Halwyr of Greywood
A young high elven wizard from Greywood.
Lvl 9 Wizard
STR 0 DEX +1 CON +0 INT +3 WIS +3 CHA +1
Looks: Grey, haunted eyes, dark silvery hair, young high elven woman
Alignment: neutral, inclining towards good
Inventory: spell book, ornamented extremely long elvish pipe & pipe leaf, bag of books (incl. books about Avondale, Pëllagram’s record of the master mages of Avondale, a book about evil lords, book about rituals), quite a few spell books of Marya the Ageless
Gear: stylish robes, staff
(This story contains spoilers and stuff other characters have no way of knowing, so read at your own risk! Plus it is in progress all the time. The writer is in no way responsible for any blushing, awkwardness, boredom or head-explosions that this text may cause. Also, it’s bloody long.)
I come from the woods surrounding one of the greatest cities of elven kind, Waenlan Háe, the city of silver and glass, surrounded by the beautiful forest of Greywood. I lived in the village of Aendrul, named after the river flowing through the woodlands. Despite its name Greywood is full of color and light, although our people remember it was once part of a much larger wood. The walls of the human capital Parthos, far west from Greywood used to be shadowed by the mighty oaks of Greywood when it was built. Nowadays it is nearly a three week ride to Waenlan Háe from Parthos even with the fastest horses. Half of the way you travel in the busy roads built by men, the other half in our woodlands. And if you took a few more days towards East by boat along the river, you would arrive to a beautiful, softly u-shaped silvery lake in a soft, misty valley and see the wooden houses of Aendrul on its Eastern shore.
The elves that live in Aendrul are mostly from the city, but the wood elves are our common visitors. They live in the darker, wilder parts of Greywood, whereas the woods around our village are more like a garden where people live. In Aendrul there are a dozen wood-framed, eloquent homes with gardens that are more of sitting rooms and docks to the lake. In the center of the village, by the lake as all our buildings, there is a silvery pagoda for celebrations, meetings and everyday gatherings. Most of the elves who live there have originally come from Waenlan Háe, many are related to each other and all appreciate the peace of the forest over the hassle of the city. Although Aendrul has all the comforts and is only a few day’s away from the city, it is a place of great serenity. When I was young and somewhat wild I’m afraid I disturbed the peace quite often, to me the peace seemed to be too much, as if all the silence was instead loud screaming. But as I grew, the quietness of the lake grew on me and I slowly learned to love the slow, quiet and simple life of our village. When I finally was allowed to leave, I had a hard time saying goodbye to the serene valley.
Aendrul is famous for the beautiful silk fabrics we make and dye and as most elves there, my father is an artist who creates the most amazing pictures of scenery and animals on the fabrics. He hoped I might one day continue his tradition, but I was never one for handicraft. Eliénn, my mother, although she helped my father at his work, was more of a poet or a writer, and I preferred to spend my days reading or listening to her tell her stories when I wasn’t playing in the woods. Eliénn never withheld the fact that she wasn’t my real mother, but to me it made no difference. She was the only mother I had ever known and I could not love her any less just because he hadn’t given birth to me.
From Eliénn I heard stories of the silvery-haired, beautiful elven woman whose death had wiped away the smile from my father’s lips and created the lines of sorrow on his brow. The stories explained the sadness in my father’s eyes and because of them I knew to not to play too loud on the specific autumn evening soon after my birthday, but I never found much more use for them. As a child I was not very interested in past tragedies, to me playing and happy, funny stories were more fascinating and growing up was peaceful and happy in Aendrul. When I was old enough to be curious, Eliénn told me my mother had died very soon after I had been born. Apparently she had gotten stung by something poisonous while walking in the woods and in only a matter of weeks fever had taken her. Eliénn had been my mother’s best friend and had offered to care for me. In time she and my father had fallen in love and that was how the family I had grown into had come to be.
Ever since I was a child we always traveled on boats to the great markets to Waenlan Háe on spring, midsummer and fall. There it wasn’t uncommon to see many humans and even halflings and dwarfs gathering, especially springtime when the festivities were greatest and traveling tradesmen were leaving to their journeys for the summer. And there, along with some tradesmen, after the spring markets me and my master Tolsmir started our journey towards Avondale where I meant to study magic as my father before me.
Waenlan Háe is built out of a lonely peak of mountain in the middle of Greywood. All the foundations of the buildings are carved and molded out of the natural rock of the mountain. Most of the walls are made of strong, clear or colored glass with decorative silver frames. Silver is the dominant color in all of the city, because of the granite stone and the beautifully grey toned green leafs of the silver vine that grow everywhere in the city. The citizens have decided to emphasize the natural light grey of the granite with the many silvery decorations and clothes dyed in grey and silver with the occasional blue detail.
Waenlan Háe is ruled by a council of three elders, two women and one men, strong in magic and spirit all three of them. From their own initiative they are not treated as kings or queens, but address their subjects as sisters and brothers whenever they travel the woods. Every elf who lives in Greywood has met at least one of them, for they want to know personally all of the people whom they serve. For each of us that moment is a memory we hold sacred.
Many travelers believe that Greywood is named after the beautiful shades of grey and silver in Waenlan Háe, but our kind believe the name refers to the exceptional beauty of Greywood in the winter. You would think that a deciduous forest would loose its charm when the cold autumn winds pry it leafless, but the cold winter light in Greywood makes the woods color in all the shades of soft, graceful grey and silver. When at last the snow falls, it only acts to reflect the magical light and enhance the effect. In Greywood we await winter eagerly to see that beauty again every year. Most humans do not understand how shades of grey can be so enchanting that they would have inspired so many songs of beauty, but even they understand if they see. You do not always need colors to create perfect beauty.
The First Sight of Future Troubles
Tolsmir could hear him coming miles away, so we weren’t at all surprised to meet the fully armored human paladin on the road. The paladin was of the cheerful, ever-optimistic type young humans tend to be and he was rather handsome for a human. He was a follower of Keldan from the Order of the Honest Chancellor and he introduced himself as just Flavius. The lack of titles stroke me as odd since I had thought all human knights and paladins and such would like to call themselves Sir or some other highly respectable title. Flavius seemed quite humble, very honest and tried to be polite to the best of his ability. I didn’t much like him at first sight, there was something unexplained about him that bothered me. This adventuring human type was quite strange to me, although of the few humans I had met before in my life in Greywood, Flavius somehow seemed to be livelier, perhaps because I hadn’t met too many as young as he was.
That night we made camp together out of convenience. Flavius insisted that he couldn’t leave us on our own to travel such dangerous roads. I thought it was outright stupid, but since Tolsmir agreed, I had to comply. Perhaps my master was afraid to let the silly paladin go on his own on these “dangerous roads”. Our travel so far had been uneventful and no matter how much I enjoyed my master’s company, a bit of change was welcome. Tolsmir never was very talkative, so I ended up hearing quite a bit about Flavius’ order and about his holy mission to find out the truth about some place of war called the Crimson Crossing. He seemed very serious about the quest which to me didn’t sound very interesting. It was just an old battle. At least he knew somewhat entertaining stories about the war heroes and Tolsmir could always be persuaded to sing a song or two about the great woods or the druidic legends, so the evening was enjoyable enough.
The stories of the war slipped into my dreams at night. I don’t remember much about them, but they were vivid and many things of great importance happened in them. When I woke up, somewhat shaken, I knew for certain they hadn’t been just normal dreams. Trying, but failing to catch the fading memories of the dreams, I gathered my travelling gear back in my bag. I noticed Tolsmir had already went off to hunt and was somewhat disappointed since he might have known what my dreams could mean. For a moment I sat still and tried again to remember what I had seen, but it was in vain, the content of the dreams had faded, and I only knew it was something very important.
Flavius caught my eyes, still asleep on the other side of the remains of our fire. I was still looking at him when he stirred and opened his eyes. I meant to look away, slightly embarrassed at being caught staring, but there was something different about him now and I couldn’t tear my eyes off of him. Something in my dreams had spoken of him and I just knew he was destined to play an important role in the events to come. What role and what events? I did not know, but I saw something, a special kind of strength in his eyes that somehow confirmed my suspicions true and my curiosity was roused. The only thing I could remember from the dreams was a flash of Flavius battling a shady crowned figure. The paladin seemed confused at my long stare, and once I gathered my thoughts and returned to the present, I smiled at him somewhat apologetically, asked if he had slept well and started to prepare us breakfast as if nothing special happened. Soon enough Tolsmir showed up and ended the somewhat awkward silence between us with plans of continuing our journey.
Words cannot describe Tolsmir’s surprise when I insisted we follow the paladin when just the last night I had asked for him to invent any excuse to leave his company as soon as we politely could. Until now I had only been interested in reaching Avondale as fast as I could and as I mentioned, there had been something uncomfortable about the human’s company. Either Tolsmir believed my premonition or I was stubborn enough, because he decided to humor me and follow the paladin. To Flavius I explained we needed some supplies from the village near Crimson Crossing and he seemed to be just glad to have company for the journey.
I had to wonder why his order had only sent one man on a mission like this and why this particular man. I tried, but didn’t see anything extraordinary about him: he was brave, honest, seemingly a strong fighter and reasonably good-mannered for a human, but such, I understood, were other paladins too. However ordinary he seemed, I was absolutely sure that it had been Flavius who had done something very important in my dreams, so there had to be something in him. In one single night the man had become a fascinating mystery to me. I couldn’t explain why I kept sensing there was something more in him, something that I had known in my dreams but wasn’t allowed to remember for now.
All I knew was that my path was to follow him and witness those important events, whatever they may be.
New Fellow Travelers
The night when we arrived in the town of Bloodford had right away become interesting. As soon as we had settled in to the tavern, the village was attacked by ghastly undead soldiers. To the villagers it seemed to be a nightly event but Flavius thought it was his responsibility to help in the defenses. He seemed to be itching to get into a fight with such foul creatures and since he went to protect the walls, so did I and Tolsmir. The skirmish was my first fight ever and I have to admit that although now it feels like a little scuffle, at the time I was very afraid.
I had prepared to withstand the uncomfortable journey to Avondale, but I wasn’t a warrior and I only knew one spell useful for attacking. Flavius seemed used to this and he simply barged in through the gate. Also Tolsmir had had his share of battles and wasn’t hesitating to use his bow. By following their example I tried to do my best, which wasn’t very much. Although there was a certain exciting thrill to it and a sort of victory rush when we drove the undead away from the gates, all in all it just seemed like a very messy and troublesome business. I staid inside the palisade, bolting my magic missiles at the abominations but one of the monsters managed to poke their spear at me and the sudden sting in my side made me scream, mostly of surprise. The pain came later, as a burning, strange sensation. I had never been wounded, and I had never even really seen someone wounded. I had only heard stories of battles and in those it was always glorious. There hadn’t been songs or poems about the fear or pain, but then Tolsmir was there and I heard Flavius mutter a prayer or two.
For a moment the sensible part of my brain nagged at me about how stupid and dangerous it was to head off with the paladin to the fields from where the undead armies marched from. I knew it was silly, but I also knew I was curious. Curious about the undead armies and, if I was honest with myself, also about Flavius. Tolsmir had managed to get himself sick off of the food from the tavern and was not able to travel. No wonder, the stew had tasted very strange, even for human cooking. Since I knew he wouldn’t let me go on my own, I settled the matter by leaving a message for him at the crude innkeeper. Probably he wouldn’t even get out of the bed enough to get to hear it before I was back and what he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him.
As we headed towards the meadow where the battle of the Crimson Crossing was said to have happened, I studied my companion. Last night I had seen he was capable in battle and he also was a decent healer, but I hadn’t seen anything that would explain my premonition. Still, I felt the need to follow him and he didn’t seem to mind having company on his trip to explore the place of the battle. At some point I would probably need to invent better excuses than casual curiosity and convenience to follow him, but for the moment they would do.
When we got to the meadow and wandered there for a bit, we came upon a very peculiar sight. An elf and a halfling were sitting at a river bank, their heads in the water, both seemingly disorganized and confused, trying to get their heads straight. They both looked like they had come straight from the battle, bathed in mud and rolled down from the mountaintop for good measure. That is how Flavius and I met the wood elf ranger Aranwe and the halfling bard Largo.
I immediately took a liking to Aranwe. He was of the quiet, steady sort that is not rare in wood elves and he reminded me of Tolsmir. I had a feeling that he, too would be trustworthy and a merry friend, should I get to know him well. In the brief conversation we had in elvish as we met he told me he was from Wealwood and introduced his owl companion as Thorondir. And that was when Flavius draw his sword at the halfling. The halfling had a black iron knife of some sort that was the center of their argument and Flavius was demanding him to drop it. Me and Aranwe tried to calm our companions down, but without much success. I concentrated my sense of magic on the blade and it shone as bright as a beacon. Even in Waenlan Háe it would have been an exceptionally strong concentration of magic.
While Flavius and the halfling focused on their bickering over the blade, I heard from Aranwe that they had also been researching on the mysteries around the battle of the Crimson Crossing. The last thing he remembered was a battle deep in a cave not far from here and his guess was that the cave was where the blade would originated from. Flavius seemed convinced that the blade was an evil artifact, but I didn’t see anything inherently evil in it. Flavius didn’t strike me as your typical human hothead fighter, but I had learned that once he got something into his head, he was stubborn as an old tree stup. After last nights battle he was probably seeing evil everywhere. Sure, it was a dagger suitable for evil in capable hands, but I thought he was just overreacting.
That is, until I heard the blade calling me and whispering its forceful seductive words. I had thought it best to have a look at it since I was the only one with actual knowledge about magical artifacts, but when I touched it, my mind went blank and it was as if something out of the blade had possessed my whole body in a split second. The next thing I knew the blade was hit from my hand and I realized I had tried to lunge at Flavius with the blade in my hand. I had never been trained to fight with a dagger, I only carried one because it was a gift from my father for these dangerous roads. But I knew the blade would have guided my moves and found a weak spot. It was very hungry and for one reason or another, it wanted the paladin’s blood. Shuddering, I had to agree with Flavius about it being both evil and dangerous. For some reason the halfling seemed to be able to handle it without a problem and so we ended up letting him carry it.
We led Aranwe and the halfling back to the village and again spent the night there. The halfling, who introduced himself as Largo of the Riverlands, turned out to be a brilliant bard and he sang us the story of him and his fellow adventurers visiting the cave under Crimson Crossing. I got a rather carefree and mischievous first impression of Largo and although his not quite so subtle advances weren’t very welcome, he stroke me as the charismatic type and I couldn’t help liking him. At the time I thought his story was heavily exaggerated, with all the references to the Iron Men and Kord, but Flavius was determined to go explore the cave further. Aranwe and Largo were worried about their companions – they had gotten lost in the caves during a battle – and offered to join him. I doubted we’d find much more than old skeletons from there, but since Flavius was going there, I couldn’t resist mingling in their plans. With a paladin and an elven ranger it would surely be a fairly safe trip, even if the halfling bard would continue his cheerful singing all the way through the tunnels.
Since Tolsmir still seemed to gravely need the safety of his bed and a bucket next to it, I decided not to mention him anything about my plans or what I had been doing that day. As we set out at dawn, I again left a message to the innkeeper in case Tolsmir was well enough to ask for me. I knew I would get an earful for leaving on my own like this, and with such a strange band in addition. Tolsmir had promised to act as my guardian and see me safely all the way to Avondale. Again I hoped my absence would go unnoticed since we planned to return before nightfall, but as it happened, it was the last time I saw Tolsmir for quite some time.
Of Dying and Death
Whenever mortals speak of dying, the biggest question seems to be “does it hurt?” I am one of the few people who can answer, but I’m afraid my answer won’t bring you any peace. Does it hurt? Yes. But it doesn’t hurt the way it hurts when you hurt yourself in this world. When you die, there is a flash of blinding pain that you can’t dampen by a scream, for you can not scream. All you can do is feel it and then it disappears and you stop feeling completely. I believe it was only appropriate, but I have never been as afraid as I was when I saw those gates.
Our adventure to the tunnels at the Crimson Crossing had led us to awake a cursed warrior. His magic was unholy and strong and I honestly did not believe we could beat him. I was starting to fear we wouldn’t even be able to escape. But then one of the chains hit me impossibly hard and pushed me through the dark veil and suddenly I was at the gates. At the gates of Death, where only few of my kind were unfortunate enough to end up. I could feel the eternal grief and suffering behind the dark metal bars and the grim, the hooded figure seemed to be enjoying the pain of his captives. It was not a good place and I felt weak with fear, because that was where I was being led. I honestly did not know how I was able to stand straight, let alone walk onward to the dark figure, so great was my fear. Perhaps it was the Chained Sentinel walking beside me who kept me from collapsing in fear.
I was completely baffled when the Chained Sentinel spoke for me. I myself didn’t dare breathe when the greater beings discussed my fate. I felt I had no say in this matter, although had this been a mortal trial, I would have tried any trick or deceit possible to get away. Here I knew I had no power. I knew this was something that wasn’t meant for me to decide.
The gate keeper could have asked nearly anything from me as a price for escaping the dreadful fate in front of me and I would have agreed. My first born would die? For a moment it did stop me, did I have the right to bargain with such a priceless thing as my first born? But I was terrified of the place and perhaps more than just a bit selfish, I wanted out and so I agreed.
I followed a soft ocarina tune back from the darkness. The sound was beautiful and somehow felt refreshing. When I opened my eyes I saw Flavius right above me, chanting some sort of a prayer, his hands on my exposed neck. I was inexplicably glad to see him, perhaps because it meant I was alive. I tried to say something, but my voice wasn’t working too well yet. He pulled back when he noticed I had come back to my senses and his prayer was cut short just when I started to feel the unfamiliar divine strength behind it.
I still heard the tune that had led me back from the darkness and I noticed it was Largo who was playing his ocarina. I sensed some kind of arcane healing magic floating through the enchanting music from him. We ate and rested at the tower carved out of a mountain top where they had carried me, escaping the Chain Sentinel. The absolute fear I had felt at the gates came back to me in small doses and only now the realization of my pact with Death started to sink in. I had bargained the life of an unborn child. Because of my selfishness my first born wouldn’t be immortal as was natural and so the child would eventually have to go to those horrible gates I didn’t dare pass. I would have to loose my child and bear both the guilt and the grief. The realization hurt and I suspected it would hurt much more once I grew old enough to actually consider having children. Elven children were a rare gift from the gods and they were always cherished and loved.
I knew my decision here would some day doom me to a life of sorrow. For a moment I considered if I could have avoided having a child completely, but I had a sinking feeling that Death would find a way to keep the pact. My only chance would be to not to become attached to the child at all. It was a cruel thought, but it would probably be the only chance I had for surviving. Before this I had not even thought of creating a family. My plans had been simply to study in Avondale and to learn about magic as much as I could. I was still very young, the time for love and children would be much later. This whole thought started to feel so heavy that in the end I decided to try my best to not wallow in it. There were more pressing matters in the present and I could think about this problem later, once I got to Avondale and had time and perhaps there were elven priests who could advise me. Then again, I felt so ashamed of my decision that I doubled I would ever dare tell anyone about it no matter how much it weighed my heart down.
The Deep elf & the Ghost in the Iron Crown
As I felt I had slept quite enough after the fight, I insisted on taking the longest watch. The tower was cold and bleak, but it fit my mood as I pondered the Chained Sentinel and my visit to the gates of Hell, or whatever the horrid place should be called. As I watched Largo, Aranwe and Flavius sleep so peacefully after the fight, so unaffected and calm, I felt as if some part of me had been left behind in death. It was as if the experience had somehow tainted or worn my soul. Perhaps I should have died there, perhaps this was somehow cheating.
As grim and deep as my thoughts were, as I saw footprints appear on the floor out of nowhere, I acted instantly. A bolt of arcane power surprised the attacker and woke my friends. She was clearly an experienced fighter, but in the end, we overpowered her. We bound her and I flinched as I realized what she was – a deep elf. A betrayer of light. One of the race of the tainted, foul, evil elves, the complete opposite of everything I my people had been thought to believe – or so I had been told. I didn’t want anything to do with such a creature, but I had to say I was intrigued. Our stories told of grotesque, ugly and evil and yet she was rather fair and only seemed confused and scared. I was disappointed as we couldn’t get her to speak and as the telepathy spell in my spell book crossed my mind, my curiosity override the disgust I normally would have had for forming such a bond with anyone else than a pure elf.
As our minds touched, I felt the familiar sense of vulnerability that comes from a link so intimate. I was somewhat surprised by not feeling anything inherently evil in her. I had never been specifically told not to use telepathy on members of other races or cultures, but I had been warned it would be different and perhaps more difficult. I had always thought the warning was best dealt with by simply using telepathy only on my brethren, but this experience had me doubt it. It was surprisingly easy to understand her thoughts and even though her dialect of elvish was somewhat strange, her form of thoughts and feelings felt very similar to mine.
Once the link was set, Flavius wanted to question her again, now with me as an interpreter. She told us her name was Qual and that she was an exile from some deep elven community. I hadn’t thought a deep elf could do something so bad even other deep elves wouldn’t have her, but she seemed adamant about not discussing the reasons of her banishment. She told us about an evil figure wearing an Iron Crown and that sparked Flavius’ attention. I had told him about my dream of him fighting with a crowned figure. His mission was to find out the truth about the battle of the Crimson Crossing and after hearing about my premonition, he was convinced he would have to beat the Ghost in the Iron Crown to do it.
Flavius negotiated a deal with Qual since she knew the caverns and the patrol routes of the undead. I found it strange how she constantly doubted Flavius’ promises or suspected he was trying to trick her with the pact. I’ve never considered myself a very good judge of human nature, but Flavius was clearly of the honorable kind, probably would be even if he wasn’t a paladin of Keldan. He saw through other people’s lies and would not lie himself. I tried my best to make Qual understand this, but she didn’t seem to make out the concept of what a paladin was. Figures that a deep elf wouldn’t know about honesty. After a long discussion she agreed to take us close to the chambers where the Ghost in the Iron Crown dwelt, but she wouldn’t come with us to him, she was too afraid. Apparently this Ghost was a powerful being, and from the looks of this place, a strong servant of Kord.
All the time during the travel through the cave I could feel her mind worried and suspicious and once we got to the door through which we would get to the ghost, she seemed honestly surprised that we let her go. I wasn’t, although it would have been safer to just kill her or keep her captive. We had no way of knowing she wouldn’t set the undead after us the minute we were out of sight. But as Flavius kept his promise and released her, as I had known he would. As she slipped away, I decided to keep the telepathy link on, just in case. I knew I wouldn’t convince the paladin of my doubts, but at least this way we had a chance of getting a warning if she decided to betray us.
In the end she probably wouldn’t have betrayed us if I hadn’t revealed I still bore the link to her mind. We needed a distraction in the secret passage and I contacted her, trying to ask her for help, but she didn’t take it very well. I got an angry “get out of my head” hiss and a load of nasty, hateful thoughts that made me close the link. Once my mind was free of it I realized how much it had constantly required of me to keep the bond up. I had never tried it for longer than a few minutes when I had first learned the spell and had only ever tried it with my teachers and Tolsmir. No matter how interesting the topic, I had no time to stay and wonder how long could I hold the bond in extreme situations. There was a loud clang behind one of the secret doors in the passage and suddenly the undead were right there, behind the thin wall, searching for us. They knew we were somewhere in the caverns and now it was just a matter of time before they would find the door and barge in. I was certain the noise was of the deep elf’s making. She had seemed thoroughly furious at me.
We ran off through the secret passages, hoping we would find our way out before they found their way in. We got to a hall that would lead us to the Ghost in the Iron Crown. Only the surprise factor got us through his guards and we ran to his chamber, hastily locking the doors behind us. And then we were face to face with him. Dog of War, the ghost in the Iron Crown.
He waited as if he had been expecting us as his guests and as if this battle was an amusing number in the show. Flavius, now filled with determination to either finish his quest or die trying, stepped forth to face him. I had lighted up his armor with magic when we had left the tower, we had needed the light in the dark dungeons and hoped it would scare some of the undead. He was a fabled sight, standing valiant and proud in his shining armor against the dark shadowy form of the Ghost. I lightly increased the light effect as he charged, but the Ghost didn’t seem to care. Their blades clashed and the Ghost’s daunting laugh filled the room as he taunted the paladin.
I decided to try the same trick I had with the Chained Sentinel and cast the spell to contact spirits. For a moment I could almost grasp his soul, but it evaded me. I saw Flavius take a hit and faltered. Also Largo got his share of the Ghost’s anger and a strong curse silenced his voice. My premonition hadn’t showed me the aftermath of the fight. It came to my mind that perhaps I had followed the paladin to his death, and mine at the same time. But after each brutal-looking hit, Flavius got up and bravely continued the fight. I had to help, I hadn’t come here to die and there had to be a reason for the premonition and why it was I who got it. I found the words of the spell again and again reached out to catch the soul of the Ghost.
Finally I found him in the twisting nether of souls and tried to pull him to me. And immediately wished I had never tried. He wasn’t called the Dog of War for no reason and it showed from every aspect of his soul. Again, I staggered and the spell faded, but the Ghost had now noticed my attempts. For a horrifying moment, his cold eyes met mine and my head was flooded with blood and cruelty. Scenes of mindless murder, hacking and slashing, bloodied corpses and merciless slaughter filled my mind. The victims were humans, elves and other races, men, women and children alike and none were spared. I believe I cried out, for it was sickening to see and feel all that. The rest of the fight went out with a haze. I risked one more soul call, but this time targeted the Chained Sentinel to ask if there was a way his master could be defeated. He was bound to answer me truthfully, and he said no.
I felt a wave of despair, but just that moment Largo sneaked to me and gestured that he needed to talk. Without hesitation I cast telepathy between us and he explained me he wanted to use the cursed dagger. Perhaps we could fight fire with fire and I agreed to try distract the Ghost. I could feel when Largo grabbed the blade through our link and I knew the blade was glad of our plan. But I also heard it demand something of his services, a price. For it knew we desperately needed its help to defeat this enemy. And as Largo closed in on his target I heard him yield to the dagger’s will and promise it. The details of the contract didn’t quite reach my mind, but one thing was clear – Largo had promised the blade blood.
With the help of the dagger and Flavius’ headstrong fighting, the Dog of War finally fell, pierced by his own pike. The Iron Crown dropped on the floor as Flavius decapitated the monster. My eyes followed the Crown, it’s magic was shining stronger and more tempting than anything I had ever seen. As I walked to it, Flavius shouted me to not go near it. “I’m not stupid enough to touch it,” I heard myself snap at him, but allured by the Crown and tired of the fight I knew it was a lie, and so did Flavius. He rushed to stop me and snapped me out of it. I didn’t resist as he carefully packed the Crown to his bags and took it.
The doors to the hall where the rest of the undead were, started banging and we sprung back to life. After a frantic moment of searching, we found a secret passage behind the throne. There was a trap on it, but Aranwe and I disarmed it. Again we knew it was only a matter of time when the undead would find our tracks and so we ran as fast as we could through the tunnel. After hours of panicky rushing in the dark, we finally came to a trapdoor that lead us outside. The length of the tunnel was explained as soon as Aranwe saw the sun – we had traveled in the caverns of Kord through the whole of the mountains and were now on the Northern side of them.
Weary and shaken we made camp not far from the trapdoor. Largo healed us and we shared some rations, too tired to even set up a fire. We settled watch shifts and fell to a well earned and much needed sleep. However I would have needed it, dreams offered me no rest. The visions the Dog of War had sent me haunted me the moment I closed my eyes. As I woke up to my watch, I felt I hadn’t gotten an hour’s rest. It seemed that where the other’s injuries were of the physical kind, mine had taken the form of ethereal and we had no-one capable of healing those wounds. I tried to hide my pain, hoping it would fade, but the terror returned every time I closed my eyes for the night.
Flavius insisted that he would bring both the blade and the Iron Crown to his Order’s headquarters at the Northern human capital of Blackhall. As we were already on the other side of the mountains, I asked Aranwe to send a bird to bring word for Tolsmir that I would continue to Blackhall with them, since Avondale resided right next to the human city. It wasn’t like me to just run off like this, but there wasn’t much else that I could do. I wouldn’t brave the Caverns of Kord alone and all of the others were heading off to Blackhall which was exactly the right direction for me too. I also had to admit that I was far too curious about the Iron Crown that I would have been tempted to join them even if it wasn’t so conveniently the right way to Avondale. I had heard about the excitement that came with adventures, but this was the first time I had tasted it.
The journey was relatively easy. I linked myself to Aranwe with telepathy and he and Thorondir scouted ahead. Largo entertained us with songs about heroes of old and Flavius told about Blackhall and I entertained them with stories of Avondale, so it was even quite pleasant. I asked Largo if he knew anything about the Chained Sentinel, but he didn’t. The Sentinel still lingered in my mind, for I still wondered why he had spoken for me and who he was, what he had done to earn such a fate. I had a theory that he was a fallen hero of sorts, but had no idea what kind of a hero he could have been. My curiosity grew and finally I decided to contact him.
One evening when I was on guard I walked further from the camp and after a while of hesitation, cast the spell that pulled the spirit of the Chained Sentinel through the planes of souls close enough to talk to me. As soon as I saw him I told him I didn’t want to force him to answer me, and continued to thank him for what he had done at the gates of death. He was very surprised to hear what I had to say. As I asked him for his name, he answered I could call him the Chained Sentinel, I was somewhat disappointed at this, but I had decided not to force the truth from him. After what he had done, the least I could do was to respect his privacy. I thanked him again and bid farewell, as he faded I felt sadness for his fate. Clearly he wasn’t a monster, or at least hadn’t always been.
That night I saw him in my nightmares, grim, cruel, but somehow surrounded by an aura of sorrow as he wrecked havoc on a battlefield of murder and chaos.
Prayers to Keldan
On the evening after the fourth night of restless nightmares I finally resorted to desperate means. After much hesitation I swallowed my pride and went to speak to the paladin to ask if he could ease my nightmares with the help of his god. Flavius, always being almost annoyingly kind to everyone, agreed right away to pray with me and seemed to even be glad I asked him. As if it wasn’t trouble at all. I was relieved but embarrassed, though he did not make any fun of me for asking and made no fuss about it.
As we sat down for the prayer, I felt horribly awkward: I knew next to nothing of Keldan – gods had never really been my thing – and I had no idea what to do. I highly doubted if this would work at all but since I couldn’t stand another night like that, I had to try anything, even the human’s god. He had seemed to be able to protect the paladin so far, so he must have some power over the mortal world. Flavius seemed to be annoyingly certain that Keldan would be able to help me. For a moment I thought it might be worth it to stand the nightmares again just to prove him wrong, but then I tried my best to go along and try “open my mind to Keldan” as Flavius asked me to do.
To my surprise it was all very relaxing and enjoyable even. I felt ashamed of my fears when Flavius asked me to first describe my nightmares. He was at least decades younger than me, but didn’t seem very bothered by the awful images of brutality and murder in my dreams. He gently explained me what happened in the horrid scenes I described from my dreams. As young as he was, he had seen battle and understood war. He was so very patient and understanding about my fears that it was enough to break my reservations. When he started the prayer I felt a pleasant, warm light from somewhere within Flavius chasing of my shadows away for the moment. Although I did not understand all of the words he spoke, just the sound of his deep, calm voice seemed to resonate within me. As his hands touched me in a blessing, a warmth I hadn’t expected spread through me and brought a smile on my lips. It felt like something holy had taken place, but I still felt dubious if a god of humans could protect me in my sleep.
The next night the horrors were still there somewhere, lurking in the shadows of my dream, but now there was a golden light that seemed to protect me from the worst. It was bearable, partly because I understood something of the cacophony of murder, partly because of the light that I guessed was the result of Flavius’ prayer. In the morning I thanked him and only hesitated for a moment to ask him to pray with me again in the evening.
The Blade in Blackhall
As we closed in on Blackhall, the guards seemed to recognize Flavius. When we got to the gate, I was surprised to hear them address him as Sir Flavius De Marquis. He hadn’t spoken a word about being noble born but when I thought about it, it seemed very like him to ignore titles. Flavius talked with the guards in hushed tones for a moment and then a group of city guards arrived, led by a knight-like woman in the city’s regalia. Flavius knew her and she was introduced as Nora Stredd, the captain of the city guard of Blackhall and the daughter of the mayor. After a somewhat tense discussion, Nora and her guard escorted us to the castle Black Hall, the home of Order of the Honest Chancellor.
When we arrived to Black Hall, a fortified black castle or a fortress between the city named after it, it was noted that Largo wasn’t with us anymore. At some point we must have slipped away. Flavius grew furious at Nora’s guardsmen and the paladins for letting Largo get away and fumed at them for releasing the dagger into the city. As he mentioned the dagger, I suddenly remembered our fight with the Dog of War and how Largo had made a deal with the blade so it would help. And I remembered that Largo had had to promise the dagger blood. I interrupted Flavius’ angry complaints and pulled him to the side. I told him I was afraid Largo wasn’t himself and would have to kill someone and explained him about what had occurred during the fight in Crimson Crossing.
