountain Haathoogard. I agree that it is best we took the longer way around and took our chances. It is after all just two hours more than the main path.”

And so the three companions traveled in the last hours of darkness and through the first light near the forests that run to the side of the mountain and through the path within them. Soon they reached a clearing where strangely how, a few tree trunks were severed and others completely uprooted, lying covered in the snow that was now melting away under the morning light.

These are signs of neither lightning nor a rockslide. This must be the work of a large animal.” Alkanke deliberated.

Kiko went ahead to scout the area and the other two followed behind.

They came across the following spectacle. A giant was engaged into melee with a Helmaer soldier who was barely standing his ground. The giant was bellowing curses in the faerie language and was pointing towards a pile of logs that were formed into the base of a house. Nearby across the clearing, a cart was running in circles pulled by a horse which was evidently startled by the event. Inside the cart the companions saw two tied up humanoid figures, possibly Sarakhil – dark skinned elves. Rare, reclusive, forest and mountain dwelling elves, in a long standing war against the Atranaar.

Kiko sneaked towards the cart to investigate while Thalldon and Alkanke neared the skirmish.

“What is the issue here, why are you fighting? I am Thalldon, heir of the Helmaer!” The former paladin shouted.

The giant pushed the soldiers shield aside and then lowered his arms. The patrolman took a few steps back and looked at the companions disoriented and perplexed.

“This… this giant seeks to build a house in the steppes using our trees. Both of these actions are illegal and I am forced to stop him. Thalldon you say?” The soldier explained.

“I AM NOT DOING ANYTHING WRONG!” The giant bellowed. “This is our land as much as it is yours, and so is the timber!” He added and raised his huge sword once again, this time more as a warning rather than a threat.

“At ease soldier. The giant is right. There is no such law. Everyone is free to use the natural resources according to their needs, so long that they respect the needs of others.” Thalldon clarified.

“This is not so my lord. The king has issued other orders altogether. I am obliged to keep them.” The patrolman insisted, and maneuvered to keep equal distance both towards the giant and towards Thalldon.

“You will cease at once, soldier. That is an order. My order.” Thalldon retorted and stared angrily at the soldier who hesitated and then started withdrawing cautiously towards his horse and cart.

“Friend!” The blackguard announced addressing the giant. “What is your fair name?”

-“I am Algaragan from the mountain tribes! I came down as many of my kin do in the months of frost, to build lodging in the steppes. This is our way of old.”

-“I understand and you have the right to do so.”

-“Thank you Thalldon. I hear you are the king’s son. Do you not agree with him?”

-“No. I do not. And I need your help Algaragan! You are my kinsman as much as any Helmaerite and I want to maintain those bonds intact.”

-“That is good to hear Thalldon. I hope your vision is accepted by the Towerfolk.”

“Why don’t you join me? I am on my way there.” Thalldon replied while Kiko crept beneath the cart and climbed on the axle that connected the wheels. While the giant conversed with Thalldon, the Helmaer patrolman had sneaked back to his horse and was about to mount it.

“Stop where you are!” Alkanke shouted.

“We must stop him, he seems to be carrying prisoners.” She exclaimed.

The soldier wasted no time, hopped on his horse and galloped away. Kiko, unable to hold on, fell flat on the snowy grass, while the cart sped away in the distance, where the ancient Tower pierced the skies.

-“It seems you will reach your homeland, announced. Unfortunately for you, not in a manner befitting your position it seems.” The giant said to Thalldon smiling. He was a massive man. Giants live to be hundreds of years old. This one seemed middle aged. Various crafting tools hung from his belt and his boots had seen better days. He must have been hiking for days to descent from the mountains and build his home on the frozen flats.

“Unfortunately, I cannot escort you to your castle. The humans are hostile towards my kind lately. I would be less intimidating and more of a target. Regardless, you have an ally in me Thalldon lordling. I will converse with my kin and decide our course of action. Look to the skies in the mornings to follow. If you see the golden hawk circling above you, come and see me here.” The giant announced and continued building his home.

The three companions took their leave of Algaragan and continued on their course and reached a rocky hilltop, underneath which the town of Cewick Tower appeared in its gray depression, surrounded by the granite cracks of the highlands. Less than a mile ahead, Kiko noticed a patrol approaching. The child saw one Helmaer pikeman, one Atranaar and one bulky creature, possibly a hill giant.

The companions hid behind a rock, while the patrol turned and approached them. They took a closer look. Indeed that creature was a hill giant. Around its neck a blue energy in the form of a rope was tied. It was a weapon of some kind. A magical whip perhaps that the Atranaar elf was holding. The giant started sniffing the air intensely as the patrol passed near the hiding place of the three, and then the startled elf jerked the whip causing the giant to stride straight towards the companions.

"We have no choice but to fight." Thalldon announced and called upon his mystical blade.

Kiko rolled to the back and started whispering a spell.

Alkanke rushed ahead towards the elf drawing her longsword.

The Helmaer pikeman, ignoring Thalldon's orders to fall back, attacked with his spear but missed miserably and fell flat on his back, while Thalldon suffered a severe blow from the hill giants club and retaliated with a vicious strike to the creatures belly. As the former paladin was getting ready to deliver the mortal blow, the bard interfered and directed his dissonant whispers towards him causing his strike to fail!

 “The giant is a prisoner, we need him on our side, do not kill him!” Kiko telepathically  implored Thalldon who instinctively turned from the giant and assisted Alkanke who was trading blows with the elf.

The child then heated the metal handle from the elf’s weapon causing him to drop it on the ground and thus released the giant from the shocking grasp that was enthralling it. Immediately Kiko healed the wounds on the giants body and the creature nodded in gratitude, picked up a boulder from the ground and let a thunderous cry resound in the steppes as it let it fly and land on the pikeman who lay prone, crushing him and sending him to meet a very gruesome demise.

Alkanke picked up the magical whip, with her battle gauntlet that could withstand the heat from Kikos’ spell and snapped it towards the Atranaar's legs, giving the perfect opportunity for Thalldon to strike. The blackguard raised his sword above his head in a combat pose known as the stance of the swooping falcon and awaited a misstep. The desperate elf extended his arms to cast a spell towards them and Thalldon executed his preplanned offensive, dropping his blade through both the arms of the elf, severing them at the wrists.

It took a few moments of shrieking cries for the Atranaar to die and turn into a marble statue right there on the snow.

“We have no time.” Alkanke said. “We must go.”

“Thank you dweller of the hills.” Thalldon told the giant.

“There is a kinsman of yours to the southeast, seek him out!” Kiko added and bid the creature farewell.

The giant teared up as it run towards the forests, and managed a mere “Thank you”, as it left.

“Who knows what the poor creature suffered under that whip.” Alkanke remarked.

“Indeed. The Atranaar are a true plague.” Thalldon said in agreement.

“Passage! Passage to the north near the marsh.” The hill giant shouted departing.

“I know the place. There is an opening in the old walls there. It leads through the stables. We should be able to sneak in through there.” Thalldon explained, looking towards his birthplace.

“What are we going to do? I suggest we walk straight to the tower and state our minds. I have no fear.” Thalldon professed to his companions.

“I will walk with you as well.” Alkanke declared. “There are things that the people, the women of Cewick Tower, need to hear.”

And so they entered the city through the stables and reached the cobbled path that run though the whole stronghold and led to the Tower gates. Half way on the path, Thalldon removed his casque and let his face show.

The second tenhour of the day, the Greylight, had arrived and the uncanny phenomenon of the triangular sun, arose in the sky.

The former paladin walked slowly on the stone paved avenue.

It was not flower petals thrown by the people that decorated his return, but rather the icy snowflakes of the frozen skies that fell on his metal armor as the disapproving tears of Uman.

Wreathed in black determination Thalldon strode, while the onlooking people of the Helmaer town, confused and skulking, gazed at him and at Alkanke and Kiko that accompanied him. They had heard the mandate of the King declaring his son's actions as “befallen from the grace of the Helmaer family”, but now there he stood striding towards the throne room. Slowly a trail of soldiers amassed behind him, much like when a Lords power is usurped and he is taken to the executioner's block accompanied by the very soldiers that he once commanded. The three walked in grim silence, only looking ahead to the open metal doors of the Tower that appeared before them piercing the skies, gray and devalued in this age of deterioration and frost, but still it bore the shadow of a majesty long gone.

A crowd had also gathered around the steps of the Tower.

“It seems they have been notified of our presence.” Alkanke whispered smirking in defiance.

“I will be at your side when the time is right. You might not be able to see me but I will be there for you.” Kiko promised and disappeared into the alleyways of the town.

The grim knight and Alkanke reached the tower and crossed the inner walls as the gathered crowd parted in their wake. Dozens of sets of eyes gazed intensely at them.

“Halt!” A senior officer demanded as Thalldon ascended the stone steps towards the door.

Before Thalldon could push the officer aside, a voice from within the hall, a voice familiar yet not welcoming, directed the officer to fall back.

“Let him pass. Let him face the judgment of the Law firsthand. He is after all, still a Helmaer.” This was the slithering voice of Aruthir. Thalldon’s older brother.

Aruthir was a cowardly person in Thalldon’s eyes. Always eager to nod his head even at the most absurd of orders or opinions that his father, King Kantagor, would spew. He spent his whole life grooming his unworthy self for a throne that was not fit for him as he was likewise, not fit for the throne. He was a person devoid of any non-traditional political incentive other than the structure that was already laid out before him. A person devoid of vision and personal opinion.

Regardless, he was the person that was sitting on the throne right now.

Thalldon looked down at the officer, who shrunk and stepped back allowing the two ironclad travelers to walk through the entryway into the throne room. The Greylight shone through the stained glass windows of the hold, showering the gathered crowd beneath in a hue ochre and foreboding.

The whole of the Helmaer nobility stood there, beneath the ancient banner of the family that was hanging on the rafters above the throne, which like it, was in raggy tatters.

The clothes of the nobles were dim and gloomy like their hearts. To the sides of the hall, commoners gathered from all walks of life – their faces capturing both suspicion and bewilderment – and in front of them, a circle of spearmen surrounded the audience floor.

Atranaar elves stood behind the throne, and next to them, Theshpiah, Thalldons’ mother. His brother Aruthir, indeed sat on it, clad in his boisterous shining armor, holding and casually leaning on his unsheathed longsword with an elitist grimace painted across his middle-aged looking face, even though he was just thirty seven.

“Step forth brother. Step forth and explain yourself. A rider from the borders informed us of your arrival. I am sad to not be able to welcome you on better terms. You see there have been rumors, or rather – reports – that hold you responsible of various problematic acts and wrongdoings.

What have you to say to this?” He monologued while pointing the tip of his blade towards Thalldon.

The blackguard stood next to Alkanke in the middle of the audience floor and gazed at the banner above, then at the crowd and then finally his dark eyes transfixed on his brother’s face. As Thalldon’s looming presence grew proudly, his long shadow cast at the stone, mirrored his resolute charisma that was slowly creeping around the hall. He did not outright speak. Instead he took a deep breath, so deep and resounding that echoed to the back of the room which was suspended in silent anticipation.

Finally he spoke.

“Under whose authority is it that you are sitting on that throne my brother? Have you not understood by now the limitations of your character? And what are these rumors that you speak of? Since when does our family operate on rumor, especially regarding its own son? Long have I traveled the far reaches of the land doing the bidding of our King and father, never forgetting what the legacy of this family is and I return after months of doing what's right, only to be greeted by this threatening atmosphere, by this, may I say, poisonous assembly. I see that Atranaar are amongst the nobles. That means that the rumors that I heard are indeed true, if it is rumors that we are discussing after all. Since when do we need the arrogance of the elves to dictate the necessity of alliances and the future of this land, and since when do you command the manner in which I, heir of my king and father, will be accepted and greeted within my own Hall?”

His voice echoed heavy, and fell like a dark cloud above the tower. A cloud overclogged with rain.

Murmurs spread around the room.

“By the will of our King and father himself, Thalldon!” His brother replied sharply and stood up, still using his sword as a mannerismic supplement for his speech. “It was he who forged this alliance with the elves, a great alliance at that, and it was he who ordered that you should be held accountable and disowned for your actions. It was also he that gathered our forces and is as we speak marching to secure the future of our Land by the grace of our alliance with the Atranaar. In all these, you are the odd one out, to put it simply. You do not belong. Is it not true that you obstructed the duty of our patrols only hours ago and even slew an elven patrol leader? Is it not true that you murdered several Atranaar only to revenge an uncivilized orc? Is it not true that you embarked into some sort of an obscure personal quest to who knows where; completely deviating from your sole purpose which is to safeguard these lands and act as an agent for the well-being of this family? But this does not ring true only now – at this moment – my brother. This has been true since the beginning of your “career”.  Always you placed yourself above others; you and our useless sister alike. I am the only one who will continue to be both willing and capable to do what's best for this family and this is exactly why I am the only one who is still by the Kings side, and that is exactly why our own father gave me this throne to act as his voice during his absence. Now that you know your true position in this equation, given the fact that you were once heir of this family, I give you the following two choices. Either accept your lifelong banishment from these lands forthwith, or accept your death by the hands of the very family that you betrayed and abandoned.” He added raising his screeching voice while subconsciously tracing the sharp edge of his sword with his metal glove.

“What have you done to my sister, where is Elonkara? Mother I see you there behind the throne, what have you to say on this? Is this your will as well as my fathers?”

Thalldon barked, taking one step forward, while the spearmen suddenly lowered their spears towards him.

“She suffered the fate that every woman who is overstepping her bounds, suffers. She thought that she could deviate from her path and become a student of the arcane. The myth that the sorcerer, who gave the name “Helmaer” to us, was a woman, is nothing more than exactly that. A myth. Your sister should have known better than to defy her rightful place as a lady of the court like her mother is.”

Aruthir hissed in contempt.

“You mean her rightful place as interior decoration for men.” Alkanke shouted abruptly at the crown prince, and walked right in front of a spear, pushing it aside with her gauntlet.

“You do not even call your mother by her true title. Queen. This is exactly why your family, the Helmaer line and all the human communities also, have gone to waste. This is exactly why you are rotten to the core and you deserve the utter deterioration that has befallen you. I was once part of this town like my mother and my grandmother before her and I have seen first-hand your blatant disregard for anything that is not male, that is not human and that is not noble, and I am here to declare that this will end one way or another. I am speaking to the women of this town!” She shouted standing tall. “Some of you are in this hall and some outside it. Remember how you have been treated ALL YOUR LIVES. Remember how your existence was always dictated by the will of your husbands, your brothers, and your fathers. Remember that your destiny in this life was to be helpers, servants, second grade caretakers, child bearers as well as objects of pleasure for men. Did you choose that life? Does it fulfill you or does it not? Stand up against it!”

Aruthir turned around and looked at her baffled, unable to grasp the notion that a woman  - an unknown woman at that – was talking back at him. He mumbled a few words and before he could utter them, Thalldon interrupted him.

“People of Cewick Tower, I call upon your intuition. This man here, who calls himself rightful heir of my family, is nothing more than a puppet, than a would-be tyrant. Long have we lived peacefully in these lands. Long have we accepted others in our midst. Yes we have erred many a time but instead of doing what we must to correct our mistakes, what we now do is to elevate hatred as our way of dealing with things. Where shall this path take us? Where shall this alliance with the elves bring us? What will happen when the elves deal with everyone else that is in their path? They will then turn against us and eliminate us in their hunger for total domination. I have seen that happen, I have seen their blood magic at work at Olsahir, where they would demand a bloody signature that would enthrall people to their cause. This is what I defended myself against and now I stand falsely accused. I call upon you people of this town to stand behind me and to stand against this madness that is evidently the workings of my own father. Every man, woman, human or otherwise, is welcome here in these lands and we can defend our rights against those who seek to take them from us. All we need is strong leaders not obsessed and sell-out lordlings like him!”

He said pointing at his brother who was now red with rage. A number of citizens along with an old councilman openly agreed with Thalldon and Alkanke and declared the Kings alliance with the elves “folly”. They went on and stood behind Alkanke and Thalldon.

Aruthir felt a creeping uneasiness. He dropped his fist on the arm of the throne.

“How dare you utter these words? We defend our lands against our enemies. This is exactly what we are doing! And I am doing what your father has envisioned. Long have these lands been ravaged by foreigners. Long have our natural resources being robbed from under our own eyes. The giants descend from the mountains stealing our lumber and building houses on our steppes. Every poor and destitute refugee seeks to settle down here, even the Orcs you call friends, pass through this land in their pilgrimages, using our pathways, hunting our game and even camping down in our fields without even paying tribute. Our heritage as humans is to be leaders and to dominate all the lesser uncivilized races and we will pursue this destiny with no other ally than the pureborn of the Gods. The high elves themselves.”  The prince said and arced his open palm across the high elves that stood there, as if they were in display. Thalldon noticed a familiar face among them. The Nameless Atranaar. “This Is the destiny of this family and together with the Atranaar we will pursue it and we will rule Barastir through true Elegance, Purity and Reason against the savagery and the brutality and the sickening deviation of all that oppose us, be that the Orcs, the Faerie, the Women or anyone else.”

Aruthir said raising his sword. “Sieze him!” He directed and the spearmen encroached the gathering of Thalldon, Alkanke, the councilman and those few that followed.

ONXAAAAAARRR!” Thalldon immediately roared!

