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?’’
-“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.