I did try to put a good word in for Largo, even Flavius had to admit that the halfling had great control with the blade. None of us would have been able to carry it all that way. And I liked the little rascal, despite his overly enthusiastic curiosity that knew no bounds of decency and the occasional straightforward flirtations. Flavius only seemed worried about what the blade would do now that it was roaming free in Blackhall. He didn’t seem to trust Largo’s willpower one bit.
Nora ordered her city guard to search for Largo while we entered the reception hall of Black Hall where Flavius gave a detailed report on our quest. I was surprised to be also questioned on the crown and the blade, but I gave them whatever information I had on their magical features. I have to say I didn’t get a very good impression on their Grand Master, an old, proud fool who clearly didn’t understand a thing about magic and therefore judged all the arcane arts evil.
The Iron Crown was taken by the Grand Master of the Order, Sir Horace Diavanont for safekeeping and research. I watched somewhat amazed how Flavius gave it away, just like that, despite all its seductive calls. I could still almost hear the ghosts of the crown and admired his resolve against them. I guess there had to be something in him since he was a paladin.
It only took some hours when we heard that Largo had been sighted, apparently murdering some lowly whore in a shady side of the city. I hoped the blade had got what it needed and that Largo would be himself already, but I had a bad feeling about it. Flavius talked Nora into letting us join the search since he would trust us better and possibly we could talk him into coming back willingly.
We headed off to where Largo was last seen and started our search. Aranwe used Thorondir’s help and I tried to track the soul of the blade. The blade was clearly still hungry and hiding from me. The search was long and only the next day we tracked him and the blade. We were nearly too late when we finally found him. Nora and a group of his guards had gotten into a some kind of fight with Largo. I didn’t really know what had happened between them, but later I heard Largo had tried to propose some kind of a deal to Nora, she hadn’t taken it too well and tried to arrest him. We had hoped we would’ve found him first because we knew the blade’s power and couldn’t let it get into wrong hands – definitely not to Nora, if she was possessed by it, that would be a serious problem.
Led by Flavius we ended up into a little a skirmish with Nora’s men as we tried to get the blade and Largo from them. Largo was captured and to me it seemed that he wasn’t taken over by the blade. When the guards decided to arrest me for no reason, I couldn’t but defend myself. A flash of blindingly bright light and I ran away from the battle. I could see Flavius and Nora race to get the blade and finally Flavius won it. Largo was captured and taken to the city dungeons.
Me and Aranwe followed Flavius to Black Hall where he presented the knife to his Grand Master and the disappeared to the secret vaults to lock it up for forever. I couldn’t not feel it was a bit questionable way of handling powerful artifacts – storing them all up in the same cellar and not ever properly researching or using them. Supposedly the paladins had handled these things well enough so far, but I still felt it was such a waste. The mages up in Avondale could have used those for their experiments and for the greater good, but the paladins of this order were clearly ignorant and simply feared, deemed evil and locked up everything they didn’t understand.
Once the blade was secured in the vaults of Black Hall, we concentrated on the problem of Largo. He was in the city prison and was due to be sentenced to death for murder if we didn’t help. We went to see him in his cell to discuss the trial that was to be held the next day. Flavius had talked to Nora and gotten her to understand what the blade was capable of. We all acted as witnesses about the power the blade had on people and about Largo’s general character. Everything in the trial went just fine until it was Largo’s time to speak and he did the most stupid thing. He lied. I could hear Flavius sigh in frustration next to me. The whole damn room was full of paladins, the judge was a dornite judge who could see through lies and that halfling thought it was a good idea to polish and revamp the story.
Luckily, the dornite judge knew the truth and only punished Largo financially for lying. Well, at least Largo now had far too much work in paying his debts that he wouldn’t have time to get into further trouble.
Once all of the quests were ready and there were no more immediate problems to solve, it was time for goodbyes. Largo and Flavius were going to stay in Blackhall, Flavius of course in service of his order and Largo doing some kind of work for Nora to pay off his debts. Aranwe wasn’t sure where he’d go, but was going to stay in the city for a while at least. I myself would finally have to head off to Avondale to begin my studies.
Largo made me promise I would come visit them and take him up to Avondale for a visit once he’d be free to move again. The promise didn’t feel as troublesome as I would have thought it before, it felt good to have some excuse to come meet them again at some point. We had been through quite a lot together and it was with somewhat a wistful heart that I bade them farewell and traveled to the neighboring city up on the misty mountain top.
To Avondale and Back
When I finally stepped through the gates of Avondale, I didn’t feel quite as excited as I had imagined. The mage city reminded me of Waenlan Háe, but was smaller and more crowded. There were scholars and students, researchers and educators everywhere and for a while I felt lost in the hustle and bustle of the city. I wondered the high street, wondering at all the shops and schools, until I recognized the sign on the door of a book shop residing in one of the marble-white towering buildings. The sign was a stylized grey tree with books as its leafs. The roots of the tree snaked down of the sign as silvery strings to form an old saying from Greywood that would translate to common as something like “evening knows the most, but night invents it all again”. It was the shop of my father’s old friend, Pëllagram, who was to be my contact here.
Pëllagram welcomed me as if I was a child of his own and although he was surprised to see me so soon, he had everything ready for me. He lived in a modest apartment above his two storey shop and had a small guest room reserved for me. The room had been empty for only some months since Pëllagram usually always had an apprentice at the shop, but his latest had just finished his studies and moved to continue his research in Avondale’s schools of higher learning. Since my father had just a year or two ago talked about sending me here, Pëllagram had decided to invite me for his guest and student. He was an innovative illusionist and had a passion for writing articles on the theory of illusion magic. The best part, however, was that he had lived and worked in Avondale for centuries and knew all the best wizards and warlocks around.
My initial lack of excitement was cured when the next morning Pëllagram took me to the libraries and halls of learning in the main castle of the city. He nearly had to tear me away from there in time for dinner at one of the teachers in Avondale school. It was like a dream. So many interesting lecturers and teachers, such inspiring discussions with the scholars and researchers. And the books. All of the books. I had read everything Waenlan Háe had about the basic theory of arcane arts, but here I could read the latest research reports and hear about the newest theories before they even were on paper. And the knowledge here wasn’t limited to only elven magic, but there were classic works from great human and dwarven wizards as well.
I would’ve been perfectly happy with diving in to the libraries right away, but Pëllagram insisted I should meet people. I knew what he had in mind, for he knew my interests weren’t as much in illusions as in the core theories of arcane magic, and so he was clearly hoping to find me a suitable master whose area of interest would meet better with mine. He had some in mind but wanted to see how we would get along before proposing anything. And I also knew he was observing me and surveying my skill level.
The first few days were full of amazing experiences, but one was above all else. I had read a lot about Dweomerstones already in Waenlan Háe. As one of the few students of the pure theory of magic, I was granted a visit to the Hall of Stone in the center castle of Avondale. Even from behind the doors leading to the hall I could feel the dizzying amounts of pure magic radiating through and when they were opened, I felt a sea of pure magic wash over me.
What magic feels like is a stupid question – if you need to ask, you do not need to know. It is slightly different to everyone, but incredibly pleasurable for all. That is why we become wizards. We hear its call and can do nothing but answer, for curiosity torments us. As the magic tingles on your skin and you hear it’s song everywhere around and in you, resonating in every part of your body it is remarkably easy to just get lost in the feeling of it, but you need to learn to resist and build enormous amounts of discipline or be destroyed. It tempts you to let go and it can be very seductive. That is one very basic reason why dweomerstones are not to be meddled with, or even approached until after years of careful study and preparation. Just being in the presence of such a crystal is too much for young wizards and even us older, more experienced ones have to pass several tests of will to be admitted to the Hall. Some never pass and for their own safety they are never allowed close to a dweomerstone. I have to pity them greatly, for they never can understand what real, raw magical power feels like when it is all over you and all your senses are attuned to only that hurricane of magic around the dweomerstone.
As Pëllagram slowly walked me around the crystal he constantly talked about the Dweomerstone. I could hear the adoration in his voice, but I could not concentrate on his words, it was so incredible to be close to such strong source of magic and feel the marvelous energies emit from it. The crystal was big, almost as tall as me and it shone a warm, orange light from within. Being in the presence of it felt like something holy, only the stone wasn’t a god, or inherently good or bad, it just was. It’s light wasn’t gentle like what I had felt when praying to Keldan, it wasn’t holy in the same sense, but the strength of it was of a similar quality.
I could sense the unending strings of magical energy swirl and twist around the stone violently and understood very clearly why it was forbidden to bring inexperienced students to see it. Even after years of study and hours of preparing before this I had to physically struggle to tear my senses away from the stone, it was as if it sang a song of calling and all of my soul was craving to answer it. That was exactly why Pëllagram was there to guide me away from the hall. I felt a strong urge to just run to the stone and touch it, to hug it and finally be one with the pure, raw, violent magic, completely feel it’s true power all over me. I fought the feeling with all my might and held on to Pëllagram’s arm. After we the doors behind us were closed my head felt dizzy for the rest of the day and my eyes felt as if I had looked too long into the sun. Nevertheless it was an unforgettable experience that I will cherish for all of eternity and I know that some day I have to go back to feel that again.
The nightmares from the battle against the Dog of War continued also on Avondale and as Flavius wasn’t here banishing them with his prayers, I could hardly sleep at all. Fortunately Pëllagram knew quite a few teachers specialized in dream magic and after a few badly slept nights he introduced me to them. The area of dream magic is one of the most difficult areas of the arcane arts and often recommended only for those who demonstrated particular talent in the realm of dream weaving. However, once I described the origins of my nightmares, the teachers agreed I should be thought at least some tricks to ease them. As I had always preferred to start from theory rather than practice, I knew it would take quite a few more sleepless nights for me to learn anything pragmatic. The dream weaver wizards did their best and created me a sleeping potion of sorts to settle the dreams along with the basic drills that aimed to controlling your own dreams.
Once I got the potion, my dreams did indeed calm, but the forced serenity that the potion brought didn’t feel as good as the prayers’ sheltering light had. The dream weavers had warned me that the only real help magic could give me was obtained through hard study on the specifics of practical dream weaving. Still, I didn’t have true interest or much talent for it and I ended up studying according to my original plans. The nights were sometimes difficult, but with the potion I managed. I also tried to remember Flavius’ explanations about war and to understand what really happened in the dreams so it wouldn’t so chaotic, but there was still too much violence and I would have needed more knowledge about war to shake off the horror that came with the dreams. What the potion did was it dampened my dreams, I could get some rest, but it somehow felt unnatural and I wondered if I could some day learn the prayers.
Just as I thought I was getting used to the rhythm of studying, my dreams changed. The battlefields and other bloody horrors were still there, but now I kept hearing the Iron Crown’s whispers. I had a brooding feeling that something very bad was about to happen and that the Iron Crown had something to do with it. After a few nights of worrying and as the feeling only grew, I decided to arrange myself a free day to visit Blackhall to find out what was going on. Considering my enthusiasm to continue the studies, I was surprised to actually find myself eagerly looking forward to the visit.
The Servant of Kord
That last night at Avondale my old nightmares came back stronger than usual and I could feel that something was amiss with the Iron Crown. I woke up still feeling the dread from the dream. I decided to skip the morning open lecture I had planned to go hear and instead left for Blackhall straight away after breakfast. It was a bright, sunny morning and my steps were light even with the worry over the Crown.
I decided to find Flavius first. He was the one who would most probably know what had been done to the Iron Crown and would also surely know the other’s whereabouts. He also was very easy to find. I recognized a young paladin from the Order at guard duty the gate of Black Hall and asked him if Sir Flavius was available. To my surprise I heard Flavius would be found at the training grounds of the City Guard. The young boy gave me directions and I headed that way wondering what he was doing there when the Order had their own training grounds at Black Hall almost empty.
Once I got to the field behind the guard’s barracks, I instantly spotted him there along with the reason he wasn’t at Black Hall. Flavius was sparring with the guard captain. It was clear they had done this often and the battle was both vicious and playful. I saw Flavius give a hearty laugh at something Nora said and somehow the sight irritated me. For a moment I wasn’t sure if my business was important enough to interrupt them and slowed my walk towards them. As I hesitated, Flavius noticed me and as a thanks for his distraction got a sharp blow from the pommel of Nora’s blade. He pointed me to Nora and they ceased their fighting and took their helmets off. From their sweaty faces I could see they had been at it for a while and were somewhat tired from the exercise. I conjured up a smile and went to them, greeting them both friendly. As I hesitated with my actual matter, Nora excused herself and headed off to her duties, waving cheerfully to Flavius and mentioning something about him being welcome to come to get a beating anytime. Flavius smiled somewhat self-consciously at that and quickly proceeded to change the subject to ask me about my stay at Avondale.
We quickly exchanged greetings and news about what we had been doing and what friends had been doing. It was surprisingly pleasant to see him again and I couldn’t help feeling cheerful despite my worries. I asked about the Iron Crown trying to sound rather casual, but when there was something uncertain in Flavius’ tone when he told it was still with their Gand Master, I decided to see if he would take my worry seriously. Since there weren’t others at the training field, I proceeded to describe Flavius my bad feelings about the Iron Crown and about how it had loomed behind in my dreams and even awake. I was surprised as his tone changed immediately to serious and there wasn’t a hint of doubt as he inquired about my concern. He then revealed that he, too had had a very similar troubled feeling about the Crown. He told me the Grand Master had locked himself into his chambers to research the Iron Crown and although Flavius seemed to believe in him, to me that sounded very alarming.
Since there were now two people worried about this even Flavius couldn’t just account it to being just a bad feeling. He agreed to pay a visit to his Grand Master and so we headed of to the Black Hall. Only Order members were allowed to get an audience and even Flavius had to argue with the second in command for quite some time before he was allowed. When he came back from meeting him he seemed even more troubled and clearly he wasn’t sure what to do. He asked me to wait for a moment longer and disappeared somewhere. As I sat and waited, I had a strange feeling that whatever was going on with the Crown would escalate quickly.
I was lost in thought, deep as a strange vision came into my mind. The vision was of Largo laughing and drinking with a dwarf I had never seen before. The dwarf was bold and his head was covered in strange tattoos. As soon as it had come the vision disappeared and for a moment I wondered if my imagination had gotten the better of me. But then Flavius came back and said he had just had vision from Keldan and started talking about a dwarf that was a servant of Kord. The paladin still seemed somewhat uncertain but much less worried now that his god had showed him a direction. As he described the dwarf exactly similar as the one in my mind and said he would have to find him, I told him what I had seen.
Both baffled about the simultaneous visions we set out to find Largo. To Flavius the explanation for them was found rather quickly: the reason was Keldan and His ways and plans were sometimes mysterious. So obviously it was meant that we together would find this dwarf. Happy about his interpretation, Flavius marched onward to the Bard’s Tale to inquire as to where to find Largo. To me it wasn’t so simple, I didn’t think Keldan had any power or interest over my visions but also I had to recognize the possibility that since both me and Flavius had heard the Crown’s voices and had had these worrying premonitions over it’s fate, there must be some kind of a link between us. Perhaps strong enough for Flavius’ prayer to have caused also my vision.
It seemed Largo had been busy making new friends all around Blackhall and he was easy to find. We were directed to a dwarven tavern built in a cellar of one of the older buildings. The ceiling was low and the place was very noisy and disorderly. We got some bad stares and I got a feeling neither of us was very welcome here. As we moved to search for Largo, some imbecile decided to slap my back as we passed him. I yelped, appalled at such obscenity and while I was still at a loss for words bad enough for him, Flavius stared the man down. After that I adhered to his side, disgusted by the whole place and everyone in there. To think I had at moments thought Flavius was ill-bred! Then again, dwarfs were in general just far too loud, far too touchy-feely and had just plain awful customs.
Largo was sitting with two dwarfs, the other one was female (though her beard did fool me for a moment) and the other was undoubtedly the same one we were looking for, although his bald tattooed head was covered by a hood. Flavius marched to them and we were both greeted very warmly by the halfling. He was happy to introduce his friends as Aelfar, a cleric who had just arrived to town and Gerda, a bard from Blackhall. Suddenly Aranwe showed up seemingly out of nowhere. I greeted him warmly and he said he had followed Thorondir here and seen us. I was very glad to see him, especially in a detestable place like this, he was like a little piece of home.
We ended up taking a cabinet in the bar and Flavius invited the dwarf for a talk. Naturally he was suspicious of why, from what I understood the enmity and distrust between the followers of Keldan and Kord were mutual. I had never been at a meeting so awkward as this, the air between the paladin and the dwarf was so tense you would probably hit yourself to it if you tried to walk through. After a while of hesitation and angry glares, Flavius blurted out the reason why we had come to find him. The Iron Crown was familiar to him and after we recounted our visions of him, he acknowledged that he also had had a premonition about us. In his vision he had seen us fight the Dog of War and loot the Iron Crown from him.
We discussed about the Grand Master of the Order of the Honest Chancellor and about how he had locked himself up with the Iron Crown. We all agreed that in itself was already very alarming, but when Flavius recounted his conversation with the Grand Master, it became clear that the Grand Master must be loosing the fight to the Crown’s will. Aelfar wanted to help us, but I was highly suspicious about his motivations. Him and Flavius had a short quarrel when Aelfar stated he wanted nothing bad to happen and Flavius doubted him simply because he was a servant of Kord. To me it did seem that Aelfar truly might have a good heart despite his allegiances. The whole argument reminded me yet again why I staid out of religious topics when the paladin was around. Once they settled to agree to disagree and work together since they both had gotten a signal from their gods to do so, Aelfar dropped the real bomb: he had seen another vision in prayer, just before he had left Bloodford. In the vision an old man, whom he described very much like the Grand Master Sir Horace, placed the Iron Crown on his head and rode off to battle that would destroy the Order he lead. That got Flavius’ attention and we all agreed that we would have to do something very fast.
To decide that something should be done was one thing, to decide just what was completely other. We would have to get the Iron Crown away from Sir Horace, but Flavius didn’t feel too good about defying his Grand Master just like that. Instead we went back to the Black Hall and Flavius went to talk to Sir Garrin, the second in command about our worries. As we stood behind the door the bad feeling I had about the Crown grew. Perhaps it was because I was physically closer to it now, but I was afraid it was something else. We could hear Flavius and Garrin’s raised voices through the door and the conversation didn’t seem to go at all well. For a moment I hesitated. I didn’t like the idea of working behind Flavius’ back like this, but we needed to move fast. I cast invisibility on Largo and told him to go find the Grand Master and the Crown and see what was going on. Aranwe went with him and Aelfar staid behind to wait for Flavius. I walked out of the gates of Black Hall and into the Bard’s Tale right next to it.
There I rushed to find an empty room and conjured up the spell to contact spirits. I searched the planes for the twelve souls bound to the Crown. They were shining like a beacon and I grasped them close enough to speak to. “How well are you doing?” I asked them, trying not to give away my worry. Their answer, however made me freeze: “At the brink of WAAAARR!” they yelled and I realized that we might already be too late. As I grabbed my things and hurried out of the room I could almost see someone raising the Crown above their head. I knew I wouldn’t be there in time and prayed that Largo and Aranwe could do something to prevent that idiotic old man from dooming his Order. I didn’t dare run for fear of arising attention, but walked as fast as I could back to Black Hall. There I could see Aelfar was gone and there was battle-like noises upstairs. I turned invisible and ran after them.
They had been fighting in the tower in Grand Master’s quarters. It was all very confusing, Aranwe was nowhere to be seen but I could see Largo and Aelfar already struck down, the dwarf was bleeding so much he had probably died before he hit the ground and Largo was convulsing in some kind of a fit. Flavius was battling Order guards and the Grand Master, his eyes wild with hatred was shouting the guards to arrest Flavius. I could see the Iron Crown, lying on the floor. At that moment everyone was concentrated on Flavius and the Grand Master and I saw my chance. I reached for the Crown, hardened my soul against it’s call, grabbed it and ran away as fast as I could. I had to take it somewhere safe, somewhere hidden where the Grand Master couldn’t find it before he would return to his senses.
I only stopped running when I was out of the city gates, my chest burning and I was gaping for air. Once I caught my breath I realized what I had really gotten myself into. I couldn’t see the Crown in my hand, but I could feel my hand gripping its sharp edges and most importantly my soul could feel its pull. It whispered me promises of power and control, all I had to do was wear it and lead it again to battle. It was very, very tempting and I had to physically force my hand stay still and keep the Crown away from my head. I threw all my willpower at it – I had bested the pull of a dweomerstone, surely I could handle this. After a moment of quite literal battle of spirits, its whispers faded to the background and I knew I had prevailed, for now at least. I could see the guards at the gate talking and realized I wasn’t safe here. I set off to the forest, at least that would be far enough so that the paladins couldn’t just sense the evil in the Crown and track me by it.
As I walked in the woods I felt very alone and scared. The Crown was still whispering it’s allurements and I feared I wouldn’t last very long all alone. It was already getting darker and the creeping shadows seemed to move and stare at me. The prospect of spending the night alone in the woods, constantly battling the will of the Iron Crown was seriously starting to frighten me when suddenly I heard a familiar sounding “huu” from somewhere above and suddenly Aranwe’s voice called me and asked me to drop the invisibility. I did and embraced him once he jumped off from a nearby tree.
I launched into explanations about how I had to steal the Crown and assured him I hadn’t used it. He seemed all calm about it and didn’t question any of my choices. Instead, once I said I couldn’t go back to Blackhall for the night, he set out to build us a shelter for the night. First we began to build it under a big spruce, but when we heard distant howling of wolves, Aranwe helped me climb into a huge pine and we set up improvised hammocks near the treetop. As a precaution I tied the Iron Crown to my belt in a cloth bag, so tightly that I it would take a long time to untangle it in case I finally lost the constant battle. But now that I could concentrate on Aranwe, the Crown wasn’t too hard to keep at bay. Aranwe explained me what had happened when Largo and he had left to search for the Iron Crown. They had sneaked through a secret passage to spy on the Grand Master and barged in to stop him when he had been about to take the Crown. Flavius and Aelfar along with the guards and sir Garrin had also barged in and the battle had started as Sir Horace was certain others were there to take the Crown for themselves. I got to hear that Aelfar was still alive, thought his woulds were terribly deep. Largo and Flavius were arrested along with Sir Horace and Sir Garrin. Sir Garrin had decided to order the guards take them all to the dungeons and summon a dornite to judge the debacle. But as the Crown’s disappearance had stopped the fight, Aranwe had decided to follow me and make sure I was okay with the Crown.
I told him I was relieved he had decided to come after me. Aranwe’s presence was incredibly soothing and the friendly "huu"s from Thorondir eased my heart a great deal. I didn’t always liked wood elfs, but as I had pondered before, Aranwe reminded me greatly of Tolsmir, and him I respected greatly. Aranwe was straightforward, but not crude and he didn’t judge people easily. He had listened to my explanations and then just believed me. No accusations, no suspicions, even when he knew I had before craved to get the Crown. On top of that he was pleasant to be around and to me such people were rare. His fearlessness gave me strength as the night grew darker and the wolves howling moved closer. To our horror, Thorondir arrived to tell us that the wolves weren’t alone and soon enough we could see far down in the forest orcs, some riding wolves, some running. They were heading towards a village outside Blackhall gates.
For a moment we wondered what to do but then I scribbled a message in the dark with a warning and Aranwe sent Thorondir to take it to the city guards at the gates. After that I was too afraid to sleep much and we could hear the sounds of battle from the village. We could only hope our message got to someone who would act on it quick enough.
When the morning light grew stronger I woke up even more tired than I had been at night. Apparently I had managed an hour or two of sleep. Aranwe wasn’t anywhere to be seen, but Thorondir was napping on a branch few feet above me so I trusted the wood elf to be somewhere nearby. As I moved to stretch my aching muscles, I felt the Crown’s sharp edges press my side and with a jolt of fear I realized my other hand was clutching the evil object as if my life depended on it. It took me frighteningly long time to relax and release the grip and from the marks on my hand I deducted I had probably held the Crown in a death grip all through the night.
I had just began to rummage through my bag in search for something to eat – more to distract myself from the Crown’s pull than anything else – when I heard a voice calling me. I startled, although I recognized it was Flavius. A rush of irrational fears ran through me and told me to run or he’d steal the Crown from me, but when he called again and Aranwe confirmed that he was alone, I forced the Crown’s whispers out of my head and composed myself enough to reply. I climbed down and thought I saw a flicker of worry in Flavius’ eyes as he asked if I was unharmed.
I quickly launched into an explanation about the reasons behind my actions. It was silly, but I felt it was terribly important that he would believe I hadn’t taken the Iron Crown for my own advantage. He was already clearly somewhat unimpressed of me having sent Largo and Aranwe to spy his Grand Master without consulting him. In the end he did admit my reasoning was sound but then proceeded to explain that the danger was over and that the Iron Crown should now return to Black Hall. When he asked me to hand over the Crown, I found that I could not and my hand moved as if on its own to protect the item. After a moment of hesitation I found no good excuse to shield my distress and had to admit I couldn’t give it up, that the Crown had me in its power. I’m sure he noticed how frightened that made me as well, for he didn’t press the matter, but suggested that I should immediately ride with him to Black Hall. I had to agree and we left Aranwe to find his own way back.
Coronation of the Golden General
“Will you do the honors,” someone asked me and I stood up as if it had been an order. My eyes were fixed on Flavius, who the council had just chosen as the one who would use the crown to save this city. I walked to the center of the stone walled room where Flavius stood seemingly calm. Carefully I untied the crown from my belt and tried to fortify my mind against its pull. Surprisingly it didn’t try lure me that much, as if it knew what I was about to do. Given the magnitude of its powers, it was very probable that it aware of what was going on. When it was free and in my hands, I raised my eyes to look long and hard at the paladin. I searched his face for any sign of hesitation, but found none. He was ready for his destiny, whatever it may be.
We had used every ounce of our political leverage and skills for negotiation to get to this, but it still worried me. I had promised the mage envoy of Avondale that I would stay close and observe Flavius and to interfere if he showed signs of losing control. At the time it seemed like a simple thing to promise and I had even been quite confident I would be able to fulfill the promise if need be. The others had talked with the Mayor, the dornites and Flavius’ order into this. It had seemed like the best possible solution. The Iron Crown was a weapon we could not ignore, not when in addition to the hordes of orcs and an unknown army from the caverns of Kord were closing in on the city. The Grand Master of Flavius’ order was a fool if he thought we could survive against such force if we shut the Crown into their vaults like he had planned. Evil or not it was our only choice. And so we had come to this. Flavius was to be crowned.
I raised the Iron Crown between us, never breaking the eye contact and stepped closer to Flavius. As the Crown hovered above his head I was desperately trying to see if anything changed in his eyes, but he simply stared back at me his gaze only a tiny bit darker than usual from the deep shadows of the hall. I could feel he was afraid and so was I, but he was also determined. As I lowered the Crown on his head my fingers brushed his hair and I realized the crown fit him perfectly. I released the cold metal and suddenly heard or rather felt the crown’s ghosts thank me, clearly pleased in our choice. It frightened me even more and I had to almost physically fight back the urge to yank the crown away from his head. For seconds I stared at him, lowering my hands, but ready for something, anything. But nothing happened.
Suddenly self-conscious I realized how stupid I must look staring at Flavius like that and let my eyes turn towards our audience. Everyone was still. There were no applauds or cheers in this coronation. It felt as if every soul in Blackhall was turned to look at Flavius, and so I yielded to the pull and turned to catch those blue eyes again. It was still him, but something about him was stronger, more powerful and commanding. At that moment I knew that I would be ready to do anything he asked me to. Anything. For him I would risk it all. I would follow him to the gates of Hell if he so commanded.
In the next moment I realized that this was exactly what the Iron Crown was made to do and hesitantly stepped back from him, somewhat frightened of the effect. Looking away from his eyes to break the spell, I gathered my thoughts. Suddenly everyone, Flavius included, sprung back to life and negotiations about joining up armies, recruiting more men and honing tactics began. My heart felt heavy but my head light as I walked back to my place, trying not to stare at him, but failing. Something about him had made me feel completely breathless – it must have been the Crown’s doing, in one moment it had transformed him into an impressive leader.
The Tower of the Ageless
After his coronation we didn’t see much of Flavius for a few days. The troops of the Order of the Honest Chancellor, the Dornites and the City Guard were now under his command and merging these three with some of the mercenaries into a proper army was no small feat. There were war councils, meetings, prayer gatherings and many other things I personally had no understanding of or much interest in. Aelfar and Aranwe had their duties in the guard, but I was no warrior and resorted to mainly just wait.
True to my words I tried to stay by Flavius’ side and keep an eye on any possible changes the Crown might bring about in him, but I could not sense anything worrisome. He now had an impressive aura of authority that made him more commanding and more confident, but he was still clearly himself. I could sense Flavius being somewhat reserved whenever he discussed the plans with the ghosts of the Crown, but as far as I understood they gave valuable advice and didn’t cause him any trouble. It seemed the Crown was pleased enough at the situation and while Flavius clearly still thought the Crown an evil object, he understood we needed its powers for now. He and the Crown seemed to work together almost perfectly. While I didn’t find my duty unpleasant, I felt rather useless.
I mentioned my frustration to Largo, who, while quite busy with all his bard business, was always happy to meet me at the Bardic College for a pint. After a moment of thinking the halflings lips curved into a mischievous smile and he told me he had an idea.
(here should be our grand plan to go get something smart from Marya the Ageless’ Tower, Largo got the key for us and we left a hasty note for Flavius who was too damn busy to go dungeoneering, being a Golden General now and leading armies and planning stuff and all)
(How about some actual plot, dungeoneering, finding the lake & tower, meeting the butler spirit and going in to search for stuff)
As the guardian’s sting bit me and spread the cold, deep cold fear within my body I realized all my frantic mind could think of was Flavius. The realization I would die here and never see him again suddenly filled me with horror. I would have done anything to have him there, defending me from that fear, for somehow I knew that with him I would be stronger. It wasn’t a logical or even a very conscious thought but as the poison reached my heart, my mind succumbed to the overpowering panic.
Instead of the paladin I longed to see, I got Aelfar and Aranwe running down the stairs, the ranger flinging arrows at the monster guardians and the dwarf waving his shining mace, fighting off the guardians that had caught me. I felt a pang of disappointment when I couldn’t see Flavius with them. Only after we had run away from the treasure chamber and the guardian’s poison weakened I realized how very strange my thoughts had been and while my companions secured the chambers I took a moment to think. Why would I be missing Flavius, of all the people? Surely he would have been useful in that fight, but the dwarf and the wood elf had been enough to get me out of the trouble. Why hadn’t I thought of them, it would have been logical – or could it be that I was so used to the paladins protection?
As I thought onward I remembered there had been a few times even before on our journey from Blackhall to here when I had turned to look for him, to ask his opinion on something. Conversations had felt somewhat strange without him and more than once I had hoped to have him there to make decisions with me. I had shrugged it off as it was surely simply a habit, since we had traveled for weeks together and he had been our leader. But even still it dawned to me that at the Crimson Crossing it had been very uncharacteristic of me to leave master Tolsmir and leap into following a human to such adventures. At the time I had attributed that to curiosity sparked by the strange dream I had seen the first night after I had met Flavius. Now all those little details seemed the first symptoms of something else.
Once the danger was over and our wounds treated, I sat down, tired of the poison of the guardians and from all the fear. I had let us all back up in Marya the Ageless’ living quarters and locked myself in the library, claiming to study the book I had found. Aelfar and Aranwe had followed the servant spirit to the kitchen, but I couldn’t find my appetite. Instead I sat by an ancient, wooded desk where the book of ancient knowledge lay open and studied my heart, tracing and examined the change I felt.
I had once died and then, too, my fear had been great and my thoughts had been also of Flavius, but not like this. Then it had been of the great things that were destined to happen around him and how, if I died, I would loose my chance to witness them. Now my thoughts were filled with only Flavius: his golden hair, his blue eyes, his handsome form, his strong spirit and unwavering faith.
For these few months that we had known each other Flavius had been the rock in this stormy ocean of adventure, war and politics. Never changing in his faith and principles, his heart pure and loyal even in the middle of greatest evil monsters or dirtiest political plots. He had earned my respect in the battles we had been through together and when he had carried the Iron Crown without giving in to its temptations and then being able to give it away. He hadn’t been affected by the Heroslayer either, and I knew its pull was great. He was strong in body and soul and it was only natural to respect that. And even though I did most of the time find it very troublesome how he never resorted to tricks or lying due to his strict code of honor, I had to admire his determination to stay honorable no matter what.
It wasn’t hard to see why I would admire and respect him and I was sure others respected him also for those deeds. It just seemed I had not realized just how much I had come to admire him. Or that at some point the well justified respect had evolved into a more personal level. I had never even started calling him a friend and yet now it seemed my heart had decided to skip that phase and move straight up in scale. I feared to think further.