His thunderous call shook the walls as a long dark nebula started forming inside his raised left hand. That dark nebula suddenly burst into frostfire that blazed hungrily in the throne room, and took the form of Onxar the invincible, The Black Blade of legends.

YES MY LORD! ONXAR THE INVINCIBLE IS HERE!” Onxar bellowed as its voice resounded not only inside Thalldons head this time, but throughout the walls of Cewick Tower, as if it was the voice of Sareul the Demon King himself, lord and master of swords. Everyone in attendance froze where they stood.

Thalldon dominated the atmosphere completely. The spearmen trembled and labored to maintain their composure as the dark aura around the blackguard seeped around the room like the grim mist of a lightless dawn.

“You will Halt where you stand!”  Thalldon declared. Cease and desist. This audience is not over. Mother, long have you stood silent. This is your time to speak! Stop this madness and take the reins of this family. I hold Ontrothon the first star – the way for the Glass to break.”

Kiko was in the meantime creeping around the gathering, slowly making its way near the former paladin and before either the bard or Thalldon could act, Aruthir lunged ahead with his sword raised and shouted!

“I gave you choices that you would not take and thus I will deliver judgement myself. Kill him where he stands – I will not stain my own hands with the blood of my brother. As for you woman, I will make sure that you learn your position today. It was a mistake to return to this Tower shouting the obscenities that you have marred our walls with! You will both serve as a bloody reminder of what the true law and the true legacy of our family really is!” He said and attacked Alkanke attempting to hack at her with his weapon but inches before he hit his mark, the experienced female warrior casually stepped aside and raised her battle gauntlet capturing the swords blade within it effortlessly, crumbling it in her grip as if it was just a sheet of papyrus and then with a quick move placed Aruthir in a headlock still holding his destroyed sword in her grasp, a reminder of his defiled authority.

“As I was saying I have Ontrothon – the first star – in my possession! Thalldon resumed his addressing of the crowd still holding Onxar in one hand and the gloomy Star in the other.  “Witness its true glory people of Cewick Tower and understand that through the power of our common cause, through the power of tolerance, through the power of true leadership, we will stride in this world guided by the light of the Stars!”

It was at that crucial moment that the bard stepped in and stood in front of the blackguard. The queer looking being called Kiko, opened its small arms as if wanting to embrace the whole universe around it, and with watery eyes looked at the gathering projecting the same amazement that was mirrored in their eyes as well, and only spoke one word.

STAR!

A massive burst of white light violently illuminated the whole room as if the immortal hand of Ahraaserah herself, tore Huol – the brightest of the three suns – and plunged it in the halls of the Tower. That pure radiance that emanated from the stellar body of the child, lasted for a few seconds and when it ended, all in attendance were speechless and sightless, lest for one Atranaar, forever nameless, who exited the room knowing that the crowd was now half swayed to the cause of Thalldon.

Suddenly Theshpiah spoke. “Alkanke I am honored that you returned here with my son. You are both right in your deliberations and the timing of your arrival.”

“Fall back!” She ordered the soldiers who complied, half confused and half afraid of what had transpired.

“I will do my best to restore stability and buy time, but know this my son. When your father returns with the Atranaar in full military power, my best will not be enough. Go and find your sister, she is exiled to the chasm of Samuth. Maybe she will agree to return and save this land from madness.”

“I Will find her.” Thalldon declared and picked Kiko up is his arms.

Alkanke released the crown prince from her headlock and he dropped on his knees gasping for air.

The companions turned and exited the Tower and the stronghold, back to the wilderness in search for Elonkara.

That day was forever remembered in the lore of the Helmaer lands as “The Return to Cewick Tower”.

View
The Darkness within

 

The giant stood across them motionless, gazing intensely not exactly at them but rather through them. The two observed the platform closely. It was a perfect square divided into nine smaller areas also perfect squares of equal size to eachother. On each of those, except the middle one where the giant stood, stalagmites and stalactites vertically descended from the ceiling or ascended from the bowels of the pyramid at various time increments that could not be precisely calculated. Around the platform, a moat promised a very long plunge to the cold darkness, as Kiko found out throwing a stone in it and never receiving its echo.

“I don't think we have a chance against this being, Kiko said cowering at the sight of the giant. “I think we should examine the area more closely. There, do you see those two tentacle-like slides on the left and the right of the platform? They could possibly be connected with the other two rooms above.” The child said and pointed at two warped cylinders made of the same frozen material as the rest of the pyramid, originating from the ceiling and reaching the sides of the central area of the room.

“Let me examine the bridge.”  The paladin said and walked ahead and stood on it looking straight at the frozen giant, while the booming sound from the stalactites and stalagmites moving through the room, was nothing short of a small earthquake. Thalldon examined the foe very carefully. He reconsidered his mundane decision to remove his plate armor before diving into magical water.

He took a long look at the adversary. This guardian was mainly a skeletal hulk, the remnants of his hair and beard still clinging on the icy bones of his skull. His empty sockets now the house of two gloomy purple lights. He had a great sword either made of ice, or frozen into it, and then he noticed the ankles of the foe. Two large chains where attached to them, not in the form of some sort of a clasp or shackle but rather, they were actually driven inside the bone itself. The paladin tried to trace the chain and see where else it led, but he could only discern that it went into two holes in the floor. After gazing panoramically at the room, he saw that the chains were connected to the two slides that Kiko had pointed out moments earlier.

He pulled out a javelin from his quiver, and taunted the beast which seemed unaffected by Thalldon’s curses and mockery.

“Bah! To the Glass with you, cursed one!” He shouted and let loose the javelin, that traveled steadily across the room, straight at the face of the giant, but a few feet before it reached its target, the massive ice pillar which at that time ascended from the square right in front of the guardian, got in the way, and the darting point of the weapon plunged into the ice.

“You are right child, we should check the other rooms above”. The paladin said turning around, and so they did. They walked right back up into the staircase and went into the room to the left. It had three steps in its entrance, and deeper down, the room formed into a cylinder that gradually sloped downwards. Within it, inside the floor that gloomed with a white light from the Ley lines that energized the husk of the pyramid, the two companions could see a large chain frozen inside the floor and right beneath the three steps, they saw a mechanism comprised of two levers and a large metal loop between them.

“Here, let me try to heat this up.” The bard said and started weaving a cantrip that melted part of the ice that covered the mechanism.

“There it's working. I will heat up the chain as well, maybe we can get to it and maybe we can break it, and just maybe it would be better if we broke the giant free so that he possibly stumbles on to the stalactites and stalagmites and gets crushed beneath them! That would make our job all the more easier.” Kiko exclaimed happily while its bardic magic thawed the ice and exposed a small part of the chain and the rightmost part of the mechanism where one lever and the loop could now be manipulated.

“Go ahead and smite it with your sword.”  Kiko instructed Thalldon.

“Why not, that could work”. The paladin replied and calling upon Onxar stroke at the chains links, hacking one of them and severing it. The chain itself moved a little bit inside the frozen floor and a clinking sound echoed in the hall below, but the main mass of the chain still remained suspended inside the slide. Then the companions turned to the mechanism and Thalldon pulled the loop removing the upper part of the chain that he had cut, and after that, Kiko manipulated the level which caused a rotor inside to whir violently and then stop, possibly because the chain that this rotor was intended to coil, had been removed.

They repeated the process in the other room and similarly the second chain was cut off and then a bellowing cry echoed in the hall below.

“Oh no!” Kiko exclaimed.” It seems that we set it free.”

“That was the plan, was it not?” Thalldon reminded abruptly. “Why don't we use the slides to descend into the room behind him?”

“No no that would be too dangerous.” The child replied. “We don't know exactly at what time we will land on the platform and if a stalactite or stalagmite would catch us mid-air and crush us.”

“Let's instead see what happened to the giant then.” Thalldon replied and descended the stairs once again, with the bard right behind him.

Indeed the giant was free and was standing right in front of the doorway where the stairs lead. It had leaped or crossed the platform and was now waiting for them on the balcony across the moat.

"It seems that we have no choice but to actually slide down and take our chances. Both tiles that the slides lead down to, have ascending pillars.  We either pass over them and quickly run to the middle tile, or we grab onto them if they catch us midair. " Kiko instructed and they went on with this dare-devilish scheme.

Kiko used its thawing magic to heat the walls of the cylinders and thus create anomalies on the smooth surface of the slide, to be used as levees for its fall and as the child reached the end of the slide, it jumped and immediately used its uncanny dexterity to shoot a bolt at the upward pillar, which it then grabbed firmly to stand on the side of the stalagmite and casually step off on to the middle tile, using it as an elevator of sorts.

Thalldon employed a much simpler and carefree tactic, as he just hoped that he luckily finds himself synchronically leaping at the moment when the pillar on the tile is on its way up beneath him, and against dire odds, he succeeded. He jumped, stepped on the ascending pillar and leaped on the middle tile at the same moment when Kiko was performing a calculated roll to absorb the momentum of its fall.

Their unexpected success did not last long. The skeletal giant turned to face them from across the room. Surely the fact that he had managed to jump from the platform to the alcove across the moat, was a once in a million fluke, the companions thought. One that he would not be able to repeat. Much to their dread though, this massive skeleton, after waiting for the right moment to leap above the pillar, landed above them, with its tall and broad icy blade looming like a guillotine a few feet over them.

Before they could react, the blade fell on their unprotected bodies, like a lighting strike that skewers a lone tree. The double edged sword run horrid gashes on the bodies of Thalldon and Kiko, and opened deep and brutal wounds as they gathered their senses trying to focus on the fight.

RUN CHILD, RUN TO THE ROOM BEHIND ME!” Thalldon said, calling upon his black blade.

“WE CANNOT DEFEAT THIS FOE. GO I WILL BUY US SOME TIME.” He directed as if some marshal on the field of battle.

But Kiko would not withdraw from the fight and leave the paladin alone to face his doom. An outcome much probable it seemed now. For the both of them.

Kiko saw the giant’s blade descending again, and interrupted the motion of the strike, transmitting disrupting murmurs at the guardian, causing him to pause his strike, just in time for a stalactite to cut in the arc of the swing and halt it as the blade got caught inside the ice.

While the giant struggled to remove it from the pillar and resume his ravaging offensive, Thalldon called upon the Greatlord Uman, Patron of the Skies and mighty King of the Heavens. It would be for the last time. And for the last time, Uman answered.

“I CALL UPON THEE WALKER OF CLOUDS, BRINGER OF STORMS, SUMMONER AND LORD OF THE WINDS.

I CALL UPON THEE UMAN. GRANT ME THE POWER TO END MY FOES!”

Thalldon recited, knowing very well that the divine element of his god, frowned upon his choice to take up Onxar. Still, the paladin was infused with holy strength and his wild swing landed heavily on the bony knee of the giant, warping its posture and nearly felling it flat on the floor.

NOW! LEAVE NOW!” Thalldon shouted at Kiko.

“NO! COME WITH ME!” The child insisted, resolved to stand by its comrade.

“WE CAN’T BOTH TURN OUR BACKS ON IT! IT WILL CLEAVE US IN HALF!” Thalldon barked. “GO NOW!”

LETS TAKE OUR CHANCES YET AGAIN! WE CAN DO IT!” Kiko pleaded in desperation. The child had never despaired that much, never in its life.

But the Paladin, as if foreseeing and ignoring the outcome, elected to fight on, transfixing his fighting posture square against the giant.

“I SHALL CRUSH YOU WERE YOU STAND ICESPAWN!” He said while the giant had just reclaimed his blade from the pillar and was preparing to strike again.

Kiko intervened a second time, and the giant stopped his swing half way, and stood there as if submerged into deep thought. Thalldon wasted no time and hacked at the guardian’s ribcage, nearly smashing it completely. Unfortunately that did not stop the frozen guardian of this pyramid as it raised its sword and brutally dropped it on the valiant companions that stood beneath him.

The strike opened the child’s back as if it was firewood, and Kiko fell in a pool of its own angelic silver blood, while Thalldon fell on his knees broken and dying, as his left shoulder was nearly cloven open.

The paladin’s eyes grew dark and heavy, as the hazy and distorted figure of the giant now seemed a long and forgotten memory. He saw himself young and steadfast as he once was, full of dreams, full of wrongs to right, full of missions and goals. But that was just a flickering vision, soon to die along with him. Next to his feet, Kiko was drawing its last breath, shivering and twitching.

Thalldon gasped for air, and the last thing he was about to see was Onxar, the Black Blade, levitating in front of him, as if in mourning – or in expectation.

He gazed at the sword as it hovered before him, a symbol of defiance and immortality. He cleared his throat as if to make an important announcement, and used up his last breath to bellow a thunderous Dark Calling.

"ONXAAAAAR! I DEMAND OF YOU TO SERVE ME AND KEEP ME IN THIS LIFE. WHATEVER POWER THERE IS BEHIND YOUR MAKING, I ORDER THEM TOO! KEEP ME ALIVE AND I SHALL ACCEPT YOU AS A GOD!"

"YEEEEES MY LORD! LONG HAVE I WAITED FOR THIS REQUEST, BOTH ME AND IKHAEL, MY MAKER, AND I WILL GLADLY DELIVER THIS BOON, IF ONLY YOU DENOUNCE UMAN FOREVER."

“I, I denounce him…”  Thalldon whispered and started falling, but moments before he landed on the ground, his black metal gauntlet, as if autonomously operating the paladins palm, pushed the icy floor in denial. He felt his energy lifted. The gloom was dispersed from in front of his eyes and a boiling power frothed inside his heart.

He rose bathed in spectral foreboding. Wreathed in an aura of darkening. He rose, now a blackguard.

He grabbed Onxar, that was still levitating in front of him, and lifted his gaze at the baffled giant who now seemed shrunken and timid like a wounded dog.

In a flash of frostfire, Onxar smote the guardian and fell its towering body in the midst of the ascending and descending pillars, which smashed and mutilated it – sending pieces of frozen bone flying in the walls – even before it dropped undone on the ground.

The paladin’s breath was running wild. His enervated eyes scoped the room and landed on Kiko. The child stood lifeless at the feet of the blackguard.

"Fear not Kiko. I will bring  you to the great Movaru sage. She will revive you."

He wanted to caress the curly hair of the little child, but he stopped. He could not mourn, or feel sadness. He would instead harness sadness. He would harness ANYTHING and EVERYTHING to reach his goal.

He picked the child up and moved ahead towards the nethermost bridge, taking his time to calculate the motion of the last ascending pillar and jumped above it and across.

He reached a rather ominous room. It was oval shaped and large. The walls were frozen, but a blue glow shone from within, much like how the candle light that diffracts through the glass, shines. Inside the walls, spread all across the room, he could discern seven humanoid figures, suspended in the ice. Their features could not be easily made out from within the thickness of the semi-transparent wall, but they all seemed to wear robes of the clergy, or of a similar cast.

The floor of the room was also icy but in the middle stood a slightly raised pedestal engraved with the same triangular symbol that seemed to be a staple all throughout this structure.

Thalldon set the body of the bard on the floor and went ahead to examine the bodies in the wall.

Two of them – the ones in the farthest left and right, wore somewhat different robes – possibly denoting higher stature or rank. The man on the left wore a white robe with the triangle-square-circle symbol, emblazoned on the chest in a silver color, and the woman on the right wore the same robe with the same symbol, but hers was golden. The most ominous and strange thing about these bodies was the fact that their throats were slit open, except the man’s who wore the silver symbol robe. A dark liquid, possibly their own blood, traveled in thick rivulets all across the wall, connecting all the bodies. Only the woman’s blood remained unconnected with the rest, and seeped around her, forming a circle like a halo.

He then walked over to the pedestal and stood over it. As his boots stepped on, it subsided beneath his feet and a sudden pulse shook the whole room and caused the frozen walls around the bodies to crack in a sudden burst, and then follow through with many smaller and rapid crackles that multiplied quickly.

“What kind of ancient sorcery is this now?” Thalldon said to himself feeling an encroaching frost that stifled his breathing.

And indeed it was sorcery that responded.

“This is a cryostasis chamber for the Order of the Triangular Sun. It ended up being the tomb of the high priestess and her followers. Apart from Me. Hahaha! It will be your tomb also! All you need to do, is die like your little companion there.”

The voice sounded maddened and harsh, as if it was talking to itself for far too long. It belonged to the man on the left, whose throat was intact. Not something that could be said for the rest of his body. His frame walked hunched towards Thalldon. His face was a skull covered with pale yellowing skin stretched tight across the edges of the jaw and forehead. His eyes peeked like a couple of black gloomy dots.

He pointed at Thalldon and shot a dark purple ray that barely missed the blackguards face and ricocheted off of the wall, to the ceiling that absorbed it.

Thalldon charged at the undead and cleaved the skull in half, reducing it to thin ash.

“Enough with you.” The blackguard stated in contempt just as that ash rose in a vortex and darted off to the ice enveloping another body from within the walls and animating it, causing it to burrow through and attack Thalldon, who battled all five of the undead priests and one after the other, smote them all down to their sandy remains.

NOOOOO! After all these centuries, I am foiled by the likes of a mere mortal.”

The voice cried and was carried adrift the same gale that scattered the ash of the clergy to the walls of this ancient structure.

The blackguard was wounded gravely, even from before, and touched the now glowing blood of the female priestess.

An intense rush of healing heat filled his veins and he felt reinvigorated as that same blood, escaped through the cracks and shattered the part of the wall where the body of the priestess was kept. It fell and Thalldon reached and held it in his arms. She looked like a vibrant woman in her fourties.

A second voice echoed in the hall.

“Bring me down beneath the pedestal.” A female voice stated, and indeed the pedestal had receded, giving way to yet another staircase that descended even deeper to the core of the pyramid. Though the opening, Thalldon saw the astral thread falling vertically down.The cold that emanated through the structure, was now depleted and gone.He took the stairs below and reached the inner sanctum.

This small room was built from alabaster. Possibly the rest of the pyramid was alabaster also, beneath that thick layer of frost that was now melting away. On the very middle of the ground, the Astral Thread plummeted like a thin, single, glowing droplet of rain, and gathered inside a gem that decorated the helm of a great staff which spinned eternally around the thread, just a few inches above the floor.

"This is my staff. " The voice informed.

“I am Niamythlond, Grand Heirophant of the Triangular Sun. Bring my hand to the gem.”

Thalldon complied. He had heard the name of this legendary priestess before.

As soon as the palm of the Hierophant touched the gem, her whole body was energized and instantly healed, the gash across her throat disappeared. Only part of the light of the star now remained.

“And you are?” The woman asked, now as a whole person standing in all her majesty in front of the blackguard.

“Thalldon.” Thalldon replied.

-“You must have questions, Thalldon. Ask them as I have the answers.”

“What happened here? Were you not dead?” He inquired.

-“My body was destroyed, yes. But not while my spirit resided inside. Thus I was not truly annihilated.”

“This pyramid was once a temple of the triangular sun. Of The Voice From Beyond The Stars.

Since that voice fell silent millennia ago, the seven last priests of our order that remained hopeful that It will speak again, envisioned that awakening moment in the form of a prophesy that spoke of the Breaking Of the Glass. We decided to suspend our bodies in stasis until the coming of the prophesy, when and where we could awake and serve the world actively, and offer guidance in the great challenges that would come about. That was ages before the Plunge. But there was a traitor in our midst. Shabakhor. He plotted to counter the stasis with a dark ritual that would awake him a few moments after everyone else slept, and proceeded to murder us so that the dark old god Harkoleth – now known as Dorahil, would reward him. But moments before the stasis finalized, I saw his treachery. Alas the great spell had already grasped my body paralyzing it, and so I used all my arcane power before the veil of Gimladen enveloped me, to sever my spirit from my flesh and so cheat death. I remained a traveling pneuma in the world, letting women of the faith be enlightened by me, and they, using my name, spread the prophesy. I could not return to my body since it was broken and destroyed and I could not – neither did I want to – remain inside the bodies of the women whose minds served as my vessel, for too long.

Now you came, and provided an unlikely solution.

Thank you.”

She recounted, while Thalldon looked for what to say.

“What is this Voice From Beyond The Stars?” He finally asked.

“Alas, not even It knows what It is any more”. She replied cryptically.

“Let me ask you Thalldon. Where is the pyramid now? Physically”.

-“It lies within a magical lake in the midst of a Movaru community of women.

This lake seems to be an otherworldly dimension. A lake within a lake.”

-“I see! I have encountered these great women in my sojourning. They must have used ancient magic to hide and shield this place from invaders. It seems you were allowed to enter. I hope you will prove adequate to their trust Thalldon. What of your little companion? I can return it back to life but I sense a darkening in the deep crevices of its soul, therefore I will not interfere respecting both the Great Mother Ashthu but also the self-determination of the child itself. If its soul chooses to return to  the world of the living instead of passing through to the Limbobic Void and beyond, it will. Take him above to the Movaru and use this.” She directed, pointing at the staff.

“It was  once my staff, but now it is yours. Maybe it will also be Kiko's. That is its name is it not?  Kiko?”

“I will return to the Island of Answers and resume my pilgrimage there until the prophecy is actualized.” She said and with a gesture from her hands, an arcane vortex opened up to a portal beyond which, a sandy shore phased in and out like mirage. “Do you want a pathway to someplace. I have this power. She added.

“Cewick tower.” Thalldon said without hesitation.

She repeated the same gesture and the likeness of the gray gloom that is the Helmaer lands, appeared inside this second portal – like a grim memoir of sorts.

“Go Thalldon, and I hope that your path indeed brings you in the Glass, where everything, even the Darkening inside you, will find its reason.” And with these words, Niamythlond stepped into her portal that sunk on itself behind her.

“Time to bring you back, little friend.“ Thalldon said and picked Kiko up, retracing his steps and reaching the dark shore where the two had swam out of, hours ago. Still the sky was the surface of the water, and the massive pyramid behind them was now melting away its frozen skin to reveal its alabaster antiquity.

—————————- * -————————

Kiko walked across a white void. It had no dimensions and no sides. Only black stars interrupted this monochrome domain. Their ebony light sparkled softly as the child traversed this monotonous expanse.

KIKO! YOU MUST FOLLOW ME! WE HAVE IMPORTANT MATTERS TO ATTEND TO!”

One of the black stars, turned and told  Kiko, in the voice of Thalldon. It was a dark and demanding voice. Kiko felt detached from it. Kiko felt detached from everything. Kiko felt confused. Death was confusing.

It saw a woman at the depthless depth. A melodic tune was coming from her direction.

“Sweet Kiko return to me!” Said another black star in the voice of the sage Olayinka! “Bring back your beautiful body to your beautiful name!”

Kiko kept walking. It was followed by Thalldons' star. Kiko did not like what Thalldons' star told it. Death was confusing and Thalldons' star was making even death sound like a responsibility. Kiko did not like responsibility very much.

Kiko liked that melodic tune though. The melodic tune that was coming from the woman in the white depths.

The bard pushed Thalldons' star away but as it  moved away from it, the melodic tunes volume died down, and as it moved back close to Thalldons' black star, it sounded loud and clear yet again.

Kiko felt unsure, but it still walked towards the woman with Thalldons' star at its side. That was a black Movaru woman. She wore golden jewels, on her otherwise naked body. Her eyes stared at Kiko as she continued playing the instrument from which this melody emerged.

It was the best and most unique musical instrument of the whole wide world!

Kiko liked that!

“I am Ashthu child. I am life and I am death. But the path between them is your choice now. Should you desire to return to life, just give me a lock from your curly hair and go back to the ones who call upon you. Should you desire to move on to death, just accept a lock from my own hair. She said and extended both her palms.”

One was empty while the other had a bundle of Ashthus’ black hair on it.

Kiko liked choices. Choices are what life is for. Life.

Kiko liked living.

Kiko found itself in a room with Thalldon. Maybe the child had been there for a while now. That nice melody was still playing and the blackguard was looking at the child in anticipation.

“Come now Kiko. Let’s go. We must go to my homeland and then to other quests. Time is important. Here, this staff is yours. Niamythlond gave it to you.”  He said and handed it a beautiful dark iron staff that had a faintly glowing star at its top.

“OK! Let me bid some people farewell and we will go.” The child said and touched the side of its head where a handful of hair was missing.

Thalldon got up and went to retrieve his armor. “Please ask Alkanke to come with you. I want to extend her an offer – an invitation.” He said and walked out of Lunalight where the women had brought Kiko right after its resurrection performed by Olayinka the sage – two hours ago.

As soon as he stepped foot on the plateau of the cavern, a woman carrying a large leather bag filled with rolled scrolls, came near him and handed him one saying:

“You are Thalldon are you not? This came via Wind Whisper, an hour ago.”

“Who is Wind Whisper.” Thalldon asked, opening the note. It read:

“Atranaareshan

Your Father has allied himself and the whole Helmaer noble family, with the Atranaar. He cast all the foreigners out of the lands around Cewick tower and marches against Faerie and Golagonds.We barely managed to escape.

Jothag & Klovaria"

Thalldon read the note in haste and then crumbled it and tossed it in the water just as Kiko, Alkanke and Matron Ovalsidea neared him.

“Bad news?” All three asked.

“Grim.My father has lost his mind.” He replied clenching his fists.

Kiko weaved a mage hand, retrieved the note just before it soaked completely and read it aloud.

Ovalsidea took the  former paladin aside.

“Now you see that what I told you rings true Thalldon. I  also know that you have found the spirit of Niamythlond within the lake. The two women that I told you before, the ones that hold two more stars, have descended in the lake also in the past, and studied its secrets.” She revealed.

“And why did they not take the star.” He asked.

“Apparently because the spirit of the Hierophant asked them not to.” She replied and added.

“I will give you the names of these two women heroines. Seek them out and prove your resolve to unite our causes. Aedesinac travels the Sea of Silver eyes, and Illisapesia just reached Uctun, the city of Giants”. She then bid Thalldon farewell and took her leave.

Kiko and Alkanke walked near the blackguard and he addressed her.

-“I would like to offer you to return to Cewick tower on my behalf. I am heading there right away to set the record straight.”

-“I would not return to the Tower as it is, not on anyones behalf.”

-“There is still hope for the Helmaer.”

-“And how do you envision this hope that you speak of?”

-“I will return and impose this hope either by word or by sword.”

-“You call this change? You call this different than what your father did? Violent domination is not the answer.”

-“If there is hope in the Helmaer line, you are an important part of it. Not just you, all women. Guide me in my wrongdoings. If you do not want to officially return, act as an emissary of the Movaru in these dire times. I ask this of you in sincere need.”

-“Very well Thalldon, I will come. Remember that I am NOT your subject nor will I hesitate to oppose you should you act in manner similar to your forefathers.”

Silently all three, gathered their belongings and their thoughts, and dove into the lake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

View
The Sunken Pyramid

Beneath the statue and inside the waterfall, a bristling community unfolded before the eyes of Kiko and Thalldon. It was built within a large clearing in the granite hill behind the  majestic statue, surrounded by a high conical chasm that opened up to a large crack abovehead where the sunlight shone bright even at this hour of greyness.

In the middle of this secluded clearing, a large lake provided water for the community. It was seemingly surrounded by grass and soil where the women had created patches for cultivation.

On the walls of the granite around this conical chasm, various natural caves were customized as residences and in their entrances stone stairs were built that led to platforms and those platforms in turn, were interconnected by wooden rope bridges that spread across the chasm over the lake towards the other side and back again, effectively aerially connecting all the main areas of this hidden city. Within the granite hill, all sorts of establishments could be found – apart from the housecaves. The two companions could see platforms were large trees sprouted from inside the rock around which stone benches were built and the women gathered there conversing. Inns and taverns were built within the walls, all sorts of shops, and across the surface of the floor level, stone pathways were laid out that connected numerous walkways that lead inside the cavern, possibly to alternate entryways and exits to this community but also to other hidden areas that led deeper in the bowels of the mountain or towards the sea.

Most of the women there appeared to be of the Movaru lineage but from other races also. Elf and faerie and even possibly exiled Golagond females could also be seen.

“This is a sight to behold.” The bard said and the two started looking around. They went near the lake where the light descended from above, and through this light; the astral thread could be discerned plummeting into the waters.

“I will take a walk above at the stairs and bridges!” Kiko declared.

“Fine. I will explore the ground area and then look for Matron Ovalsidea.” Thalldon replied.

Kiko started happily climbing the stone stairs in front of the caves and around them, and it witnessed the splendor and the intricacy of the architecture that housed this community of women. It was masterfully laid out, all throughout this marvelous system of bridges and stairs and ladders that expanded in a weblike fashion everywhere. The child roamed the cobbled streets and stone alleys of the city. The housecaves were very uniquely decorated. Some even had stained glass windows and intricately carved wooden doors. Shrines to various female goddesses could be seen everywhere. Large baskets filled with bones, fruit, and hairlocks from newborns – as per the custom – dedicated to the matron deity of the Movaru – Ashthu – a Movaru herself in her mortal days. Kiko wondered about the newborn hair. Could it be that in this community women still possessed the ability to mate amongst themselves and give birth to other women? This would be lovely – the child thought to itself. Wayshrines to Iblys, in the form illuminated stone pillars with magical inscriptions and prayers were set outside houses and on intersections. Even the Golagond archdeity Ahraaserah was represented by triangles carved on the doors. Kiko soon reached a long bridge that extended across the plateau and over the lake. Just above it, it witnessed a remarkable sight. There was a stone platform that was seemingly levitating mid-air without being supported by ground or stone, only by the bridges that reached to it and extended from it. On that platform a very old Movaru herself levitated with her eyes closed. She wore an iron crown with jewels and she had all the features of the other Movaru women but looked pale as if she was Hujkoi, an albino. Without opening her eyes she smiled at Kiko realizing that the child was fascinated by her and indeed the little bard moved gleefully towards her and greeted her.

“What is your name?” The urchin asked.

“Olayinka!” She replied – her eyes still closed. And yours?

“I am Kiko. I am from the stars. How do you do that? How do you sit on the air?” The child asked happily.

“Kiko, now that I have gifted my name to you, if you want to do as I do, just move into the light beam!” The old sage directed.

And so the little child took a leap of faith and jumped off the platform and into the light but instead of levitating, it started falling but falling slowly – like a feather – in the same way that it fell through the beam within the ruined castle where the Archangel was kept. As Kiko fell, it was filled with joy, showered in the warm light. As soon as it reached the surface of the water, it did not sink in. Granted, it got a little wet but then the water pushed it out, and the bard stood walking on it – standing on the lake as if it was standing on solid ground!

“Pure magic!” The child thought to itself.

In the meantime, Thalldon had found a compound where female warriors were mock fighting and training. One of them, a woman possibly from his race, clad in a glorious armor, was sparring with a Movaru woman, while a group of other women were cheering the two. The paladin observed the fight and noticed how capable and strong and well trained these women were in the art of combat.

“You are the man that the Matron invited aren't you? News travel fast.” The Movaru warrior asked, removing her leather gloves and resting her warmace next to her legs. “Even if men, are old news here!” She added while the others laughed.

“Yes I am. I should thank you too, for this great honor to be here. Your fighting skills are remarkable.” The paladin replied.

“Why don't you step in and take your chances at Alkanke here. You seem to be fascinated by her skills.” The Movaru woman said extending a challenge.

The paladin stepped in the confines of the battle zone to fight this ironclad female warrior. She was wearing full plate armor, a helmet and two very elaborate gauntlets. Thalldon recognized them to be sword snatchers and breakers. They had intricate grooves and locks and edges designed exactly to grab and snap blades and bladed objects. The two fought for a while and Thalldon used a long dull sparring blade, not wanting to call upon his own Black Sword, but Alkanke – the female warrior, proved to be more than his match, and with a swift strike she disarmed the paladin and snapped his blade, while with another strike, hit him hard on his gauntlet numbing his wrist. Thalldon then retaliated with a punch that stroke the woman in the solar plexus and then they both agreed that they had had enough.

CALL UPON ME MY LORD! LET ME FINISH THIS FOR YOU!” Onxar cried inside the paladins head.

“You are a remarkable fighter.” Thalldon told Alkanke, ignoring Onxar.

“Thank you; you're not so bad yourself, man.” She replied while pulling her helmet and lashing her hair in the air, to unravel them, smiling. Her gaze was soft and mournful, yet her posture was stern and spirited.

The two conversed for a little bit and it was revealed that this woman was from the Helmaer lineage as well, but had left the confines of the Tower since she was five, not able or willing to accept the stifling society that it was, as the tradition for human women is to become either maids or housewives or farmer helpers, generally, a support for male dominance. She could not bear to see herself submit to what her mother had endured, and her grandmother before her, and so she elected the path of freedom and left the Tower joining this community.

Thalldon pondered her words as he took his leave, wishing to himself that he could see her again soon.

Meanwhile, the bard went ahead to look for a musical instrument shop and conversed with various women within the community. Pahra the blacksmith, a couple of guardesses, and Milandre, the musician/instrument craftswoman herself, who was at that time building a lute, carving out the echo chamber. She took an interest at Kiko's best and most unique musical instrument of the whole wide world and let the bard borrow her little drum, which the child used in order to play a fast paced heavy music the blacksmith lady required, in order to build him a chain shirt.

Nearby, Thalldon spotted Matron Ovalsidea addressing a group of women on an elevated platform around a large pine tree. He neared the gathering and waited patiently for it to end. Ovalsidea was speaking in a melodic yet commanding voice and in a language unknown to the paladin.

After the meeting, the Matron turned to Thalldon and invited him to sit across her on a stone bench.

“What is on your mind, traveler?” She asked sharply, taking Thalldon aback. He was not used to such direct and short treatment. Usually people rushed to speak to him, address him, and give him attention. Not the other way around.

In the conversation that ensued, Thalldon expressed his thanks that the community accepted them as visitors and the Matron revealed to him that he was not the first man to enter the community.

“Some of the women have had, and many still have, male companions. In the past many of those companions proved untrustworthy in the best case scenario, and outright manipulating and spiteful towards a female run society, in the worst case scenario. Thus men were banned. Since the ban you are the first to enter. Officially. Hopefully you will not also be the last.” Ovalsidea said, transfixing her domineering eyes on the paladins face.

“I understand.” The Paladin said. “Why is it that you invited us in the first place Matron?” He asked.

“We know that you have Ontrothon, the first star, in your possession. We also saw the state that you two were in when you found us, and we understand that you have taken up a quest. I am very curious to learn from your own mouths what exactly is it that you want to achieve with this Quest? Which are your goals? Which are your virtues and your ideas?” The Matron elaborated.