Reassembling my pipe, I was very careful not to think about anything but the familiar process of opening the lock, raising the lid, attaching the three parts of the pipe together, adjusting the airflow, preparing the leaves and finally lighting it. The first puffs pushed away all my thoughts – all of the fears, worries and confusions – leaving just a blissful floating feeling and I sat back, breathing out and relaxing fully. Then, slowly my mind gathered itself back in the meditative state that allowed calm and rational meet creativity and emotions and that had never before left me in trouble with any question that bothered my mind.
To my annoyance, once I gathered my thoughts I realized I was again thinking of Flavius, and of what he might be up against in the North with the northern savages and of what it would be like to meet him again after we returned. In vain I tried to focus on the big book that lay in front of me on a table. My mind was restless. It seemed to be much more interested in the specific type of soft, curly locks of golden hair in the back of Flavius’ neck, or the twinkle in his eyes when he smiled, than in any old magical mysteries.
For some moments I dwelt in my dreamy thoughts of him, recalling each private discussion we ever had and remembering every smile and every time we locked eyes. Then I realized what I was thinking and almost violently snapped myself out of it. Fear rushed through me, cold, hard fear and even the smoking couldn’t dull its edge. I was possibly more afraid than I had ever before been in my life. I tried searching my feelings for anything contrary to what I feared and when I couldn’t find anything but the thing I feared most – love – I trembled, helpless and afraid, feeling as if on an edge, about to fall. But it was just a belated feeling as it seemed I had already fallen. I felt unbelievably annoyed that I hadn’t noticed it earlier.
This was certainly not what I had planned. This was something I had never even thought possible, hadn’t even ever thought about, really. The matters of the heart hadn’t bothered me much in the past, I had thought myself quite a smart and logical soul. How and when had that human slithered into my heart like this, without me noticing it? For a moment I thought about blaming this on something: magic, gods, a curse, anything. At least then it might have been something that could have a cure. But even while I thought about anything that could cause something like this, I knew it was stupid. It wasn’t anything unnatural. In fact, it felt like the most natural thing in a long while. I couldn’t even find it in me to truly hope it would somehow disappear.
I had, of course, heard stories and songs about my kind falling in love with humans, who hasn’t? But I had never seen them as anything but pretty tragedies, only mildly entertaining, but mostly just rather grim warnings. I had never known anyone who had loved a human, and only very few who counted a human as a friend. It wasn’t our way to mix with mortals and that was what I had been raised to understand. I had never before seen any beauty in the hectic nature of men and unlike some of my friends who were of a more daydreaming type, I hadn’t dreamt of any brave human warriors of the legends. Well, not until now, I it seemed.
It was a startling discovery to suddenly find something surprising like that from your heart. Flavius was possibly the last person I would want to fall in love with and yet somehow it had happened. As I thought about him my insides shook like a leaf on a tree in an exciting chill of thrill. I couldn’t deny my feelings now that I had realized them, but I knew I could choose whether to act on them or not and that knowledge eased my fears. I calmed myself. Be my feelings what they might, I wasn’t their slave. I could choose not to act and wait for them to settle and unwind. This didn’t have to mean anything.
As I again focused my mind on the spell book in front of me, I knew I would have to think more about this long and hard sometime later. But now I would have to search through Marya the Ageless’ books and find something that would help us win this war. I wasn’t going to leave until I found at least something useful. My sneaky mind agreed and added, that it was because only once I had found something useful enough I could return to Flavius and see his pleased smile directed at me. I tried to shake those thoughts away the best I could. There could be time for thinking about love later, after the war, if we survived it. At this moment it was simply too scary a thought to think any further.
The thoughts came into my dreams, however I tried to banish them, and in my slumber I heard his voice whisper gentle words of caring and saw only love in his eyes.
It was the Spring Dance at Aendrul village. Elves dressed in light shining colors of the spring sun floated everywhere on the dance floor on the decorated pagoda at the center of the city and the music was the best that had been composed during the winter. I was in the midst of dance, seeing many familiar faces from Greywoods and the rhythm of the music swirled me around in a careless, playful form.
Suddenly a handsome, gold-haired man appeared in the swirls of the dance and when he looked at me, my heart skipped a beat. Of all the elves he, a human, was most beautiful to me. I danced towards him, but dared not join his steps, but as he noticed me closer, he swept me into his arms and smiled. I trembled of excitement and we danced onward. I remember worrying for a moment that if my cousin Iontario saw us now, I would never hear the end of his teasing. But then the man’s eyes caught mine and again I was trapped in their exciting spell. His hands held me gently and I could feel the warmth of his body.
The dance brought us ever closer to each other and I felt thrilled to be so close to him. He was cheerful and sang along the music and hugged me close, not caring what others might think. When the song ended and the musicians took a moment to tune up before the next beat, we stood on the lake side of the pagoda, face to face, eyes locked. I felt myself gravitate towards him and he leaned down to press a burning kiss on my lips and the music must have started for I felt I was floating in a sea of light.
When I woke up I felt hot, although the night was cold and I blushed as I recognized the handsome man from my dream as Flavius.
The Book of Body Magic
Of all the books Aranwe could have chosen, of all the possible other priceless, important, unique items in Marya the Ageless’ tower, of all the possibilities and with all the time he had for the search, he had to choose that Book. Of course it was the perfect gift for Largo, no doubt he would absolutely love it, but really. Aranwe could have chosen something a bit more decent.
Those were my first thoughts when Aranwe showed me the book he had stolen for Largo. The ranger seemed pleased at himself and perhaps somewhat amused at my disapproval. Naturally I had to check it in case of magic or anything else dangerous, so I flipped through its pages. It was porn, full of pictures and text about sex, erotic potions and magic used for sex or while having sex. I was completely baffled at noticing it was of elven making. How could anyone of our kin create something as obscene as this?
Meaning to find out the writer of the book, I flipped to the introduction of the book and read all of it, just out of curiosity. It was very … intriguing. I borrowed the book from Aranwe, explaining I sensed something magical in it and I should make sure it wasn’t anything dangerous. I’m not very sure he believed, I thought there was an amused look in his eyes when he complied. I stayed up the whole night reading, only realizing it was the morning when Aelfar shouted me to come eat breakfast.
The book spoke of magic I had never heard of and of emotions I hadn’t ever known or felt before now. It seemed to understand all of my most secret feelings for Flavius, even, or perhaps especially, those I myself hadn’t quite accepted. Slowly the book seduced me into its sinful fantasies. It made me feel things I had never before felt and it showed me what loving Flavius could be. It haunted me while we traveled and I could hardly think of anything but the gold-haired young man. More than once I completely missed when someone tried to speak to me, having lost in my thoughts of Flavius.
The book was unbelievably sensitive to my feelings, it seemed to know my every wish and dream. I understood the basic theory of the magical effect it had and knew it was only showing me what I wanted it to show, but even though I knew how it worked, I could not resist the temptation to read further every time we stopped to rest. Most of the nights I spent either reading or, if I managed to close the book and fall asleep, in feverish dreams of golden hair, striking blue eyes and passionate, strong body.
Although I hadn’t much time to worry about my feelings, I had a bad feeling this thing I had for Flavius was going to end horribly. There was no way it could work and apparently Flavius already had his “Iron Maiden” Nora and they certainly were a smart match. I felt I was heading towards certain heartbreak and reading the book was only going to magnify the pain once it came. Still I could not let go of it. It gave me such beautiful, luscious dreams of him and it seemed to understand my every desire and weakness, I was utterly allured. It haunted me day and night
I woke up from my bed in my room back home in Aendrul. It was too warm, although I had only my lightest summer night dress on and the window was open to the lake. It was still night and the moonlight showed soft puddles of mist down in the forest openings. I stood up from the bed and walked silently to the window. I did not startle when strong arms reached to embrace me and I felt a man’s body press against my back. His hands wandered slowly but determinedly on my sides and I relaxed.
“Beautiful,” I heard the man whisper close to my ear, the voice was familiar, but the low, soft tone was new.
“It’s the moonlight and the mist, it’s always like this at night here,” I answered and felt somewhat out of breath as he stroked my back. I felt a pleasant shudder as he took a hold of my night dress and pulled it slowly upwards, revealing the warm skin of my legs to the refreshing, cool night air. It didn’t cool my thoughts, and neither did the kisses he planted on my neck.
“I meant you,” he said and decisively he turned me to face him. I recognized him. It was Flavius, but the look in his eyes was new and exciting. His hands roamed on my body and my eyes roamed on his. I lifted my head to see his eyes, darkened blue in the moonlight and lost my fingers in his golden hair as he steered us towards the bed. A long kiss started as soft and loving, ended in a demanding lust with our bodies impossibly hot against each other.
Afterwards it was all heated touches, soft skin on skin and flaming flashes of deep pleasure that always left me wanting for more. I answered his every touch with a helpless moan and felt a burning warmth start spreading through the both of us.
When I woke up alone, tangled in my blanket under the big tree we had set our camp the night, I immediately felt my face burning in shame when I realized what I had dreamt of. I couldn’t get it out of my mind and flashes of the dream kept returning to me when I drifted back into restless sleep full of my old nightmares of war. In the morning I was tired and still haunted by the dream. The next night I read the book until I fell asleep almost on top of it.
I was walking along a dark corridor, faintly familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it anywhere in my memories. There were mirrors on the walls and I saw myself in them, walking by each reflecting surface peacefully. I was wearing a long, silvery blue, thin, almost see-through silken dress that had a long, beautiful trail. My hair was open and gave a slight contrast to the paler silver of the dress. I walked onward and the mirrors changed into painted pictures first of scenery, then of people. There were faces of elfs, dwarfs, humans and halflings, and of some races I wasn’t sure what to call. I walked past the faces, looking at each, but affected by none. That is, until my eyes caught a picture of him and I halted.
It was clearly Flavius, although it was strange to see him without his battle gear, in ordinary clothes of human nobility. I recognized the crest of his house in the silky, burgundy red shirt he wore. In his hands he was holding a bright red apple, as a symbol for something I didn’t quite catch, and his sword, sheathed in a beautiful ornamented sheath, was casually leaning to the chair he was sitting on. The picture was painted with skill and grace and it was so realistic I had to step back as I looked into his blue eyes, painted very artfully with real expression in them. I stepped closer and reached to trace the delicately painted golden hair with my fingers. There was something very inviting in his appearance and I found myself utterly unable to continue my walk away from the picture. Fascinated, I stared at the picture for I don’t know how long. I simply couldn’t get enough of it, as if it had enchanted me. There was something in his eyes that was almost as if it had been made real by magic.
And then he blinked. I was startled, but couldn’t move away. The painting expanded and Flavius stepped out of it, right in front of me, so close that we breathed the same air. The mood of the moment changed from alluring into seductive. His scent seduced my body and the look in his eyes did the same to my mind. I realized he could somehow see exactly how much I wanted him, but I felt no shame in wanting. He lifted his hand to caress the side of my face so unbearably softly that I felt like pleading him to take me, but he did not make a move. We locked eyes and I trembled under his intense stare. All of a sudden I knew he wouldn’t do anything to me until I asked – until I begged him to. He was going to stand there and watch as I squirmed, wanting him so badly but too shy to ask for what I desired.
The scene shifted and I was standing in front of a full-body mirror. I bot saw and felt Flavius standing close behind me, staring right at me through the mirror. In the mirror I saw feverish, lustful flashes of things that would happen if only I dared ask them. I knew Flavius saw them too and a small, almost mischievous smile grew on his lips as he looked at me expectantly. I opened my mouth to speak, but hesitated. Then another flash of alluring, sensual scenes flashed in the mirror and I gave up the fight for dignity.
As the dream began fading, I woke up to feel my skin damp with sweat and a fierce burning need deep in my body. I could still feel Flavius’ eyes on me and the images I had seen through the mirror were very vivid in my mind. I could recognize them now, the Book had showed them to me and imprinted them to haunt me for perhaps forever. I dug the book out of my bag and caressed the cover, wondering for a moment if I should stop, but then opening it. I leafed the pages to the chapter I had been reading in the evening and saw the pictures. I still saw Flavius in them, although of course it wasn’t really him. The Book was only showing me what I wanted to see.
His Personal Adviser
A wide range of emotions ran through me when we finally rode to the Black Hall and met Flavius there at the gates. I felt blush rising on my cheeks when I remembered my last night’s dreams of him and I was glad of the hood hiding my face. As he helped me from my horse I felt that if I touched him, skin on skin, he’d see right through me right to the bottom of my soul. I cannot describe how scared I was of him and of the strength of my feelings. Things like these simply do not happen to my kind, not this forcefully and most definitely not this fast.
I meant to keep the briefing of our trip fast and then escape somewhere where I could think straight, claiming to be tired of the journey. But then Largo showed up and wanted to hear the whole story and so we ended up to find a cabinet in the Bardic College. It was actually very pleasant to be together again with the group that had been through so much together, but also very unnerving to me, when I realized I simply could not keep my eyes away from Flavius. And every time our eyes met, a violent flame burned deep within me and each time it almost scared me to death. I could not help staring at him however, my treacherous mind kept reminding me of all of my favorite dreams the Book had showed me. I’m afraid everyone noticed me staring, but I hope they thought it was just because Flavius was the one who spoke most. He had a lot to tell about the armies he was gathering and the reaver troops that had joined us from the North and what would happen next.
“What would you have us do?” I asked, perhaps a bit too quickly, when he told us he’d need our help. I was rather surprised but also pleased at being assigned as his personal adviser. For a moment I had thought he’d ask me to go to Avondale with the futile mission of trying to persuade the mages join our forces. Logically, going to Avondale would have been the perfect option since I had meant to find time to figure out my heart on my own, but now that I was with Flavius again, I could not bear even the thought of leaving.
The work, however, in practice, was much harder than I had thought it would be. I am no war mage, but the theory behind war tactics wasn’t too hard to grasp and Flavius had many military advisers, also in the ghosts of the crown. I seemed to be needed mostly just for my opinion on plans and for ideas concerning magic use, it was an interesting and not at all too demanding job. The difficult part was being with Flavius. Since Largo now had the book, I was only bothered by the delicious dreams sometimes combined with my old nightmares. It hadn’t disturbed me this much when we had been travelling and I was free to think what ever as long as I kept riding straight, but now I had to face Flavius every morning, dreams still fresh in my mind and spend the day with him, planning the war. Being so close was sheer agony, every moment of it.
Especially whenever we were left alone I felt I didn’t dare even breathe properly. In those moments I was constantly afraid I would do or say something that would reveal my feelings while I still did not know myself what I wanted. Well, in my dreams I knew exactly what I wanted, but I did not dare to even hope to make it reality, nor did I know if it truly was what was meant to be. And yet I still dreamt of him and lingered around him whenever given the chance. I kept inventing things to stay and discuss for a moment when the other advisers left and always showed up a minute or two early to the meetings.
Like that saying humans had about a moth and a flame. He was a bright, blazing furnace and I was freezing to death without him, but with him I would burn and fall. Whenever we touched, handing the many report papers we went through every day or standing side by side at map table, the touch was burning me, nearly hurting. I had trouble concentrating on the simplest of tasks if he so much as looked at me when we were alone, but I also couldn’t avoid him, it was an addiction I could not control. And at the same time as it scared and embarrassed me, it thrilled me more than anything in my life.
I was in a tent with Flavius who was settling his armor on him, getting ready for war. Warm morning light filtered through the canvas and I could hear hundreds of people talking and moving outside. He asked me for assistance and I went to him and helped him attach the plates and buckles. We moved together as if we had done that a hundred times before and once the armor was set I didn’t hesitate when I chose his favorite sword from the many spread on the table and handed it to him.
When he was ready I ran my fingers across his breastplate and let my magic create a feint, golden light in the armor. It would shine in his enemies eyes and scare them, it would boost the morale of our troops and encourage them. It was an old trick and he smiled at me. For a moment we locked eyes and I suddenly knew we had stood like this many times, just the two of us, before a battle. And never had I said or done anything to let him know how much I cared for him.
Every time I feared it would be my last chance but I had never found my courage. I broke the eye contact to sweep imaginary dust off his shoulder plate and wished him good hunting. He smiled and told me to stay safe. There was a moment of hesitation, as there always was, but I knew that in a second or so he would walk through the canvas door of the tent, give a speech to his troops and head off to battle with them. This time I turned my eyes to him, not shielding my feelings from them and as he took a hesitant step towards me, I all but flew to his arms and we kissed, years of passion distilled into that one burning kiss.
Just as the kiss ended and another was starting, we heard trumpets. The enemy was ready, and he ran out of the tent to the battle. I secured my own battle gear, a simple leather armor and a staff, and ran to my horse. The battle turned into my usual nightmare of war, violence and murder. I saw glimpses of Flavius in his shining armor and every time I got more strength to my own battle. But then, the sky darkened and I saw Flavius fall. There were too many enemies and his troops were forced to the side, I could not get there in time and I yelled his name as I watched a huge, orc with an ugly grin on his face run him through. His pain was clear from his face, but he did not scream. I did.
I woke up to despair and terror, and I could not know whether I had screamed in my sleep or not and frankly, I did not care, so scared I was.
To the Den of the Dragon
When I slipped away from the army encampments around Black Hall, at the same time I felt dread and a strange sort of relief. I knew my plan was very risky but I also knew it was the only way we could ensure that our armies didn’t have to worry about the orcs. Tactically it was the smartest thing to do in our position. Trading off one person to get rid of a whole enemy army was a real bargain. Also this way I was away from the unbearable closeness of Flavius. I would have something else to think and perhaps I could come to my senses about this.
I had known the plan was good, it was a very good trade off and tactically optimal – well, technically it was our only chance to survive these both enemies. Only Flavius’ infuriating code of honor made him refuse the plan. When he gave his final order, I couldn’t but obey and I left the room without a word, but once I got to my quarters and thought about it, the fear of what would happen if we didn’t get the orc army turn from us was too much. A flashback from a nightmare showed me Flavius dying a painful death in battle against both the undead and the orc horde, and I started planning.
I have to admit that my reasons for acting weren’t at all as valorous as they could seem. I did not mean to sacrifice myself for the good of Black Hall, or for the sake of my love either. I was afraid of the suffering I would face if Flavius died and if he’d have to face two huge armies instead of just one, it seemed inevitable. I had heard of the tragic fates of elfs falling for mortals and of their never ending grief when their loved ones died after only a short life together. If he died, I might as well. Leaving to bait the orcish army away was in its core a very selfish decision and I continued on that path when I shamelessly blackmailed Aelfar to be my backup. The dwarf had trusted his secret with the wrong elf and here, when I got the first chance to use it as leverage, I did not hesitate.
I gave Aranwe the spell book of Marya the Ageless for safekeeping. He was the only one I trusted enough with it except perhaps for Flavius, but the paladin would’ve suspected me right away if I asked him. Also I wasn’t very keen on trying if I could face him once I had decided to disobey his orders, with all his paladin tricks he might just see through me and stop my plan there. Aranwe wasn’t suspicious and easily agreed to hide the book. As I said goodnight to the wood elf I felt sad I couldn’t have asked him as my back up, but I didn’t want to risk him and he wasn’t a very secretive person, he might just tell Flavius.
After that I went to Aelfar’s quarters. It was already late in the evening and my own preparations were ready so I could just make a run for it in case the dwarf decided to betray me. As he asked me in, somewhat confused over my late visit, I went straight to the point. I told him that in order to win this war we would need to make absolutely sure that the orcish army would head towards Avondale and to do that we needed someone inside their army. I didn’t really ask, I told him that I needed him as a back up as I went to the forest and got captured by one of the raiding parties. Once I had explained what I wanted, I ended it with a hint that I still remembered his pact with Kord and should he not comply I would be forced to let Flavius know we had a traitor among us. The reason why I hadn’t told Flavius before was just that: he would see Aelfar as just a traitor the same way he treated everyone who followed Keldan’s enemies. The same way he would treat me should I ever tell him about Wylan. And yet both me and Aelfar were on the same side with him and his god in this conflict. I didn’t know about Aelfar, but I would probably be ready to stand by him in any other conflict as well and so the fact that I respected Wylan, an enemy of Keldan, didn’t really matter at all. Flavius just was very black and white with things like these and so for his own good and for the good of this campaign I tended to avoid telling problematic truths to the paladin.
Aelfar agreed to help me, whether because of my blackmailing or because he understood this was our best and possibly the only chance of avoiding the orc army. He gathered his gear and we set out to the forest together.
As for why it had to be me who did this, I wasn’t completely sure. Perhaps it just was the easiest this way, no need to explain the plan to anyone else or give detailed orders they could forget. Perhaps my back story was the easiest, me being a mage and really having visited Avondale. Perhaps I didn’t believe anyone else would dare go through with the plan. I knew it would quite possibly be too much for me too, but I had faith in my abilities to survive what ever needed – I had died once, how much worse could this be? Perhaps I didn’t want anyone’s blood on my hands if the plan failed. Perhaps – and this probably was the biggest reason – I did not trust anyone but myself capable of defying Flavius’ orders when he bore the crown.
When we sneaked away from Blackhall, I thought I glimpsed Flavius walking on the fortifications and my heart pleaded me to stay. I hardened it, turned my eyes to face the darkness of the forests and quickened my steps. The strength of will the Iron Crown had given Flavius was great, I suspected that if he had directly ordered me to stay I could not have left. Even now it had required some willpower and conscious thought. Such a corruptive, irresistibly strong power. It baffled me that Flavius still determinedly refused to use it to bend our will, even when we disagreed with him. Then again, it was very like him and that was exactly why he was the one bearing the Crown.
I hesitated only once and that was when I had to enchant a telepathic link between me and the dwarf Aelfar. I had used telepathy with Aranwe for scouting purposes when we were travelling, but he was of my kind and his mind was a familiar one. With a dwarf I stalled. I knew it would technically work just as well as with anyone, but the intimacy that the spell created worried me. What would I hear in the dwarf’s mind, would I even want to hear it? In the end I cast the spell, as it was the only way of communicating and I needed him as a backup only if things went south, if the plan worked, he needed to disappear without a trace. Telepathy was the only way.
As I cast the spell and felt our minds connect through the arcane spell weaving threads of magic between them, I was faced with a surprising discovery. I could understand the dwarf, there was no language barrier, or any other barrier between us. Whatever he said was as clear to me as if he had said it in the exact same dialect of elvish that was my native language. Earlier when I had used the telepathy, even with the deep elf I had taken for granted that we had the same language, but with the dwarf I had thought there would be major differences. Instead, it seemed, the language of the soul was very similar in all beings. However interesting the discovery I had no time to stay and ponder it. The orc raiding party got closer and I had to usher Aelfar away and stay to begin the hard part of my plan. I had to be captured and the fear of what that would mean drove away any other thought.
As I heard a group of orcs near, the fear really got to me. I could hear Aelfar in the back of my mind, ready to come to my aid should something go amiss. I reminded him once more that they were supposed to catch me and that only if I was in real life threatening danger should he charge. Through his thoughts I sensed actual worry and it gave me some strength. At least it seemed I had chosen my backup well. “Don’t kill me, I’m a friend! We have a common enemy!” I yelled when they found me and attacked. I was knocked to unconsciousness and then it was only darkness.
When I woke up I was at their leader’s tent and realized that there was no way Aelfar would be able to help me anymore. Now it was just up to me. I sent him the a-okay sign, reminded him to not let Flavius do something stupid and closed the link. As soon as the small presence of the dwarf was gone from my mind, there was only determination and fear. The Hordemaster’s interrogation took whatever strenght I had left. He was fearsome and terrible, so ugly and smelly I normally wouldn’t have been able to stay in the same room with him. But alas, I had no choice. I hadn’t meant to tell more than was enough to sparkle their curiosity, but the orc leader was merciless and squeezed even the tiniest, seemingly insignificant details I didn’t even remember I knew.
After the “discussion” with the Hordemaster, my dreams were once again filled with war and suffering.
Only this time all of the warriors fighting were orcs. There had been orcs before, but now there were much more. And no matter how horrible I had expected them to be, they were ten times worse. I stood on the battlefield, trying to wave a too heavy sword in order to keep the orcs away from me and I was so very much afraid. As if all the fear I had to bottle up before was rushing through me now.
But then I saw blinding, golden light amid the battling orcs and suddenly knew I didn’t have to be afraid anymore. It was Flavius, his golden hair waving in the wind, his armor shining as if I had lit it up, his expression determined. I watched and waited eagerly as the paladin pushed through the ranks of savage orcs, battling them, but finding no challenge in beating them. The orcs retreated, afraid of Flavius and disappeared as the warm light spread everywhere around us.
Flavius stepped in front of me, there was an intriguing look in his eyes and I felt captivated, just staring at him. I didn’t resist as he pulled me in a warm, friendly hug and even responded, he smelled so good. He stroked my hair very gently and I had never felt anything better. Then the friendly hug turned into a burning embrace. Suddenly we were kissing, and I felt as if I had been without water all my life and finally was given water, no, not water, the sweetest wine. My body was on fire wherever Flavius touched me and we laid down on the ground, kissing, bodies entwined. At some point our clothes had vanished, but I did not care, I needed more of him. Nothing was enough.
A scream woke me and the fear returned. For a moment still I could feel Flavius’ hands all over me, but the wonderful feeling vanished as I realized there was someone nearby. Mortified would be the correct word now, but I couldn’t resist closing my eyes for just a moment, pretending to still be sleepy and trying to catch the dream. But it was gone and as my brain woke up, my head filled with doubts and of embarrassment. It hadn’t been the first dream of the sort, but that didn’t make it any better. I decided to force Flavius out of my mind and concentrate on the human woman in front of me. She was clearly one of the orcs’ slaves and this pit where I had ended up in was probably their idea of a prison. I was still with the orcs, I was still alive and I remembered the Hordemaster seemed to have taken my idea well. The plan had started working, now I just needed to start finding out how to get away from the orc camps once my work would be ready. The slave woman would have knowledge about this camp and she could turn out to be useful, I needed to find a way out of here.
The orcs weren’t at all as scary and barbaric as I had imagined. They were much, much worse. Sheer violence and anger lingered everywhere in their camps and around their presence. They were brutal, ugly, murderous and in all ways hideous creatures. They seemed to be pure evil – I don’t believe any of them would ever be capable of a kind or gentle gesture. It made me physically sick to be so close to them and the cursed sigils the orcish shaman had drawn on my skin burned not only because of the wounds. There was something terrifyingly unholy in what he had done to me.
My body felt violated, I was bruised, scratched and covered in dirt all over and for a moment a horrible thought sneaked into my mind – had they gone as far as raped me while I was unconscious? Had that shaman laid his dirty hands on me more than I remembered? There was no way I could recall everything and since I ached all over anyway I couldn’t be sure. The horror was enough to paralyze me, but I determinedly pushed the sickening thought away. I would have to concentrate on the present. I would plant the information, make sure they took the bait and then I would escape. It was a simple plan, very easy to remember, very hard to act out. But at the moment, it was all I had.
When the Hordemaster called me back to questioning in front of his court. it became obvious that the horde of orcs was indeed going for Avondale, I couldn’t feel any joy in my success. All I felt was a gloomy sort of determination to see this through and a lingering worry that perhaps the defenders of Avondale weren’t enough to stop this mass of anger, greed and rage.
The Battle for Avondale
Being in the middle of a fierce battle can be overwhelming. I knew, for during these last months I had been surrounded by battle every night in my dreams. Surprisingly it had its bright sides: I did not panic. I followed the orcs as they advanced in the tunnels of the under city and when I saw a chance to escape, I took it without hesitation and only cold calculation on my mind. In the heat of a battle against new guardians that surprised the orcs, I slipped away to a dark corner of the corridor, seemingly just afraid of the battle and looking for cover. I quickly cast invisibility on myself and ran away through the ranks of battling orcs, holding my chains so they wouldn’t make noise and dodging swords that were aimed at their enemies. It was less than half a minute when I was out and I had no idea how I had managed to do it.
I was terrified, but the familiarity of the battle from my dreams kept the fear at bay. I had to concentrate on the now. Only after I had run for quite some time I slowed my phase to a walk and allowed the fear run through me. For a moment I sat down on a staircase hiding in the shadows of a corner and I cried. It was painful, held back sobs, but my chest felt too heavy for them and only a few tears fell, for I didn’t dare indulge in this for long. When I allowed myself this moment for tears, I realized how much I grief I had kept inside. I didn’t dare think of all the reasons for crying that came to my mind, but pushed them away. It was like half-crying, only letting out enough grief so that I could keep it bottled until I was safe. Whatever or wherever was safe anymore…
After a while I dried my tears and continued my walk through the under city in search for a way out. It was then that I heard noises of battle again and had to seek refuge in a dusty room that had been locked magically. I recognized immediately the Wylan’s Triad, born of dream and magic, in the middle of the room in a magical static field. For a moment I had the strange feeling that I was not there out of coincidence. I could feel the Wylan’s Triad trembling in the static field, its power seeming to be at a point of erupting. The battle moved closer constantly and I heard at least some human voices. Wylan’s Triad seemed to call me, it wanted to release its power and it needed my help. I knew it could only leave one witness, so I rushed at the necklace, broke the magic covering it and tried with all my might to direct the magic so that one of the humans would stay awake. Whoever they were, they wouldn’t be likely to harm an unconscious elven mage. As a last thought I wondered how I had come to trust these humans so much – then everything turned black and I fell.
In my dream there was the dwarf cleric, Aelfar, sad and betrayed, the city guard captain Nora, her heart broken with sorrow and arrogant and cruel, somewhat younger version of Flavius. I saw Aelfar holding his head, looking crushed, standing on a temple built out of rock. In front of the temple Nora and Flavius were engaged in sword fight. The battle was very even, but fierce and both took grave wounds. Finally something frighteningly cruel flashed in Flavius’ eyes and I realized he was the same young man I had seen in the orcs memories. I tried to scream at them to stop, but had no voice in the dream. I watched Flavius defeat Nora and a flash of victory rush run through me. For a moment I wished I could walk in to Flavius’ arms to congratulate him. Instead I had to watch as Flavius ripped off Nora’s armor and tied her up with a white silken thread, naked. For a while he just watched her helpless movements, but then he suddenly looked shocked and confused. He walked to her, but got surprised and hit to the ground. Nora riped her bindings off and turned to me to attacked.
I woke up from my dreams to see Nora still attacking me and I panicked. A spell on my lips, I tried to flee, but she held me from my chains, chocked me and the magic was broken. She appeared rough and decisive and when I heard she was here on her own, I quickly realized her meaning. Of course, this was the perfect moment to rescue her mother from the dungeons of Avondale. As she dragged me onward, I felt very tired of the prospect of yet another detour before I could flee to safety, but I didn’t dare defy the woman. Her brutal means surprised me. I remembered her as at least as stuck-up about principles as Flavius was. And then came the pain of remembering her and Flavius, so naturally together, having known each other for years. Almost automatically I pushed the hurtful thought away with the other similar ones and reminded myself to concentrate on the present. Right now Nora was a useful ally in getting out of here and so I did what I could to help her and the mayor.
When I heard the orcish victory cries my heart sunk. I realized that the mage city had been defeated. For a moment that in itself was a depressing thought but then I understood that this would have even more serious consequences. It pained me that I couldn’t do anything but flee the city to carry the bad news to Blackhall.
I feared what this would do to Flavius, but I also knew that I could not – no, that I would not lie to him. I had thought that the prospect of getting away from the orcs would cheer me up, but it didn’t. How could I go back to Flavius and tell him we ushered an army of merciless orcs on a city full of defenseless academics? It had been my idea and I had failed in my calculations, their defenses hadn’t held. So many civilians had died here and I shuddered to think how much priceless ancient knowledge would be lost when the orcs plundered through the vaults of Avondale. Years of research gone to waist, so many great minds died too early and promising younglings with their lives still ahead, cut down like they were crops at harvest time.
Tonight Kord would be pleased, for this surely was a bloody conquest worthy of His attention. That thought turned my thoughts to the dwarf. Had Aelfar after all played his cards smarter than I had thought him capable of? This would surely be counted towards his promise to his Kord. Had he done something to make sure this tragedy happened? Had I trusted the wrong dwarf? I would have to express my worries to Flavius as soon as I would see him.h4. Back but not safe
I did not know what I had expected from him, but certainly not this. After all I had suffered, he blamed me for being a traitor and would throw me to his dungeons? I felt pure rage growing inside me as he spoke, but could not find the strength in me to stand up to him. I felt so utterly tired that just standing there took all the strength I had left. So I let his anger rush through me like waves, not even trying to explain myself any further than I already had – he had made up his mind and he was too stubborn to hear anything else. It was an interesting feeling, to feel the boiling anger burn your insides but do nothing about it. For a while I thought it would consume me and I would explode, but to my surprise, the hatred settled frighteningly easily inside my heart.
I hadn’t really thought of escaping Flavius’ guards, but at the prospect of a yet another cage, I had acted more out of instinct than of plan. Only afterwards I stopped to think. It was good I hadn’t killed anyone. I probably would have if it had been necessary in order to get away.
When I was free and safely invisible, for a terrible moment I had no idea where I would go. Then I saw a halfling merrily bouncing his way through the crowd and remembered Largo. For a moment I hesitated, but then set off for the Bardic College. Largo’s warm welcome was just what I needed. He understood my problem and hastily led me to a shady tavern on a bad side of the city. Inside the tavern was a surprisingly neat and cozy inn, you just needed to know the right people to get inside. Largo set us up adjoining rooms and by the time we got there I felt like fainting and ached for a bath.
Once I had finally scrubbed all the dirt and blood out of my body, the warm water of the bath and the warmth of the nearby fireplace relaxing me, I felt something open inside me. Suddenly I realized tears were falling and before long I was again crying silent tears. Only this time I had nothing to fear and all the time I could want and so I let myself have a proper, long cry over everything that had happened. Not that I really felt I would have had a choice, so great I felt were my sorrows. I felt I had bottled up my fears for months and now they all came over me at the same time. I only rose from the bath when the water was already cold and I had literally ran out of tears to cry. I felt the kind of baffled relief of releasing pain and emotion into honest crying and once I was dressed, I believe I could have fallen asleep standing if Largo hadn’t returned and gently directed me to the bed.
The next days were spent in a haze. I slept and thought about everything that had happened, Largo mended my wounds and I cried a bit against his shoulder. He was a good listener as I told and retold my story to him, trying to explain my fears and justify my choices. I hadn’t meant to tell anything to him, but I needed someone to understand me and Largo was the only one who was there for me. I couldn’t help but see the contrast in this and the time when I had been forced to steal the Iron Crown from the Grand Master Sir Horace and afterwards Aranwe had found me hiding in the woods. He had simply listened my somewhat frantic and perhaps even suspicious explanations and without any accusations, just did his best to help me. I couldn’t understand why Flavius had to be like this – and it was painfully infuriating how much I cared about what he thought of me, no matter if I believed him right or wrong in his judgement.
During the days I spent resting the Wylan’s Triad felt like a gift. In the midst of my tiredness it gave me strength through allowing me some power over my dreams. For the first time after facing the Ghost General in the Iron Crown, I could drive the war completely out of my dreams and I slept well. I also tried the pendant’s power awake and through it I visited Flavius’ hazy, chaotic dream. Though I still wasn’t ready to meet him in person, it felt good to be able to calm his dream and see him there. I had missed him so and in hiding from him now I probably hurt myself more than him, but I knew I needed some time to get over my experiences before I’d be of any use in the coming war. Or before I could face him again. But there in the dream, once I had soothed his nightmare, I lingered, enjoying his company. When I got out of the dream I felt my heart long for him even more and decided not to do that again.
My recovery wasn’t without problems. Largo still had the Book of Body Magic Aranwe had brought him from Marya the Ageless’ tower and when the bard was gone I could not resist a peek. It sucked me right back in and Largo had to almost physically pull me away from it in when he found me. After that I kept sneaking to his room to borrow the book whenever he wasn’t around. If I couldn’t see Flavius, I could at least dream about him. But my dreams had grown dark and although the book did have some intriguing suggestions on what to do with all the love and hate I felt for him, it could not give me any real answers. I talked quite a lot about Flavius to Largo and I fear the bard realized something of my feelings. At least it seemed so, since it was Largo who arranged us to meet to make up and insisted I had to go.
I was in the great libraries of Waenlan Háe, wandering between the endless shelves of scrolls and books of magic, lore and history. The smell of dry parchment and something distinctively Greenwood made me think of the winters I had spent studying in the city. I walked past a large window through which the bright light of my homeland’s winter filtered on the rows of books on the glass and silver shelves. I continued onward, just enjoying the peaceful, harmonious atmosphere of the beautiful library.
I let my hand trace the book covers as I walked past the shelves and halted at random, pulling out the book my hand had stopped to. I had a feeling I had read it before, but didn’t quite remember what it was about and so I opened it. To my surprise in the book there was a picture of myself, bound in dark chain and my robes so torn I was practically naked. There was a dark figure looming behind my chained form and as I looked at it more carefully, it took the form of a young man, somewhat familiar but unrecognizable to me at the moment. My figure, thought bound and helpless, didn’t seem to be in pain or afraid. In the picture I saw myself looking at the young man with desire and submission and somehow I knew I was happy. As I focused again to the man, he seemed to stare right at me from the picture and suddenly intimidated by his eyes, I pulled back from the book. I could feel the room around me getting darker. When I lifted my eyes from the picture I saw that night had already fallen and silvery blue moonlight had replaced the brightness in the window. The shadows had grown long and for some reason it was very warm.
I felt I wasn’t alone, but the unknown presence only sent pleasant, exciting shivers down my back. As I moved to close the book and put it back to its place, I flinched as I saw chains around my wrists and felt them tightening their grip. The chains didn’t really hurt, there was some pain but it also felt so very good I couldn’t understand why I was so afraid of them. The book fell down on the floor and disappeared in the shadows. Then I felt chains also around my ankles and a low, soft laugh sounded from the shadows. I feared to look behind me, for I knew he was there, but at the same time I was thrilled and eager for more.
The chains snaked around me and suddenly there was a sharp yank and I fell down on the floor to his feet. The shadows grew ever darker and I knew he was close enough to touch. How I feared and longed for his touch! I heard his voice whispering my name softly, several times over and felt burning shivers all over my body. Suddenly I knew I had to but answer and I would be his completely. Somehow I knew he wouldn’t do anything before I would give my consent, but I didn’t know what it was he would do if I did. Curiosity tempted my mind to answer him, but I was also scared. I closed my eyes, too afraid to decide what I wanted, and I still heard him call for me, questioningly. Only now it was further away. I felt the pressure of the chains fade and there were footsteps. He was going away, I hadn’t answered and so he was leaving, he didn’t want me. Suddenly, the moonlight felt a tone stronger. The light from outside began to grow brighter.
I panicked and I opened my eyes, frantically searching for him from the quickly retreating shadows. I could just barely spot him there. He faded further, the cold light chased him away and then I couldn’t see him anymore. I was alone in the cruel, colorless light of the moon, naked and cold. There was only fear and agonizing sorrow in my heart. I shouted after him, pleading him to return, but I did not know what words would bring him back to me, I did not know his name. I craved for those warm, intriguing shadows to return and embrace me although I felt my life in the light would be free and safer without him. I shuddered to realize I did not want that freedom or safety anymore, at least not as much as I wanted him. If only I had known his name and spoken it, then he would have stayed. The light continued to grew to blinding strengths and a freezing cold bit my heart.
I woke up shivering, feverish and only one name on my lips. Now that I was awake, I knew what it was. Flavius.
When I saw Flavius again there, on the ruined streets of Avondale, I felt a strange duality in my soul: on the other side, my anger for him grew and boiled, eager to unleash its wrath on him but the other side lifted a smile on my now invisible lips and a gentle warmth spread through my heart. Seeing all his guards my heart sank and I was almost ready to jump off my horse and flee, when something about his general appearance stopped me. This would not be a trick, because Flavius didn’t do tricks. If he had wanted me captured, he would hunt me down, fair and square, not arrange a secret meeting through Largo. And so I showed myself, not knowing what to expect or what to say.
I had meant to be all manner of unfriendly and cold, make him squirm and feel my anger in every way I could, but then he started speaking and looked at me with his honest eyes. When he spoke and apologized, it felt as if it came from his heart, my anger faded when our eyes met. When he asked for me to return as his adviser, honestly seeming to need and want my help, I realized I did not have the heart to refuse him because of one disagreement. Of course I couldn’t but say yes to that, just to hear the caring in his voice had made my heart flip out of joy. I felt slightly out of breath when I spoke to agree and as we shook hands as a sign of forgiveness, I had to fight the urge to embrace him. I had missed him so much it scared the hell out of me.
The only true reason I had been able to be away from him for so long had been the bitter anger, which now had seemed to completely disappear, and the fact that I hadn’t actually seen him. Probably the wrath had only gotten hold of me because I had been so very tired. On the other hand, strong feelings such as hatred didn’t just disappear, I might have to find my peace with it some day.
I couldn’t believe it when it became clear that it had really been Wylan’s Triad that had crumbled the defenses of the wizard city. I felt a huge pang of fear and guilt fall in on me, nearly weighing me down, but I hid it. For a moment I felt like drowning. Was I to blame for the plan failing and Avondale falling? Was all this blood on my hands? Perhaps Flavius had been right in wanting me locked up…
I could not believe it. I had not meant for anything like this to happen. All I had wanted was to get away from the orcs and out of the city, to safety. Everything I had done had been in self-defense. I had not meant to steal the pendant, but I couldn’t have just left it there for the orcs and Nora hadn’t really given me a chance to stop and think. Besides, it shouldn’t have even been in Avondale. It was supposed to be hidden by elves. And what on earth had the mages of Avondale thought when they had hidden the pendant so poorly guarded?
And it had called for me, as if wanting to go with me. Perhaps it knew it would otherwise end up in orcish hands, perhaps it hated them as much as I did. This, I believed, required further studying.
As we ran up from the vaults and got to the orc-filled courtyard, I realized immediately what we would need to do to get back to the circle. And I also knew immediately who was the only person I could trust my life with. I turned to Flavius and hastily explained the him what to do with the pendant and taught him the words. I remembered well the very first thing I was thought about magic: to never teach it further to anyone unless I was authorized. I knew I wasn’t and if my teachers would ever hear of this, the consequences would be severe. I did it anyway. Only afterwards I got to wonder, why hadn’t I asked the apprentice war mage to cast the spell, or even Aranwe, but my heart, of course, knew the answer. No matter how silly or irrational it was, I trusted Flavius the most. So I ran to the battle with Aranwe, trusting Flavius would do his part and as I felt Wylan’s Triad yank my consciousness away, I wasn’t afraid.
We were in the Black Hall, in the dark, stone-walled map room used as a space for meetings every day. It wasn’t as well lit as it usually was, many of the lights had died out during a long tactics negotiation and the shadows between the still lit candles were deep. The door was shut and only Flavius and I were in the room. Somehow I knew all the other advisers had only just left the room and that there had been disagreements between us on some topic. Still was.
We started bickering about an insignificantly small tactical detail that we had been discussing before. Flavius had, as always, stubbornly made up his mind and wouldn’t hear an argument against him. We had had disagreements before, but we had always found a compromise. Now we were both arguing tenaciously, angrily even, raised voices and sharp gestures. There were dangerous flames in Flavius’ eyes. I felt strangely pleased at myself for making the stoic paladin for once visibly angry and continued the quarrel, intentionally irritating him further. At the same time, anger grew in me and I realized we were yelling at each other, the original reason of the argument completely forgotten. I blamed him for being hypocrite, stubborn and stupid for disregarding my suggestions as dishonorable. He insisted I had no conscience or sense of honor.
He was absolutely infuriating. After a moment of insulting him in elvish, I tried to slap him, but he caught my hand. His touch wasn’t gentle and it even hurt a bit. Most of all it made me even more furious and I shouted the worst things I could invent at him, trying to wiggle away from his grasp. He told me to shut up and when I didn’t, he pushed me rough against the cold stone wall and suddenly we were kissing, hard. All the anger turned into fierce passion and as we ripped each others clothes away, desperate to get closer, the embrace became violent but so very enjoyable. He wasn’t gentle and I didn’t want him to be, I needed all of him, here, now and fast. It was rough and feverish. It was heavenly.
I woke up to the feel of piece of broken armor uncomfortably pressing my back. Me and Aranwe were laying on the circle of candles and Flavius was standing above us in the middle of the sanctified circle, holding Wylan’s Triad and staring at the pearl of dreamland with great interest. He had done it, brought us back. We were safe. My dream still lingered and as Flavius looked at me somewhat questioningly, I had to look away from him to control my feelings.
When Flavius answered my claim to get the pendant back by suggesting we should share it, I was very surprised and more than just a bit offended. His demand was a sign of distrust, as if I couldn’t handle the pendant. Only afterwards I realized the beauty of the plan – him being a human, me being an elf, the arrangement might just save us from further wars if the pendant was revealed.
The locking ritual would have to happen in the land of dreams and to enter dreamland bound together as it would require would mean a bond stronger and deeper than telepathy. I was certain the paladin had no idea what he was suggesting and he didn’t seem to get it it even when I tried to explain it. Granted, I am no teacher and only know the basics of dream magic myself, but I would have thought even humans understood how intimate a journey this would be. But as he insisted and when even Marya the Ageless agreed that the plan was smart also on her opinion, I had to comply. Wylan’s Triad would be too great a weapon to leave unused in this war where we would need any asset we could have. And if this was the only way General Flavius was going to let me use it, so be it.
I tried to ignore the part of my mind that felt madly intrigued at getting to do this ritual with Flavius of all people. I guess I could have simply said no to him, since he could not have understood the intensity of the ritual and all the worst case scenarios possible. I was also worried about how he seemed to trust my skills, in the dream my magic was the only extra weapon we would have in addition to our own strengths in spirit. Refusing the ritual would’ve possibly been the right thing to do, given his ignorance, but we needed to be able to use Wylan’s Triad safely and I felt Flavius was someone I could actually do this, at least on my part. And he seemed to think he knew what he was doing. My gut told me to trust him and so I did.
We decided to perform the ritual right away that evening since in theory it was rather simple. I had done the ritual of two keys before, but only in the real world. I had visited the dreamland, but never had tried to do much magic in there or bring someone with me. All the pieces of the puzzle were there and I was fortunate enough to have a long and interesting conversation with Marya the Ageless on the subject that night. In theory I was certain I knew how this would work, but it was the practice I was worried about. And the fact that I would bring Flavius, who had no skills in magic, with me. I could only hope that if I wouldn’t be able to protect him, his god would.
I had almost forgotten the whole ritual when, late in the evening, Flavius came to get me from Aelfar’s chambers where I was still completely immersed in conversation with Marya the Ageless. She was fascinating with all the ancient knowledge and interesting, new theories she herself had developed. It was such a shame she wanted to die, she would have had a lot to teach, even if necromancy wasn’t the subject.
There were dangerous amounts of sparks all over my body as we clasped hands around the Wylan’s Triad and bound them together with a scarf just to make sure we wouldn’t be separated in case we writhed in our sleep. I hardly dared to look him in the eye as we settled on the bed, holding hands. It must have been the most awkward moment of my life. Being so close to him, our hands touching constantly, made my head hazy with feelings of love and lust. I could not banish the dreams that cursed Book had roused in me until after a long mental fight awake. I used everything I had had time to learned in Avondale of dream magic to shield those thoughts away. When the last time I opened my eyes to steal a glimpse of Flavius, he seemed to already be peacefully asleep, eyes closed and a serene look on his face. The thought of him on my mind finally I drifted off to the land of dreams myself.
I was back at a battlefield of orcs and paladins in the shaman’s orcish home village. The paladins were brutally slaying orcs and Flavius, who was holding hands with me, was younger and with a shudder I remembered him as the cruel killer of the shaman’s memories. He held my hand tight and as said something about staying close by and not letting go, I shook myself away from the fear created by the memory. Flavius, although looking younger, sounded like the Flavius I knew and so I followed him throughout the fight. At the funeral pyre I still wondered how and why had we been transported into this particular moment and when Flavius urged me to continue with our mission, I had to explain him. He seemed surprised but confirmed that it was indeed an old memory of a battle he had been part of. I had to smile when he said he hoped I wasn’t still afraid of him. If only he knew how much I trusted him, how much I cared for him.
I knew the ritual needed a peaceful place, something nearing to an empty dream, so I searched my memory for a the most serene place and found myself leading Flavius to the woods of my homeland in Greywood. It was a clearing rather close by to my home in Aendrul and although I had walked past it many times, nothing special had happened there, not in dream or in reality, nothing that would’ve shaped it into a dream too meaningful to me. It was a good spot. As we walked there I saw a human made altar in the center of the clearing. That was surely Flavius’ addition and it was good, it brought balance to the dream.
We halted at the altar and Flavius rushed me to begin, but suddenly I felt completely lost. For a frightening moment I thought I had forgotten everything, but then I felt Flavius’ strong hand holding mine and gathered my thoughts. I started casting the spells for the ritual of two keys as if we were in the real world. As the magic started to answer my commands I felt Flavius’ spirit joining in on the spell as it started working. As it evolved and we turned our back to back to imprint our own signature keys, I knew it needed something more. It needed a sacrifice, something big enough to fuel it. For a second I wondered what would be enough, but then a horribly dark thought settled on my mind. The child. My first born that was destined to die. The child would be quite enough, if only I was willing to give it away to stay in the dreamland.
I hesitated with the decision so much I worried Flavius and he began fidgeting. I knew I had to make the decision now and, squeezing his hand for some comfort, I turned to him and told him the tale of my death in the dungeons of the Crimson Crossing. I didn’t leave out my cowardice feelings or try to make excuses for the horrible bargain I had agreed to. Without giving him a chance to comment the tale, I hurried to explain my plan. I knew he also knew we needed a sacrifice great enough for the dreamland to accept the ritual. Before I could begin to change my mind, I asked him if he would be ready to do this, to have the baby with me and leave it here. It was a great price to pay, but I had to think this was only a dream. Only a dream.
He agreed. I had thought this against his moral, even in a dream. His trust in me scared me, although I had always thought I wanted him to trust me. Before it had always been me following him, but now that he followed me I felt the responsibility and was afraid I would somehow fail him.
I led him to Greywood and Aendrul, for I could not imagine a more peaceful place existed even in the land of dreams and peace was safety here. It was strange to see him there, walking in the streets and forests of my home. The villagers left us mostly on our own unless we talked to them and I preferred it that way. It was pleasant to spend the days walking the woods, going on riding with the village horses or taking a boat to go rowing around the lake Samáel. I learned Flavius’ long set of soothing morning rituals and he learned mine. We had more than enough time and although I remember us listening to music, telling stories and researching maps, the most vivid memories are from idle moments when we didn’t do much, perhaps just sat in a friendly, soothing silence.
I did not remember how, but I knew the child had been conceived and when I felt the first signs of pregnancy, I felt impossibly happy. I couldn’t control my feelings as I told Flavius about the baby and as he embraced me, smiling. The moment was perfect until the dreadful fate of the child reminded me of my plan to not to get overly attached to it. I tried to busy myself with Flavius, teaching him things about the elven culture, even some of the language or just talking about anything he was interested in. I remember that during the nearly a year in Greywood with Flavius, I was very happy – apart from the moments when I could feel the child’s tiny feet kicking my belly and remembered to what I had doomed him.
Mostly we stayed in a dream of Aendrul, but there were some fragments of other dreams that tried to get through. In the Spring Dance of Aendrul we were suddenly swept into my old dream where I was dancing first alone, then saw Flavius and we danced together. When the music stopped, we halted on the lake side of the pagoda, face to face, eyes locked. I felt myself gravitate towards him and suddenly realized what would happen next and that I had been here before. Before Flavius could lean down to kiss me as he had in my dream, I ran away.
He found me soon enough back at the garden of the house we lived in. I had had time to think and had realized what had happened and explained him, too that we should be careful about what kind of dreams we bring into this. He didn’t seem to understand my worry. Well, that hadn’t been the worst possible old dream that could have slipped through. I held out a small silvery jewelry case and explained him I would put there anything that I thought was best kept hidden. I knew the simple magical lock wouldn’t hold him, but I knew his word would and he promised not to touch it.
I left the box in the garden, because I felt it was best that it would stay in the dream and also explained him how to make such a thing if he needed to hide some things. To my knowledge he didn’t. At some point I wondered whether Flavius felt I didn’t trust him because of the box, but I rather risked that than let him see my darkest desires and secrets and despise me for them. After creating the box, I noticed that the dream stayed much calmer and relaxed. There was one other disturbance in the dream, but that I didn’t quite know how to explain that one.
I had thought it was a good idea to teach Flavius some elvish as a pastime and since he was very interested and the surroundings rather perfect for the purpose, he learned quickly. Before while I ended up with the same problem as every elf who teaches a human their language. All the cultural and linguistic references to Waenlan and Flavius’ interest in all things concerning gods lead me into a dead end. I knew Wylan was a taboo to his old order, but I did not want to lie to him about my faith. I was never very religious, but my respect for Waenlan, or as humans called him, Wylan, was strong and firm. I had held my tongue every time Wylan was mentioned disrespectfully before, but had never much enjoyed hearing the humans’ view of him. Just because magic was given to anyone capable of grasping it, good or bad, instead of devout all-sacrificing followers, didn’t have to make the god giving it evil.
For one reason or another, I wanted Flavius to know the truth about this, I felt there were enough secrets between us as it was and perhaps he would understand. So when we went out again on a boat to the lake, I brought the scrolls with the most similar stories about Waenlan and Wylan and read them to him. He was shocked, of course, and I had to explain the whole thing a few times. He seemed somewhat surprised at my honesty, even more so when he realized how exceptional it was for anyone outside the elven culture to know about this connection. We had a somewhat tense discussion on the topic at the lake, but when we returned I had thought the topic was closed. But on another evening he brought it up again. He tried to convince me of Wylan’s evil and I simply could not understand his short-sighted, narrow-minded, irrational views. The topic seemed to be very flammable and as he brought up his Order’s old stories of Wylan, I could not stay silent. That belligerent oaf thought he knew everything about gods when all he really knew was children’s stories and fairy tales! What did he know, he was younger than most of my house plants!
Both of us got more than a bit defensive and angry. It didn’t take long for us to change subject into other disagreements. What to do with the magic blade, how to use the Iron Crown, whether to call for help from Greywood and beyond, my infiltration to the orc army, the destruction of Avondale… it seemed there were endless amounts of unresolved dispute between us and once one was triggered, they all surfaced. We ended up calling each other rather horrible names and if our neighbors weren’t dreams, I would have been horribly ashamed of the shouting match. At that moment though, I could not think about what would anyone think, I was completely engrossed with blind red anger and only thing in my mind was to find the worst things I could say to Flavius to make him really hurt.
For a moment I believe we both lost our temper completely. I was on the verge of hitting him, but when I raised my hand a flash of something very peculiar happened. A flash of a familiar scene in the map room of the Black Hall broke through the dream of Greywood and for a split second we were in that dream. I tried to hit him, but as in the dream, he caught my hand mid-air in his strong grip. There was a tremor or a flicker of sorts in the scene as if forwarding it and next thing I knew he was pushing me rough against the cold stone wall and we were kissing, hard, all the built up anger turned into fierce, lustful passion.
Then, as abruptly as it had started, it ended. We were back in our home in Aendrul and I felt my hand in Flavius’ grip, both of us breathing heavily. I could still feel his hot lips on mine. For a moment we stared at each other, frozen in place, completely puzzled by the experience. Then, at the exact same second we both started apologizing for everything. Apologies were accepted and hastily we made peace. The tremor in the dream world had shook us out of our haze of hate and suddenly both of us were ready to forgive and forget. Afterwards we sat down by the fire place, both embarrassed at our behavior. In a quiet conversation we came to a common understanding that this was a topic that needed more discretion and tactfulness in the future. Still, neither of us felt like burying the subject for good even (or perhaps especially because) it touched such an intimate part of our mind and soul as belief. I brought out my pipe and we both smoke some, sitting in comfortable silence. It had felt good to let out some steam, but it felt even better after the fight had been settled and the cozy trust restored.
Out of that fight only one thing was left uncertain. Where had that flicker of a dream come from? As I checked my keepsake, I found that same dream in there, seemingly untouched. How then, if the defenses of the box had kept everything else tightly away, could I have pulled that dream here so vivid and real? In theory it could have been a tear in the dream world its self, perhaps even caused by our row, and it could have broken the box. But it was unharmed and untouched. As far as I knew the theory of the dream, that dream could not have come from my mind. And as the only other person here was Flavius, I could not understand where it could have come. That is, until I remembered the Wylan’s Triad and when had I seen that dream the last time. It was as we were escaping the past in Avondale and it was when Flavius had been the one Wylan’s Triad left to witness the happenings. Could Wylans’ Triad have remembered the dream somehow? In theory it could be possible, if a bit exceptional. But even that would’ve been a better explanation than the most obvious one: that Flavius had somehow seen my dream of him.
After that incident, our discussions on Waenlan or Wylan were much more respectful, but they were far from being over. Instead of defending our own stances or trying to force a compromise, we now tried to concentrate more on trying to understand the others’ thoughts. This new method brought forth many long, intriguing and enjoyable conversations. I felt our new found respect for the other’s opinions was an important lesson for the both of us. I myself had never felt very competent when it came to the skills of conversation and human relations. I wasn’t too shy so I managed, but I usually found the company of books or formal teachers more interesting than the casual chatter of other elves. There were few exceptions, such as my cousin Iontario with whom I had spent my childhood and shared all my secrets with, my step mother and the wood elf Tolsmir, who had thought me there was more to the forest than mere beauty. I wasn’t sure when Flavius had entered that list of people whose company I enjoyed, but he had moved right to the top of it very fast. My favorite pastime turned out to be just being with Flavius. I did not much care what we did, or if we talked or not, just being close to him settled my dread for what was to come.
The pregnancy progressed without a problem and as my belly grew, so grew my love for the child. No matter how much I knew the end would hurt me, I could not stop smiling at the little kicks I felt and couldn’t stop myself from wondering whether the child would be a boy or a girl and whether it would have Flavius’ blue eyes or my silvery hair. I did try my best not to think about the whole pregnancy and concentrated on anything else as much as I could. I couldn’t but notice the caring looks I got from Flavius and I knew he had grown to care for the child just as much as I had, or perhaps more. I was afraid this would break his heart and that he would hate me for bringing him into this. As I felt the pregnancy near it’s end, I realized, that possibly even more than the child I would miss the carefree intimacy with Flavius. It may sound horrible to compare such things with you child, but I had been deliberately cutting down and banishing my feelings towards the child and replacing pondering my love for it with pondering the love I had for Flavius. Before this I had always held back my feelings towards Flavius, but given these two options, I felt he was the safer to be attached to. I had not even wanted to take part in Flavius’ plans on what to name the child. I pleaded him to not to make this any harder, and so he kept his thoughts to himself. The end of the dream was tormenting and I couldn’t have survived it alone.
In the end, when we finally held the healthy baby boy, I heard Flavius call him Elethéne and my heart ached for I heard the love in his voice. As we walked back to the clearing and the altar where we had begun our ritual, I couldn’t tear my eyes off of the child. Elethéne was crying, as if knowing what was going to happen and I couldn’t not notice that his eyes were as grey as mine and the little hair that he had was golden. I knew I would not be able to forget him or the love I felt for him and that through this I had doomed us. I didn’t believe there was enough will in my soul to steer us away from this dream. As we settled him on the altar, his cries nearly stopped me. I clasped Flavius’ hand so tight it must have hurt him and focused all my might into sealing the ritual, getting us away from the dreamland and holding back my tears. It hurt, but I ignored my feelings, concentrated on the spell and brought us back.
As I opened my eyes to the real world, the first thing I saw was Flavius. Our eyes locked and I knew it had hurt him too, I knew it hadn’t been just a dream. And I knew the thought that must haunt also his mind. Elethéne, our son.
Back to the Waking World
As we woke up, there were no words. There were so many things I wanted to say that it felt as if a physical pressure in my chest was about to burst and break me. But no matter how much I wanted to explain or ask or say something, I couldn’t make a sound. I felt sick as Flavius sat up and unbound the silken band, unclasped our hands and pressed the pendant to my hand. He didn’t say a word and barely looked at me. My hand felt cold and weak under the pendant’s weight and I felt horribly lost without him. I too sat up and for a while I stared at the pendant, eventually putting it on and hiding it under my robe. Neither of us uttered a word. Many times I tried to break the silence that felt too loud, but didn’t know where to start.
I set my feet on the floor and as I took a long, deep breath to steady myself, I noticed Flavius dressed up and already handling his armor. As if enchanted, I stood up and went to help him. He didn’t resist, didn’t even seem surprised and so I took one piece of armor at a time, arranged and fitted it, fastened the buckles and picked the next one. It felt like a ritual and it settled my uneasiness for a moment. Suddenly I startled as I realized what I was doing. Flavius seemed to just wonder about my hesitation, but I was utterly confused and embarrassed. This wasn’t a dream, this was the real life and here we hadn’t known for even half the time we had spent together in the dream. We hadn’t ever been this intimate in the real life. One night’s visit to the dreamland couldn’t change the boundaries between us in this world. And yet I knew these belts and buckles as if they were the trees of Aendrul and I had a feeling I also knew the man beneath the plate.
I stopped and left him to finish the armor by himself, feeling my hands shake. It didn’t feel good to stop and I nearly turned back to continue, but my pride held me back. It wasn’t proper and what happened in the dream should stay there. My logic was determent and sound, but my heart protested fiercely nevertheless. I longed for him to say something, just anything. Be it good or bad, this uncertainty was killing me.
Suddenly Flavius broke the silence and I turned to see him question the head of Marya the Ageless about what she was doing here. She had appeared on one of the small tables in the room on a pillow. Neither she nor the pillow had been there when we fell asleep. As I looked around the room I noticed some other signs also pointing out that someone had been here. A sinking feeling of fear caught me as she questioned us about our whereabouts. For the first time after waking up our eyes met and as much as I wanted to understand what he was feeling, I couldn’t. In the dream he had been open and easy to read, but here his eyes were strangely cold as if something was closed from me.
Marya seemed very curious and amused as she told us how many people had seen us sleep together and that we had been asleep for three whole days. If I wasn’t feeling nearly physically ill over all the emotions I was fighting to hide, I would have probably laughed as I heard that the paladins had let even Largo in, hoping he would know what we were doing. At that moment however, all I could feel was anxiety and fear. Every moment Flavius didn’t look at me or talk to me was sheer torment and I realized that before this I hadn’t really much cared about his opinion. I had worried about what he would think a bit and tried to stay on his good side, but mostly because of convenience, but in contrast to this, never before had I so dreaded and yearned to hear what he thought. I feared he would hate me for everything, or regret what had happened between us. The only thing I feared more than his disapproval was the strength of my feelings.
But Marya was there and so there was no time for us to discuss and to be honest I felt I wouldn’t probably have known what to say anyway. It seemed that at the moment I could hardly look him in the eye, let alone talk about what happened, no matter how much I wanted things to be settled and preferably now. Once Flavius was set up in his armor and took the Iron Crown back on, he walked to the door, probably scared the watchmen behind it to death and gave orders for a war council to be set up. His orders to me were somewhat hazy, something about dealing with some public relations problem we might have. I had absolutely no idea what he might want me to do and I had no opportunity to ask as he rushed off with a hasty excuse I didn’t quite catch.
Once he was gone, some of my unrest settled, slowly. My heart still ached, for Flavius hadn’t said a word to me about the dream. He had only answered Marya’s questions, and even then very evasively. I gathered my thoughts, checked that the Wylan’s Triad was well out of sight and stepped out of the door, standing straight and tall, ignoring the guards and looking as natural as I could muster. I went straight to my own room and once the door closed behind me, I closed my eyes, leaned my back to the cold stone wall and just once, hit the wall as hard as I could with my fist. After a few deep breaths to steady my mind I busied myself with finding something neat and clean to wear, freshening up and then, realizing I had left my pipe to Flavius’ quarters, I somewhat hesitantly returned there to get it and locked myself back inside my room for a good long meditation.
When a young squire came knocking on my door to escort me to the war council, I hadn’t really gotten any more sense in my feelings than when I had started. As the squire led me to the map room, I noticed it was already full of people. Apparently everyone who had anything to do with leading the troops was invited, and then some. But I only had eyes for Flavius. He quickly settled the room and divided orders to the captains of his army, sending them off to settle things on their own and eventually effectively emptying the room from anyone but us, Aranwe, Largo, the new Grand Master of the paladins, Sir Garrin and a young human woman whom I didn’t know but who judging by her gear was a warrior from the city guard.
We started to plan the expedition to the Vaults under Avondale. The warrior was introduced as Emer and apparently she had been summoned as reinforcements for us on this quest and had arrived in Black Hall already three days ago. I saw no reason not to take a skilled warrior with us, but I also doubted brute force would get us very far in the Vaults. Instead of muscle we would be needing brain here, and she didn’t seem very bright. For a while I only listened as the others spoke, the dreams still disturbing my mind, but as we got to the particulars and started forming a plan, I felt my mind waking up from the haze.
I was glad to be of actual use in planning this since we didn’t really have anyone else who would have insight on what we might face in Avondale. I still felt like avoiding Flavius’ gaze, but at least I knew what I was doing with this mission. We formed a plan to go on a “scouting mission” towards South to find out why the undead army had stopped, then spread a rumor that there actually was something more secret going on on our expedition in the South. That way any unwanted attention or curiosity would be directed away from Blackhall and Avondale and we might get our mission completed without further disturbance.
Ghosts in Avondale
The next morning we rode off with a showy party of five extra warriors and headed towards South. Largo had set us up with a tief called Jack of All Trades in case of any traps we could encounter. The warrior woman, Emer seemed to get along with Jack and their chatting left me and Flavius ride side by side in a somewhat uncomfortable silence. We rode through the forest and around midday turned towards the mountains and circled behind Avondale to the hidden back door. We left our horses and the extra men there to guard the door and climbed the mountain path up and opened the door. Flavius claimed there should have been guards here set up by him, but we found them dead near the door. The golems were still completely functional and we would have to be careful with them.