“We, I, recently came to the understanding that in the past decades the elves have grown more and more autocratic an imperialistic. This has to end and it is my personal dedication to do everything in my power towards that goal. We need to stop the despotism and I will do what I have to do in the name of Barastir and in the name of my family.” Thalldon replied proudly.

“The elves are a threat indeed, a great threat, a grave threat, a threat that we ourselves have fought against both in this community but also before it, but you mentioned your family and I ask you, what have the humans done differently than the elves? Nothing. You now choose to go against the Atranaar because evidently you realize that they cannot be reasoned with, nor do they care to share power, but the human societies which you call ‘family’ are not in the least functional societies built on tolerance and understanding. What is the role of women in your societies paladin? Do they have equal share and equal opportunities within your communities? The answer is an emphatic No, and this answer has been NO for hundreds and thousands of years. Your goal albeit a true one, does not include vital components which we the women consider paramount. I think you should take that into consideration while standing for your allegiances without judging them properly.” Ovalsidea stated in a stark declaration.

The human Noble hesitated for a moment and opened his mouth to reply but the Matron interrupted him.

“You seek the star that lies within this community, is that not so? It can be found within the magical lake. Go ahead and take it and consider what you would do with it. It has its own power and a great one at that, but intent is a greater power in this world. What is your intent Thalldon?” She added.

“I seek to use the power of the Stars to do good. To rally the powers that share this common goal, overthrow the elves from their murderous aspirations and melt the ice that is destroying our world. Why don't you join powers with us in this endeavor Matron?” Thalldon declared in confidence.

“There are two women from our community out in the world right now as we speak, holding the power of two more stars Paladin. Powerful women. Dedicated women. They are traversing this ravaged land doing exactly that on which you call us for convergence. But I tell you that it is you who must join forces with us, understanding that it is not just what the elves do that poses a grave threat, it is who has given them the grounds to do what they do and this is no other than the patriarchal communities of the humans in the past but also in the present. They now provide every excuse for the Atranaar to do what they do, with their convenient inaction, but also by tolerating and often even aligning themselves with them. In the very core of that system, is the vile notion that men know and do better but also the notion that humans know and do better than everyone else. If you cannot incorporate that in the understanding of your quest, then we cannot fully cooperate.” The matron concluded, gazing intensely at the paladin who seemed troubled by her words.

“I understand.” He finally said. “These words I will take with me and study them very carefully. Thank you Matron.”

At that moment Kiko entered the conversation and sat next to the paladin. “Little Kiko.” The matron asked addressing it. “What is it that you seek to do with your life in this world? Which are your goals and your aspirations?”

“I am a little star!” The child said joyfully. “I want to see this world become better, looking from the skies and floating with my kin.”

“This is a marvelous vision, but the world cannot change from afar while we view it at a distance, safe and uninvested. We need to change things from within.” She said in an austere manner.

And then standing up she added: “I wish you all the best in your travels. Both of you have shown me a hopeful side of what humans can be, and you little Kiko are a very graceful queer being. I hope that you find within your heart the desire to exist in this world and not only in the stars above it. Seek the star within our community – within the lake. The old sage will open the pathway for you, and then remember my words as you travel this world in your quest and maybe our paths will indeed converge for the better of everyone. Farewell for now. You may stay in our community and rest and feed before you leave. Goodbye.”

The moonlight bathed the elevated platform in an argent light, and the glow reached all the way down inside the lake. The two saw the top of a sapphire pyramid within the magical waters.

Then the companions sat on the stone bench silent for a few moments contemplating what they had heard and then smiling to each other they entered the tavern behind them, called Lunalight, to get a couple of drinks and listen to the nice music that was playing within. The tavern was built inside a cave that featured many natural little holes on the rock of the roof, through which the sparkling haze of the twelve moons shone in small beams that bounced on the ground and off to the revelers within. There, many women were singing and dancing and drinking and socializing and flirting amongst themselves. Thalldon noticed Alkanke, the human warrior, that he sparred with earlier and Kiko playfully tried to nudge him towards her but then the two travelers, after a couple of drinks decided to tag along with the band and play a couple of songs much to the delight of everyone in the tavern given that they performed marvelously and got a round of much deserved applause!

“Ha! Said Kiko. “We are a good band you and I it seems! Now go talk to her.” The child said poking Thalldon’s metal shoulderpads. “You need to embrace your softer side, not only the grittiness of the warrior inside you.” And indeed that poke, penetrated all of Thalldon’s defenses. Defenses that he meticulously raised since childhood. Masculine defenses. Hard and unbending.

He was now the child, as Kiko took him by the hand and brought him to the table that Alkanke was drinking alone.

“He likes you!” The urchin said and left, leaving Thalldon standing there as if he had just lost a fight.

“I am sure that if Thalldon wants to make a pass at me, he requires no assistance nor do I need any for that matter.” Alkanke replied.

“I like you too.” She finally said after a moment of silence. “Follow me if you want to.” She told Thalldon and exited the place, while the paladin stood there baffled and devoid of the executive agency he was used to employing. But he followed nonetheless.

Kiko entered the surface thoughts of Alkanke – an intrusive act that the child justified to itself as caring for its companion. Alkanke thought that Baleal would not mind. And indeed she did not, as Kiko soon found out. She was freely also enjoying herself in the company of two other women in a nearby establishment.

“What a great community.” The child thought to itself. “Everyone is free!”

After Alkanke’s affectionate night with the paladin, she bid Thalldon farewell, and expressed her best wishes for his journey.

“We might meet again. That would be nice.” She told him.

“Hopefully yes.” He replied.

Thalldon gazed at Alkanke’s home while donning his armor. She had a large collection of old scrolls but what caught his attention was a shield the surface of which had been extensively scratched – not by the normal use in combat but in purpose. It once bore the symbol of the Helmaer lineage. Now only fragments of the symbol remained.

“Farewell”. He said to the empty house  - Unsure if he meant it for Alkanke, the Helmaer, or both – and left to meet Kiko who had taken up residence for the evening in Lunalight. The two had agreed to enter the magical lake this morning.

“Ready?” Kiko asked jumping up and down in excitement at the lakes shore. “I got some rations for our travels. I also exchanged an order for a chain shirt for my mysterious egg! It is for the best. Whatever is inside will be raised safely here. Let’s hope it’s not a mean dragon!” The child added, smiling at Thalldon.

“Yes. There might be swimming involved so I best remove my armor first.” Thalldon replied and removed his armor, and left it resting on the trunk of a nearby tree. He only kept his black metal gauntlet, the domain of Onxar, something that he could not remove regardless, even if he wanted to.

Olayinka the sage stood on the waters waiting for them. They started walking on the lake, their steps unsure, and came close to her. She raised her hands towards the sky and abruptly shifted her palms downwards. Two violent streams of water rushed from them and a watery pillar enveloped them all. When it subsided, Kiko and Thalldon found themselves standing in the midst of four ebony statues possibly depicting Ashthu. They all held urns high above their heads, the openings of which pointed towards a well in the middle. All these, miraculously, were set on the lake. Below them the waters still looked liquid by felt solid. A cone of water surrounded the scene, which reached high into the crack of the cavern’s ceiling.

“Now what?” Kiko said examining the statues.

“It seems we need to manipulate the well somehow.” Thalldon replied and examined it.

On its side the following words were carved.

“A well to be filled,
from four statues spilled.
When leveled, tis shown,
a dark path unknown.”

The paladin noticed that the dry well was marked inside by five level marks, thus it was divided in fifths. It also had a drain valve in the form of a pressure plaque to its side.

“The statues have buttons inside their armpits!” Kiko announced.

Thalldon pressed one of them, on the northwestern statue and the well filled up to its middle from the water that the urn spilled.

“Here we go. Now what?” He said.

“Try another.” Kiko directed. Thalldon used the button on the southeastern statue and the well became nearly full. Then he used it again and the well spilled over.

“No, that’s not it.” Kiko said and pressed the drain valve on the side of the well, draining it once again.

They used the northwestern statue again and then a second time, filling the well to the top exactly. A faint hum was heard and the water of the lake subsided and they sank a few inches inside it as if it was gelatinous.

“There we go!” Kiko exclaimed happily and peered inside the well. One of the markings – the highest one – shone bright as if some obscure magick had illuminated it.

“It seems that the statues spill different amounts amongst them, but each statue always spills the same amount of water itself.” The paladin deliberated.

“Yes. And it seems we must complete some more fillings of the well, using certain combinations!” Kiko said calculating the possible variations.

After some failed attempts the companions managed to fill the well in six tens, and then four tens, opening the pathway. The well and the statues disappeared and the two sank inside the waters of the lake.

The long dive inside it was cold and ominous. A colossal pyramid surrounded by five large obelisks loomed deep in the dark waters. The rays from the three suns surrounded them as they pierced the darkness like fiery arrows that sank and faded in the lake.

As if a mirage, while swimming, they thought they saw four gigantic palms – like those of the old sage – pressing both from above the surface and from below the dark waters, and finally converging. It felt as if the sky and the deep, juxtaposed on each other, around the surface, and the companions were washed ashore a dark expanse. They could breathe air and above them instead of a sky, they saw the upside down surface of another lake and within it another pyramid – this time reversed – with its huge pinnacle pointing at them.

“Are we upside down on the air above the lake – or are we still swimming inside the lake? Or is this a lake within the lake? Or?” Kiko asked confused. “And why are we dry?”

Thalldon did not reply, instead he walked across the sandy desert of this realm towards the huge glacier pyramid. A hot sandstorm raged around it and also around the five obelisks that surrounded it, but strangely the massive sapphire pyramid and the obelisks – which hummed in a low pitched tone – were frozen and icy.

He wasn’t sure he had really seen it; the wind had slowed and parted the veil of gloom for just a moment, giving him a glimpse of this foreboding structure.

The companions neared the tall obelisks. These five spires were large edifices with spiral, twisting fluted surfaces. “This is what causes the sound” Kiko said. “It echoes as the wind passes through each spire.” Their color was a dark opaque blue and they looked as if they could have been cut straight from glacial ice.

Both Kiko and Thalldon sensed  a very strong magical aura; in addition they saw glyphs carved into the surface of the spires, blazing to life while the sandstorm blasted around, as if fused by a bright blue inner light.

“The harmonic tones echo from the five spires! That is the source!” Kiko screamed in the storm for Thalldon to hear! The companions started running amongst the spires – following the hum – and touching them caused a faint white beam to dart from one to the next. When they successfully listened to the pulse of the spires – and touched their runic structure in the correct order, all five spires were mapped out by the beams that connected them, arranged to form the tips of a white five pointed star, in the middle of which the pyramid stood.

Immediately after the star was formed, the sandstorm moved from the plateau as if blown by a giants mouth and rushed to surround the pyramid itself. While the two gazed up to the monument, a heavily cloaked figure ascended the last step of a stairway that hugged the face of the structure, hurrying quickly into the shelter of a massive doorway.

This vast step-pyramid stretched over a hundred meters into the sky. Its most noticeable feature was a massive sigil graven into the surface of the lowest level of the steps leading to the top. It looked like a large “L” and on its bottom, it finished off to a triangle that housed a square that in turn housed a perfect circle.

“We have seen this before, in the murals at the temple of the old gods at the ancient forest.” Thalldon remembered as he started climbing the steps.

The stairway lead to a doorway at the peak. Closer to the top, the wind was extremely strong, and a powerful gust nearly dropped the paladin off to a harsh demise. Put he stood his ground and reached the arcing entry point.

“Come on child!” Thalldon turned and demanded.

Kiko braced itself and sprung into its acrobatics, hopping and then slithering on the stairs. It nearly reached the top when a sudden gust pushed it off! The child fell flat on the frozen stairs and ached in pain.

“Carefull Kiko! Are you injured?” Thalldon asked. He did not show it, but he feared the child had perished.

Thankfully the bard was sturdier that it seemed and with a calculated jump, it also reached the top of the stairs.

At the top of the pyramid and within the doorway they saw an enclosure, perhaps twice the size of a normal-sized room. One large doorway in each wall opened up to that side’s stairway. There were three stairways inside the room. One went straight down, another curved corridor that seemingly stretched to the left and then down, and a third was a flight of very steep stairs also leading down.

In the middle of the room, just before the paths, lay a pile of frozen bones and on top of them a skull. The bones were carved with runes. Before the travelers could react, the bones swirled into motion and formed themselves into a skeleton.  The skeleton’s eyes, burned with a blue unnatural light. It whispered a conjuration and a frozen blade formed in its bony grasp.

"Hyuixxrgs, ghuirrrt. Hyuixxrgs Xreas! XREAAAAAS!" It hissed and flung its blade against Thalldon, who had just remembered that he was armorless. The strike rended the paladins flesh and it felt so cold that it burned him.

"ONXAAAAAAAAAAAAR!" He shouted, and his frostfire black blade appeared in all its dark power inside his grasp.

Kiko took the opportunity to launch a shattering spell behind the skeleton, that send an array of frozen shrapnel from the walls of the structure straight on its bones, chipping and cracking them.

Thalldon then swept the animated skeleton with his blade in an uppercut motion and shattered it back into the pile that it was. The skulls eyes dimmed and then slowly went out as it lay cracked on the ground.

"This way! "Kiko said and descended the steps of the rightmost path. It reached down to a large cubic room. Within it there was a platform surrounded by a moat, which was connected to the doorway where the two companions stood, by a small frozen bridge. Massive stalactites descended and ascended from the ceiling and from within the ground on this platform as if operated by a hidden mechanism, or worse, making this room a death trap indeed. In the middle, on a small area were the stalactites did not descend or ascend, a skeleton giant stood holding a greatsword as long as a tree.

Kiko looked at Thalldon. “Lets go back to ‘Lunalight’ please.” The child said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

View
The Gift of the Movaru

It seemed that only one mask was missing for this ritual to be complete and for the two companions to be able to speak to the ancient druid, and so they touched the mask once again and they were transported in another, far away, obscure dimension. Within it they found themselves standing inside a white limestone cave whose walls had been smoothened by the passage maybe not of time, but of something much grander. It lead down into a stony pathway that in turn opened up to a smaller cavernous clearing bathed in a pale ochre light. From afar they could see the figure of a person sitting on a stone throne. The person seemed carved out of the stone itself, but they could not make out any characteristics from that distance and so both of them decided to slowly descend into the pathway to take a closer look.

“This is the nether realm of the final deathmask. My deathmask. The deadmask of the white shade” – a voice coming from a visage behind them declared.

The figure sitting on the stone was indeed made out of a limestone, and it depicted a large humanoid more than two meters tall, maybe even taller, without any facial features. Instead it had a big cube shaped gap in the middle of its forehead and another rectangular shaped box carved out across its chest.

As soon as Kiko and Thalldon moved near it, it raised its stony arm from the throne, opened its palm and let an array of odd shaped geometrical stones fall on the ground.

“Is this some sort of a puzzle?” The bard inquired picking up the shapes and studying them.

“It looks like it.” The paladin answered and the two started reassembling the shapes in what they thought would eventually form into a stone cube, thinking that it might fit the forehead slot of this weird statue.

Indeed the little child managed to complete the puzzle and form a stone cube out of the parts that the statue had given them. They placed the cube in its forehead and the statue moved once again pulling the rectangular shape from its chest and handing it to them. Another puzzle it seemed. It was a game of sorts.

This rectangle box housed various smaller rectangle stones and a few square ones, all of them surrounding one larger square with a red dot painted on it. All those objects seemed to move within this box, dragged by the fingers of the one operating it, making room for each other to change positions around the confines of the frame that surrounded them. The goal it seemed was for the red dotted square to be moved from the back side of the box to the front where it would exit from a narrow slit on the bottom.

The two companions labored playfully for a good while, but they could not solve the puzzle.

“Let me try alone! After all, I am the kid.” Kiko said.

“You're just making random moves, this is a puzzle equal to my intellectual capacity!" Thalldon replied, as they wrestled over the tiny object.

Then the statue extended its arm as if offering a handshake.

 “What is this now?” Said the Paladin. “Is it offering to help us?”

And indeed he handed the box to it and as soon as the statue touched the box which was still in Thalldon’s hands, there was a spiritual transference. The paladin felt his intellect drained as if swallowed by the statue, and then the statue using the intellectual energy that it had acquired, began to operate the little puzzle and handed it back to them in an advanced, it seemed, position.

After a few moments Kiko managed to solve the puzzle and pull the little square shaped object with the red dot on it, and they placed it back into the chest of the statue where a little similarly shaped opening was carved out for it. That caused the statue to shake violently and rattle, and the whole cave shook in turn while the whole throne was illuminated by an otherworldly light. Immediately after, the statue descended inside the stone wall, like it was being enveloped by it, leaving only its face levitating in front of the two companions. The face then formed into a mask without features, only bearing a single large red dot on its forehead. It seemed that this was the final Archdruid mask and so both of them without hesitation touched the mask and were teleported back into the grove which now seemed completely different than when they first set foot on it. It now appeared like a lifeless husk, sunken in a grey silent melancholy. The trees had just a few leaves hanging on them and their lonely black branches extended mournfully downward like lifeless skeletal claws. Only crows and ravens flew above the grove. In the middle of it, still that limestone slab, smooth and ochre like the walls of the cave, stood ominously, and the two companions placed the final mask where they had placed the previous two. Laeetis’s catatonic body was still there and as soon as the final deathmask was merged with the others, the warlock extended his finger and touched the red dot on the visages forehead and then disappeared before the very eyes of his companions, leaving them astonished. In a sudden flash of energy, all the masks were combined to reassemble the material face of the druid that now looked exactly as it was when they first saw him standing, and the body of the druid also reappeared and sunk itself into the slab that was now revealed to be a large sarcophagus.