Hesitantly we moved deeper in the under city. As we heard the golems move around, I led us through hidden doors and detours. Not yet far from the back door we dodged through an illusion wall to hide from a passing golem and got into a skirmish with some magical experiments, strange hybrids of frogs and monkeys. From their sound Flavius had stated that they were some kind of boars and we got completely surprised by them.
As we got in, I remembered the last time I had been here and how very afraid I had been. Now I was as well prepared as I could be and it still was a grim and scary place to be. I had even bought myself leather armor and a simple staff in case of battle. Wylan’s Triad was tucked out of sight, under my shirt. Once we got past them, Flavius finally asked me what it really was we were looking for. I had asked Marya everything she could tell about what it was she needed. It was the Lich Tome, a spell book of death and dying. I dithered, but then explained Flavius all I knew about the book. He too had promised Marya to kill her and there was no way he would back out now.
As I had guessed, he was appalled such a book even existed. He got to his usual complaining about reckless wizards and evil magical artifacts and I just had to snap at him for that. I took Wylan’s Triad’s tale as an example of a strong magical artifact capable of great deeds in either good or evil, depending on the carrier. Of course he disagreed, to him anything of Wylan was unholy and evil and we got into a quick but fiery argument over the subject of magic, evil and Wylan. Feeling the pressure of the pendant between my skin and my new leather armor, I remembered the dream lands and refused to answer him before we’d both get far too worked up over it. Jack, Emer and Aranwe looked us somewhat surprised as our dispute had jumped right where we had left off in the dreamworld, but neither of us bothered explaining ourselves. This was between the two of us, but this was not the time or place to continue that discussion. If I had learned something in the dreamworld, it was that this was an interesting but also a very sensitive topic to us both. It was best left alone when we weren’t prepared to have a long, careful talk over it. After a moment of huffing and puffing I saw Flavius also seemed to remember this. Our companions were somewhat amused over this, but rushed us to get to the point.
After a deep, calming breath I went on about how we would find the book, be it good or evil. It would most likely be in the Forbidden Vaults of Avondale, the best protected area of the whole city. I had no idea where those vaults were but I could give an educated guess. The vaults would be full of powerful magic and strong artifacts and the only place where you could hide such an amount of magic had to be close to even greater amount of magic. The Dweomerstone would hide any magic under it’s radiance, but now that something had happened to it and the radiance was gone, it would probably be possible to sense the vaults.
As we headed towards the Hall of the Stone we learned that not everyone in Avondale were dead. We were attacked by a guard from the dungeons from where I had helped Nora spring her mother. We fought him down, but he only regenerated and continued to fight us. Eventually I bewitched him asleep and stopped the warriors from hitting him anymore. It would only serve to wake him up.
We stopped to ponder what to do with him. The guard was missing his left hand and I recognized him as the guard that Nora had taken the hand off to open the prison door. I theorized that even with the wild regeneration he probably could be killed if we destroyed his head completely, but Flavius decided we should try talk him on our side. We disarmed him and I went to crouch behind him, holding my hands on his head. As I signaled Flavius I was ready, he woke the guard, commanded him to stop fighting us and I cast telepathy and slipped into his mind. As he was a citizen of Avondale, I took all the polite procedures of “knocking the door” and introducing myself before I plunged into his mind to explain our mission.
He wasn’t convinced of anything I said him and seemed convinced we were looters and bandits. I introduced General Flavius to him, but he only listened to Avondale’s chain of command. In the end I grew frustrated with his negative and suspicious attitude that I decided to even threaten him. The fact was we would either kill him or he would cooperate and to that he couldn’t really object. When he heard we were looking for something, he got all defensive again. He didn’t believe at all when I explained we would only take the one thing we needed and nothing else. In the end I settled to open the part of my mind that had judged Flavius’ character throughout our companionship on these adventures. Through our telepathic link I showed the guard how strong my faith in Flavius’ honor was and finally that seemed to work. I had tried to distill any of my improper thoughts away from the part of my mind I showed him, but I figured that there wasn’t really anything he could do even if some of my true feelings would slip trough. At least I wasn’t hiding anything that would thwart the trust I had in Flavius and that was what I needed to show him anyway.
After that he agreed to direct us to the door of the Secret Vaults in the Hall of the Stone if we showed him where his arm was. I had used it as a leverage while threatening him earlier. I myself had kicked the arm inside the prison cell of the mayor and closed the door, but now I claimed it must have been Nora. I showed him to the cell door and answered his angry questions with rumors of Nora and her mother’s escape from here. Luckily Flavius and Aranwe backed my story and the grudgingly the guard opened the door to indeed find his arm there. He picked it up, held it against the stump it had been cut off and after a moment it was back on as if nothing had happened. Clearly it hurt, but his revival was stunning. As I inquired him about the talent, he closed off completely, clearly out of a learned programming.
After he gave is directions to how to find the Vaults we left him on his post in the dungeons. There were many more cell doors and he claimed it was his responsibility to stay guard them. He seemed to have at least Flavius’ amounts of stubbornness and a magically manipulated programming on top of that, so I judged it best to leave him be. Aranwe guided us past the golems and other traps and I showed us to the Hall of the Stone. Had the Dweomerstone still radiated magic there I would not have ever let any of them enter and wouldn’t have gone myself either for fear of being lost in it’s power, but now the radiance was clearly gone.
I feared what we would find from there and once we stepped in we saw that it had been taken. Judging by the marks of battle the thieves were the orcs. I shuddered as I wondered what they would want with it, but there were a few bodies that proved they did not exactly know what to do with it. Some were burned, some clean bones, some completely without bones. The smell was disgusting. At least their shaman was dead now, thanks to Aelfar and hopefully the stone would only cause them trouble.
For a moment I stood there, staring at the spot where the wonderful thing had stood the first and the last time I had seen it. I could still remember the feeling of swimming in warm, amazing threads of magic, only steadied by Pëllagram’s arm and his voice steadily explaining the stone’s story. It must have been one of the happiest moments of my life to be in the presence of the stone. The whole hall felt incredibly empty and sad without it, as if every ounce of happiness and light had been drained away from it. The others had to wake me from my thoughts to get me to find the door and continue on our mission.
To the Secret Vaults
If I hadn’t got the directions from the guard it would have taken hours, if not days to find the door. The enchantments were faint, delicate and extremely well hidden. It was clearly relying heavily on staying hidden instead of being a hard door to crack, as the traps were fairly easily opened. As I was disenchanting and twinkling the last traps, with the assistance of the thief, Jack, he suddenly pushed me away as the lock in the door frizzled and spit out a flash of lighting at us. Jack took the hit since he had pushed me aside and screamed clearly in horrible pain, violent spasms going through his body. I was utterly confused at being saved by the human whom I had judged to be just scum and suspected he’d betray us and run off at the sight of first trouble.
Once I saw the magic leave his body I went to him and offered to bandage his burns. The lightning had burned his hands pretty badly and although he claimed to be alright he was clearly still in pain. I gently patched him up and hesitantly thanked him for saving me. Perhaps his work morale was a bit better than I had suspected, or then he really wanted to get his hands on to the treasures of Avondale.
The lock was gone and so Emer and Flavius pushed the door open. Almost as soon as we got in and started to descend the circling staircase downwards we were attacked by strange beetle-like creatures made of brass. Me and Emer had stepped in first and gotten frozen a halting spell. It was simple enough for me to negate and somehow Emer also got out of the enchantment. The beetles dropped from above and the battle began. Emer dealt strong blows and Flavius defended us. Aranwe seemed to be in somewhat of a trouble since the space wasn’t big enough to shoot arrows at. Jack wasn’t done amazing me as he again saved me. One of the beetles got a hold of my leg and while the bite wasn’t too bad, it started charging something. Panicking, I dispelled it and for a while it seemed to work. I saw the other beetles electrocuting others who had been caught by them. The charging sound began again in the middle of my spell casting and I realized I had no time to dispel it again before it would strike.
Suddenly Jack was there, ripping the beetle’s fangs off of me. As I heard the charging noise come to it’s end note, I directed the spell I had cast into a defensive shield between myself and the beetle as it erupted the blue flames. The flames hit Jack and once again it was him who convulsed with a painful grimace on his face as the shock went through him. I could only look in horror and backed away from the beetle. Jack fell on his knees and I could see he had taken a hit or two even before that in the fight. He faltered and fell down the stairs along with another one of those beetles, hacked to pieces by Emer or Flavius. It didn’t take long after that for us to finish the battle and we rushed to go see if Jack was in any shape to be saved.
Jack was barely breathing as we found him and Flavius quickly knelt next to him and I could hear the paladin mutter familiar words of prayer as he touched the burn marks. I couldn’t help but send a tentative wish to Keldan to help him and as Jack’s breathing normalized and he started to mutter curses again, I felt relieved. This time Flavius patched him up again. I wasn’t sure what I would say to him now that he had saved me already twice. His determination was confusing and it was uncomfortable to have been saved by him. I wasn’t used to being saved, I was used to being smart enough in fights to not to get in the way of blows.
Jack needed a moment to rest and also the rest of us had taken hits in the fight so we stopped to rest by the door we closed behind us – at least then possible enemies would only come from downstairs. I began to ponder if there was any way of forging a sign that would signify all the traps and guardians we weren’t intruders. I remembered how Nora had used the severed hand of the guard to open the prison cell and something like that could work. In theory this probably would require also for the hand to be still alive but with the spell from Marya the Ageless’ spell book I could in theory accomplish that. I only realized I had talked out loud when Flavius strictly forbade me to use that book here, or anywhere for the matter. His tone was very final, fortified by the Crown and I dropped the idea. In any case it would have required quite a lot of preparation and we would have to mangle the body of one of the high mages of Avondale and I felt I had quite enough avondalian blood on my hands.
In any case I thought it would be useful if we could forge a sign of some sort, or at least try that. Perhaps it would fool at least some of the guardians. As I wondered this, Emer was patching up her bites and as she reached to clean a burn in her back I froze. It was the DAFUCKWASIT sign, and not just any scribbled feint approximated tattoo, but the circle was perfectly round and the spiral in between seemed to truly continue until infinity. That would certainly do as a mark of clear passage, at least as a temporary, partial access. I rushed to see it and I fear I sounded like an interrogator when I demanded to hear where she had gotten it. It was depressing to hear she couldn’t remember, but as she pondered it had been around the time she had visited Avondale as a bodyguard to some mage, I got interested. To her these Vaults seemed strangely familiar but she couldn’t recall why. I tried inquiring her for details, but she couldn’t remember much and I suspected she just didn’t know how to describe things, so I suggested I would dive into that memory with her through telepathy. Perhaps I would understand what she had seen. If we were to try and use the mark as a passage here we would need to know who had put it on her and for what purpose.
We rested for a moment before trying the spell. I attempted to advise her on how to reconstruct the memory best, but gave up when I realized she clearly had no experience in consciously working with memories in the realm of your mind. She couldn’t even understand half the words I used to explain the procedure. It was of course to be expected, probably none other than me in this group had, you needed to be a wizard to learn telepathy and unless you regularly used telepathy or someone used it on you, you wouldn’t really learn those skills. But as she had been hired by a mage here and gotten that mark, I had imagined there’d be a little more in her head than just battle formations. But alas, she was just a human.
I sat down facing her and, hoping she at least knew numbers, told her to count to three after I cast my spell and then return to that moment when she had entered Avondale. To my surprise the first thing I saw in the memory was Pëllagram, just as he had been when I had first met him. Emer was with him and he guided her through Avondale and to his apartment above the bookshop. It was evening and I saw Emer settle into the same room I had resided before and watched as she removed her armor and cleaned it. There was a crystal bottle of deep red wine in the room along with some snacks and before she got ready for bed I saw her pour herself a glass, first suspiciously sniffing and then drinking it. It tasted good and she sat down to eat and drink. The wine was really tasty, the best she’d ever had and it was nicely strong. I could feel her get drunk of it, but there was also something else in the feeling, something that wasn’t just alcohol. She only drank a glass or two and as I understand even for humans that isn’t too much. But everything got very hazy very fast and I myself started feeling a dizzying feeling.
The memory wasn’t continuing and I realized I was out of her head, sitting, dizzy again on the stairs in the Vaults, completely befuddled. The drugged feeling had stuck on my head somehow, I had been too keen to try feel everything in Emer’s memory. I didn’t usually drink much and being so intoxicated was a very strange feeling to me. I was flying or floating or falling on something feathery or flowery and the Flavius was there, asking me what was going on. I began to explain the paladin about the memory, about how she had been drugged, but somehow my sentence ended with strawberries and the next started with summer lilies in Aendrul.
I felt rather good actually and as Flavius sat next to me to try to figure out what was wrong with me I cuddled closer to him. His hair smelled nice and in the magical light of the staircase it was shining brilliantly, beautiful like gold, soft like the the touch of the wings of a butterfly. I’m still rather embarrassed to have told him all this, along with singing a children’s poem about sunlight and magic, mumbling and all the while hugging and caressing him uninhibitedly. Bravely he held me still, gently and tried to quieten and calm me down. I enjoyed myself thoroughly as he tried very hard not to be bothered by my caresses and hugs, but clearly wasn’t unaffected. Just being there, next to him was a bliss. I was just about to start telling him how pretty his eyes were, but luckily I was silenced.
To my rescue came the beetles as Jack could hear them rattling about and we had to move to avoid them. Flavius led me and we began to descend the long way down. After the first encounter with the beetles we were keen to tread carefully. Jack noticed the railings in the ceiling where the beetles moved and we could avoid them by listening very carefully and dodging under the right railings when they skittered past so they couldn’t see us. Emer seemed to remember the way here and she directed us as the stairs became a maze. She talked about a sound Pëllagram had followed in her hazy memory and it led us to a lowered gate with iron bars. Behind it there was a wice, deep cavern with a bridge over to a door on the other side. There were big frozen golems guarding the bridge and a chalice on this side of it. I was still rather hazy, but I could recognize the style and some of the runes. It was a place of the tinkers who used magic to create amazing mechanical constructs. This had to be where the beetles were built and I advised we’d not try our luck there. But Emer insisted this was where she had been led by Pëllagram and she wanted to see what was in there. Before I could argue, they had the gate up and we went to examine the chalice.
I read the runes on the chalice and deemed it was a place for offerings, probably to get past the bridge safely. Emer stepped to it and before we could stop her, tried what apparently was her idea of a normal offering for these sorts of places. She cut her hand and squeezed her fist. As her blood dropped, a flame burned it before it hit the bottom of the bowl. The golems guarding the bridge moved slightly, but didn’t yet spring alive.
As we really didn’t feel like fighting the four huge golems, everyone tried suggesting anything that came into their mind, smart or dumb. We tried deducting what would be something that could be used in this by the Avondale mages. It would have to be something you could regularly sacrifice since it was probable that people only worked down here and would have to go back up to rest once in a while.
Flavius tried thinking about what mages would use as something like this and suddenly turned to me and asked: “Well, what would you sacrifice?” Instantly a flashback of gold-haired, grey eyed Elethéne invaded my mind. I felt my heart stop, blood freeze and apparently seeing what must have been a terrified look my face, he turned away and snapped his mouth shut. I had to turn away from the rest to control my feelings and steady my mind. There was a horrible, sickening silence through which I could hear my own, panicking heartbeat and I had to fight to keep breathing through it. How could he just blurt something like that out? Had he forgotten? Judging by his reaction, whether or not he had remembered before, he did remember now.
After that neither of us said anything until after some time Emer said she could remember a cog with eight claws being dropped in the chalice. Jack had collected some of the golden cogs from the beetles, but none of them looked quite the same. We decided to try one of them anyway. Perhaps it wasn’t about the shape but about it being the right thing in general. A cog wouldn’t be my first guess at a place like this. Still, it was a risk and everyone prepared in case of a battle. I cast invisibility on myself and prepared for the worst, but as the cog was dropped to the chalice, a lightning stuck it to dust and the golems simply moved to cross their staffs, preventing entry to the bridge.
Clearly a final warning, we stepped back and decided to think long and hard before we tried anything else. As we stopped to think, I realized that our best chance of finding any cogs here would be at the door of the vaults, in the broken beetles. It was a long way back up and together we would probably just attract more beetles and waste even more time fighting. After looking at our party I realized I would be the best choice. I stated my thoughts and after a short argument with Flavius, cast invisibility on myself and disappeared to the dark corridor. Aranwe sent Thorondir to follow me and alert them if anything bad happened.
I was quite eager to get away from the rest, especially Flavius after his last comment, but once I climbed the dark stairs for a while all alone, I started doubting the smartness of my choice. Sure I was the only one who could turn invisible and as an elf my step was light and as a mage I could handle any surprising magical obstacles better than the rest, but I wasn’t a brave fighter and definitely I wasn’t used to travelling alone in places like these. I sneaked the pitch black stairs up only stopping to flash a quick, feint light on crossings to check the marks Jack had left with his knife to mark where we had come from.
First I thought I could handle it, just be quick and silent and nothing would notice me. But then I heard rattle and strange noises from all around me in the tunnels. For a moment I froze to listen, I had thought it was Thorondir’s wings that made the noise, but she had just a moment ago flown ahead to apparently scout and I could hear the noise from somewhere above me, or behind me, or to the right… there were more than one and I had no idea what they were. I was absolutely horrified and squeezed the staff in my hand, debating if I should flash a light to at least see what they were. I couldn’t help but imagine how relieved I would have been if Flavius now appeared to just be there, but he was downstairs and it would take long minutes even if I ran there and I wasn’t ready to admit defeat. As the noises didn’t come any closer and so after a while of panicking I headed onward up the stairs, being careful not to make a single sound. Soon Thorondir came back and I felt somewhat braver with her.
As I got to the remains of the mechanical beetles at the doors I began to deconstruct one of those that Emer had already opened the hard cover out of the way. I dismantled the whole thing but found no cogs of Emer’s description. There were some of similar size, but none had eight claws. Frustrated I took some of the ones that were close to what she had portrayed and headed back, wondering if the chalice would accept a magically modified version or perhaps a completely magically created one. It was worth a try at least since the other option would anyway be to use brute force.
The road back was faster, but no less scary. The voices were still there, skittering around me unseen but clearly still there. I was half panicking as Thorondir flew ahead of me and I couldn’t hear her for a while. And then the others came rushing at me and I scared me really well with their charge. Once I recognized them, I yelled after them and Flavius asked me to come to him so he’d know I really was here. At the moment when he said it and when I heard the clear worry in his voice I would have been ready to dash into his embrace, but I settled into taking a steady hold from his hands. We returned behind the gate quickly before any beetles might react to our noises and come find us.
As my new plan was to defy danger with cheating the chalice I kept my invisibility on and dropped the cogs to Flavius’ hand for everyone to see. Emer confirmed my estimate that while they were about the same size and color, none of them was like the one she had seen. I told them I had taken apart one of the beetles and that I was sure there weren’t any exactly similar there and so I suggested what I had been planning. That I would do my best to transform one of the cogs into a more suitable one and then we’d try that on the chalice. Since no-one had a better idea, we decided to prepare for battle and I created a fake token out of one of the wrong sized cogs. Standing at the chalice I made sure everyone was ready to take on whatever would come and held my breath as I dropped the cog.
There was a sickening moment of waiting as the cog fell then, just before it would’ve hit the bottom of the chalice it disappeared into thin air and the guardians gave us way. Hesitantly we closed in on the bridge and once nothing was attacking us, ran over it to the door at the other side. The door was made of dark iron, but opened surprisingly easily. The noise that was released as we opened it was deafening.
Behind the door there was a workshop so amazing none of us had ever seen anything like it, well apart from Emer who had been here before and even she looked amazed by the place. The loud clanging came from the huge hammer in the middle of the room, everywhere there were working tables filled with curious gadgets, strange looking tools and unbelievable mechanical creations, big and small. In the room there was only one single person: an ancient-looking dwarf craftsman. As I scanned the room I noticed that there were much more functional, ready constructions than it first seemed, as many looked as if they were still just parts to a bigger machine. I figured it was probably a defense mechanism just in case, someone working with as powerful things as these would have enemies.
As he noticed us and Flavius began to try and explain our visit, it was clear that working alone here had probably made him somewhat mad. Not stupid, for he wouldn’t be able to create things like these without a brilliant mind, but somehow mad still. In wizard circles there is an often quoted saying that there is a fine line between madness and genius. The dwarf finally introduced himself as Kirilya the Dweomermaster and the title explained his ancient feel and how he shone as the strongest beacon when I scanned the room for magic. When we told him about the fall of Avondale, he only laughed. He had had no idea what had happened Clearly he didn’t like Avondale mages and so I decided to stay invisible and lingered hidden behind the others. Emer questioned him about why Pëllagram had brought her here and got a rather cryptic answer, something about the spear and the axe and her blood being needed to unlock something.
I whispered advice to Flavius as he tried to talk Kirilya into granting us safe passage to the vaults under these where the book was. Suddenly the dwarf noticed me. I don’t know what I had done wrong, my invisibility was still in tact, I hadn’t made any noise and even if I was visible he could hardly see me from behind the paladin, but suddenly he stared right at me with a completely insane glint in his eyes and yelled that we had tried to trick him. Quickly I turned visible and tried explaining myself, but then he said something even more horrible. “She carries Wylan’s Triad!” he exclaimed, pointing a finger at me.
I sneaked a hesitant look at Emer and Jack, who were the only ones to whom this would be a surprise, but as they didn’t seem to be of more trouble than just curious, I turned to admit that yes I carried it and that no we would not fool around with it for any small reasons. “We have taken extreme measures to assure it won’t be used inappropriately,” I couldn’t help the slight shudder that ran through me as I assured him this. To my horror Kirilya suggested he should destroy the pendant. For a moment I nearly thought Flavius would agree, but then he declined and we continued on the negotiations. In the end we realized what would certainly rouse his interest: Marya the Ageless. And I guessed also Marya would be interested in meeting this peculiar dwarf.
He made Flavius swear by Keldon that he would bring Marya down to the Vaults to meet Kirilya. As Flavius hesitated I promised to bring her if he wouldn’t and Kirilya seemed pleased enough. He gave us each one of the same kind of cogs Emer had described. They had an old dwarvish rune on one side of them but otherwise they just looked like a normal eight-clawed cog. As long as we held on to them we’d be safe from Kirilya’s creations, but he couldn’t promise we’d be safe from other things down there. With the cogs we carried on downwards. The beetles weren’t interested in us anymore and we walked down the ramps and stairs until we got to a huge, mechanical elevator. I knew the name of the thing only because I had heard dwarfs built things like these in their mines, but had never stepped foot inside one. It looked neat and well built, but I was still somewhat apprehensive towards such dwarven engineering.
It brought us safely down however and next we stepped into a hall of light. It wasn’t really very bright, but it felt as bright as the day and distantly home-like. There were elegant, old elven runes on the floor and in the only door leading away from the hall. I could read the writing on the door after a while of thinking. It was very old elvish, but once I got the general idea of the text and knew what type it was, it was easy to decipher it. It was a prayer to the elven God of Life, it would be a very strong defense against something like, say, the Lich Tome. Or a Lich, as Flavius had somewhat anxiously suspected. I was still hoping for the best, although to summon something as strong as the God of Life to protect this place did make me worried.
The runes on the ground were probably a shield against intruders. As this was most certainly out of the power of the dwarf’s cogs, we decided to try make Emer walk past them to the door as she had the DAFUCKWASIT symbol. I created a telepathic link to the warrior woman and then she stepped next to the runes, laid the tattoo side of her back on the markings on the floor and as nothing struck her down, got up and walked onward. It seemed to work. She walked to the door and I took a closer look at the text of the prayer. We figured the door would only open if you chanted the prayer and the God would see you worthy by it. Emer couldn’t even read, so I did and chanted the prayer in her head as clearly as I could. After a moment of practicing she finally recited it. Her accent was horrible, but the words came out recognizable. The door didn’t move, but we felt something, as if a lock had opened and suddenly we knew also the rest of us were free to move in the hall.
We all went to the door and as Flavius and Emer looked at us elves expectantly, I turned to Aranwe and said this would probably be more to his repertoire. I had never been very good with these and I understood that the God of Life was well known in Wealwood. The rest of us got ready to whatever would come through the door as Aranwe began to recite the prayer. Now it sounded right and we felt the bindings of the door open. It opened with just a light push and we stepped into a dark, bleak chamber lighted only with four candles on a single stone sarcophagus in the center of the room. Aranwe shut the door behind us, stating that he had a feeling these two spaces shouldn’t be mixed.
For a moment we stood and observed. The Tome would certainly be in the sarcophagus but with what, and what would we face when we tried to take it. Unsurprisingly Flavius declared that everything in this room was very evil, even the air itself and especially whatever was inside that sarcophagus. It seemed his grim guess had been a good one. A Lich would be exactly what we were now facing. I myself could feel a strong soul and something magical inside. Even I wouldn’t argue with Flavius on this, it was definitely a sinister place, all over. Everything inside here felt dead, it reminded me of when I was at the gates of death, only this felt more forceful. On the walls there were somehow drawn or carved pictures of skeletal warriors that seemed to nearly step out of the frames. The reliefs were strangely magical and I suspected it was a protection of some sort and voiced my concern. Emer said she had a feeling the candles would be useful against the Lich, but Flavius warned us that their smoke felt especially evil.
I suggested we tried talking to the spirit before we did anything drastic and reached out to contact the spirit within the sarcophagus. The others readied themselves into what ever would come out of this and I tried strengthening myself against the horrid soul of the Lich. As soon as it appeared I shot my question at it, before I would show my fear. I asked it how we would get the Lich Tome and his answer was simple. Either we make a deal or we fight. He wouldn’t give any details on the deal. I told the others his terms and suggested we’d try negotiate a deal.
Just when I began to think what would a Lich want from us in exchange for the book, Flavius went into his righteous mode and exclaimed we would not negotiate with such an evil creature. I heard a terrifying battle roar from the spirit and the lid of the sarcophagus was thrown at Flavius. I concentrated my attention on the walls from where I felt the skeletal warriors were beginning to move towards us and threw a hasty dispel at them, hoping it would keep them at bay. Emer and Aranwe got some good hits at the Lich as it stood and readied its sword. I saw Flavius get up from the corner where the stone lid had slammed him and join the battle, taunting the Lich’s attention at him. The skeletons on the walls I had dispelled seemed to have stopped moving and so I concentrated on the last two walls and dampened also their magic. I was somewhat panicky, trying to dodge the battle in the small chamber, knowing the skeletons would join their master if I didn’t get this right on the first try.
I did, and the skeletons froze, but the Lich noticed me and grasped at me, his hand went right through my chest and I could feel cold death get a hold of my heart. Suddenly Flavius was there and pushed me to the side, I was gasping for air. I saw Emer aim a huge blow at the Lich and suddenly he fell. I lunged at the sarcophagus and found the Tome. It was huge, grimly decorated and impossibly heavy, but fright gave me strength. We rushed through the door and ran to the elevator, carefully closing each door behind us. The Lich surely wasn’t destroyed and it surely would come after us. Perhaps the door would hold him back, perhaps the mechanical guardians would too, but right now we needed to get to safety to rest.
I noticed Flavius had taken a deep, nasty looking cut on his left shoulder from the Lich’s blade. That wasn’t good. I could see his flesh turn black and rotting. We had nothing here that could help him. I myself was just shaken from whatever the Lich had done to me when it reached inside me. There were no visible wounds, but I felt weaker. Aranwe and Emer had taken their share of blows, but Flavius was by far in the worst shape and I seriously feared for how he would survive. For now he was walking on his own, but the ever blackening cut was clearly more painful than he showed.
More Strange Dreams
We circled back from the hidden door. Night had fallen and that was good for we needed to avoid any extra attention. The Lich Tome would shine to anyone with any sense of evil or magic like a beacon and we were heading to Black Hall which was full of paladins and mages. Jack of All Trades left us before the gates and disappeared in the night. I had to express my concern to Flavius, both Jack and Emer knew about the Wylan’s Triad. I didn’t dare suggest it, but either just killing them or at least jailing would be the only smart thing to do to avoid them spreading any rumours. Flavius had the paladins clear the streets as we rode in the city. We were nearly there already when suddenly Aelfar stepped out from the shadows casting a spell of some sort. As if as frightened of him as me, the book in my hands quivered. I shouted Aelfar to stop whatever he was doing, afraid it might affect the Tome. He seemed disgusted as he asked what we were carrying. Clearly he had sensed the book before seen us. We told him we’d explain as soon as we got somewhere safe, so he joined our convoy. Once finally inside Black Hall, we went straight to my quarters where we had left Marya the Ageless.
As Flavius dealt out orders to us, suddenly also Thorondir asked for her orders. That spooked everyone. It was extremely rare to meet a talking animal, although not unheard of, especially among wood elves. Flavius and Aelfar seemed completely baffled as Thorondir spoke and clearly this was also a surprise to Aranwe, but at least us elves had heard stories of this being possible. The effect of being in a place blessed by the God of Life would certainly work as a trigger and from what I understood Aranwe had had Thorondir as his companion ever since she was a chick. I explained the theory behind it, but I doubt no-one really listened. Aranwe seemed genuinely happy for this and I just felt honored to have met Thorondir.
The others weren’t so automatically happy about this. Aelfar seemed kind of wary of the whole thing, but that was just because he was being his grumpy, new-fearing dwarvish self. On the other side of the room I could just hear Flavius trying to figure out what in this he could declare as evil and he was probably on the verge of jumping into the worst possible conclusions. Luckily, he was also in need of immediate medical attention and didn’t have time to start a witch hunt. Knowing he would eventually attribute this to one god or another, I decided to choose for him and pronounced it must have been the God of Life that triggered this. Even Flavius wasn’t stupid enough to start arguing if the God of Life was good or bad in the presence of two elves, one of them from Wealwood and so, clearly still suspicious, he welcomed Thorondir as part of the party.
Marya didn’t mind a talking owl but was very intrigued once she saw the book and wanted to get on with the studies right on. Flavius insisted no-one was to be left alone with the book and Marya. He was probably trying to be polite and subtle, but it was very clear probably to everyone he meant I wasn’t to be left alone with the book of evil magic. His distrust didn’t come as a surprise, but the fact that it still hurt so much did. I was relieved when he finally left to find a healer for his wounds. Aelfar had offered to help with the cut, but Flavius had declined like the fool he was. Once he was gone I settled to open the book for Marya and sighed. I cursed myself in my mind for caring, but then turned to the dwarf cleric and asked him to go help Flavius. The healers wouldn’t know enough about such wounds and frankly after Aelfar’s death and their accusations at me I didn’t trust them much. I couldn’t help laughing as the dwarf suggested the paladin would rather listen to me. I just told him to talk to the healers and so he went. Aranwe staid with me and entertained himself by talking with Thorondir, sometimes in owlish, sometimes in common.
I refused to worry about Flavius’ injuries and sat by Marya, turning the pages whenever she wished so and tried to concentrate to get what I could from the book. The writing was foreign to me but from what I could understand from the pictures and diagrams it was not exactly about severing the bond between soul and flesh than about that which is not life. To us elves such a thing is very unholy and no matter how interesting the theory, I could feel the hair in the back of my neck stand up as I scanned through the pages. The night grew long. I couldn’t help wondering if Aelfar had gotten the stubborn paladin healed and how he was faring. I was sure the dwarf would come tell us if anything serious happened, so I refused to go see him and refused to not think of him. Needless to say I failed miserably.
Some time before dawn I woke up to Aranwe gently shaking me and guiding me towards my bed. He took my place beside Marya and told me to get some sleep. I had fought to stay awake as I feared what I would face in dreams, but had finally dozed of, nearly on the book. Once I reached my bed and closed my eyes, I was so tired I doubted my brain would have the energy to create nightmares. As it seemed, my brain’s dream-section was perfectly capable of repeating old horrors.
Again I saw me and Flavius inside the familiar tent at a war camp. The light was golden and warm and we laughed at something as I helped him with his armor. When he was ready and I handed him his sword I saw us standing face to face by the canvas door, eyes locked, lingering, just as we had done a thousand times before. I could see the inviting warmth in his eyes and I just knew I would have a chance with him, but I didn’t dare speak.
After a moment of silence I broke the eye contact, wished him good hunting and turned to secure my own battle gear. The leather armor and a staff felt familiar. As I looked over my shoulder I saw him leave and soon after I followed. We mounted our warhorses, he gave a speech and we rode to war. Then the dream turned into my usual nightmare of war and suffering and I couldn’t see Flavius anywhere.
I knew I had lost him, probably for good.
As I woke up I noticed that the only person in the room with me besides Marya the Ageless was Flavius. The emptiness left by the nightmare still lingered and seeing him there, clearly well healed and definitely not lost, made me feel good. I got up and we exchanged polite good mornings. I went to freshen up and asked if Flavius wanted me to take his place assisting Marya, half hoping to drive him away, half wishing he’d insist to stay. To my surprise he actually had things to discuss with me and so we both sat down, trying not to disturb Marya.