“What? Is he dead? Was he dead all along? What now? We still need to talk to him. We still need to find Laeetis.” Kiko shouted in desperation!

“Easy there little child. Let’s remain focused.” Thalldon reminded Kiko and neared the sarcophagus to examine it closer. On its top the whole body of the druid was embossed with his eyes closed as if peacefully sleeping. Now the passage of time which had been somehow magically shielded made its mark on the grave in the form of large, long, gnarled roots that hugged and surrounded the whole surface of the sarcophagus.

“Vakrathar! Vakrathar the white shade!” Thalldon shouted.

Immediately the eyes of the Druid that was depicted on the sarcophagus opened, and the lid of the sarcophagus started moving to the side, as a hand appeared pushing it over and down on the frozen earth.

Vakrathar “the white shade” rose from his “grave” and stood in front of them. He spoke and repeated what he had told them when they first set foot on this ancient and ominous grove.

“Welcome!”

“Are, are you alive?” Kiko asked in renewed hope.

“I am neither dead nor alive. I am beyond Time and Space.” The Archdruid replied.

He conversed with the two companions for a long while and revealed his personal story. How from a young age he was drawn to the spirit of nature and everything that grew and flourished.

"Such sentiments were deeply frowned upon in my despotic community and considered a sign of weakness by the Grey druids who regarded nature as a massive tool in their imperialistic war machine. They manipulated their occult magick not to grow things and revel in natural balance, but to form and bend them to their will, raising high mountain peaks even higher, turning living forests into stone trees-conduits for ley magick and harnessing raw ice and fire elements into great weapons of terror, destruction and dominance."  He said stepping down from the sarcophagus and extended  his long arms, touching the shoulders of the companions. A warm resonating pulse started seeping inside them, and hazy visions formed in the deep layers of their mind.

 "Faellheinar, as I was known then, was quickly subdued by the harsh teachings of his masters and he became cold, merciless and unforgiving while he rose to the ranks and reached the highest level of his order . Then I slew the “Uhkaol”- the Archdruids that came before me, continuing the cruel tradition of the ancient deathmask ritual called “Wuhkaz’xavel – the reaping of the eternal spirit”, during which the victim is killed and then a deathmask woven with an ancient spell is placed on its face, consuming it entirely along with the whole being of it, even the victims own name, rendering it effectively unborn in the first place."  His arms now grasped the shoulders of Kiko and Thalldon like a vice, and visions of terrible faces being entirely annihilated and consumed by dark and unspeakable visages passed through their minds and into their very eyes, as if happening then and there.

"I ruled as Uhkaol for three thousand years but  became ridden with disgust when I saw how far away I was lead from the purity of my original vision – from my reverence of life and nature." His grip loosened a bit, and the two saw the dim spectacle of an elf kneeling in the middle of a vast lifeless obsidian forest, weeping. Kiko wept also.

"I decided to end the line of the Uhkaol and punish myself at the same time.

Ιn the last twelvemoon before the Plunge, Ι summoned a thick white mist that covered the elven kingdom of Natazaad in obscurity for seven days, seven greylights and seven nights. During that time Ι moved as an immaterial “white shade”, wiping the minds of all the young Atranaar druids blank, and destroying all the druidic dark occult lore – thus ending my legacy forever."  His hands now moved from the shoulders of the companions and landed abruptly on their faces. They stood frozen and unable to move. They saw dozens of Atranaar elves running in despair, their eyes blank and bleeding from their sockets, their towers and monuments in ruin and fire. Amongst it all, a foreboding tall white shade swallowed everything in its misty stride. Within it the companions saw the archdruid in all his might but he was spectral and ghostly, only his bright blue eyes sparkled power and determination as he wiped stone and wood and air alike with a single gesture of his white fingers.

"Then I exiled himself from my community and elected instead of ending my own life, to retreat into this ancient and forgotten plateau and tried to redeem myself atoning for my heinous acts, but I found that I had no ability to grow living things but to only manipulate Stone and Rock and the raw power of the Elements, and so I created Voth’Akul, the Obsidian Mountain, and in my despair that nothing living could come out of my hand, I performed Wuhkaz’xavel – the reaping of the eternal spirit on myself and then exited Time and Space forever and arose to a semi-existence in a parallel dimension – a cosmic sarcophagus holding my body and spirit on an eternal threshold-. Around it, the specter of a verdant grove grew, a gift from the Gods for my belated repentance. My existence was forever erased from the minds of mortal beings, but in the echoes of the divine currents, the Archangel Solarian heard my mournful weeping… and answered." He removed his palms from the faces of the two, and the last thing they saw, was a mournful grayness as the druid of ages past placed his own deathmask on his face, and sank in limbonic oblivion.

Then he explained that their companion the warlock had been lost in his dream and while the Archdruid tried to guide him out of it, another presence, a powerful one that already had a deep grasp on him, drew him deeper into the darker recesses of the dreamscape and claimed him for her own. He revealed this presence to be Nicnevin the faerie princess and much to the grief of Thalldon and Kiko, Laeetis seemed to be forever lost.

Then he spoke to the companions about the Essence of the First Star and described how the blood from the Red Dot on his mask is linked to the great voice beyond the stars and that this is only part of its great magical importance, because the mask reveals to the wearer and to the one holding a red mark on their forehead, the True Dimensions of all things, and that would also reveal the dimension in which Ikhael the Desolator is hidden. He then gifted the deathmask to them. It was a white mask with the semblance of himself, a blood red dot on the forehead and two great elk horns coming from the sides.

He also told the companions of his suspicion that the demon Ikhael was in league with the High Elves in their common quest to collect the spirits of the living and break them into submission.

Kiko asked him about the eggs they had found inside the mouths of the obsidian giant heads, and the archdruid informed them that they belonged to forgotten magnificent creatures that hopefully had survived within the dark magick of the chasm of Voth’Akul.

Vakrathar, also told them of a hidden sanctuary somewhere beneath a huge statue whose sword was actually a waterfall, over to the Northeast. Within it they would find a community of peoples who have a long standing foothold in the world of Barastir. Those peoples would help them in their Journey, provide answers and also teach them the secrets of the essences of the first stars.

Then they conversed on the aspirations that they have and what is their purpose in life and the little child said that its purpose is to find meaning in magick, music and companionship in others – and then return to the stars, and Thalldon said that his purpose is to right the wrongs in this world, and Vakrathar told them that he had heard these voices of theirs in his mind while they traversed the nether realms, but he also heard other, minor voices coming from the souls of the two companions, battling each other for dominance and acoustics. Then he finally advised them to keep true to their calling, keep true to themselves but always have a clever eye and a keen insight to the inner workings of their psyche.

"I bid you now farewell Kiko and Thalldon, and if in your dreams a white shade enters, do not be alarmed. I will just be visiting old friends."

Then the Archdruid descended back into the sarcophagus and the whole grove fell silent leaving the two companions to decide their destination. They took out the mask, smudged their finger on the red dot which seemed painted by a bloodstain that never dries, and touched their own foreheads with it receiving their own red sign. After that, they slept near the sarcophagus, and slept long and well, inside the sadness and the solitude of the atmosphere.

The next morning, through their “red third eye”, they instantly saw an astral thread nearby and to the Northeast, just as the Archdruid suggested. They descended another staircase to the opposite side of the grove platform and soon they found themselves in an obsidian forest, silent and long. They traversed it carefully and soon they noticed a golden flash running across the trees.

“Onxaaaar!” Thalldon cried and in a sudden majestic glow, the black metal blade was summoned in the paladin’s left hand, wreathed in frostfire.

 A creature with golden skin jumped out of the woods and appeared in front of them and they both identified it as a Sorrakuth, an extra-dimensional race that travels the Cosmos seeking for long-lost artifacts and aligning themselves with the dominant powers within the realms they visit. It held a silver greatsword and charged head on towards the little bard.

“Xrratatxa thaaoh Ontrothon!”

Xrratatxa!” It cried in an unknown language.

The outsider aimed his blade at the leg of the little child while it attempted a difficult acrobatic move to escape the strike, and failed only by a hairs thickness. Wounded, Kiko gathered itself and stood up.

The bard sprung into action, and using its slender frame, rolled and hid behind an obsidian tree weaving a cacophonous spellsong towards the enemy, while the paladin rushed ahead to intercept the creature. After a few vicious strikes, he delivered the mortal blow that heaved both legs from the opponent felling him to the ground while a fountain of golden blood sprung from the two legs that were still standing on the forest floor, a grim reminder of what Onxar was capable of.

“I WILL PAINT MY ARMOR IN YOUR GOLDEN BLOOD!” Thalldon cried in ecstasy, while two more such adversaries charged towards Kiko, who had since reappeared.

YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEES MY LORD! REVEL IN YOUR MIGHT!” Onxar celebrated.

The little bard wasted no time and rushed to hide again stealthing himself in its silver cloak, while the paladin rearranged his battle stance to face the two opponents that where now coming towards him.

One of the warriors faced Thalldon and the other stood back-to-back to the first, trying to locate Kiko. The first warrior, with a flash of her greatsword managed to slash the paladin but he retaliated with ragefull vicious strikes that wounded his opponent gravely – after calling upon his god – Uman – who answered his plee, this time.

The other warrior weaved an Arcane conjuring that turned himself into mist and then jumped across the forest to a position that aimed to manipulate Thalldons blind spot and while the paladin was preparing to destroy the enemy that was standing in front him, this second warrior crept behind him to deliver a sneak attack.

However the cunning little bard saw this and waited in hiding for the opportune moment to act and while the second warrior slowly reached the back side of his companion, Kiko weaved an elaborate tune that darted from his flute straight to the ear of the Sorrakuth, confusing it, suggesting that instead of Thalldon, it should strike his comrade who was near death, kneeling and prone (due to another accurate spell that the bard had cast moments before).

Indeed the creature, acted like the spell suggested and plunged his blade in his comrade, destroying her. The last remaining Sorrakuth then stood up and shaking his head, attempted to strike at the paladin.

But the might of the Black Blade was not to be taken lightly. Thalldon raised his weapon high above his head in an aggressive posture studying his opponent for a few brief seconds and then bellowing like a berserker, he fainted an upward strike and moved his blade in a parallel position aiming for the throat. Onxar hacked effortlessly through the neck of the Sorrakuth fighter in a lightning fast strike, leaving a frostmark line across it, and while the frostfire burst into flames that enveloped the fighters head, the Sorrakuths neck was severed, and then the whole head fell exploding in a burst of flaming, boiling, golden blood that showered Thalldon.

“Ok, that was scary.” Kiko pointed out.

“Those were Sorrakuths, what could they be seeking?” It asked.

“Maybe the Ontrothon.” Thalldon remarked, picking up one of their blades, while Kiko picked up a strange sphere-like object with geometrical markings on it, that the other Sorrakuth carried in her belongings.

The two companions took a moments rest, tending to each others wounds and moved deeper into the forest where the trees were no longer obsidian but green and with their normal bark. Deeper inside the treeline, and towards the general direction of the astral thread falling eternally from the skies, the two companions noticed a large statue or effigy which resembled a plethoric woman with rich breasts, wearing the head of an elk.

Around the statue a number of naked women stood in a circle, similarly decorated with elk heads and objects of religious significance such as amulets and bowls filled with offerings.

One of them, a tall woman of black skin seemed to be instructing the whole ceremony.

“This woman in the middle is from the Movaru lineage, like lady Ironhand from Olsahir!” Kiko said.

“Indeed” Thalldon said, remembering a manuscript a pilgrim once brought to Cewick tower in his young days while he studied to become a paladin. He recounted his knowledge on these women, a knowledge most human males deny in they lust to maintain their feeble patriarchic concepts of dominance.

“The Movaru is the first human race that appeared on this world. It was a race, a community exclusively of females, which reproduced amongst themselves and gave birth only to other females. Female was their only gender. That community was highly sophisticated in matters of hunting and gathering but also in matters of agriculture and exploration and the study of nature and the skies. It is said that even the advanced Golagond race, that came after them, had a lot to learn from the Movaru and their glorious communion of mutual respect and admiration amongst the women. This old manuscript that I once secretly read, written by a female Movaru scholar ages ago, described that somewhere in time, the Movaru elected, yes chose to, give birth to a male, and thus, human communities evolved as we know them now. Therefore, the story that we did not want to accept as humans and as men, is that we all came from the Movaru women.

The revered goddess Ashthu was one of them, in an age before ages, and that effigy right there seems to be an antique depiction of Her. These women here are most likely keeping to a very old and very exalted tradition.” Thalldon recounted as one of those women neared the two and greeted them sharply.

“Keep your distance from the ritual, man and child. This is a sacred place.” She declared.

“We will respect your land, and we mean no harm.” Thalldon stated and stepped back.

Kiko stood and observed the women and their ritual. Then, mimicking their moves, it took its clothes off, picked a few frozen pine needles from the ground, gathered some Hjui fruit from the nearby bushes and some acorns, and entered the ritual. A woman standing guard observed the child and did not stop it, must to the relief of the on looking Thalldon. When the ritual concluded, the woman who had spoken to the companions, came and spoke to the Paladin, who asked if his understanding that this is an old worshiping ritual of Ashthu, coming from the bowels of the Movaru tradition, is true.

“Indeed so. I am glad that a man recognizes these things. Your companion, the  genderfree child, is a remarkable being, full of sentiment and wanderlust. I am Maraeesa and this is Ovalsidea, our Matron.” She said, and pointed towards the tall dark skinned woman, who neared the paladin, holding Kiko by the hand. She was imposing and charming with a stern demeanor.

"Our community lies ahead, beyond this forest, were the waterfalls meet the river. It is a community that no man ever set foot. You and your companion seem to know and respect our ways and our lineage and you seem to have gone through a lot judging from the looks of you. You are invited to enter our community and rest. Should you accept, watch your behavior and your conduct." The Matron said while the procession of women started walking behind her.

The companions accepted the offer humbly and followed the procession at its tail in a route that went through the forest and reached a river bank at the edge of which a natural pathway of stone steps raised above the water level, lead to an opening under the waterfall across.

This waterfall stemmed through the hilt of the sword of a massive stone statue of a female warrior clad in armor, that was carved from the very granite of the hill,

now showered in the last glow before the greylight.

 

 

 

View
Fires of Memory

The three companions set foot on the ledge of the obsidian staircase and as they laid eyes on the druid sitting on the slab of stone, a dormant mystical incantation manifested, and the image of the druid phased out into the netherworld vortex. Moments before, Laeetis gazed long and deep at the face of the Atranaar, and his gaze was met by that of the Archdruid who's secret name he had started to figure out from the Archangel’s riddle, and as he gazed long and deep, he entered a trance and froze in place, in a catatonic state, while his two companions turned and addressed him trying to figure out what had happened.

"Laeetis, what’s wrong?" Kiko inquired.

As it received no reply, the child passed his palm up and down in front of the eyes of the warlock but yet again got no response. Thalldon then picked him up and dragged him closer to the slab, where now, much to the amazement of the two companions, no druid was standing, just an uncanny visage bearing the semblance of the face of the druid exactly as it was when they saw him just moments ago, identical, complete in detail, including the big red dot painted on its forehead. It was floating about two meters above the base of the slab, exactly where the face of the Atranaar druid was before.

Around the grove, birds still went on chirping and the tree leaves ominously rustled beneath the great dark sky of the obsidian chasm.

“Where has the druid gone?” Thalldon asked scanning the area with his eyes, trying to locate him.

"He vanished, but there is a mask there, like his face.” Kiko added.

Thalldon decided to look around trying to figure out what sort of sorcery had befallen their Golagond comrade, keeping him bound and unresponsive, and he discovered three covered graves without tombstones or any likewise identification, in a semicircle-arranged position around the slab, while the bard weaved a spell to enter the mind and the thoughts of the warlock thinking that maybe therein it could find the cause of his predicament. And so, attuned to the rhythm of the warlocks mind, the little bard envisioned the reflection and the subtle ripples of his thoughts. Laeetis seemed to be thinking about a room with five walls depicting Gods & Landscapes while he was revisiting an incoherent name starting with V.

“He seems to be trapped somewhere.We can't free him but we can't let him go either – what should we do?” Kiko said.

“You should look for those that came before me. Those slain by my hand so that I could become an Archdruid of the Atranaar.” The Visage announced in advice, and its voice encircled the grove bouncing off the tree barks and resounded amplified by the long and leaf loaded branches.

The Paladin remembered how it is said that the High Elves succeeded each other in positions of power and even that position of the druid, a supposed keeper of nature, was no stranger to power struggles, murder and cruel tactics. Thus, the High Elf Archdruids, in order to succeed their predecessor they not only needed to dispose of them physically but they also went on to ritualistically  incorporate and consume their whole being, their whole power, and therefore submerge them into complete Oblivion, as if they never existed, their memories never registered and their name never heard. Therefore The Atranaar Archdruid – a mockery of what the druidic arts really are – is the sum of all those that came before and where slain by his hand. These archdruids were never buried since they never actually existed after their demise. Instead, a deathmask infused by the very spell that annihilated them, was buried in their place. Ancient lore dictated that in the span of thousands of years only three other Atranaar archdruids co-existed within the last one, before he disappeared taking the title and the knowledge of ages forgotten, along with him.