Flavius needed to hold a war council to explain our latest expedition to the leaders of the other factions. I saw no reason for me to be anywhere but here assisting Marya with her studies, but apparently Flavius needed my expertise. And not in the realm of magic, but in the realm of lying, or at least withholding information. We hadn’t told them about the Wylan’s Triad and wouldn’t. About this book we would have to talk, but we couldn’t just let a room full of paladins and righteous, superstitious warmongers know we had The Lich Tome and were even planning to use it. I understood his reasons, but hated him for automatically assuming I would do the lying for him. Of course I agreed, I would never put him in a place where he would have to act against his code if I could help it. It would be as if denying magic from me.
We spent quite some time on planning and debating on details to give. I was impossibly glad to just talk with him. It was infuriating, of course, I felt he had no right to affect me so much after having insulted me with his distrust. But I couldn’t not answer his open smile and as long as he looked at me with those soulful eyes I couldn’t stay angry with him. I felt as if the warm summer sun was shining inside me whenever he was near. At least he still trusted me with something, be it lying or not, and I hated myself for forgiving him so easily. Once we finally decided how to share the briefing it was already nearly time.
Once again we gathered around the table of the map room. Flavius outlined the facts of our mission to Avondale and then gave me the floor. I had never really been one for giving speeches and this was a big, demanding audience. I cleared my throat and began to list the facts we had decided safe to give about our journey to Avondale and about what we had been looking for. I faltered as the dornite Magister’s eyes met mine. Suddenly I knew I wasn’t impressing anyone, I was being too vague, too uncertain and too afraid to speak things that weren’t true in front of so many paladins. I glanced at Flavius, hesitant and saw that he too had noticed our plan wasn’t working. I let out a small sigh of relief as he stepped in and explained that because things required great secrecy in order to work, this was all we could tell them about these things for now. I was terrified as he ended the session by asking for questions but when none came, I had to marvel at how well he handled it. They were clearly unhappy about the secrecy, but somehow the young man still kept their trust. It had to be something else than just the Iron Crown.
I myself felt like a failure. I was a scholar, not a speaker, why on earth had I even agreed to try fool such an audience? The answer was, of course, standing right beside me – because Flavius had asked me to. It was just plain ridiculous how I would agree to anything just to stay on his good side. Or rather, to not get on his black list. In my mind I swore never to do something as stupid as this again.
The room was cleared of everyone except our party, Sir Garrin and one paladin that I didn’t remember seeing before in Black Hall. He was a handsome blonde young man with a neat beard and he was about Flavius’ age. He was introduced as Sir Yorick of Highberg and as soon as he spoke, addressing Flavius quite informally it was obvious they were old friends. Flavius introduced us. I felt both relieved and bad as he skipped me with just as his “wizard adviser”, but gave detailed compliments to the others in his introductions, especially to Aranwe, whom he declared as “the most reliable elf he’s ever met”. That hurt. Although I couldn’t really argue, I just didn’t see why he had to say it right there, as if deliberately insulting me in front of our friends, Sir Garrin and Sir Yorick. Gladly Yorick didn’t seem to let Flavius’ introductions affect his opinions and he was very polite and friendly towards me. I especially liked the fact that he didn’t get all wary although I am a wizard, it seemed he was of a different sort than most of these Black Hall paladins. Some of his jokes and the way he looked at me did remind me of Largo’s dalliance, but all in all I got a very pleasant and genteel first impression of him.
Introductions made, Yorick and Flavius began discussing the banner, apparently an important relic of Keldan, and how Yorick and some other paladin had tracked it and retrieved it from some dark place. The banner was now traveling here by boat and Flavius seemed very relieved at the prospect of getting it here. Yorick made sure to explain about the banner in order to not to exclude us from the conversation, but it was clear the two of them were keen to catch up. It was strange to see Flavius so relaxed, even laughing and joking, so happy to see his old friend. Although he had once been relaxed with me too, in Aendrul. In the dream lands. But that felt like a very long time ago, like a stolen moment. There Flavius had laughed and smiled at me without reservations. Here in the reality there seemed to be nothing but tension and somber secrets between us. I felt irrational envy towards Yorick.
There was one very worrisome part in Yorick’s account of his adventures and that was when he mentioned dreams. Apparently everyone who had been in me and Flavius’ dream about the battle in the orcish village had seen the dream and they had also seen me in the dream, fighting alongside Flavius. I didn’t dare utter a word at that and Wylan’s Triad felt heavier inside my robes. Luckily Flavius wasn’t so baffled and continued questioning Yorick about these dreams. There had been other dreams as well, premonitions and other strange dreams and they all had begun around the time when Avondale had fallen and Wylan’s Triad had been released. I felt horrified, although I should have expected something like this. However strange phenomena, it seemed that nothing bad had yet come from these dreams.
Once all the briefings were over, Flavius stated he needed to talk with me and Aelfar in private. He led the dwarf first to his personal chambers and said he’d come to get me later. Yorick caught up with me on my way back to Marya who was still reading in my quarters. He seemed curious to hear more about our adventures with Flavius, but we didn’t have much time to chat when suddenly Flavius’ door was kicked open and Aelfar, clearly furious, stomped off from the room. After a moment Flavius returned, somewhat frustrated and confused. He came to us and when he asked if I was free for a talk now Yorick promptly excused himself, but as he left he gave a somewhat surprised looked at us when I took Flavius’ arm and he walked me to his room. I hadn’t really given much thought as to why we had began to walk together like that, it just had happened. The obvious explanation was the year we spent together in the dreamworld. But since it wasn’t really in any way improper and felt so natural I had just settled to the habit, but Yorick’s look made me think twice. I dreaded what had Aranwe thought of it since he was the one who had known us for longest.
Of course I guessed what Flavius wanted to discuss and as soon as the door was closed I had to banish the slight panicky feeling that was threatening to creep up on me. Flavius got right to the business and expressed his worry about the effect of our visit to the dream lands and for once his straightforwardness helped. I explained him that in theory it was probable that everyone we met in the dreamworld had seen the same dream, also in Aendrul. Luckily we hadn’t met too many elves in Aendrul, I remembered all the time we spent just the two of us and it seemed that while the memories haunted me, it was now also a blessing. It was possible that even those that were just passing by had also seen us passing by in their dreams. As just a dream of me, an old resident of Aendrul it wouldn’t raise much suspicion or worry and even the presence of Flavius could be explained as a funny trick of dreams. As far as I knew there were paladins in Parthos and sometimes they visited the markets in Waenlan Háe, perhaps Flavius could be taken as just a memory of one of those. It was worrisome, however, that we hadn’t realized we could be seen in the dream, but now that I thought about it we should have expected something like this.
My heart nearly stopped as he stepped closer to take my hand into his and, clear worry in his voice, asked about the clearing we had performed the ritual of two keys. The tingles of excitement coming from his touch confused me for a bit, but once I thought I knew what he was worried, I said I was sure no-one had been there in the dreamworld, I had chosen that clearing specifically because it didn’t link to any of my memories, it was just a clearing where nothing much ever happened and I hardly remembered details of it. I assured him that since we hadn’t seen anyone there, no-one had seen us, but I didn’t seem able to ease his mind. He didn’t ask anything more on it, but something clearly bothered him. Well, who could blame him, to be frank I hadn’t been a very good adviser lately in anything. At some point he realized he was still holding my hand and hesitantly we let go.
To fill the silence I began to theorize any possible problems caused by this. With this new information from Yorick I wasn’t worried about the safety of our keys, (or even Elethéne’s safety for the matter, but of this I did not dare speak). The part that I was worried about was that if anyone familiar with dream weaving or just theory of dream magic had seen anything, it would give them quite a clear hint that Wylan’s Triad was on the loose. Should this reach the mages in Waenlan Háe, we might be facing real trouble.
I explained Flavius that according to my father we believed that the Triad was supposed to be hidden away by us elves. I didn’t want to claim that Avondale had stolen the pendant, perhaps it was there for a reason, but if elves of Greywood were to check their hiding place and find the pendant gone, we might not have just a curious envoy on their way. As a worst case scenario, a war party was already heading our way ready to retrieve the Triad. We agreed we would have to send word to Waenlan Háe. One person we both remembered to have met in the dream personally was my cousin Iontario and to him I thought it might be best to also write. Through him we could also get a more discreet message and perhaps information on if something really was going on in Greywood. But as we couldn’t really decide right now what to write to Waenlan Háe, or Iontario, we both finally fell silent.
For a moment I used the silence for thinking and it didn’t bother me. I spent a moment reflecting on Yorick’s story about the dreams and wondering if there was anything we could have missed, anything of importance that we should react to. I knew Elethéne would eventually change things in the dreamworld, but how much and how fast, that I did not know. I didn’t think these changes were about him yet, but I couldn’t be sure and I didn’t want to talk about it with Flavius. As my thoughts came to this dead end, I was at loss for words and the silence began to feel awkward. There was so much I wanted to tell Flavius, so much we needed to settle, but I was afraid this would turn into a fight like the one when I had returned from the orcs. So I said nothing and neither did he and the silence grew louder.
Also Flavius seemed somewhat lost in thought at first, but after a while it became clear that he too didn’t know what to say next. Since he hadn’t dismissed me and we definitely hadn’t ran out of things to talk about, I found myself quite unable to leave. I let my eyes wander in the room, not quite avoiding him, but trying not to stare. Every time our eyes met, it was suddenly hard to breath and I had to look away, no mater how silly it felt to avoid his gaze. I shifted and tried not to get too nervous over the stretching silence.
As I lingered, I found myself hoping he would say something. Even something negative would’ve been better than this silent uncertainty, but my mind, of course, went on to imagine what I wanted him to say. Perhaps just that he didn’t consider it my fault how badly the briefing today had gone. Perhaps that he didn’t blame me for Avondale. Perhaps that he didn’t really fear I’d betray him. Perhaps that he didn’t regret spending a year with me in the dream lands. Perhaps even that he too cared for me…
After a while of torturing myself with the thoughts I scolded myself for hoping – he could not read minds and even if he could, he would not say those things. Why would he? I hadn’t really given him anything to act on besides betrayal and trouble. At the same time I wished I myself was brave enough to say something myself. I felt there was a huge, ever growing bubble of hidden feelings in my mind and soul and it was threatening to weigh me down. I had so much to apologize for, so much to explain, and here was my chance, a moment of peace before a storm. Perhaps my only chance for a long while. But how could I tell him anything? If he knew the truth about how I really didn’t know what I was doing at Avondale, he’d jail me. If he knew the truth about Elethéne, he might even kill me.
And if he knew the truth about what I felt for him, I didn’t dare imagine what he’d do and if I said it out loud I didn’t know what I would do. He’d probably shun me and I don’t think I could take that. Be his feelings whatever, they would only eventually bring me pain. I saw no reason to burden him with my feelings. Let them live their short lives carefree and fast and let us forget them once they’re past. It was an old high elven saying from a song about relations with humans. But even as I remembered those words, I knew I would not just forget him. As I again avoided his eyes, scared of being caught staring, but unable to really keep my eyes away from him I thought this might just need a new way of thinking from me. As it seemed the damage to my heart was already done and no matter the possibility of pain, I did crave to know if he felt the same.
As our eyes met, but even still no words were said, it reminded me of my dream. Of us preparing for battle in the tent and standing by the canvas door. Just like this, lingering, not daring to speak but not daring to leave either. I had a feeling my dreams had tried to tell me something, to prepare me for this, but I didn’t understand what I was supposed to do. A brave thought grew in me, telling me I should at least hint at him what I felt and then just see what happened. If he already thought as little of me as I thought, what did I have to loose if I asked, the thought whispered. But I hesitated.
And then the dwarf barged in.
“Sorry, am I interrupting something?” Aelfar asked as he poked his head in and I had to answer no since we hadn’t spoken for several minutes. As I realized the dwarf didn’t look angry anymore I quickly excused myself so the two could settle whatever their quarrel was about earlier. I only allowed myself a single glance at Flavius’ direction as I left the room, but the look in his eyes haunted me. So many things unsaid and I couldn’t understand what his look meant. Disappointment, frustration, worry, longing?
As soon as the door closed behind me dozens of tempting scenarios of what could have happened if Aelfar hadn’t interrupted us filled my mind. With each step I took towards my quarters I got a new idea of how I should have began one topic or another. It pained me to picture how each of those conversations would have happened just so and what would have been the result. It was so easy to imagine what should have been said and in what way and how I should have answered his questions in a better way so he wouldn’t have remained so worried. And how I should have smiled at him in just the right moments so he wouldn’t always doubt what I said. Suddenly my mind was full of good strategies I could have suggested to solve one or another of our problems and impressive phrases to make them sound feasible. But the moment had passed.
Once I got to my quarters, all I could think of was how I should have held on to his hand longer and told him how I feel. Luckily Marya needed me for taking notes and kept me busy the rest of the night.
My dreams were restless and hazy. The scene at the tent in a war camp seemed to play several times, but no matter how I tried couldn’t remember what was the result in them and for some reason it bothered me.
Songs of Old Friends
The next night I and Aelfar were on page-turning duty for Marya. The work had grown dull even for me, because her studies grew more specific and detailed and I didn’t anymore understand any of what I wrote on the notes or what was in the pictures or diagrams of the book. It would have been fascinating if only Marya had the time to explain me what she was doing, but alas we were in hurry and I tried my hardest not to slow her down.
I had originally coaxed the dwarf to talk just to have some pastime, but as our conversation touched his change of preference in gods, I was intrigued. The fact that I wasn’t very religious didn’t mean I’d not be interested in such a precious encounter and I was also curious to hear more about what kind of a dwarf Aelfar really was. I had never before properly met a dwarf, let alone actually have a conversation with one, so it was an interesting peek into the minds of the mountain dwellers. Trying not to sound too inquisitive I asked him about meeting Asta and once he realized what I was asking, to my surprise he did try to describe me what it was like to meet a god. Rather soon he got frustrated when he couldn’t find appropriate words for things. We both were talking in a language foreign to us. Subtly, to avoid attracting Marya’s attention, I hinted towards his meeting with Kord in death and wondered if there was something similar in that meeting as with Asta, and that inspired him for a longer description. He said meeting a god was always scary, but with Asta it had been differently so and went on into interesting comparisons.
I was surprised to actually be entertained by the chat. For a moment I even hoped I could have described Aelfar my own encounter with death, but I didn’t dare trust a dwarf with all the secrets that would open from there. The honesty and easy going attitude, but not inconsiderate bluntness with which he spoke about these things of gods and death made me almost envy him. I could begin to see why some elves valued the friendship of dwarves, they were more much like humans in many ways but without the humans’ ever-present hurry and the tacky bluntness that came with that. If I guessed right, Aelfar was probably somewhat older than I and dwarf or not I couldn’t be disrespectful towards an older. Our races shared a deep understanding of and respect for history and that was a common ground of some sort. Many things in him were very alien, but the fact that he too had been to the gates of death bound us together.
When the keldanite healer had asked my help in bringing Aelfar back from his coma, I had agreed because I knew what kind of a horrible place it could be, lingering at the gates of death. Only afterwards the oddness of it had struck me. An elf like me to help a strange dwarf with something like that was rather unheard of, but it had felt like the right thing to do and now that I knew him a bit better, I was glad I had saved him.
The evening was passing quite pleasantly as we talked and it was getting rather late when Aelfar suddenly got up and went to the window. I only heard drunken singing, but Aelfar beckoned me to come take a look. It was Flavius and Yorick, drunk to the boot and singing, escorted by a handful of young paladins who desperately tried to avoid letting their general be seen like that. The two paladins were supporting each others and singing quite loudly, but quite well. I had never before heard Flavius sing and surprisingly he had a very pleasant singing voice, as had Yorick, too. But the words of the song were such that I had never thought I’d hear Flavius sing something like that out loud without blushing and apologizing right ahead. As one of them stumbled and they both nearly fell in trying to help each other, I heard a stifled snicker from Aelfar’s direction and couldn’t help laughing myself as the paladins stood up, trying to look very, very sober and respectable, all the while singing and swaying left and right.
I turned to look at Aelfar, trying to fight a laugh and I don’t know which of us first got the idea, but we decided that we simply couldn’t let Flavius be seen in such a state by the guards at the door of Black Hall and that we should go meet him to see that he gets safely to his quarters. We left Marya to her readings, promising to return in just a bit. The shared mischief lightened our step as we hurried to the gate and ushered the young guards into their break room. As Flavius and Yorick along with their escort paladins arrived we were sitting on a nearby bench, just negligently minding our own business as if we had just happened to come outside for a moment of fresh air. Aranwe arrived right behind the two paladins. He was in full ranger gear, apparently fresh from a scouting mission and looked at Flavius somewhat baffled.
Flavius greeted us all very warmly and very loudly and they both bowed so low and so fast they nearly fell over. I could see also Aelfar was having trouble trying to keep a straight face. It was just absolutely hilarious to see the usually so stoic and proper Flavius like this. I hadn’t believed anyone could persuade him to get that drunk, but clearly Yorick knew him well enough to accomplish this.
As they began to drift and stumble towards their quarters, we followed them with the excuse of seeing they’d get there safe. With a loud declaration of good night Yorick detached himself from Flavius’ arm and staggered off towards his quarters and we were left with the still humming, cheerful and completely plastered Flavius to steer towards his rooms. Fortunately he could still walk, but it was amusing to watch and there were many smiling looks exchanged between the rest of us. At his door, which we opened for him, he declared how very good friends we all were to him and hugged each of us. Aranwe and Aelfar seemed somewhat taken aback at his uncharacteristic hugging, but as he embraced me I couldn’t but enjoy the feeling and returned the gesture without thinking. As he then staggered towards his bed and just crashed on it, I was still smiling stupidly at the hug. For a moment I hesitated, but then decided it wouldn’t be decent for me to go help him out of his armor – and what would Aelfar and Aranwe think of that anyway. When Sir Garrin showed up and told us he’d take care of him, we left and I soon got back to the hilarious mood and we wondered about Flavius’ state on our way back to Marya.
The King of Bones
The next morning the both paladins were up and about, but clearly not unaffected from their nightly adventures. The excursion had done good to Flavius as he seemed somewhat more relaxed. I myself had fallen asleep still feeling his arms around me.
On the afternoon we gathered to ask Marya how he was progressing. There was also the fact that we had swore to bring Marya to meet Kirilya and that might be best done now. When we spoke of Kirilya we also mentioned the Lich we had fought and upon hearing that Marya’s face paled and her voice faltered as she asked us to recount the story. We hadn’t had the time to brief her on the how we found the book since she had been so eager to just get on with the experiments. But now she listened our story and once we were done, she confirmed our fear that nope, the Lich probably was already alive again and gathering his forces to break out of his prison.
I gave a sigh of near desperation. Yet another enemy we would need to slay? I had hoped the prison would hold him, but Marya doubed it. It would hold it for some time and then he would have to get through the Vaults, but eventually he would come out and we would have to face him. The problem was that there isn’t an easy way to kill a Lich. Marya explained us that we would need something like, well, something like the Sword of Order that could cut anything to properly vanquish it. And the Sword of Order was stolen by the Hordemaster when he had killed Sir Horace on their retreat from Avondale.
Marya did offer concrete help. She would gladly come to meet Kirilya and would even try and persuade him to hold back the King of Bones to buy us some time for preparing. We now knew we would have to go after the orcs to get the Sword of Order. I was also worried about the Dweomerstone. Although it wasn’t probable that the orcs would have a wizard powerful enough to wield the power of the Stone, it was still dangerous. We all agreed that we would have to deal with the orcs next, but before that we would need Kirilya at ready to keep the King of Bones restrained.
We traveled back to Avondale, now with Marya and this time the path was easy. Kirilya’s cogs let us through every trap and guardian. I had a slightly bad feeling as I led us all inside the Vaults, this was after all one of the most well kept secret in Avondale and here we were messing about it. Well, it couldn’t be helped now. We walked the bridge unharmed and in to his workshop. Kirilya was his grumpy self and only after he recognized Marya, he began to actually sound somewhat polite.
It took a long while for them to exchange news and recount stories. All the time I sat by and listened, just in case they tried to plot something. The others wondered about in the room, waiting. Flavius was clearly suspicious and he had stated me before that he did not trust Marya. Of course that was only smart, neither did I, but in this Marya kept her promise and soon enough began to coax Kirilya into helping us with the Lich. They were getting towards some sort of an agreement when Aelfar did something terribly stupid. A sword clanged lowdly as it hit the floor and that woke Kirilya up from their conversation. Aelfar looked horrified, but he became even more horrified as Kirilya began yelling and shouting, driving us out of the workshop. I glanced at Marya, but she seemed sure she could handle his wrath, so I ran out with the rest and left her there.
We waited some time behind the doors and figured that since Kirilya didn’t seem to like elves, especially wizards and Aelfar now even less, it was best if only Flavius went in to get Marya. At least he hadn’t angered the dweomermaster, he had even kept his promise. After some minutes had passed Flavius went in and soon came back with Marya. She told us Kirilya would fight the Lich, but was somewhat mysterious on what other details there were in that deal. As far as I had listened them, it did seem that to us the deal, what ever it might mean between them, would only be of help with containing the Lich, so I didn’t press the matter.
We returned to Black Hall and began to plan on how to get the Sword of Order back. We would have to go after them as soon as we could and so we devised a plan. Aranwe and Thorondir had scouted the woods, tracking the orcs and had found very probably the tracks of the Hordemaster’s group that lead to a small, well defended valley with a cave.
The place sounded familiar and as I described the orc camp where I had first been taken to, Aranwe confirmed that it was probably the exact same place. I tried to tell them anything useful I remembered about the camp, which wasn’t much. At least the slaves would probably be easily persuaded to help us if we could get to them and promise to set them free, but that was just about the only useful thing I could conjure up from my memories.
The tunnel was probably another exit and if we found that we might have a chance of sneaking in. We decided that a small stealthy force such as our group would be best to go through the tunnel and at the same time the Ettin troops would do what Flavius said was their usual fighting style and try to lure the orcs out from the valley. We would be able to use some of the Avondale mages to make us invisible.
There was one extra leverage we had towards the orcs. I shuddered to think it, but this would be hard enough as it was, we would have to use everything we had. And so I suggested that we could use whatever trust the orcs had on me after the quite successful raid to Avondale. I could sense the old argument surfacing as Flavius right away sternly refused to even think about using that in any way. I was half annoyed half feeling warm and fuzzy over his concern. I didn’t really want to try my luck at fooling the Hordemaster, so I stated we could use it as a fallback in case we got caught. Greed and hunger for power were things the Hordemaster would understand and to a mage the Dweomerstone would be a temptation big enough to inspire collaboration even with orcs. With that I might be able to explain at least myself. From there on it would need serious imagination and improvising. Flavius still didn’t like the idea, but he couldn’t really find anything to complain about it. The plan didn’t include getting caught. The plan was to get inside, find the Hordemaster, slay him and get the Sword of Order.
The Hunt for the Hordemaster
I had thought it a good idea to use whatever intelligence we had on the orcish camp as much as we could. Since I was the only one who had been there, I tried my hardest to describe every place I had been to in the hopes of revealing important details. Soon enough it became clear I couldn’t really remember anything very useful since I had no experience on military and what could be important. One clearly useful thing I did have was the fact that I had met the Hordemaster and witnessed his character and unwavering command first hand. We knew it was more than likely that we would have to face him to get the Sword of Order and the Dweomerstone and even if we could avoid the Hordemaster, Flavius seemed determined to either kill him or die trying. Knowing him, I knew he was being very serious about the “or die trying” part. I remembered his unyielding stand against the Dog of War and in these weeks we had spent at the Black Hall I had learned that it came not only from Flavius’ own stubbornness, but also from the Order’s training.
No matter his reasons, I was absolutely horrified at the prospect of Flavius challenging the Hordemaster in battle. No matter how much I tried to explain about the huge orc, it never truly conveyed how dangerous an enemy he would be and I feared Flavius had no idea what he was going to face. I couldn’t just let him go to a fight like that without doing everything I could to help and so I finally suggested I could show him the memories I had of the interrogation with the Hordemaster. Thank Keldan he wasn’t stupid enough to turn down a chance to see his opponent before having to meet him and so he agreed. Even though I was fairly certain I wouldn’t be able to distill the memory into just pure, cold, emotionless facts about the Hordemaster, I felt surprisingly good about the prospect. I was surprised to notice I wasn’t even afraid of possibly looking like a coward in the memory. At least now Flavius would see something of what I went through and possibly understand that what happened at Avondale wasn’t all my fault. That would be one less conflict between us and heavens knew we needed to thin out those.
One term for the procedure is mind meld and I had only ever done it before with one human – the warrior woman, Emer, in the Vaults of Avondale and out of necessity. Also it was the other way around with her, as I had been the one to go search information from her memory and that made a huge difference. Between magic users the use of telepathy is a well accepted and useful tool, but when it comes to using it with non-wizards, the debate begins. This mind meld would be very different from what I had done with Emer. Some wizards go as far as to describe these two with completely different terms as some more puritan schools of thought consider going into others’ minds the worst invasion of privacy and absolutely forbid it, even with the subject’s consent. I was thought to not underestimate the power even non-wizards’ had on their minds and as such didn’t have such restrictions on doing it – of course only with permission and never just for fun. Personally learning magical telepathy involved understanding and accepting the strictest moral and ethical codes and rules I have ever faced. But letting a non-mage dive into your own mind through your own telepathy on the other hand, that is completely up to the wizard themselves and isn’t usually a very tempting idea to us, as we know exactly how very unguarded a person’s mind is and how easy it is to discover even the most well hidden secrets. Needless to say, it is done only very rarely.
This was meant to be a brief and very carefully restrained meld only to that one specific memory, but it would potentially still be the most intimate thing I had ever done with anyone – especially if I failed. Flavius might end up seeing much more than I intended, in theory this was a smaller scale version of a telepathy method that could, if there was more time, actually lead into him knowing me better than I myself. Even with this shorter amount of melding there were risks of considerable amounts of information, emotions or memories leaking, but to my surprise I wasn’t really that afraid of it happening with Flavius. I knew his will was strong and his god would protect him, the only real risk I saw in this really was for me and my secrets. Then again, no matter how much I hesitated in telling him anything, it might just be a relief if he were to see my side of things and what I felt for him. And in my heart I knew that if there was one person in this world I would have to show my true colors to, I would want that to be Flavius. I was just very afraid of what he would make of them and what that would do to whatever confused, distrustful friendship we now had, but in a way I felt he would deserve to know.
Although I could have just done the telepathy anywhere, Flavius thought it was best to again lock into his chamber for it. Not that I minded being locked up in a small room with him, but it did bring up memories of awkward moments from earlier. It had begun to seem that every time we stepped into this room together we came out with more awful secrets and unpleasant memories that were tearing us apart within our own souls and from each other. What I was attempting now was something that in addition to the intelligence on our enemy just might bring about some understanding between us. If only Flavius knew anything about telepathy and the openness that the showing memories would require of me, he would know even suggesting this was a huge sign of trust from me. But alas, I did not dare explain it to him for fear of telling him more of my feelings. Which was just silly since at the same time I was hoping he would somehow take the hint and figure it out for himself.
We sat down and as I gently reached to touch his hand I prepared the memory of waking up at the Hordemaster’s tent so it was fresh in my mind. As I felt his warm skin and whispered the spell, I dived to that memory with him and suddenly I was at the smelly, foul tent, tied up so tightly it hurt and my head was aching from where it had been hit. I was watching the Hordemaster torture his victim right in front of me and I felt again the disgust and terror. He turned to me and once I fearfully explained my story, he began his interrogation. It was still a horrible memory, I had lately had to return to it more often than I would have liked as I had tried to remember any details useful to our mission. Every time before it had frozen my blood to see the huge black orc, but now I felt Flavius there with me and he made it bearable. The spell staid intact and I was quite pleased to be able to navigate my memories so clearly that there probably was no leakage at all. Of course I couldn’t have removed my emotions of the situation in question since that could have made it very hard to follow for a human. All I could feel from Flavius’ end was clear attention and interest, which meant he was concentrating on examining the memory and apparently everything was going as planned.
Suddenly I felt a shift in emotions somewhere, it was something from Flavius, but I couldn’t recognize just what was going on before he abruptly broke the link between us and moved. As I opened my eyes I saw he had stood up and looked enraged, breathing heavily and clearly very upset about something. Since I was the only other person in the room, I backed away in horror as I saw his eyes light up in the golden light of Keldan and his anger clearly grew stronger. Frightened at his sudden anger and confused at what had caused it, I nearly expected him to hit me, but then he turned and grabbed the Iron Crown from his head and clearly furious at it, threw it into a corner of the room, yelling at the Iron Crown: “You will not defy me!”
As the Iron Crown hit the floor it’s clangs were like thunder and the whole tower shook to it’s movements. Flavius’ yell echoed in my mind, I would not have dared defy him in anything after that. I feared to imagine what it would feel like to be the target of that wrath and shuddered as I saw the boiling anger and cold hate in his eyes, although he was still clearly looking at the Iron Crown. In some strange way it did excite me also, seeing the paladin’s fury so unleashed and his usually so calm composition fracturing under strong emotions. No-one could deny he looked fiercely handsome as he was fuming, eyes blazing at the Iron Crown, some mental battle still going on. Seeing the intensity in his eyes and the shortness of his breath, my treacherous mind offered me delicious glimpses of the dream I had seen of us in the map room, having a row that had turned into something quite different. There was something of the fierceness of my dream in him now and especially after his command I couldn’t but sit and stare at him.
After the earthquake like shaking ceased I braved a straight look at him and asked him what he was going to do and the anger was back in his voice as he said he’d let the Crown simmer a bit. He said the Crown had defied him, but didn’t elaborate. The anger had tired him and suddenly he looked strangely helpless without the Crown. For a moment I hesitated, fearing he might still continue his fit, but as Keldan’s light and fury in his eyes faded, he had a strange feel of loneliness to him. Perhaps it was a trace of the telepathic connection lingering or just my own feelings tricking me, but I had a feeling he might need a gesture of friendship. I got up and without much thought, went to him and as I had no words, embraced him. For a moment we stood perfectly still, he didn’t return my hug but I gently squeezed his stiff, still heavily breathing form and for a moment laid my head on his shoulder and just staid there, even daring to stroke his back a few times. I felt a creeping embarrassment because of my gesture as he didn’t seem to respond to it in any way, but at least his breathing evened out some.
And then there was loud banging on the door. We heard at least Aelfar and Aranwe’s voices and as Flavius told them to come in, I quickly stepped away from him. I felt a cold stab of disappointment when he simply turned to face the door, as if he hadn’t even noticed my hug, let alone cared I stopped. I felt myself very stupid for having touched him in the first place and hoped he would just ignore it and never say anything about it.
As I wondered what on earth had convinced me to do such a silly thing as to hug him, Sir Garrin, Aelfar and Aranwe barged in to see what was going on. I was immediately questioned as we explained we had retreated here to cast a spell, but I knew that nothing on my part had gone wrong. I briefly explained them the memory showing telepathy, but none of them really knew what it was that I meant. To my great surprise Sir Garrin believed me and continued to ask about the Crown. I told what I knew, that it was, and Flavius sternly confirmed this, something personal between him and the Iron Crown.
The link between him and the Crown had been obviously cut by Flavius as he had thrown it away and that did explain the strong emotion and anger from him, and the ground shaking from the Crown’s part. Now that was a feat of true strength. He had carried it on his head for weeks, worked with it even and still was able to throw it away, just like that. He really had amazing amounts of willpower and I could see why the Crown had liked him – and why I liked him. But now the Crown was clearly ready for the taking and very eager for a new host. All trough the explanations I could see everyone’s eyes on it, even when Flavius stood between us and it. It was clearly trying to seduce a new bearer for itself and I found it’s whispers of power and influence very tempting, although I was very adamant about not looking at it. I didn’t have Flavius’ strength in this, I had already failed with both the Heroslayer and nearly with the Crown, too and had learned my lesson.
Once it was clear everyone was unharmed and Sir Garrin knew what was going on in his castle, Flavius ordered everyone to clear out of the room so he could finish his business with the Iron Crown. Apparently he was going to put it back on, but not after having a talk with it. Sir Garrin sounded an alarm in the whole castle and at Flavius’ order everyone left the room. I was already at the door when to my surprise Flavius told me to stay. Abashed but pleased, I staid and the door behind us was once again locked. I heard the guards take their positions behind the door but I wasn’t sure if they were guarding us or against us. My heart was beating so fast I felt a little breathless as again the two of us stood together in the empty room.
Since Flavius didn’t give any orders, I just stood there, trying to keep my eyes on Flavius and not listening to the Iron Crown’s whispers one bit. First it was surprisingly easy, especially after he glanced at me as if to see if I was ready. I couldn’t have take my eyes off him after that look. Finally I saw some trust in him. I got a feeling I knew what he wanted from me: In the beginning I had crowned him and I had promised to de-crown him if things got out of hand – and this certainly was a moment where things could get out of hand. I wasn’t very sure I could do it, especially if it meant having to attack Flavius, but I would try. One word from him might be enough to stop me, especially with the Crown’s influence. Of course that only meant I had to be fast enough and I kept my spells right at the tip of my tongue as I awaited him to make his move.
I watched him take a deep breath and set a determined look on his face. Looking into his unwavering eyes I knew I had unhealthy amounts of trust in him, but I didn’t care, I knew he could do this. Nevertheless I felt slight fear creep up on me as he walked to where the Iron Crown had fallen on the stone floor and reached to grab it. All the while I heard the Iron Crown’s seductive whispers strengthen in my own head, and it really knew what to offer – with it tables would be turned: just one word from me could be enough to stop Flavius, to make him really notice me – and for a moment I feared he might have made a terrible mistake in asking me to stay. But then, before my eyes faltered to the Crown, it was silenced as Flavius grasped it and lifted it, its attentions now concentrated fully on him.
For a frightening moment I watched the battle of wills, searching the paladin’s eyes for any sign of change. I could more feel than see him argue with it and now that the Crown was mostly out of my head I got my spells back in my mind, ready to react if it would seem he was loosing. But he didn’t. He held the Crown for a while in his hands and then slowly, determinedly lifted it in his head and then, after a moment of internal battle, looked at me. The sudden stare seemed to pierce my soul, but it clearly was my Flavius and not the Crown that was in control. I couldn’t resist a long sigh of relief and looked at him with a slight smile, not even trying to hide my admiration. He deserved it.
As he stepped out of the room, relief was clear in everyone’s eyes when they saw him wear the Iron Crown again. I was just proud of him and irrationally happy for having his trust at least in something. He didn’t speak much about what he had seen in my memory, but then again we didn’t have much time for idle chats. After that we wanted to ride out fast before anything else would delay our mission.
1nv3nT an Aw3suM Tit1E H3r3
We rode behind the Ettin army, meaning to circle around it to find the second exit to the caverns where the orc army was hiding. The Ettin were meant to lure out most of the orckish horde, leaving us better chances to infiltrate the camp and find what we came for. Since our plan included stealth, we brought three Avondale mages with us to cast invisibility on everyone who would enter the caverns. Sellius had chosen the mages on the basis of their capability to defend themselves, but none of them were really used to war. Flavius had asked for a group of dornite warriors escort them, but they would still be behind enemy lines and in danger. The plan was they would return to Black Hall with the dornites as soon as we were invisible and inside.
I was pleased to find out I knew one of the mages. Apparently Sellius didn’t have much to choose from in terms of battle-capability as he had chosen Odette Gild, a young human girl who had been one of the apprentices studying the theory of dream weaving with me. As far as I knew her, she was smart for a human and pleasant company, but I highly doubted she would be much use in battle. Her area of expertise was what many call mind bending, but as I understood, she wasn’t yet too deep in the subject. Perhaps it was for the best, for Flavius would probably have a problem with mind tricks being used on anyone.
In Avondale I noticed she had seemed to know Pëllagram pretty well and while we rode, I asked her if she had any news about him. I had expected him to have died in the fall of Avondale, but hadn’t heard anything to confirm my fear. To my surprise Odette told me he had left for an unspecified business trip some days before. It was curious as he hadn’t mentioned anything of the like to me or sent a note, but of course it was possible that any message he might have left was destroyed when the orcs barged in. However it did remind me of Emer’s memories and how Pëllagram had taken her to Kirilya because of some axe-thing. Perhaps he had his secrets hidden from me for a reason, but it was intriguing.
With Thorondir’s help it wasn’t even a challenge for Aranwe to find the cave mouth and spot the dozen or so orc warriors guarding it. We sneaked closer and Aranwe, Aelfar and the dornites prepared their bows. I and the mages sneaked closer invisible with the meaning of trying to make as many of the orcs as possible fall into a magical sleep before they even noticed what was happening. However someone messed up and someone from our troops shot before we had cast our spell and it became a messy skirmish. We didn’t get as many asleep as we might have without the interruption and as a result some of the dornite warriors died as they charged in to prevent the orcs from sounding alarm.
The fight was over quickly and as the dornites cleared the area and hid the bodies, me and the three mages prepared our spells. I had planned that I would cast invisibility on Aranwe and not myself so that if we needed to fight he could act and then I could then make him invisible again afterwards. Also this way I could use my utility spells without loosing my own invisibility as long as I didn’t attack anything and when Aranwe’s invisibility would drop, he would be able to be stealthy enough anyway. I had spent a long time in research over what we could do without disturbing the invisibility spell and what would dispel it and of course I had tried to get everyone in our party to understand the rules.
As a whole, this was probably the most planned attack we had ever attempted and yet I still felt uncertain. The biggest problem would be the Dweomerstone. It was somewhere in the caverns and we would probably have to be in the same space with it to get the Sword of Order. I myself wasn’t sure I could approach it without danger and I was sure the others wouldn’t fair any better with it – apart from Flavius perhaps, his will might be strong enough to resist the stones temptations. I and him had had a heated argument on the topic of the Dweomerstone as I had tried to make him understand how dangerous it would be and that we should not even try approach it under no circumstances. He was confident we could handle it, but again, he had not met a dweomerstone before and was just being ignorant. His plan was that if we had to get close to the stone, the two of us would do it since I was a mage and trained for this and he trusted Keldan would protect him. To me it sounded like a terrible idea, if I was to decide we simply would not go near it. But as it was, Flavius was our leader and with the Iron Crown I didn’t dare argue further. I would just have to manage somehow if it came to facing the stone.
The dornites would stay and guard our way out and as they arranged an ambush at the door, me and the three mages cast the invisibility on us and we set out in to the cave. Dwarfs have their tricks with stone and earth and so Aelfar was able to locate not only where the Dweomerstone was, but also where the Sword of Order had last time cut the walls of the cave. They were in the same direction and for a moment I feared the orcs might be stupid enough to try and cut the Dweomerstone with the Sword of Order, perhaps imagining they could control the pieces better. Results of such stupidity would be very unpredictable, but certainly dangerous. Then I remembered the Hordemaster. He wouldn’t act rash, but he undoubtedly had a plan of some sort. Luckily their shaman was now dead, but that wouldn’t hold the Hordemaster back for long.
Aelfar’s magic with the stone helped us navigate through the tunnels and Thorondir scouted ahead. as we got inside the caves I could feel the Dweomerstone’s presence and probably could have just followed the magical trail to it. After a long walk we arrived at the main hall where the orcish horde resided. Since Flavius, although invisible, wasn’t exactly quiet with his plate armor, me and Aranwe went ahead to see if there was a clear way through the hall. When we saw the hall, it was obvious that the Ettin army had done their job: most of the army was gone. There were still plenty of warriors around and on the other side of the hall there was a tunnel leading downwards. Two sturdy guards stood by it and it wasn’t hard to guess that was where we needed to go. I could feel the Dweomerstone down in the tunnel.
After a moment of observing the hall, we spoke in whispers with Aranwe. We needed a distraction to get past the guards to the tunnel. As we had planned before, the human slaves were the only possible ally we dared to hope for here. Now it seemed there was less than half of them left and even they were in quite bad shape both physically and mentally. There was still enough for a distraction and so I suggested Aranwe we would collect some weapons and try inspire the slaves to try to escape. Realistically their chances weren’t good, but some of them might escape and they would die anyway if they staid here. Aranwe agreed and we gave Thorondir the job to get Aelfar and Flavius and guide them through the hall and to the cave once the distraction was set.
Both of us invisible we sneaked to the emptier parts of the huge camp to gather any weaponry we saw lying around. Aranwe’s step was light and soon I had no idea where the ranger was, but I knew we would find each other again in the slave pit, so I didn’t worry. That is, until I saw him. The half-orc master scout that had lead the assault troops I was in to Avondale. I remembered his name, Tragroum and I remembered he had been almost friendly to me – or at least less brutal and rude than the other orcs, especially compared to the Hordemaster and the shaman.
I didn’t believe he would be very friendly if he found me now and so I backed away slowly as he walked towards me, as if he had heard something from my direction. He started sniffing the air like a hungry wolf and moved ever closer. I didn’t dare breathe. Then suddenly he grabbed sand from the floor and with a swift movement threw some at me. As it the sand hit me, I yelped out of surprise and dropped the blades I was carrying. I was still invisible, but he knew where I was and as he lunged at me, I ran away as fast as I could. The horrible idea of being captured again here was feeding my fear and I ran without watching where I was going. I didn’t think I could outrun him, so I tried dodging between the tents to loose him, but it didn’t work.
Suddenly I saw the Hordemaster’s tent, well guarded and quickly slipped in from between the two guards at the door. Seconds after I heard Tragroum yell at the guards, demanding to get in, but as I had guessed, they had orders not to let anyone in here. As I looked around the tent I saw the reason: piles of loot from Avondale were scattered around the tent. After a moment’s argument it seemed the guards weren’t going to let Tragroum in and I stood still in one of the corners and let my racing heart calm down. I wouldn’t be safe here for long and I still had to find a way to get out of here. I surveyed the piles of gold and magical trinkets, trying to find something useful. A vial of something poison-like caught my eye in one of the piles and it dawned me that it might be something that could help us defeat the Hordemaster. At least it would be a nasty surprise.
I still needed something to distract the guards with so I could get out. I picked up a golden plate that had no magic in it and pushed it outside from under the tent wall. I cast a flash of light to reflect from it and once I heard the guards shout in surprise, ran out of the tent. A huge hand grasped my throat in an iron grip at the tent door and pulled me to side. Tragroum gloated at having caught me, but at the same time I heard battle cries from the slave pit – Aranwe had succeeded on his own to create the rebellion we needed. A flash of hope lighted my heart when I knew Thorondir would now fly and fetch Flavius. I wriggled in the orc’s grip and to my surprise I found the strength to slip away from him. He shouted furiously and tried to run after me, but somehow I managed to fight my panic and elude him between the tents.
I spotted Aranwe leading the charge with the terribly badly armed slaves. They wouldn’t have even gotten out of the pit hadn’t Aranwe been leading them. I circled around the battle, behind the slave’s lines and got to him. We hid somewhere for the moment it took for me to make him invisible again and then set off to sneak towards the cave mouth. The guards hadn’t so much as flinched from their positions and had actually stepped in front of the passage. That would be a problem, there was no way Flavius in his plate armor could sneak past them. We would need another distraction and we would need it fast. Aranwe spotted Thorondir was back and that meant Flavius and Aelfar were sneaking towards the cave mouth. After a moment’s consideration I quickly explained my plan to Aranwe and left him wait for the others near the cave.
I sneaked closer to the battle and quickly found what I needed: a dead orc that wasn’t too badly mangled and that would look to be somewhat high ranking. Hiding behind a tent I magically copied its hideous form on myself and stood up looking exactly like the orc. I kicked a rag of clothes on it’s face and walked a bit closer towards the cave mouth, arranging my armor and trying to look as orc-like as I could, as if I was minding my own business. I kept at the act for a minute or two and then, hoping that was enough time for Aelfar and Flavius, walked briskly to the guards at the cave mouth. I explained I suspected something was amiss at the Hordemaster’s tent and after a moment of hesitation, one of the guards moved from his spot a few steps to yell at the tent guards. They confirmed there were suspicions of someone having infiltrated the camp, but after a moment the guard returned and all I could do was hope all my friends had used the opportunity and gotten through.
I grunted something hopefully orc-like about getting back to the fight and rushed towards the camp, disappeared inside one of the tents to turn invisible again. I trusted Aranwe had managed to hide as I had told him to, as he would now be visible again. The slave rebellion was literally dying out now and I didn’t dare look as I heard their helpless cries. I ran to the cave mouth and to my horror, there was Tragroum, talking with the guards. Panic crept up to my heart again as he barked something about invisible enemies and settled to help the two guard the door.
I knew I would have to try creep past them, but as I sprinted closer, Tragroum spotted my footprints and threw a dagger at me. To this day I can’t tell you how I managed it, but it must have been the fear that gave me strength to dodge, swirl and jump past the three huge orcs. Finally I was inside the cave, but they followed. Suddenly there was a fiery invisible figure near me, defending and I recognized the form as Flavius. The guards and Tragroum turned inside the tunnel and I heard Aranwe’s bow chink and arrows flew at the orcs. It seemed we were beyond sneaking around and I joined the battle.
There must have been some poison in Tragroum’s dagger because within a minute or so my feeling got very hazy and I felt very tired. The last thing I could think of was to return the favor and with my last strength I cast sleep at the scout master. I didn’t have time to see for sure if it worked or not when everything just went black and I fell down.
The beginning of my dream was hazy. There was battle and strong emotions, but I didn’t recognize people or places. Quite soon I realized I was asleep and held on to the only thing that could help me – the Wylan’s Triad. I settled my dream and focused on trying to wake up. Nothing worked. Tragroum’s drug was too strong. My only hope was that Flavius and the others would survive and heal me. It frustrated me to not be able to help, but perhaps even more I was driven by the fear of returning to captivity. I would not surrender to that fate again. There had to be something I could do to aid Flavius.
After a moment of careful consideration I remembered I had quite possibly managed to cast magical sleep on Tragroum as my last deed. I highly doubted he would know anything about dream magic and would probably be quite vulnerable here. I set forth in the dreamworld to search for him and as we were physically sleeping so close by, it wasn’t too difficult. Navigating the dreamworld had become quite familiar to me these last few weeks and wearing the Triad made it even easier.
I found Tragroum in his dreams. I knew I wasn’t powerful enough to hurt him through the dreamland, the best I could do was probably temporary nightmares and that wouldn’t be enough of a punishment for what they had done to me. So I figured I’d settle for information. He was surprisingly serene and friendly in the dream. I wasn’t sure if he really knew I was a real thing or if he thought I was a dream, but he was open about the Hordemaster’s plans. He told me what he knew: that there was a mage, a young elvish boy, who had a grudge against Flavius and who was used by the Hordemaster probably right this moment for some plan involving the Dweomerstone. That seriously got my attention and I hoped Flavius and the others would hurry up with finishing the fight and waking me up.
Another interesting information from Tragroum was that he hadn’t planned to catch me for the Hordemaster but for his own plans. I gave a laugh as he said he had planned to negotiate some kind of deal with Flavius using me as leverage. I didn’t tell him, but I doubted Flavius would risk his holy quest because of his most useless and untrustworthy adviser. Flavius might even be better off without me. Soon after that Tragroum disappeared. I thought I had simply gotten lost in my thoughts and slipped away from his dream, but I couldn’t find him anymore. Either he was dead or awake.
A moment or two later I myself was shaken awake by Aelfar’s prayers to Asta. The first thing I noticed was that my sense for magic had gone wild. Something was happening to the Dweomerstone and as they helped me up I hurried to tell them what Tragroum had said, that the war mage was here and that we had to hurry to stop the Hordemaster’s plans. Aelfar’s prayers healed us and we ran as fast as we could downwards. Flavius lead the charge and by the time we saw the tunnel widening to a well lit hall, Aranwe and Aelfar were running far behind us. As we got to the hall, we were faced with the Hordemaster himself. I snapped my magic sense tightly shut as I saw the Dweomerstone behind him, in the middle of the hall. There was loud chanting of a spell coming from behind the stone and it wasn’t hard to guess who would be there. Flavius charged the Hordemaster and ordered me to deal with the mage. I couldn’t disobey, so I took my chance to leap past the Hordemaster as Flavius engaged him in fierce battle, but the thought of fighting with a war mage – even an apprentice – was terrifying.
My next challenge was the Dweomerstone. It’s call was even more tempting than I remembered and I also had to fight the urge to see how Flavius was faring with the huge black orc. I reminded myself of Pëllagram’s soft, guiding words and repeated the mantra in my head: Magic is not my master, I may need it, but it also needs me, I may love it, but it does not control me, I am my own master. I felt the Dweomerstone’s wondrous humming all over my body and mind, but I was my own master. I quickly walked around it and saw the young war mage deep in concentration, slightly hovering above the ground and channeling something at the Dweomerstone. It took me only moments to realize what he was trying, he was going to transform matter, destroy it even and judging by the tremors in the magic and his words I heard from him, the matter he was targeting was iron. My eyes strayed for a moment to Flavius and the Iron Crown on his head. With a dweomerstone’s power as fuel it might well be possible to even destroy the Crown and gods know what else that would do. I knew it was dangerous with the Dweomerstone already being part of the channeling, but I had to interrupt him.
I hurled the first Magic Missiles at him feeling a bit bad, but still hearing Flavius’ order in my mind. The mage had chose his side, no matter what happened before, allying himself with the orc horde was treachery and I had to stop him any way I could. I was surprised of the ease that the spells ran through me although of course the Dweomerstone would affect, even when I consciously tried my best not to tap into it’s power. I suddenly felt a shift in the magical energies around the stone and to my horror I heard Aelfar’s prayer echo in the stone. That idiot dwarf was doing exactly what I had told them not to do – trying to use the Dweomerstone.
I didn’t have time to react as a wave of pure rage ran through me. The next bolts of arcane power left my hands faster than they ever had before and I felt a jolt of violent pleasure as the purple blasts hit the young elf. As I fought to keep the Dweomerstone out of my head and not to use it, I had to surrender to the burning anger. My last sensible thought was that at least it was for now helping me, it was the lesser evil. My memories of the moment are now as if clouded in a veil of dark red and I only remember the fierce, intoxicating pleasure I felt in the fight. Never had spellcasting felt so impossibly good and never had I truly wanted to kill someone so badly. When I think of the moment now I am ashamed of my feelings. I killed one of my own kind without remorse, even enjoying it. Logically I know it was Aelfar’s prayer, twisted by the powers of the Dweomerstone, but it still is one of the many moments in my life that I would rather hide and forget for forever.
A touch of cold fear flashed in the back of my mind when I again heard Aelfar’s voice resonate within the swirling magics around the stone, but then my rage-filled mind kept on attacking the war mage. He wasn’t really putting up a very good fight and I just knew I was winning and I felt an ugly, cruel smile on my face as I flung the merciless arcane blasts at him. As he fell down I was already turning to look for a next target when suddenly the whole room seemed to light up and it was as if time had stopped. For a brief moment I felt like floating, or perhaps falling upwards, pure magic tingling on and under my skin all over and then came the pain and I fell down into a bleak, cold darkness.
Surprises At the Gates
I felt hard gravel beneath my feet and I knew where I was going from the feeling even before my eyes saw anything. Desperate fear gripped my heart as I saw the gloomy gates of Death and I squeezed the warm, strong hand that was holding mine for courage. Only then I realized that Flavius was standing by my side in this dark place. My heart did an interesting choreography of first flipping with happiness or relief for being with him and then sinking into utter horror as I realized what seeing him here must mean. That he had died. I wasn’t sure what exactly was my heart meaning with “all” as it kept on repeating in panic: if Flavius is dead, all is lost.
For some reason the paladin didn’t seem at all afraid of this place. As we walked towards the gates, his step seemed light and I saw no fear in his eyes. Instead there was a strange kind of peace on his face. Perhaps it is the way humans deal with death, as just another great challenge not worth fearing. I had never been a fearless warrior like him and so I couldn’t stop trembling with fear as I sensed the horrors that waited for me inside those cold, cruel iron bar gates behind the hooded figure of Death.
As we got closer to the gate, Death beconed us closer and suddenly I realized all the things I should have told Flavius. We were holding hands but I felt all the secrets and conflicts were between us like a sky-high wall of cold iron. At the same moment as I realized all that I would regret not having said, I also realized that I had had my chance in life and it was too late now. Devastated and feeling sick of all the cold fear I walked the last few meters towards the gate. We halted in front of Death and he spoke with his ghostly voice.
I did not understand what he was speaking of at first. Of unearthly trouble we had caused and of someone he referred to as the Dreamborn. But as Death mentioned the dream lands, my heart sunk and I understood. I knew what was coming as Death said it – I had tried to trick Death by leaving my first born in the dreamworld and now not only I but also Flavius would have to pay the price and fix everything. His intention was clear. We would have to kill our son or risk the dream lands mixing with the physical realm.
Neither of us had time to really answer him as something very strange happened. A blade poked out from inside Death’s cloaked body and he convulsed as if in pain. As the ragged, dark figure fell obviously dead to the ground, from behind him, still holding the blade, appeared a young, handsome elven man with beautiful golden hair and haunted grey eyes. It was Elethéne.
He called us mother and father and asked why didn’t we hug him. I had no doubts that this truly was our son, but I still hesitated as I stepped to embrace him. Flavius, clearly also baffled at all this, followed, but although the embrace was warm and genuine, something very cold settled in my heart. This was the child me and Flavius had had and left in the dream lands, this was Elethéne. But just that didn’t yet make him my son, I did not know this young man and I felt there was something horribly wrong about him.
Despite my dark thoughts, I had to play along. Elethéne stated he didn’t want us dead and that was why he had killed Death’s avatar. Sounding very innocent and even proud of his work he explained us about his plans to bring the dream lands to us so we could be together. That was clearly what Death had meant with the trouble we had caused and as Elethéne spoke on my heart sunk with each word. We could not let this happen, it threatened the whole world. And if Elethéne was as stubborn about his plan as he seemed, the only way to save the world really was to kill this young man.
After a while Elethéne said he had to go somewhere and, waving with a heartfelt smile, disappeared. We drifted from the realm of Death in to the dreamworld. We both dreamt of waking up in Aendrul, in our home, cuddled close together and still holding hands like we used to. For a second or two I didn’t remember what had just happened. When I did, I immediately got up, embarrassed at having enjoyed that moment so much. We had to find our way back to the mortal world, we had to find a way to defeat the Hordemaster and get back the Sword of Order and for that we could not stay dreaming, no matter how nice the dream. Flavius seemed to be stuck in the dream stronger than I was as he talked about staying here with our son and having a real family. I calmly tried explaining him why we couldn’t do that, but I only got him back to reality when I, frustrated at his daydreams, snapped at him something about his paladin vows to protect the world.
The only really useful thing we thought we could do was to use the Wylan’s Triad blast effect to make everyone asleep and thus if our friends still were awake, give them upper hand in the battle. We could only choose one witness, but already as I asked for Flavius’ opinion, I knew who we both trusted the most of the two: Aranwe.
Once it was decided, we walked to the forest clearing and stood back to back to cast our two keys ritual. We didn’t want to waste any time for fear of having already taken too long, and I believe hurry was the reason why I messed up. Something in the casting didn’t feel right and suddenly I felt a slight rip in the fabric of magic and dream. I knew I had failed, the magic fizzled and the spell died and at the same time I saw the rip in the dream right in front of me. A pair of most interesting eyes I’ve ever seen stared at me through it and instantly I knew who it had to be. Waenlan – who else would be peaking through the magic-burned holes in dream world than it’s lord? A rush of excitement ran through me as I realized I was literally face to face with a god and for a moment I pondered if I should bow or kneel. I ended up doing neither, I wasn’t exactly her worshiper, but I did greet her as courteously as I knew.
I knew Flavius was still doing his part of the casting and I knew we couldn’t afford to fail this. I barely hesitated at all to talk to the pair of eyes and ask for Waenlan’s help. To my relief he agreed and he only asked for one thing in return. That I would bring him Asta’s warrior, the dwarf cleric Aelfar. As he mentioned the dwarf, I only remebered his idiotic acts by the Dweomerstone, the exact reason why me and Flavius had ended up at the gates of Death in the first place. I promised Waenlan I would bring Aelfar to him without even asking why she wanted him. I felt the god’s magic tingle on my skin as I began to weave the spell again. This time I didn’t flinch and the spell flowed like a dream.
Of Rainbows and Gods
The blast was now somewhat familiar and in a blink of warm, dreamy darkness the clearing and Waenlan’s eyes were gone and I was back in Aendrul, back with Flavius in our home. I knew I would have to go find Aelfar and fulfill my promise to Waenlan as soon as possible, but first I had to somehow elude Flavius. He had mentioned he should commune with Keldan at some point because of his quest or something. That seemed to me like the only proper distraction I could invent. I subtly reminded him about what he had said and suggested that now he had the time for it. He was first reluctant, but at some point when we had been minding our own businesses in the garden I realized he had went somewhere. I didn’t sense him anywhere near and so I went to look for the only person I thought able to help me find Waenlan. Elethéne.
Almost as soon as I began looking for him, he appeared from somewhere as a young child and ran to me giggling happily as he hugged me. He demanded we play in the garden and I complied, fearing his mood swings. As we played I asked if he knew where Aelfar was. He said he did but that the dwarf was now busy and that we should wait. I also asked him if he knew where Waenlan could see and hear us and to that too he knew a place. We spent some time in the woods playing and my heart grew heavier with each happy smile I got from Elethéne. He was such a beautiful, perfect child, how had we left this innocent being here? Flavius’ words, that this could be a family, haunted me so much I was afraid my heart would just break right this instant. But as I had heard of old songs, the only thing worse than heartbreak is when you don’t break.
Before we left to find Aelfar I again conjured up the small jeweled box and hid all the heavy, painful feelings I had about this in it. I had to fulfill my part of the deal with Waenlan and I couldn’t let this affect it. After my emotions were nicely locked away, I felt strangely empty inside. I had hidden quite a big part of me away there. I wasn’t sure if it was better than the earlier pain, but it was less disturbing and I could function much better now. I hid the box and let Elethéne lead me to the dream world, to wherever Aelfar was in his dreams. We walked first through the forest of Greywood and the trees around us slowly colored grey and finally melted into stone walls of a huge underground hall. It was a market in some dwarven city. There was Aelfar, as a child with an older woman who I guessed was a relative of his. We stood there waiting and soon the dwarf noticed us. As he walked to us he grew and got older.
He already was aware that we were in a dream, so I only had to tell him about the Wylan’s Triad and how we had used it to give Aranwe a chance to kill the Hordemaster. The dwarf confirmed that Aranwe had still been fighting when he had suddenly fallen asleep. That was a relief, but we still needed to also get out of the sleep soon. I was surprisingly calm and collected as I lied to the dwarf that he should come with me and Elethéne because we needed to do some magic to get out of the dream. He did buy the lie and left his dream with us, although he seemed quite suspicious of Elethéne, especially once the child suddenly grew back to the handsome young man me and Flavius had seen him as at the gates of Death. I was surprised to feel somewhat protective over Elethéne when Aelfar’s attitude showed and I dodged the dwarf’s questions almost angrily.
I asked Elethéne to take us to the next place and he understood my meaning. I didn’t dare mention Waenlan’s name when Aelfar was listening, not even when Aelfar wouldn’t know her to be the same as Wylan. I wasn’t sure what was Asta’s clerics’ opinions about the myths around Wylan, but I assumed it would be something similar to the keldanites’ stories. On the way Aelfar tried to ask me why Flavius wasn’t here if we needed to wake up. I said Flavius was with his god and that he would find his own way out of the dream. Reminding him how us two weren’t exactly in Keldan’s favor finally worked and he stopped asking about Flavius. All throughout the journey Aelfar kept on questioning where we were going, what we would do and why we had to follow Elethéne. I tried my best to avoid his questions and just keep him trusting enough so he’d continue with us.
It was a long and strange journey. Once we left the dream lands and walked through the Void, Aelfar became really hesitant. At that point I didn’t care to stay very polite and just snapped at him that if he felt like it he could always go on his merry way and get completely lost in the Void for all eternity, I would not come get him again. That silenced him, but I knew he was now even more suspicious. As we saw the massive palace of glass and mirrors surrounded by the rainbow bridges, my heart froze for a moment as I realized where we were. My few-week old son knew the way to The Palace of Reflections.
He had clearly been here before since he danced through the wards and traps as if it was -literally – child’s play. Before long we stood on the reflecting surfaces of the Palace. By this time Aelfar couldn’t anymore be tricked, he knew something was amiss. When Elethéne told him to break a mirror wall so we could get in, he tried to resist, but instead of continuing my lies I only told him he had no other choice than to follow us if he wanted out eventually. This wasn’t normal dreamworld anymore. I found it unnervingly easy to harden my heart and threaten him. It wasn’t as if we had ever been friends, but until his mindless actions by the Dweomerstone I had felt the need to be polite and somewhat friendly towards him. But now that his stupidity had killed Flavius, I only felt hate and anger. Suddenly I realized these were thoughts I had hidden in to the box before we had left, they shouldn’t have come to me here. But as Aelfar, defeated, raised his weapon and broke the mirror wall, I realized how close we were to Waenlan here. Her magic was lingering here even with her prison tightly shut and I guessed that her magic was the reason for my box breaking. Or perhaps I was simply too far from it.
As I stepped in to the room I could feel a strong will somewhere within. With Elethéne’s directions I picked a mirror shard and poked at the strange shadowy form in the middle of the room and followed by a beautiful, joyous laughter it took a vague shape of Waenlan. Her eyes and voice were the same as before, but now she seemed to be much closer and I could somehow feel more of her magic. It took me a moment until I dared to speak to her but when I did, I spoke in elvish and first thanking her of her help, proceeded to tell her I brough Asta’s champion as we agreed. I gestured Aelfar to step closer and positioned myself between the dwarf and the door. Only then I felt a slight tingle of shame as Waenlan explained Aelfar about our deal and the dwarf threw a very nasty look at me, clearly betrayed and angry at this. All the while I felt my hidden memories and feelings leak back to me from the box and I was glad I didn’t need to speak at the moment, I just faced the dwarf’s glare with faked indifference.
Luckily Waenlan demanded Aelfar’s attention. It seemed that she only wanted to talk with Aelfar. Somehow it was a relief, although I had been ready to leave him here if she so wished, or watch her kill him, or whatever.
Waenlan – or Wylan as Aelfar acknowledged him, told the dwarf about how Asta’s champions only emerged at times of great peril and danger to the world. Aelfar hadn’t himself even known he was a champion of his god and to tell the truth I hadn’t known there was much difference in being a cleric that fights and a cleric that doesn’t fight, so Waenlan’s information was very interesting to me too. They talked for quite a bit until Waenlan revealed what she wanted from Aelfar. She wanted to meet Asta the Kindler and since she couldn’t move, Aelfar would have to call her here. As Aelfar stubbornly refused, I asked Waenlan if she’d help us with getting out of the dream we had created with Wylan’s Triad. She easily agreed to wake everyone affected up if Aelfar would call Asta here. After a while of bickering Aelfar finally, seeing no other choice, grudgingly agreed and went outside to call for his god.
While the dwarf was gone Waenlan spoke to me. She saw through me and prompted me to ask my questions and I did. I asked about the Triad and she told me it had a part of her in it and that the Triad had, in a way, its own will. As I mentioned how it was a curious chance that it was me who found it, she laughed at my words and her laughter was beautiful, not quite the mocking type, but the kind that makes you very curious about its origin. She didn’t say anything quite directly, but it was clear she believed it was no mere chance. As I listened to Waenlan speaking I felt like hitting my head to the mirror walls – with the Iron Crown in the head of a keldanite paladin, Asta’s Champion appearing and all this turmoil about in the world, how could it be a chance that the Triad was found? Had I learned nothing from my history lessons? One very clear reason for the Triad to be in my possession was Flavius, of course. I was his adviser and close to him, or at least as close as I guess any wizard could be. I had even gotten him to use it with me and I was fairly sure it would have been hard to someone who hadn’t been in on this from the start.
I tried to ask Waenlan more about these curious happenstances and about what could be behind them, but then I felt a warm, overwhelming presence outside and I had to turn to look outside at it.
Asta had arrived.
At the moment I didn’t even notice Aelfar next to her, all I could see was the goddess and the world around her was as if faded away into a gentle, warm light. She looked exactly like my mother, Eliénn, to the last detail, but at the same time I knew it was Asta herself.
She noticed me and as she looked at me, she looked me in the eye and at the moment I knew she saw right through to my heart. I could hide nothing from her. In her eyes I saw she knew everything I had done, everything about Avondale, about Elethéne, about my pact with the Death, even about how I had betrayed her champion by bringing him here, she knew every single mistake I had ever done in my life and she knew there were plenty. And yet I could see it in her face and feel it all around me that she did not hold any of it against me. There wasn’t a trace of anger in her and I still don’t understand how I could believe my eyes and heart – it must have been her divine powers at work.
I only hesitated for a moment as I walked to her and wouldn’t have stopped for nothing as she opened her arms invitingly. Her embrace was pure love. Although she knew everything I had done wrong, she forgave it and still loved me. I hadn’t truly realized how much the condemning attitudes had strained me before I was in Asta’s arms feeling the complete lack of censure and accusation. As I felt tears of happiness in my eyes I could not help hoping I could some day feel like this with Flavius, but that was only a fool’s hope. It was good to have this from someone at least.
It felt as if the moment lasted for forever, but as we stepped apart only seconds had passed. I wiped my eyes and turned to look back at the door just in time to see Elethéne’s young face glow in happiness as he gazed at Asta who walked past him to Waenlan. With a startle I realized I knew what he saw when he looked at Asta. As I had seen my mother in her, he saw me. The warm feeling I had gotten from Asta’s hug was suddenly shaded by my guilt towards everything concerning Elethéne.