 “Possibly this has something to do with why this Atranaar exiled himself. Maybe he put this dark order of things behind him and was hunted for it…” Kiko added to Thalldon’s short history lesson.

“You must seek and find the three deathmasks of the Archdruids that held my position before me. These are kept in the Nether Realms Beyond Time.” The visage added as if it agreed with the deliberations that the companions had to offer.

The companions neared the visage. It resembled the druids face but in a hologramic, spectral fashion, as if the visage was in and out of materialization. Then they studied it trying to figure out what sort of magick, if any, was behind this charade, and after touching it they were dragged off and away into a place unknown.

After the haze from their eyes subsided, they seemed to be standing on a frozen stone-path, leading up to the peak of a mountain. Around them a blizzard was rampaging and the sound of heavy chains clanking could be heard echoing in the wind.

“This, is… where exactly?” The paladin declared in earnest ignorance.

“Dunno, but this chain sound is not comforting, neither is the cold.” Kiko replied worried.

“This is the place of my burial. This is Tahrum, the highest peak of the Natazaad mountains.” A voice coming from a ghostly mask right behind them stated. It sounded like four separated voices merged in one – fighting for which one will be heard the most. The stark physique of the mask itself was like the druid visage from the grove but somewhat lacking certain features in the artwork and the facial expression.

“And who are you?” Kiko asked.

“I… I am Vak-“ The mask replied as if cutting the name short.

“Vak?” Thalldon repeated.

“I think it remembers part of the Archdruids current name. That is what Laeetis’s thoughts revealed.” Kiko added.

“Let’s find the actual buried mask and leave this place as soon as possible.” Thalldon stated with resolve.

“My LORD have no fear, this is but a mere projection of space and time. Move on, take your price by force if needed, and worry not. We are unstoppable.” Boasted Onxar.

“Shhht, be silent!” Hissed the Paladin.

"To whom are you talking too? You are acting weird again and this is not the best time or place to do so.” Kiko snapped at Thalldon.

They decided to move forward. Kiko cloaked itself in its new silver hood and the paladin clasped his black metal blade, clenched his teeth as they strode . Moments after, they saw a huge arm, clad in armor and then a huge foot, and shortly after, right in front of them, a giant of sorts, wearing a full suit of armor, appeared towering around the corner as it stood on the pathway with its legs open on either side, one next to the upward slope and the other on the edge of the mountain, clasping a huge metal chain that seemed to be some kind of a massive exotic weapon, both sides of which ended in a spiked bulky steel mass.

“This is a Domain beyond Time and Space and I am its Guardian. Under whose authority are you here, and what do you seek?” The giant demanded, bellowing in a collected yet austere manner and in a voice ringing like a hammer echoing on iron plates.

“The Archdruids”! They announced.

“His authority although known, is neither present nor effective here.”

“The Solarians”!  They declared with extra conviction.

"Albeit a god of considerable stature, the Archangel has no holding in the realm Beyond The Flow."

“Our own”. Kiko finally said as Thalldon drew the Ontrothon out and held it high in front of the Guardian.

"Although the First Star does not belong here, I will bow in its presence." The gigantic guardian said, and knelt on the pathway. Still its colossal and imposing figure, lumbered many dozens of meters above the ground as the two travelers hesitantly started walking under and through its massive legs. They took a few steps, brooding with the impeding horror that the giant would turn and smash them with its chain, but instead the giant stood up, raised its chain, started whirling it around to gain momentum and in a deep arcing motion, smote the mountain itself!

“I MUST PRESERVE THE SANCTITY OF TIME. YOU ARE NOT SUBJECTS OF THIS DOMAIN TO BE SMITTEN – SO THE DOMAIN ITSELF MUST BE SMITTEN INSTEAD. SUCH IS THE COMMANDMENT OF THE ETERNAL VOICE BEFORE THE STARS.”  The Guardian roared as its metallic voice resonated though the harrowing skies.

Rocks and stone and granite burst as if stricken by a thousand thunderbolts and the Warping of Chaos followed the chains route. The whole mountain started crumpling and collapsing into unborn nothingness.

“Quickly! Lets get to the top!” Kiko cried!

They rushed above and found a verdant clearing – identical to the one within the obsidian chasm – in the middle of which floated a mask. A material mask bearing the likeness of the one that spoke to them at the beginning of the path.

Just as the mountain folded into the starless void beneath their feet, while the chain still conducted its cosmic undoing, the two companions touched the mask and teleported away back to the original grove and found themselves standing atop one of the graves, which now seemed dug out and within, soiled by the rot of the earth, lay the mask. The first deathmask.

Here we go! Kiko exclaimed and placed it on the floating hologramic visage above the slab. The one consumed the other and the visage became less spectral and more substantial. At the same time, the greenness and the lushness of the grove dulled as if covered by a looming grey veil.

“Lets waste no time.” Thalldon said as he touched the visage again. Kiko followed and the two were transported away to yet another obscure dimension. The entire expanse of it, up to the full extent to where the eye could reach, was sinking in a thick black blanket of mist out of which hundreds of monolith platforms extended like needles piercing the blackness. On each such platform – just a few feet in diameter – a small bonfire burnt and around it hunched humanoid figures of indistinguishable sex or race, gathered. Across, and to the obscure distance beyond the monoliths, a fiery sunset burned in an orange and purple hue.

“Whaa – what is this place?” Kiko inquired in amazement.

“There are fires everywhere! They burn like small candles!” The child added.

"You must reach the sunset. Atop the monolith there, lies my burial mount." Another ghostly mask behind them stated. Its voice sounded like the previous, echoed like a belabored mixture of four different people and it resembled the Archdruid more than the last mask, but lacking the red paint on the forehead.

"Who are you?" Thalldon asked.

“I am Vakrathar the… the-“ The ghostmask stated in hesitation.

“That’s it! Vakrathar. His name is Vakrathar. Their whole name is Vakrathar. But the name is still incomplete. ‘Vakrathar’ the what though?” Kiko remarked.

“That’s all fine, but how will we cross the gap between the monoliths?” Thalldon asked, while he noticed a bow and arrow on the platform, next to some wood, a flint and a bowl of water. The arrow had a small pouch tied around its head.

"Hey you down theeeere" Kiko said addressing the figures on the other monoliths that gathered around the fires. "What are you doing here?"

"We live here! "The figures said waving back.

"But this is a place beyond life and death. How can you LIVE here?" Thalldon inquired.

"We exist within the eternal fire of our memories. Our blazing memories. Our beacons in the dark! You can exist here too! "The voices echoed back waving from the monoliths in a welcoming fashion.

"Let’s light a fire with this wood then. This might bridge the gap and let us move on." Thalldon stated.

"NO! If you light a fire we will be trapped here forever, like them. " Kiko warned.

"Fine then. If we mustn't light a fire, then we must douse one." Thalldon replied as he strung the arrow on the bow string after he had previously filled up the small pouch on its end with water from the bowl.

He let it fly and it landed on the fire of the nearest platform, putting it out and sending the otherworldly revelers around it in their agonizing despair and demise as they dispersed into an all-consuming nonexistence, reduced to ash. The arc it followed formed to a stone bridge.

Thalldon repeated the process a few times more, sometimes returning back to the bowl to refill the pouch. The ghostmask warned them than each refill must be paid off either with mentalforce or with lifeforce. With blood or memory.

The companions both agreed that their memories are dearer to them than their bodies. Even the darkest ones were too dear to part with. And so, broken and spent and after dousing several fires, they reached the final platform that lay just below the flaming sunset. On it, stood gnashing the smog and chattering menacingly, a bone monstrosity guarding the final fire above which a mask burned forever. The monster had several twisted appendices and limbs that moved and turned in angles unnatural and grotesque. It turned and faced them just as Thalldon shot his final arrow dousing the final bonfire and bridging the final gap.

"Oh no! It will come over to us now! "Kiko said and stood in front of the paladin trying to weave a healing spell hoping to mend the lifeforce of Thalldon who was pale and weak. But no magick could be manipulated here.

ONXAAAAR, HEARKEN YOUR MASTERS SUMMONS!” Thalldon roared as he charged on the bridge with his long black hair soaring in the dark mist and the scarlet sunset.

Have no fear my lord! Even at the face of demise, the strong do not stagger. They rush ahead and carve their own path with blood and steel! Onxar stated as it appeared in the left hand of the Paladin, flaming it its frozen might.

Kiko back flipped into the air, giving way to Thalldon’s steel-clad onslaught, while it drew its wooden flute from its pocket. Before the bard even landed on its feet, it had already played an ancient and forlorn Tune of Inspiration. A melody so concise and robust that empowered the noble paladin as he delivered a brutal strike to the bonebeast, splintering it to myriads of skeletal bits that fell into the black mist, still clattering away into the dark murk.

The second deathmask was theirs, and as they touched it, they yet again returned to the grove and took the masks material counterpart out of the second grave that miraculously lay dug out at their feet. They brought it near the visage which became even more substantial now, as the grove grew duller

and the singing of birds slowly ceased.

 

 

 

 

View
The cold steps of Solitude

The sight of this glorious angelic creature being reduced to this state was a painful one. But even in this position the archangel was truly a presence of indescribable majesty. The three companions slowly neared the solar beam where it knelt showered in light, to take a closer look. The Solarian Paragon raised its electric blue gemlike eyes to meet theirs, grimacing in pain, while a large dark sword was plunged between its wings as Thalldon quickly noticed.

Its silvery blood – the stuff of star matter – seeping from this wound was slowly draining the divine essence from the Archangel, killing it.

-Jehlithe hvis! It whispered in the ancient celestial tongue – Kiko somehow understood. It was asking for something to be offered to it.

-It wants something. Kiko explained.I don't know what, and I don't know how I know.

Laeetis nevertheless knew how. Or at least he suspected it since he first lay eyes on the small Urchin.

It is wounded gravely. Thalldon announced. There is a dark blade stuck in its back.

-Jehlithe hvis Ontrothon! The creature maintained pleading.

-It wants the star – but NO WAY! Kiko declared. We can't give everyone what they want. We should keep this. I mean this is sad and all, but it cannot be helped. We must keep it, we need it!

- It is the true Solarian Archangel. Laeetis snapped back. If we have the ability to save It, we must do it.

- This majestic being has the aura of goodness and godhood. Thalldon remarked, already holding Ontrothon in his hands and offering it to the Archangel. A fragment of a star, albeit a remarkable and wondrous relic, is not as important as the Ultimate effect that this Paragon will have in the world. Above all, it is a matter of strengthening the Cause, he added with conviction and handed the star fragment on the outstretched palms of the being who took it and brought it near its chest.

At that moment, from within the shadows of this great hall, some twenty or so hooded figures emerged. They wore grey cloaks and their skin was silver-ish, like the archers on the tower of the astral thread. They had been chanting this whole time, and drumming, and praying. Now this gathering, formed a circle around the companions, the angel and the massive solar beamstack booming through the broken seeling. Their hands met each other in a praying gesture and as the angel brought the star near its chest, they knelt and the praying intensified. The light of the Ontrothon shone brightly and merged with the solar beams formulating a spectrum of illumination otherworldly and magnificent. The star entered the chest of the Archangel and it took a deep long breath and exhaled in a long – drawn out -  relief. Then Ontrothon, exited the chest of the Archangel where the wound once was, and fell on the ground, now just an empty husk, a common rock it seemed. Thalldon picked it up and put it back in his belongings.

The Archangel rose. The wholeness of its magnificence could now be appreciated fully. It was three meters tall and its wings now reunited with the broken feathers that it had lost. Its upright body – silver, shining and full of golden phosphorescent tattoos and markings- was a glorious series of  beautiful curvature and aesthetic volume both androgynous but also something different altogether at the same time. Its face calm, looking down with appreciation and love towards its saviors. It spoke this time in the common Golagondish tongue. Its voice sounded sweet and collected but as if echoing the cosmic sound of galaxies deep in the bowels of the void of creation.

-Thank you friends! The good you have done for me is worthy of much praise and love. Thank you!

-Woah! Kiko noted with gloogly eyes.

-It was our duty. Thalldon remarked attempting to hide his amazement.

-Speak none of it – Lord of the Solar Discs. Laeetis added and gave a sideward look to Kiko and smiled. Go ahead, go greet the angel. The warlock instructed the child, and gave it a small nudge on the back.

Kiko went ahead and touched the white feathered wing on the Angel lords back, and immediately it was re-visited by its life-long recurrent visions of a great winged shade coming to its dreams but also to its waking hours, haunting the Urchin, it thought until today, but now this vision stood in front of the bard neither shadowy nor black, but real and in the form of the Archangel Solarian – the first of its kind – the Champion of the Solar Disks – the God of Sun Rays and Illumination – Kiko's brother -  Kiko's sister  – Kiko's kin. The Angel smiled right down to the little child and picked it up in its hands, gave it a kiss on the forehead and confirmed what Laeetis had been suspecting all these days.

Kiko is itself a small Celestial.

- I am what? a what? I am just a little child discovering the world through music and magick. Kiko muttered bewildered.

- You are my kin, little Kiko. The angel responded. You are a Celestial. The stuff of stars!

-And who are my parents? WHERE are my parents? Kiko inquired in confusion and amazement.

-Your parents are up there in the skies! You are an astral soul sent through the heaven down to this land. Your parents are the stars and the cosmic bodies! All the stars!

-Take me with you! Kiko demanded half weeping in joy.

-I cannot take you where I go, little Kiko. Remain here, you have much to do!

 - Before I return to my Domain, surely you must have many questions. The Solarian concluded, addressing the three travelers.

It explained that it had been hunted by a great Atranaar elf in league with an ancient demon of unspeakable power called Ikhael the Desolator, who's black blade now lies on the ground. The Solarian had been purposely using its remaining godly power to fling its feathers near the presence of Kiko and its comrades, hoping that they would follow the trail and bring the star fragment - the only thing that could save the Archangel – back to it.

It also said that in order for them to follow the trail back to Ikhael and reach him, they need to speak to a very old and wise Druid presiding over a hidden grove somewhere near the mountain of fairies just over the hill, but that would mean that they need to pass through the Petrified Forest and the valley of Lingering Whispers and finally the obsidian mount of Voth’Akul, that lies between them and their target. Only this ancient Druid – a self-exiled Atranaar himself – can give them the uncanny sight necessary in order for them to be able to see where Ikhael's dimension collides with this dimension, and thus be able to observe his manifestation in the material world. The Archangel also warned them that the way is perilous and full of obstacles.

Finally it revealed that the Ontrothon is an immortal vessel forever “recharging” with the limitless essence of Seven Astral Threads. Of the first stars that fell from the skies, never losing their true connection with their womb, with their point of origin. The light they hold is offered to the world in order to fulfill an act of true purpose. "Such as saving the life of the Archangel" the three compainions thought at the same time. An idea is a wonderful thing, the Solarian Paragon noted, but the mind that holds it, is of great importance also. The Ontrothon is “the mind that holds” and “the mind that offers”. But also “the mind that seeks”.

Laeetis asked the Paragon about the visions and the echoes of Pavera he felt in the Golagond Collective, and the Archangel revealed that it too felt her presence, long ago in the form of fleeting visions of her standing on the edge of a cliff with a set of huge eyes staring at her from above. The Solarian was unsure if those were visions from the past or the future, but it felt that they originated from near Uctun, the trade city of Giants. It also mentioned that this might have something to do with the Atranaar and the Demon lord draining and collecting the broken will of beings through torture and suffering. The companions then asked to learn the name of the nameless Atranaar, and like Obba, The Solarian warned them of the perils. Then the companions asked the name of the Archdruid, and the Angel told them that this curse is a tool of the Harkaanathites – an elite sect of Assasins – member of which is the nameless Elf. And so every Atranaar's name can fall subject to the curse, especially if that Atranaar is self exiled like the Ancient Druid.

Put it in a riddle, that way no one will utter it, but we will know it! Laeetis suggested.

And so it was done and handed to them in a papyrus, scribed down by the priests in the form of wordplay, along with a simple map of the known lands of Barastir.

-What is YOUR name dear one! Kiko asked.

-I do not have a mortal name. I am the embodiment of my own name. I AM Solarian. But it would be my pleasure if you three would name me in affection and I will henceforth bear that name with pride!

And so they dubbed It “Spectral Father – the Feather that Felt”.

Then the Archangel bore its gift to the companions. It handed two feathers from its wings to Laeetis and told them that through them they could somehow communicate with It occasionally. It then spread its magnificent plumage that opened up in the whole range of the room, and embraced its saviors and its hooded kin – who themselves had embraced the three companions also – Before darting high into the morning sky like a reversed comet, leaving them all basking in the bright leftovers of its warm radiant brilliance.

The hooded clergy gave gifts of their own to the group. An amulet filled with angel blood was given to Laeetis. A silver cloak was given to Kiko. Then they ascended on the solar beam itself as if it had steps, and got lost on the clouds!

Ha! I am going too! Kiko announced happily and started climbing the “steps” in a playful manner. Soon it reached the clouds and witnessed the whole world above – but also the one below – in a wide sparkling frame. Laeetis, feeling and releasing the inner child inside him, followed the bard, albeit not so easily, but regardless the steps welcomed his feet as well, and he too gazed long into the vast plains of Barastir where he roamed free and proud all these years! Then he entered a brief trance and conversed with the Golagond of the area but also with the Exalted Six, the old gurus of the Golagonds, who warned him about Ikhael and the perils ahead. His moment of calmness and spiritual attunement was cut short though, when he felt the foreshadowing of something wrong, and he descended quickly. Moments after, Kiko fell through the beam, slowly as a feather, giggling and rolling and performing various slow motion acrobatics, with the help of the Three Suns themselves that had welcomed the Urchin in celebration.

But, no gift was given to Thalldon, who was then selecting another price all together as his own…

While the others received the gifts from the hooded priests, the Paladin neared the dark blade that lay on the stone ground, a few feet away from the solar beam. He stood over it and the blade sprang from the ground and levitated briefly in front of him, and set itself ablaze with a violet and blue Firefrost.

“Now THIS is an instrument of sheer power”, Thalldon thought to himself instinctively.

He extended his finger to touch it and felt the blade's pure malice as it neared his hand.

Thalldon no! Both Kiko and Laeetis cried.

Thalldon, this item is drowned in darkness, do not touch it. The warlock implored.

But Thalldon had always been a man of strong will and of monotone determination. He knew very well both the evil of this blade and the dark deeds that it bore, but he also thought high of himself and of his ability to bend things to do his bidding. Just like everything else, this dark sword too could be cleansed and be used as a tool for justice and vengeance! Yes vengeance! He shouted without realizing it. And then he grasped the handle of the sword. He was immediately rushed with the unmistakable euphoria of true authority. Picking up this blade was the right thing to do, he thought. After all, he displayed a clear and accurate mind when he immediately relinquished Ontrothon to the Angel, without hesitation. He knew how to handle every situation, every person, and every tool. The dark blade would likewise submit to his bidding. “It is not the steel that defines the wielder, but the wielder who defines the steel!” He thought, reassuring himself.

And as his grasp tightened, a heavy black metal gauntlet appeared on his left hand over the sword. The embrace of the cold black metal was sending waves of powerfull pulsating energies across Thalldon's arm, but it also merged symbioticaly with his flesh and bone. He tried to removed it but to no avail. It was too late. I might as well go along with it. He thought dismissively.

YES MY LORD! The blade spoke in the paladins mind.

I AM READY TO SERVE YOU MY LORD!

Good. That is acceptable. Thalldon replied openly, startling his comrades.

-To whom are you talking to Thalldon? Leave the blade and let’s go. Laeetis asked worried.

-No one. It’s all right. It is just a tool. Its darkness is just a matter of perception. It is a better weapon than my old one and thus I will use It instead. It’s that simple. He added, and before he could conclude his sentence, his old Greatsword, snapped on the hilt and fell on the ground as the Paladin also felt Uman frowning upon his actions.

See? It was old and needed repair. He said, reluctantly picking up the broken sword. Let us go.

And so the group departed this holy ruined castle, and moved towards the direction of the map the “Spectral Father” had given them.

-My lord the way to your glorious goal is the following. Seek the petrified forest and then at the edge of it, pass through your domain, which is the valley of lingering whispers at the end of which you will in turn find the gateway of a frozen bridge that leads to a mountain of jagged obsidian rocks. Below it look for a great staircase carved in the midst of the petrified heads of two giants. On the peak of the staircase is the druid you seek. He will have no choice but to submit to your unmistakable might! Informed the sword.

Thalldon shook his head up and down.

Thalldon you are behaving very strangely, Kiko remarked worryingly. Your stare is blank and you are murmuring to yourself. Are you ok?

I am perfectly fine little one. Let’s carry on. Thalldon replied in an austere manner.

“Don’t listen to them MY LORD. These are mere weaklings, and they might burden you down. They surely can’t keep up with your grand plans”. The sword spoke again inside the paladins mind, and Thalldon tried to ignore it.

“Shut it!” He snapped inside his mind, grimacing, much to the worriment of his comrades. “I will call you if I need you.“

“Yes my lord. As you wish. I am called Onxar the Invinsible.”

The three moved inside the path over the faerie hill and indeed reached a small forest with ash and pine trees, half petrified. No living thing wandered there and even the leaves on the ground were turned to stone. Overhead in the distance, and as the greylight came, a dark cloud gathered above the general direction of the aforementioned Valley of Lingering Whispers. As the companions were looking for a suitable campsite, a guttural groan and the shadow of a red-green tail startled them.

Let me investigate, Laeetis declared and moved around in the stone forest looking for signs or tracks. Sure enough he found a series of paw tracks, four on each side.

That’s a large one, Kiko said and before it could finish these words a large eight legged reptilian creature that the shamans call “Bhashaliska” or simply Basilisk, rushed them!

That enemy was not a simple one, but Thalldon's black blade, Kiko's inspiring song and Laeetis’ occult spells that outlined the form of the reptile and blasted it with orange spears of magical force, brought the basilisk on the snowy ground, as it was decapitated by a vicious swing from Onxar.

Much to the horror of the companions, the severed head of the beast turned and faced its own body as it rolled detached and cleaved, and as it lay eyes on itself, it turned the body to solid granite.

So this is the plague that befell this small forest. Laeetis noted in realization.

Let’s get some rest and move on, possibly the evil in the woods is now dealt with. He added.

And so they found some cover below a cluster of felled petrified trees, gathered the few wooden branches they could find not turned to stone, lit a wee fire and took their turns guarding each others sleep.

During its vigil, Kiko lay on its back looking at the stars mainly, and did some guarding from a withheld and hidden position, nearby.

Thalldon conversed a little more with his new “servant” and Laeetis noticed birds returning to rebuilt their nests on those high still wooden branches, while reminiscing those days of  exploration that he experienced with Pavera. Maybe he would re-live them now, he thought, and go on to find her simultaneously. That thought he kept through the night and into the morning. It empowered him.

The group passed through the foot of the forest into a valley of granite and ebony rocks. The winds roamed and hissed within, howling like the voices of the dead, lingering forever and mourning their spent lives. Above, a dark cloud loomed, and within it lighting flashed in the same green light as the gloom that spilled over the obsidian hills in the distance. Maybe a few millwalks away.

Soon the companions realized that these are not the whispers of the winds, but the voices of moaning shadows, broken visages of people traversing the length of this valley on their way to the obsidian hills and the emerald gloom oer’.

-“Whhyyyyyyy haveeeee youuu slaiiin meeee brooother?” cried one.

-“IIIIII DIEEEEEEE ALOOOOONEE!” mourned another.

-“My loveeeeeeeee do noooot forggeeeet meee!” implored a third.

-“Huuuuush mmmy liiiitttleeeee oneeeee, weeeee wiiiill meeeeeet ooooverrrr theeee hiiiillls soooon…” comforted a forth.

Voices detached but also unified in grief and solitude.

Voices despoiled and desolate.

Their figures now descending through the plateau on to the companions, and forming in front of Thalldon into a large all-consuming Shadow, that clawed and hugged and covered the Paladin like a black onyx blanket.

But Thalldon saw nothing. Felt nothing. Heard nothing, but the faint rustling of the wind and the voice of Onxar.

“My lord, move through and have no fear. Nothing will stand in your way.”

Thalldon! A ghostly shade is upon us! Cant you see it? Laeetis said in desperation.

But Thalldon only saw his own glorious shadow cast on the ground.

Have no fear comrades. This is but my own shadow. Imposing I know, but simply a shadow. He reassured.

This is NOT your shadow Thalldon, it stands in front of you not behind, as the light of the moons and the green gloom would suggest! The wise warlock explained, knowing very well the dark workings of the occult spectrum.

Thalldon snapped out of it and witnessed the dark murky horror that was fighting against his companions while he failed to see it. It was a tall shadow creeping and outstretching its twisted form to drain the life out of them. Kiko felt its grave touch but retaliated with musical spells casting out the dark specter, and Thalldon fought valiantly realizing his initial error. Finally Laeetis outcanceled the necromancy with his energy blasts and wisped away phases of the shadow, while Thalldon cleaved through it like it was solid flesh. And so another foe was defeated. Moments before the shadow dispersed into the dark valley that bore it, the voices of the dead that murmured inside it all along, repeated their final words again, this time not as whispers but as booming cries that echoed loud and were finally hushed forever.

And so the three moved through and over the hills and into the green gloom and reached a narrowing of the howling plateau, between the hills, that collided into an ominous bridge, obsidian itself, built on top of a thin strip on land in the middle of a huge chasm filled with jagged ebony rocks and obsidian peaks. On the other side of the long bridge, a huge formation of fang shaped black rocks, framed the figure of a black mountain. The mountain of Voth’Akul evidently. The end of the bridge faded out as if being consumed, by a mouth-like opening surrounded by claw shaped ledges and spikes, on the slope of the mount.

Thick white mist covered the chasm and hugged the massive rocky body.

Laeetis used his arcane sense to search for magick sources but the only thing he felt was creeping frost. It came from the bridge.

Kiko took a few steps and threw a rock across it. It rolled a bit and then froze in place. The bolt the bard shot across, had a similar fate. It flew and then suddenly it fell heavy on the bridge, half way on it, and shattered like an icicle falling from a snowy tree.

We cannot cross. We must find another way. Laeetis concluded. The frost is intensified around the bridge.

My lord. Your never take the long roundabout path. You go straight and you succeed. Spoke the blade and Thalldon agreed, nodding.

He walked towards the bridge and over it. Took ten or so steps and felt the merciless cold clogging his nostrils and freezing his joints. He moaned but went on. The frost became more and more unbearable. He could barely breath and his hands were rigid and unmovable.

Thalldooooon! Come back! Kiko cried.

Thalldoooooooon! Laeetis implored.

But the Paladin kept walking the lonely bridge. Suddenly Kiko weaved a thawing cantrip on his cloak, wrapped it tight around its small body and dashed ahead onto the bridge. Laeetis enchanted his limbs with the grace of the spider and elected to climb the right side of the bridge, dealing with much less frost, but having to navigate and maneuver around the perilous jagged rocks, with the deep dive to the chasm below being the dire price to pay for a misstep.

The paladin peering through his half-closed eyelids down the chasm, saw two colossal stone heads towering in the mist. In the few steps ahead across the end of the bridge he saw a dome shaped room inside the mountain gap, and within it an icy blue light shone, possibly the source of the magical frost.

Kiko started running as the cold crushed down on its frail body and found itself a few steps behind Thalldon. Laeetis took his time and carefully reached the gate from the side, the same instant when Thalldon, with one last courageous stride entered the room with his long beard half frozen and his body on the edge of collapsing. He saw an obsidian carved palm, reaching through the floor – an altar of sorts – with its fingers upturned and grasping a big, white, icy, transparent, egg shaped rock – emanating the heart of pure winter. A few moments more and he would perish standing, with even his last gasp of air freezing as a crisp sheet of exhalation. Kiko and Laeetis both stepped in behind him – their bodies on the brink of utter extinction.

The paladin laboriously raised his black sword and smote the egg twice, using up his last bodily and spiritual energy. Kiko followed up with a crossbow bolt.

The egg cracked  and after a momentary time-space halt, the crack deepened and spread rapidly across its whole surface leading to a silent burst of a thrust wave that suspended the room in an instantaneous pulse and then it exploded in a booming white light.

When the explosion subsided the three companions slowly rose, battered and hammered.

They managed to slowly gather themselves and investigated the ebony palm. It was very large and smooth, made from ebonite or obsidian. Laeetis noticed an occult marking on it that symbolized the gathering of a druidic circle infused with a magical marking of guardianship. It was comprised of  parallel lines, a big circle and five smaller oval shapes.

After attempting various methods to unlock the hand's mechanism, the companions – as Laeetis suggested – pulled the fingers of the hand, in quick succession and in the fashion of the positions of the five oval shapes depicted on the druidic mark. Truly the fingers merged together and the hand submerged itself into the ground revealing a long black staircase that went down into the corpus of Voth’Akul and reached out and down onto the surface of the deep chasm swimming in thin mist. Across and to the side of the gorge the giant heads appeared larger than life through the fog as the group walked, and between them a tall – one meter high step staircase -  climbed above onto a platform.

Wait! Kiko demanded. I wanted to see what is inside the mouths of this giant heads! And taking a look it discovered a few large black eggs with pink spots. Some of them petrified.

It seems that the stone mouth provided natural cover from the elements and these eggs survived – or some did at least. Laeetis elaborated.

They all took an egg with them, “because who knows, maybe something mystical and mystifying might hatch from them”, the bard said, before casting a minor heat spell onto the egg that he took in an attempt to hasten its hatching process.

All three companions started climbing the big steps, which were no more than ten or twelve in total but they seemed like a hundred. The sight above was nothing they ever suspected.

Tall, lush, green trees and bushes full of fruit and birds, surrounded a sunny, verdant clearing. In its midst, standing on top of a rock slab, stood a tall old elf, holding a gnarled and twisted wooden staff. Its body, half naked was painted red and yellow and magenta. His braided hair mingled with small branches and leafs. He wore an unkempt orange beard the roots of which had a green hue.

Welcome. He said.

 

 

 

View
The Archangel Paragon
trials of the gods

 

The three companions descended at the stone staircase beyond the dark archway. The stone masonry was crude in this dark passage and after a few minutes they reached another archway identical to the first and across that archway a great hall loomed, wreathed in a gloomy hue.

Under the archway another set of feathers lay on the ground. A black and a white one yet again.

Once they entered the hall, a deep mixture between fresh moist soil and grass, met their nostrils – a fragrance of the Earth herself. Air currents, warm and cool swirled around in the deep and sounds of stalagmite droplets echoed slowly on the walls, but somewhere deep within this subterranean area, the three travelers could hear ominous psalms accompanied by drums, mysterious and foreboding.

This Hall was constructed in an oval shape, carved out of the same rock from the mountain that lay on top of it. On the walls, dozens of metal torches illuminated the area with a deep purple light, shedding long undefined shadows across the elaborate murals masterfully chiseled everywhere.

In various spots on the cavernous ceiling but also on the walls themselves, large strong thick roots could be seen entering and exiting as if some ancient tree, possibly Bodagot, lay on top. At the other side from the entrance, another bigger archway could be seen similar to the first if not identical, but this time it framed a large, five meter high, double door, made from dark iron that was decorated by two embossed palms facing eachother and forming a rocky globe depicted as a hollowed out cavity.

The little bard grew increasingly uneasy upon reaching this hall and elected to cast a silence spell originating from the archway, in a circle, but the other two companions fearlessly entered. Kiko had no choice but to follow. Alas – upon passing through his own spell, the child entered those dark recesses of its mind and lost control of itself, violently kicking and screaming. Thalldon managed to grab the child with the help of the warlock and threw him out of the spell circle and thus all three of them were finally inside and in awe of the spectacle.

Tread carefully  – Laeetis warned them. I sense portal magick.

Be alert – Thalldon declared. There is a dark presence about.

I am hungry – Kiko complained. Haven’t eaten in a while.

The warlock illuminated his own hand axe through a spell of his making and the three started investigating this long forgotten room.

The walls hosted various depictions, possibly of religious and historical significance.

A procession of giants could be seen, with their hands erect towards the skies, praising the three solar discs and the stars, and on their feet, marched a race of humans walking in the same path as the giants towards possibly a common cause.

Another procession was depicted across the first, displaying that race of smaller stature, holding a giant on their hands, maybe in a funeral manner, but they seemed to be traveling across the cosmos with the planetary dome spreading and unraveling behind them.

A third mural depicted a large cube and inside it a pyramid – inside the pyramid lay a sphere and inside the sphere lay a humanoid in the fetal position. Other depictions portrayed the stars falling in the oceans and races of humans and faerie and elves holding the mountains themselves on their hands. Inside certain framed areas across the walls, the depictions of the nine old gods and goddesses could be seen.

Dorahil – The Lord of Frost with his snowy gown and his scepter of ice.

Iblys – Godess of magical nature levitating and meditating surrounded by the occult symbols of her magick.

Uman – the Skylord with his lightning blade and his cloak made of the clouds themselves.

Aran – Herald of Conquest holding weapons of destruction in her four hands.

Ashthu – Empress of Death and Rebirth with her miles long ebony hair and dark skin, holding an embryo in one hand and a skull on the other.

Sareul – Master of Swords with his demonic visage and his halo blades .

Elel – Mistress of Cats with her tigress head, holding and caressing a large feline being with alabaster eyesockets.

Bariel – Keeper of Birds and flying creatures, with its dragon head and small sparrow wings.

And Gimladen – Master of Dreams and dreamscapes, depicted as a large mask with wide open eyes each of them enclosing another mask with wide open eyes – and each of them in turn enclosing another mask – until the most minimal carving could only be guessed prolonging the continuation.

Kiko pranced about the room, joyfully investigating, dancing and joggling torches, Laeetis carefully examined the large Iron door, the floor and the ceiling, and Thalldon, after searching for hidden mechanisms decided to observe the whole room from the center, attempting to grasp the larger picture.

Thalldon saw that certain areas of the wall murals, were “framed” by carved out lines and lay a few inches deeper inside the walls.

Laeetis saw that from the sides of that cavity on the iron door, two long grooves formed, running down the double door and into the floor, spreading in a large triangle across its whole length – interconnected with an oval groove within the center of the floor.

Kiko, while dancing, stumbled on a small stone lever, which energized some sort of internal contraption that released a mirror that now occupied the entrance to the hall.

The three started examining the mirror touching, twisting and turning it. As they moved it, they saw that behind it, the stairway had disappeared and in its place laid Barastir's starry dome, that moved way faster than usual.

- This is the nightsky of ages long past. – Laeetis explained.

Milennia before our time. I can see stars and formations long forgotten now. Also the Dome moves in a few seconds as fast as it would move in years normally.

-This hall has all nine old deities coexisting. This is unheard of. Nowhere in Barastir is there a monument or a religious site dedicated to more than one gods or goddesses at the same time. – Thalldon explained.

-Nice stars!  – Kiko exclamated and threw a torch in the starry void. It was sucked in and consumed.

Upon turning towards the room again, they saw that within the void behind the mirror, a large bright star shone. It was Ontrothon.

After a series of trials and errors, the three companions understood that the faux frames on the walls, that happened to be aligned with the edges of the floor triangle, were meant to host this mirror, that became fluid and bright upon placed there, energizing the astral portal(s).

Suddenly all nine deities moved out of their murals in a spectral fashion and merged in the middle of the room phasing in and out of eachother.

-WHO WILL TAKE OUR CHALLENGES? A single united godly voice declared.

The first one was undertaken by the paladin. He spoke his patron gods name, “Uman” , and entered.

He found himself in a throne room. He was sixteen. The throne room was empty, silent, morose. Above the throne, the old banner of the Helmaer family hung. Suddenly across the room he saw an “orc” as they called the Golagonds and a little baby in a cradle across the orc.

They were Laeetis and Kiko.

Kiko played in his cradle and Laeetis searched his belonging for an old artefact Pavera had once given him. A trinket depicting Gimladen – god of dreams.

They all had vivid knowledge of their current state but also of their dreamstate, which was nevertheless real, in every sense.

Thalldon heard noise and vocal disagreement. It was his parents fighting on the fact that he elected to become a paladin. His father raised his boisterous voice and declared to his mother that he will disown him if he goes through with his decision.

- NO – lady Helmaer protested.

You must let him choose.

But the king would have none of that and pushed his wife aside just as Thalldon entered the room. Laeetis took Kiko in his arms, smiling at the baby and went on to attune himself with the internal feeling of the dreamscape he would in the future manage to master within the halls of the faerie queen Nicnevin. He realized that the connection he felt to Pavera, he now also felt for Kiko and Thalldon, sometimes confusing those links. The two found themselves in a room where young Thalldon kneeling, offered a prayer to a statue of Uman. Kiko demanded crying to be let down, and went towards the kneeling Thalldon who disappeared. Instead, the baby dove in the large bronze offering bowl filled with rain water. It then knew where Thalldon was, and it merged its intuition with Laeetis', in order to reach him.

Across the castle, Thalldon was standing up to his father, the King.

-You are a disgrace to the Helmaer name. We have a legacy to uphold. I have gone on a bloody war against my own brothers to become king, and you would abandon your true calling which is to this family in order to serve the fake memory of a dead god? Begone!  the king barked raising his large mace and smiting Thalldon.

Either cancel your decision or die by my own hand. I am your father. I AM YOUR GOD!

Thalldon picked up his uncles greatsword from a nearby rack. A greatsword that his father looted from his own brother after slaying him in combat.

-Sometimes a king must die – and the old relinquish its dominion to the new. Said the young paladin and swung decisively against his king and father, ending him with a vicious strike and felling him to the ground. Just as the king drew his last breath, he held out his own heart which stopped beating and immediately turned into that fluid silvery substance that the companions found on the black and white feathers.

Thalldon picked the substance up and looked around and saw his two companions. Now he recognized them.

It is the faerie mount magick that seeps into the divine dream trials themselves, said Laeetis

that not only makes us appear young, but actually brings us the reality of such a twisted version of the young past. This is the mountain of eternal youth after all!

-Yes. And thank you for showing me the way. Echoed a voice from behind the pillar!

It was the nameless whitehair elf who was lurking there the whole time. He seemed younger himself, still dressed regally. He took a few steps and stood across Thalldon smirking, a grimace that he would never do now.

My path collides with yours. Soon we will settle this. He said menacingly before evaporating away from the dreamscape.

The three companions, reappeared on the mural hall and repeated the process, moving the mirror to the other side of the grooved triangle, and placing it inside the second carved out frame.

This time they entered the dreamscape of Gimladen, and not of Dorahil that Kiko originaly chose, because the Urchin found it “too cold”, after plunging its tiny finger in the mirror! There they saw a large mountainous platform overlooking the whole world. Vast continents unfolded ahead and beyond, and mixed with sea and clouds and mountains alike.

It was greylight.

Various spectral greyforms marched up the path, across the platform and swung themselves casually off the ledge and down the slope of this massive mountain.

I call fly Kiko said and started flapping his hands. And it levitated.

So did Thalldon.

But then he said My armor will weigh me down – I must remove it. And he fell to the ground.

Suddenly a gargantuan dragon appeared from the other side of the cosmos! Its great head was larger than the suns. Its wings lengthier than all the continents of Barastir. It opened its colossal mouth and the roaring of a firestorm started forming within.

I am thinking of a great mountain – the biggest and tallest of them all – between us and the dragon! Laeetis elaborated.

And the mountain sprung from the ground like a tree and hid the dragon. Now only the dragons roar could be heard.

What happens if it breaks though? Laeetis inquired and upon finishing his thought, the mountain disappeared and the dragon became visible once again.

AAAAAAA! Kiko shouted .

I AM A DRAGON. A DRAGON OF THUNDER AND LIGHTING!

And lo and behold it was one! As massive as the other, with wings of cloudsmoke and a belly full of storms. Laeetis became  a skipper on the ocean as he willed, and Thalldon brought himself to mount the fire dragon at the same time as Kiko became the "Thunderous one"!

In the battle that ensued the two dragons canceled each other out in force and might and the three found themselves balancing on the ledge on the mountaintop from where the specters dove to the ground. The companions followed their lead and as they fell, they collected the silvery dust that the spectral bodies left behind as their dreams ended in their plunging flight.

And so they reappeared in the mural hall having completed the trials it seemed, while holding a large blob of this silver blood as they called it.

Kiko moved near the specter of Iblys and asked her to play a tune on his “most awesome musical instrument of the whole wide world”. The specter noticed the small child and smilingly played a small tune. Kiko felt blessed.

The holograms of the deities returned to the walls and the drums echoed once again in the deep.

Before the companions could gather themselves from the intense experience of the dreamstate and the inherent magick of the place they came to contact with, the silvery substance started forming into a large suit of armor that animated itself. It walked and stood across the room in front of the wall, in a non aggressive manner since they were not intruders anymore, but champions who had passed all the divine trials.

The three adventurers suddenly realized that it was Ontrothon that needed to be placed on the cavity slot on top of the iron door, and so, while the others were reluctant, Thalldon gave the star fragment to the armor and it placed it on the door before yet again becoming reduced to the same silvery liquid that formed it in the first place, and seeping across the grooves on the door – down the floor – filled the grooved triangle and the oval shape, carved out in the stone beneath their feet – opening the metal doorway. Thalldon collected the star and the three moved inside.

Ahead, magical darkness loomed, and in its midst a large unblinking eye stared right at them.

The companions started walking slowly across this dark corridor not knowing what lay ahead if anything at all.

Thalldon felt a tile loosening and submerging beneath the weight of his body and instantly two fiery arrows shot from the other side of the corridor, as it was shown to be, illuminated by their flame traveling across it. As they passed on the left and right of this large eye, it revealed that it belonged to a creature of the deep, the famed spectator beholder.

Mainly a large sphere of flesh, from the surface of which tentacles sprung and in the middle, this large eye loomed, ominous, glaring, beholding.

The creature started casting it's dark magic in the form of colorful rays emanating from the core of its central eye.

One of these rays, a dark red one, paralyzed Kiko, another drunk the life juices from the warlock, another confused the mind of Thalldon and turned him against his own comrades and a fourth one poisoned the veins of the valiant paladin. Others black, grey, green, stroke fear, rended flesh, broke the will of the three companions, but in the end the little bard overcame its fear and inspired courage to its comrades. Laeetis shot Eldritch blast after Eldritch blast towards the fleshy globe, and Thalldon smote the devilish being with Holy wrath and sharp Steel, and the foe was defeated and reduced to bloody bits and a large gazeless eye that turned to stone and then mud at their feet.

Finally the path was clear and it lead to a small wooden door. After opening the door the three found themselves in a small room that had a collection of clay pottery of various sizes, all of them empty. A  small wooden table with a chest on top, a fireplace inside which a small pyre was dying down and another door, metal this time, on the right side of the room. Thalldon noticed that across the wall there was another frame carving and the Warlock examined the table and the chest while the small bard took a liking on the pottery and started diving in and out of them, playfully.

Mmfmfm yoouo ididotws! Britiiyingg the moouuurouuur! Said a muffled voice from within the chest.

Carefull! Declared Laeetis. This is a faerie mount and this is a faerie home it seems. It would be a good idea to be polite and keep the fire going for them!

But fire logs were nowhere to be seen and the bard suggested that they should tear down a fraction of the wooden table and throw it in the fire. The paladin carefully broke off a few splinters and threw them in the fireplace and before watching the fire hungrily feed on them rekindling itself, he noticed a small lever inside, at the same time when Kiko saw high on the upper side of this framed carving on the wall, a little steel rod protruding.

Thalldon doused the fire and started moving the lever back and forth. It operated the rod and brought it out and into the wall.

Laeetis and Kiko picked the chest up and started jerking it violently.

OAHOAOHOOAHOOOOOHHOOAOHOAHOHAOOAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHU!! LEEAVEVFFFF THIIIIAIA DDDDDDEEEAAMN CHHCHEEEEIISTTTTH DOOOOOOOAOWWNN IDHHHHHUUIIIIIIIIIOOOTZ! JJJJUUUUUUIUUUUUSHTTT BRUUUUUUNNNNGH THEHEHEHE MUUUUUUUIIUUUROUUUURR! Said the distant voice from within, possibly screaming its lungs out.

-What is it saying? Laeetis inquired.

-The mirror! Kiko said raising its finger in sudden realization.

It wants the mirror!

And so they went and brought the mirror from the other room into this one and placed it on the framed part on the wall and it fit!

It produced the image of the room in perfect symmetry but with a few distinct differences. The pottery was filled with coins and other goods. The fire was burning high and that little chest on the table was open and all over the room a little faerie that looked like a tiny old dwarf with pink and yellow butterfly wings was flopping about, filling its pockets with treasure many times its size, laughing hysterically. It had a large keyloop with two old keys hanging from its belt.

Whats your name? Kiko asked.

-Astrimandulax and thanks for the bail out! A dark presence has defiled our sanctum around the old temple, and we are fleeing.

-How can we leave? Thalldon asked.

-You need the key. The faerie replied.

-But there is no key in our version of the room! All three remarked, and received no response, only laughter.

Not knowing what else to do, the paladin jerked the lever back and forth bringing the metal rod behind the mirror, out of the wall which in turn pushed and tilted the mirror creating a tilted version of the rooms image within it, and from that titled version, all the coins, and all the treasure started falling in the original room!

Aaaaaaaah you damned tresspassers! Cried the fearie hanging on the mirrored table in order to avoid falling through.

The three picked up the table and shook it, and Astrimandulax finally fell to their feet.

-Umpff! What do you want? He said.

-The keys! They said.

-Ok here. He said and handed the keys.

But I am warning you. Leave the chest alone.

Thalldon picked the keys up and moved ahead to open the door.

-The chest! Open the chest! Kiko demanded.

-Best leave the chest alone! Laeetis warned.

And that is what they did.

After opening the metal door, they found themselves in a huge frozen cavernous region, long and high, possibly within the bowels of the mountain. They could see three large passages sealed by rockfalls and other debris, and on the other side, a huge metal construct, an automation possibly of Dwarven origin – judging from the various other dwarven Ruins that lied here and there – stood motionless, frozen in time, who knows for how many years.

But the cavern also held another grim spectacle. Everywhere the corpses of numerous faeries lay on the icy earth, dead or dying. Kiko, weepingly picked one up and tried to save it using its healing magick. It worked and the wee faerie reinvigorated confirmed that a dark presence hunted and killed them and was very happy to learn that granpa Astrimandulax was alive! She blessed the companions and flew to the frozen ceeling where the fearies burrow their little passages to the world above.

The three decided to investigate that construct on the far side and so they did. They traversed this cavern and found their way on the contructs feet and there they saw a little frozen door on the heels of this Golem. Thalldon broke off the door and the three entered.

A spiraling staircase went all the way up the right foot and inside the body of the Golem, running amongst various cogs and fuses and pipes and levers and metal strings and valves and other mechanical organs and parts that comprised it's metallic organism.

The staircase led to a platform that run across for a few meters and led to another downward staircase, possibly the other leg. On the middle of this platform, right behind another staircase that went up, the warlock noticed a big metal tank. Going there to investigate and opening a little hatch, he saw within the frozen glass window – using his dark vision – gas formulating and hugging the metal walls of the container.

Ιt runs on gas. Laeetis informed the group.

Some of it is still trapped inside. The dwarves did a good job on this golem.

They took the middle staircase that lead to the operating platform. A little dome the size of a room, that was basically the head of this golem. Across the platform there was a frozen windshield. Right below it, lay a huge panel filled with buttons, indicators, levers, and other instruments. The bard remembered that it had a little manuscript describing the blueprint of a mechanical contraption which it had kept it for a long time and now it was finally useful! It described the inner workings of a gas powered Golem. Putting it to good use, the child Urchin realized how to operate this panel that had three main operating modes: Digging , Battle and Sleep.

The bard pressed the ON button and the Machine started humming and thawing, followed by an indication on the windscreen informing the user that there was 34% gas in the tank and the structural integrity of the Golem was at 79%.

Suddenly a metallic voice echoed in the dome and what it said appeared in distorted mechanical language signs on the windscreen at the same time.

-Are you user Kazgaroth 422?

-Yes! Kiko said changing his voice.

-Starting identification sequence.

-Answer security question #1

Stronger than steel /  older than time / more patient than Death / standing even when the stars have ceased to shine / their strength is embedded in roots very deep where the sands and frost of Ages / can never hope to reach

-Diamonds! Kiko responded.

-Correct. Replied the voice.

-Answer security question #2

Two bodies have I / though both joined in one /  the more still I stand / the quicker I run

-Hourglass! Kiko answered.

-Correct. Replied the voice.

-Answer security question #3

He who makes me doesn't want me / he who buys me doesn't need me / he who uses me doesn't care

The companions had no answer and a countdown was ticking. Twenty – ten – nine.

-Are you user Kazgaroth 422? The voice demanded again.

Five – two – one!

0.

Commencing examination! Said the voice and metal sounds echoed in the body of the golem. Soon some trap doors opened and two mini golems appeared inside and attacked the companions on sight, but were no match for them and were quickly dispatched.

-User Kazgaroth 422 Confirmed.

Does user Kazgaroth 422 wish to change the answer to security question #3 – "coffin" to an alternative?

-Yes! Said Kiko. And changed the last security question to “eats a lot / laughs a little / goes to school” and the answer, to BARDΟ –“.

Finally the golem was operational and the bard managed to direct it towards the nearest passage and dig the frozen rock away from it, opening a way for the companions to escape which they did and after running for a few minutes (since the whole mountain started shaking while the automation was digging) they found themselves out in the open again in the frozen land overlooking a hill. Behind them they clearly saw that the faerie mount had three huge guardian trees, all dead and burned.

The coastline was ahead, and on its edge a ruined castle town loomed broken and abandoned in the daylight, but on the battlements they could clearly see large lit candles flickering in the morning mist.

After some food and a much-needed rest in a nearby grouping of trees, the companions decided to march ahead towards the ruined fort following the trail of the black and white feathers which was continuing after another set was picked up right outside the mountain where the warlock also felt the distant lingering whispers from Pavera, his lost companion as they echoed in the wind and dissipated back into the Golagond collective mind.

During the night, all three, during their respective guard shifts, noticed that the candles burned endlessly and if one was to go out, it was immediately rekindled miraculously.

The fort was in utter ruins. On both sides of the main gate two demonic figures were depicted, large and made of stone, and inside their mouths candles flickered in unison with the dozens of other candles everywhere on the walls, signaling a much uncertain welcome. Regardless, the companions entered and after examining the courtyard for a few minutes and finding a dark steel chain that Laeetis felt was used as the bounds of his companion, they decided to enter the main structure from where they now heard the same dissonant hymns and chants and drum beats, which they heard back inside the mountain temple.

The main structure had no ceiling and from within the hole, a large booming grouping of searing solar rays descended through, and flashed their glorious light onto the stone ground. From within that light on the ground inside this huge beam, a truly beautiful creature could be seen, filling the heart of the companions with Wonder, Awe and Grief.

It emanated pure goodness and magick.

This androgynous creature lay kneeling in a mournful position in the middle of a pool over this thick silvery liquid – its own blood – that even now gashes out of three wounds on its neck and wrists. Its skin was itself silver and everywhere on its surface it was inscribed with golden tattoos, radiant and phosphorescent, in an unknown language. From its shoulders two formerly majestic wings sprung. A white and a black one, and everywhere in the room black and white feathers lie on the ground or even magically floating in the air, soaked in this silver blood.

The companions are in the presence of the true Solarian paragon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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