Few words were spoken as we left the Palace of Reflections. I must say I wished we had had more time, but we were in a hurry to get back to the waking world. We would have to find Flavius and wake up. Then there was a war to fight.
Back in the dreamworld we found ourselves at a crossroads. I waited for Aelfar to start shouting and accusing me of betrayal, but the angry words never came. Instead he was quiet for a bit and then, still somewhat grudgingly, said he understood why I had done what I had done and that as his goddess, he also would forgive that. I was somewhat stunned at this, but felt like fainting as the dwarf continued to apologize sincerely for tampering with the Dweomerstone and causing harm to us. It wasn’t quite unheard of for a dwarf to apologize, but to do that after being betrayed by the very same elf he was apologizing from was unbelievable. I found it hard to figure out what to answer, but in the end I believe I said something that hopefully conveyed my meaning to accept his apology. My head was spinning as I realized it wasn’t a joke, that this dwarf truly and clearly was Asta’s chosen champion.
Elethéne led us back to Greywood and from the garden I found the box I had used to hide my feelings, now open. Just as we began to search for Flavius, we saw him arrive from the path that lead out of the village. He was accompanied by another paladin-like man in Keldan’s regalia and it was as if traces of divine light shimmered around them.
Once the other paladin walked away, Elethéne ran to Flavius. Elethéne had rambled so much about me and Flavius as mother and father that I didn’t even flinch as he loudly called Flavius “daddy”. It strained me to see Flavius take Elethéne to his arms and smile at him as he walked to us. I had agreed with Aelfar to not to tell Flavius details about our visit to the Palace of Reflections. So instead, I looked Flavius straight in the eye and lied to him, explaining we had done a magical ritual of sorts that would help us wake up any moment now. Before I got to any details, Flavius calmly put a finger on my lips, silencing me and I just knew he had seen through me somehow. I could see that while his tone was calm, he wasn’t pleased with catching me lying. He said we would talk about it later and I felt the last warmth of Asta’s forgiving touch leave my heart.
After some vague explanations about where we had been and plenty of awkward eye-contact avoiding from my part, Elethéne asked for a goodbye-hug since we were going to wake up. Of course Flavius obliged, the boy already being in his arms, and I didn’t find it in me to refuse those pleading eyes. As I hugged him and Flavius at the same time, it felt as if a part of my heart splintered and it ached like nothing else as Flavius’ earlier words about family returned to me. If things really got to the point where we would have to kill this child, I was certain I would also loose Flavius. That is, if after everything I had done so far I still had any chance with him.
I was roused from my thoughts as I heard Flavius explain Elethéne that perhaps Aelfar wasn’t feeling like hugging and realized the boy had just demanded the dwarf would also join the hug. It was weird, but quickly explained as Elethéne said that was how we would wake up. Flavius pulled Aelfar towards us and even before he was quite in the hug, I felt the world go dark, Elethéne disappear from my arms and a hard stone floor under my back.
I tried to move and noticed my muscles were all very numb and sore. I felt a warm body next to mine and someone was holding my hand. Even before I opened my eyes I knew it was Flavius and I quite nearly smiled at that, although it did strike me as very odd since I remembered we hadn’t fallen like this. We had been tens of meters away fighting our own battles as the Dweomerstone blasted us both down – but of course, then I remembered the Dweomerstone. Stranger things had happened around it and this must have been because we used the Triad together.
We got up, all slow and numb and our voices rough from the long sleep. The first thing I cared about was to get away from the Dweomerstone and get my mind guarded against its pull. It was a miracle I hadn’t lost myself in it as I woke up, but I figured I had Waenlan to thank for that, or perhaps Flavius’ presence.
As we got up, I saw the body of the war wizard apprentice I had killed and guilt burned in me as I looked at the mangled, burned body. I had never taken a life before and to mercilessly murder one of my own kind was the greatest sin I knew of. I had done it at a time of war, but this was no elven war and I could not have known his intentions. What most bothered me was that it had been a human general who had ordered me to attack my own kind and I had obeyed without a question, without a thought, really. I glanced at Flavius and although he was wearing the Crown, I knew that with him I had followed a greater power than the Iron Crown’s. And that scared me.
Flavius found the Sword of Order by the carcass of the Hordemaster and once it was clear also Aelfar was unharmed, I ushered us out of the hall where the stone was. As we got further from it, I felt a similar kind of relief you feel as you find silence after being a long time in a very noisy place. At the same time though the relief was colored with the need to return, to have more of that power. I now understood I had channeled some of the stone’s power myself as I had fought the war wizard, my bolts had been much stronger there, the spells weaved smoother. The Dweomerstone had clearly also been channeled as we used the Wylan’s Triad. Days had went by in sleep and clearly Aranwe, whom we had chosen to be the witness, had slain the Hordemaster and gone on his way somewhere. As we got to the great hall where the orcish army had resided, the smell was unspeakable. Aranwe had finished the orcs off in their sleep, so we didn’t face any resistance as we returned the same way we came, walking between the rotting corpses.
By some miracle, Fida, the human woman whom I had met while imprisoned by the orcs, had survived. Aelfar found her from under the bodies and healed her. I felt a creeping guilt as she recognized me and thanked me for things I wasn’t really sure I deserved any thanks for. Bringing hope? I hadn’t really meant to do that by escaping the orcs and as she went on to talk about the daring escape Aranwe had helped them try, I couldn’t even look her in the eye. My plan had been to use them as a distraction, to send them to their deaths which, to be fair, was quicker and less painful in a fight than what was probably coming for them, but at the same time it was a very selfish, cruel plan. Had I known Fida was still there, I might have even reconsidered it. Luckily she was weak and couldn’t speak much more. Once we got back to the back door of the tunnels, Aelfar demanded she should rest and I was happy to leave her to his care.
We found the dornite warriors taking care of the few escaped slaves who had gotten this far and Flavius began organizing us to move out and head for Blackhall. Many of our horses were frozen dead and the slaves weren’t in a very good shape for travelling, so I suggested Flavius I could try a new spell I had studied just before we left. Through it I could create a portal that would directly transport everyone to our destination. His response was at first a firm no. He had clearly had enough of magic for one day and judging from the angry tone in his voice he also still remembered he had caught me lying in the dreamworld and we hadn’t settled that yet.
Had it been an insignificant matter, I would have dropped it and let him be his ignorant magic-fearing self, but I pulled him to the side and told him preparing the spell would take an hour while the travel by foot, in the snow would take at least a day. I pointed at the slaves and stated the obvious: they would slow us down and also noted that we all knew the city would be in chaos if the Triad’s dream had reached that far. I gave him absolutely no logical reason to refuse and reluctantly he ordered the dornites to set up camp for us somewhat further from the orcs’ cave and told me to fix my spells. I went to get my spellbook and pipe, hoping to get out of these chilly mountains as soon as possible.
I sat down a bit further from the camp, arranged my book open on the ground in front of me and began to light my pipe as Flavius walked to me. He stood behind me and wouldn’t move, so I didn’t see his face, but my heart skipped a beat as I heard his words. He said his every sense told him to not trust me, but that this once he would listen to something else and let me do my thing. It was a threat, stating the obvious: that he wouldn’t take much more secrecy and lies from me and his stern voice did chill me. But as he walked away without waiting for a reply, all my racing heart could think of was what was that something else he said he was now listening to. Definitely not Keldan! It took me much longer than usual to get my thoughts straight and concentrated on the spell and the speculations driven by my disturbingly baffled feelings annoyed me like nothing else.
Once I was finally ready we gathered everyone up and after discussing with Flavius about the exact destination, I cast the portal. It was always fascinating to get to try a spell for the first time, but all the audience I now had made me uneasy. In the end it worked like a dream – if such a metaphor was proper anymore – and one by one we walked through the shadow and appeared in the dark, cold, empty throne room in the castle of Black Hall.
The city of Blackhall was in chaos. As soon as we arrived, Flavius and Aelfar rushed out with the paladins to do whatever they could to help the citizens. Those who had fallen asleep outside had died of cold probably in a matter of hours, but of those who were fortunate enough to be indoors there were many who were starving and sick. There had been fires where someone had knocked down a candle while toppling down into the dream and even indoors many had frostbites since their fires had died out eventually.
I never was much of use in healing and taking care of the sick, so I went down to find Marya the Ageless. She hadn’t been affected by the dream at all. All she cared for was that someone would finally come and turn the next page. I did, and sat listening to her nagging about how bored she had been for a polite while. I gave her a brief account of our visit to the orcs’ camp and then left her to her studies with the new page. As I was leaving, Flavius appeared on the door and asked me to come with him to the city.
He was planning to have a bit of a show with the Sword of Order to bring hope to people and a speech to explain things. As he explained the state the city was in I saw grave pain in Flavius’ face and realized how deeply he cared for these people. To me this had just been one more problem we would have to deal with, but Flavius seemed to take it much harder. It was unfortunate and tragic, of course, I wasn’t a heartless monster, but they were mortals and dying in your sleep wasn’t the worst way they could go. Let them live their short lives carefree and fast and let us forget them once they’re past. With these people I didn’t personally know, it was easy to not to care too much. I had to wonder why Flavius burdened himself with feeling so much for strangers.
We rode to the city in some of our best parade gear and banners, making a show of victory. Flavius was carrying the Sword of Order so that no-one could miss it. Crowds gathered around us at the central square and Flavius announced our victory over the Hordemaster and his army, waving the Sword for everyone to see. He got cheers and applauds, but when a loud voice midst the people asked about the dream, he turned to me expectantly. I couldn’t mention Wylan’s Triad, so I briefly described the Dweomerstone and explained the dream had been a regular spell of magical sleep, amplified by the Dweomerstone. As I got to describe how we had needed it to best the orcish horde and that we hadn’t meant it to reach this far, there were angry shouts and accusations. The crowd had stopped listening. I hesitated and stumbled in my words and then someone threw a stone at me. Immediately Flavius stepped in between me and the angry crowd and silenced the people, staring down whoever had thrown the stone. He continued his victory speech after a moment, but from the mutterings and the nasty looks I got, it was clear that the people thought us wizards were to blame for their misfortunes during these five days. I thought it outright irrational. But then again, what can you expect from peasants.
Afterwards Flavius escorted me personally back to the Black Hall castle since he thought it wouldn’t be safe for me elsewhere. As we parted the gate he suddenly took my hand and, in full view of everyone, courteously kissed it and bid me farewell. It was probably quite a scene to the by-passers, but if someone was staring, at that moment I didn’t notice anyone else. The warm look in Flavius’ eyes and the soft kiss still burning the back of my hand were enough to fill me with tingly, wonderful bliss and bring a silly smile on my lips. After he left back to the city and my mind began to work again I found it annoying how such a simple, casual act from him could affect me so strongly, even when I logically knew he had done it to show the angry citizens his trust in me. I wondered if he even knew the power he had over me. Most probably he didn’t, I didn’t believe he would tease me like this on purpose.
Only once I got to my quarters to get rid of the parade gear, I realized that Flavius might have endangered himself by showing such closeness with me right after I had angered the citizens. At the moment the people loved him because he had just been victorious against the orcs, but there would surely be many who wouldn’t like a wizard being so close to their general. Superstition and prejudice always had surrounded wizards in ignorant humans’ minds, even Flavius, who should by now have learned that magic isn’t automatically evil, was still reluctant whenever I suggested a magical solution to any problem.
Within hours we heard that some of the mages who had went out to help in the city had been attacked by angry citizens. Some had gotten beaten up quite badly. Flavius ordered us wizards to stay in the castle and I resigned to help Marya. My failure with the speech troubled my mind, but soon I managed to distract myself with Marya’s studies. And also my own thoughts.
I had plenty to think of and my main concern was Elethéne and the dream lands, because that was a threat only myself and Flavius knew about and could deal with. An idea had been forming in my mind concerning the trouble our Dreamborn was causing. He was doing all this because he was lonely. He didn’t have a family in the Dreaming and ever since I had met Asta by the Palace of Reflections I had wondered whether her power could somehow keep Elethéne content within the Dreamworld. In theory the idea would be the same that had been used with binding the King of Bones in his cell within the mountains. A prison so comfortable you didn’t want to escape. And in Elethéne’s case the binding wouldn’t have to be eternal, since he was destined to die some day.
I was hesitant to talk about this with Marya at first, but in the end I didn’t see how I could finish the theory on alone. I wasn’t a master mage yet and needed a second opinion. Cellius and the other wizards were out of question as they didn’t know at least for certain about the Triad. Marya already knew and she also, while not a dreamweaver herself either, would still have most knowledge on these matters due to her age. So I braced myself and explained her the whole story, starting from our ritual of two keys and leaving Elethéne in the dream lands as a payment for it to last, and all the way to the Gates of Death where we had met him as a young adult. She was, to say the least, surprised. She had guessed some, of course, but the end of the world as Death had described it, was a thing that would surprise just about anyone. To my great relief she didn’t judge me for the choices I had made. I should have not feared that in the first place, for us wizards, especially with as much power as Marya had, are not strangers to cruel deals and high stakes.
We had a lengthy conversation theorizing my plan and although I didn’t tell her I had met Wylan, I suggested his help might be possible to get. I said Elethéne had talked about Wylan and that it seemed the god had a liking to the Dreamborn and that because of that relationship Wylan might actually want Elethéne to stay in his realm. In the end Marya didn’t see any reason why it wouldn’t work, so when she turned her focus back on the Lich Tome, I began to nervously ponder how could I talk to Flavius about this.
Secrets Told and Discovered
The next days I spent mostly helping Flavius as his adviser. There was much to organize as many of the city guards troops had perished during the dream and a whole shift of scouts was lost too. New recruits had to be trained and the mist had began to move again, so we had plenty of reports to keep track of. I didn’t feel myself very useful handing Flavius papers and marking scouts’ intelligence on enemy movements on the maps, but I couldn’t do much else since the citizens still were ready to lynch any mage that set foot out of the Black Hall castle. At least in planning our next move I could help by giving my opinions and ideas. Only me and Flavius knew we had three instead of two huge enemies to deal with. King of Bones and the undead army of the Dog of War were known by the other leaders of our armies, but Elethéne, the biggest threat to our world, was for now our secret. Aelfar was busy healing the sick in the Temple of Asta and Aranwe finally let us hear of himself through Thorondir.
I was surprised as Thorondir came to me. I would have thought Aranwe would report to Flavius but her business explained why she had sought me alone. She explained Aranwe was safe and well and then proceeded to ask a very curious thing. Aranwe wanted the key to Marya the Ageless’ Tower. It didn’t take me very long to piece things together and realize who the ranger had went to find after he had done what he could at the orc camp. He must have found Nora. Thorondir confirmed this and also that Aranwe meant to let Nora and her mother hide in the Tower for the winter. Although I was curious as to why Aranwe had thought of the Tower of all the places, I agreed to give the key. I did feel sorry for how Nora had had to leave and it was good to know she was safe. I knew also Flavius would be glad to know she was alright, but letting him know wasn’t an option right now.
After a moment of thought I also wrote a letter to Aranwe saying that I could come and get him through my portals whenever he was ready. Flavius hadn’t been concerned about Aranwe’s whereabouts yet, but I figured it was only because he was in so much hurry to fix the damages to the city. It was only a matter of time when he would notice the absence of his favorite scout.
The next day Thorondir returned with Aranwe’s reply that asked me to meet him at the Tower at dusk. I made sure Flavius was too busy to notice me gone and cast the portal from my rooms.
As I stepped out of the shadows by the Tower, I was met with Nora, her blade at the ready. I identified myself and told them I was alone, but she wouldn’t stand down until I dismissed the portal. I wasn’t surprised she didn’t quite trust me, but it was somewhat annoying. I greeted Aranwe and asked Nora about her mother. She wasn’t much better, but then again, it was very strong magic that had addled her brain and Nora probably had had no chance to find a suitable healer to help her.
Out of curiosity, and because I had promised him I would be back, I went to meet Marya’s unseen servant in the Tower. I was very surprised and even slightly alarmed to meet him now almost completely visible and with much more character to him. It was almost as if there was a physical, living feel to him. It was truly remarkable magic and I wished I had more time to study him. The servant made me promise I would ask Marya to return as I told him she was now free. I made some excuses out of her studies, but assured him I would let her know his wish. Once I left the Tower, I saw Aranwe and Nora speaking quietly, standing very close together and I couldn’t miss the way they looked at each others. Of course there had been a rumor or two about them and I had known Aranwe cared for her enough to come looking for her when the dream spell blasted everyone to the Dreaming, but I would have never guessed this much.
I told Nora what the servant was and that I had a feeling it would be better if they didn’t cross him. It was an extension of Marya’s will and it had clearly grown stronger now that she was free. I wouldn’t want to get into her bad side and I didn’t know for sure what the servant was capable of if angered. Somewhat hesitantly she asked about Flavius and if the Iron Crown was getting to him. I didn’t believe it was and told her so and described briefly what was happening in Blackhall. For some reason I felt I wanted to help her somehow, but all I could do was to promise if she needed something, I would try help if she asked.
When I finally asked if Aranwe was ready to leave, I saw that parting was hard for them both. I was very curious as to how this unexpected match had happened, but I didn’t dare ask. Instead I watched them say their goodbyes and opened the portal. Nora’s last words for me were a plea to “take care of him”. I wasn’t quite sure whether he meant Aranwe or Flavius, but I promised to do my best.
As I stepped into the portal I could feel it wasn’t quite as stable as the ones I had previously made. It was still safe, but I could feel the Void beyond and with a familiar sounding giggle I felt a strong presence observe me. I felt Waenlan study me closely and while it was somewhat unnerving, I didn’t feel like hiding anything from her. I moved us through the shadows to the forest near Blackhall and in a second or two we stepped out of the shadows of the big tree we had once used as a hideout when I had stolen the Iron Crown from the old grand master. I didn’t dare risk opening the portal inside the Black Hall castle or anywhere in the city for fear of being spotted and asked where we came from. It was better if Aranwe was seen to enter the city on his own. I felt the need to protect Nora even more now that I knew how important she was to Aranwe.
I magicked myself invisible and followed Aranwe as he walked in through the city gates unstopped. When we reached the gates of Black Hall castle, I saw Flavius notice Aranwe arriving and quickly tiptoed away. Aranwe could handle the paladin’s questions but if Flavius noticed me sneaking about that would only get us both into trouble.
I returned my quarters unnoticed and went back to help Marya. I kept thinking about Aranwe and Nora throughout the evening. I wondered if Aranwe struggled with the same fear of eventually breaking his heart with her, or if he had found peace. Somehow I couldn’t see Aranwe worrying himself too much over this, he was of the carefree type that wasn’t uncommon among the wood elves. Aranwe’s love seemed to be reciprocated quite warmly. All I had coming from my feelings towards Flavius was a heartbreak – at least Aranwe had many happy moments to expect with Nora. All I had was uncertainty and fear of humiliating rejection.
That night, once I finally fell asleep, my dreams were restless. The Triad gave me power to drive my nightmares of war away after a moment of work, but once I loosened my grip and tried to rest, I got lost into the heated scenes from the Book of Body Magic. I woke up in the morning feeling much too hot in body and soul, only a vague memory of the heated touch of strong hands and the burning gaze of striking blue eyes. Frustrated and somewhat ashamed, I got up and readied myself for the day. As I ate my breakfast while turning pages for Marya, I decided I would have to talk about my plan with Flavius. He wouldn’t like it, but I was sure he would rather have any other plan than murdering Elethéne.
A Family for Our Child
So when Flavius again called me to help him with the reports and plans, I went to him at once. We were making plans to attack the King of Bones next, before he would get out of Avondale, but we first needed plenty of intelligence on all our other enemies. Once the night’s scouting reports and other necessary work was done and we had nothing terribly urgent to attend to, I hesitantly opened the topic. I explained him my plan just as I had explained it to Marya, also withholding the visit to the Palace of Reflections. As I had guessed, Flavius was indeed eager to hear about an alternative to Death’s idea of handling things.
When I expressed my worry over the whole issue of perhaps having to resort to killing our son, trying to assure him I really was trying only to find the best possible solution, Flavius suddenly got up from his seat and came to embrace me for a moment. He said everything would be alright and for the moment I couldn’t doubt his words, for the moment I could only feel the warmth of his strong body and get lost in the scent of his hair. I can’t remember what exactly I answered him, if anything, for the hug effectively stunned my mind and I completely lost track of what I was saying. Once he let go and my brain began to work again, I quickly began to explain my plan further, most probably repeating myself while trying to gather my composure. I was quite unable to look him in the eye for some minutes and I nearly seriously wondered if he did this on purpose, if he thought it was funny to confuse me like that.
Eventually I did get to the details of the plan. As I talked about asking for Asta’s help, Flavius had nothing against the idea, but as to asking Waenlan’s help, he naturally tried to find any excuse to take that option out of the table completely. For a moment I was afraid the argument would turn into yet another useless row over Wylan, but it seemed that we both tried our best to stay calm and logical about this since the issue was was so important. When he claimed Waenlan wouldn’t be of use because she had no power in the dream world, I had to disagree but I found I couldn’t give him proper grounds for my point without revealing that I had spoken to her. He had always been the better one with words and I found myself in a dead end with my arguments. On top of that he seemed to have noticed I was hiding something, I never was very good at debates and had talked too much about Waenlan.
For a long moment I hesitated. I knew even Flavius would have to reconsider Waenlan’s power if only he knew she wasn’t completely stuck in her prison. But that would force me to explain our whole trip in the dream lands and I couldn’t be sure how he would react to that information. I imagined anything from an angry fit to him trying to throw me again to the dungeons, but as I looked into his eyes, calculating which reaction would be the most probably, I realized I really did not want to lie to him anymore. Were we to execute this plan, truth would come out eventually anyway and keeping it from him would only serve as an extra strain between us. He had constantly insisted I should be more honest with him, perhaps it was time to try how that worked. So I took a deep breath and braced myself for the worst. I proceeded to give him a brief account of our trip to the Palace of Reflections and of how Waenlan had been the reason why we managed to actually use the Triad at all by the Dweomerstone. The only things I left out were the fact that I had tricked Aelfar to go there and Asta’s appearance. I decided Aelfar could tell Flavius more on those if he thought it wise.
Quite unsurprisingly, Flavius’ anger did flame for a moment but to his advantage I must say I was surprised of how calmly he listened to me. I had expected to at least get badly yelled at, but I only got few irritated questions and a deeply disappointed look when I told I had actually talked with Waenlan. When I mentioned how Elethéne had seemed quite familiar with Waenlan, he got worried, but understood why I thought we might have a fair chance of getting the god’s help with binding Elethéne to the dreamlands. In the end it was surprisingly relieving to have told the whole thing and Flavius did seem to appreciate it – not what I had done, but that I had told him. I left him to ponder on the plan and excused myself on the pretext that Marya would need my help.
I did go to Marya, but after a moment of thinking, I figured I might as well do something about getting my plan into action as soon as possible. Sir Yorick’s tales of strange dreams troubled me and with the extra five day delay I knew we wouldn’t have much time to waste with stopping Elethéne if we were to prevent any irreversible damage. I ordered the guard to assist Marya and went to my rooms, claiming I was tired. I settled on the bed, holding Wylan’s Triad and let myself drift towards the dream lands, trying to find a way to talk again with Waenlan.
I had just cleared out the usual war and murder from my dreams and began to start tracking Waenlan’s presence using the Triad as a trace when I was abruptly shaken awake. It was Flavius and my first reaction was to be scared he would know what I was doing. To hide it I complained why he woke me up when I hadn’t slept too well last night. He did ask about using the Triad but since he didn’t seem to know what I had done I vaguely explained I had used it to control my dreams and drive away nightmares. I reminded him I wouldn’t be able to use it for anything big without him and it did seem to ease him somewhat.
To my relief he didn’t ask more about what I had been doing with the pendant, but he told me to rather ask him to pray the nightmares away than use the Triad. I was surprised to hear that. I had thought the prayers had been troublesome extra work to him, especially now that he was a general and very busy at that and it had been one of my reasons for not having asked him to pray with me. For a moment I let myself hope he too had enjoyed the excuse of being together, but I guess he was only worried about me using magic in anything. I guess to him it wasn’t as “natural” as prayer would be. Nevertheless I did promise him to ask his help if the nightmares bothered me and I did enjoy the prospect of having the excuse to spend a moment with him on evenings.
He then explained why he had come to find me in the first place. He told me he had been thinking about another plan to handle the trouble with Elethéne, but warned that I wouldn’t like what he would suggest. I braced myself, but had no idea what he with his high morals could possibly suggest that I wouldn’t be prepared to deal with. He proceeded to explain his idea. It was a surprisingly working plan, to tell the truth, I hadn’t expected anything like that from him.
He suggested that instead of letting Elethéne stay in the Dreaming, we would pull him into reality and bind him into a real physical body that wouldn’t have but a normal mortal’s link to the dreamland. I gave it a thought and realized that in theory the plan was quite feasible. Bringing a whole dream into reality would be hard, but a soul of a person should be possible, although it would surely require a strong ritual. I gave the plan my approval but wondered what we would do with him if we got him to this world. That, apparently, was the thing Flavius had thought I wouldn’t like. He stated that we, the two of us, would take care of him and raise him. The implication of us together becoming a family for Elethéne made me blush. I didn’t dare look him in the eye as the realization of what he was suggesting sunk in. It wasn’t a question, so I didn’t answer. After a moment of silence Flavius said he understood it was a big decision and that he’d give me time, days, weeks to think about it.
When he left the room my hands were shaky and my knees weak. I had to sit down. A big decision, indeed! I didn’t really know what to think about the plan. He was clearly doing this for Elethéne’s sake, but while it was a good solution it was also what my heart wanted the most: to be with Flavius. I still felt hesitant. I would surely find some comfort in just being with him simply because of Elethéne, but I doubted if my pride could stand loving him if he was in it only because of our son. He had said nothing about his own feelings towards me, if there were any, and that depressed me. Clearly he considered me tolerable if he suggested such a scheme, perhaps even a friend. But of anything more I didn’t dare dream. For all I knew he could still be heartbroken over whatever had been between him and Nora.
I had always known falling for a human was a bad thing. It was tearing up my heart whenever we were apart, but it was possibly even worse when he was around. Even if he some day would return my feelings, there was no way this could end well. I had never heard of a love like mine ending happily. But there was nothing I could do about it now. It had gotten out of my hands a long time ago, I couldn’t control it, I couldn’t deny it. And as I was used to being in control, it at the same time scared and thrilled me. Because that is what studying magic is about, after all: control. If you loose it, you loose everything and fail. I had never wanted to disappoint my teachers and had always been cautious and careful to never loose control over anything.
With these thoughts of doubt I sat back on the bed and took out my pipe. I spent quite a long time just sitting and smoking, pondering my feelings and agonizing over what Flavius might or might not feel. It was beginning to feel so that even a straightforward rejection would in the end hurt less than this uncertainty.
News from Home
It was already evening when a falcon suddenly appeared on my open window. First I thought I had smoked too much and was seeing things – my thoughts seemed to have gone in circles for hours already – but as it screeched at me and ruffled its wings impatiently, I went to see if I could touch it. I could, it was real. And I realized it was also quite familiar. As it looked unblinkingly deep into my eyes I recognized the gesture and opened my mind to it. Through the bird’s eyes I heard a familiar voice call me in elvish and I smiled.
It was Iontario, I could feel him even before he spoke. Just hearing his voice was like someone had lifted a heavy weight from my shoulders. I smiled and returned his greetings and asked how he was. Cold fear caught my heart as he said he and his animal companions had taken quite a long and strange nap and asked what was going on with Wylan’s Triad. I hesitated and before I answered, demanded to know how and what he knew about the Triad. His answer terrified me even more: the elders of Waenlan Háe had concluded that the Triad was loose and had sent him to find out what was happening around Blackhall. I was both pleased and worried to hear he was close by. He knew I had the Triad because of the dreams he himself had seen and so I gave him a brief and somewhat vague account of how I came to have it. He on his turn told me of Parthos, Waenlan Háe and every other big city gathering up armies. There hadn’t been big battles yet, but he told that a dragon had been seen flying and that there had been some mountain trolls on the borders of Greywood. These were important news, while not completely a surprise since Sir Yorick’s stories were similar. War was brewing everywhere, it had to be Kord’s doings.
Once we ran out of news to share, Iontario asked me about this General Flavius I had written about. In my letter I had described him as both the leader of this army and therefore also my commander, but also as a friend, using the elven word for a friend I would trust my life with or a brother-in-arms. His amused tone of voice suggested he was guessing there was more to it and he reminded me he had seen us in his dreams together in Aendrul. Although I guess I should have expected the query, it still silenced me for a second. I knew he wouldn’t take a lie for an answer, he knew me too well, but for a moment I had to stop and think if even I myself knew what Flavius was to me. In the end the answer came to me surprisingly easily and I told my nosy cousin that Flavius was the reason why I was fighting this war. I said the words knowing they were true, but at that moment really only understood half of what I meant with them.
His teasing words and joyous laughter followed my answer, but I refused to play his game. We weren’t children anymore. I wouldn’t be ashamed of loving Flavius, although I did feel a blush rise on my cheeks at the topic and was glad he couldn’t see me. I like to think my earnestness might have surprised Iontario. I had never confessed my feelings willingly. He didn’t ask more and I wasn’t sure what feeling colored his voice. He seemed serious and there wasn’t any more teasing, the subject was closed.
Even behind his cheerful attitude, Iontario seemed very worried about me in the middle of this war, and it didn’t help when I mentioned our next mission to Avondale. There was something he said that really made me uneasy. He said he believed my life or death would be more important than I thought. I couldn’t really say much to that, but I did think about Elethéne and what he would do if I appeared again at the Gates of Death.
I assured him I was doing everything I could to stay alive and that I had good allies that I trusted. Iontario promised to give any help in his power if only I would call him and I thanked him for that, hoping I wouldn’t have to use him in this mess. I would have hoped to leave him out of this war, but with the King of Bones as our next target and many more enemies waiting to get at us, I wasn’t sure it was possible anymore. Almost as an afterthought I advised him to use Aranwe’s name and claim he was our scout if he got into trouble with the locals. We said goodbyes and when the falcon flew away, I sat back down on my bed, noticing that the pipe I had held in my hands had gone out.
I had missed Iontario and it felt good to know he was here. Speaking with him was as if I had felt the smell of the great trees of Greywood in the wind. But his news of an army gathering in Greywood and the elders knowing about the Wylan’s Triad worried me. In my mind I went through the details he had told and stored them for later. Flavius would need to hear them, but I guessed he was already asleep at this hour – or if he wasn’t, he was much too busy for this. It was old news anyway, compared to Sir Yorick’s story the only addition were really just more details from Greywood and Waenlan Háe.
As I finally settled on the bed under my blankets, it only took seconds and I was fast asleep. Although my dreams had war in them, they weren’t vivid enough to really disturb me. As the last thing, just before waking up I dreamed again of me and Flavius preparing for war together. In my dream I remembered what I had said to Iontario: that Flavius was the reason why I fought this war and when I woke up I had a feeling there had been a certain clarity to that thought.
Plans for Two Fronts
As soon as I got up and was ready, I went to find Flavius. Aelfar was already out in the city, doing some kind of a blessing of Asta’s around the walls to protect it. He had now been officially announced as Asta’s Champion and that brought responsibilities at the shrine. I had barely seen the dwarf since. Aranwe was helping with the new recruits. I had heard they were quite a sad bunch, but at least motivated to protect their homes.
I found Flavius from the room that had become his office and waited for the young city guard finish his report on the city’s night watch and take his leave before I spoke. I told him Iontario had answered my letter by traveling closer and that he had send a message to me. I told him everything he had said that might have any effect on our strategical situation here and also, after double checking we were alone, also told that the elders knew about the Triad and that I had it. The building of armies was old news, but still it was worrisome to get confirmation that also Waenlan Háe was recruiting. Us high elves didn’t build armies for no reason and I knew the elders would protect Greywood at nearly any cost. I didn’t even feel like saying “I told you so” when we decided it was necessary to send them an official message now that they knew something about what was going on.
After I had delivered my news and he didn’t have anything urgent for me to do, I returned to Marya to relieve the tired young paladin who had been turning the pages for her. He seemed relieved to leave the room, whether it was Marya or the book’s presence that was disturbing him.
We had only worked for an hour or so when Flavius appeared at the door and came to ask us how far the research was. If we were to tackle the King of Bones as our next challenge, any knowledge from the book might help. Marya explained what she had gotten out of it, but it wasn’t much yet. The book was about ripping apart soul and body and that was something you didn’t want to start messing with before you had read the whole text – not that there really was any form of magic you’d want to dabble at without every possible bit of intelligence. She did suggest we could try use the Tome’s power through a ritual, but it would be extremely hazardous. Flavius didn’t seem to like the idea.
Once Marya’s attention began to drift back to the book and I took up again my notebook and quill, I saw Flavius suddenly look at me in a strange manner, as if surprised. He excused himself and left the room abruptly, but before I had time to return to Marya’s studies, he came back. His eyes stared at me with a sharp, searching look in his eyes and sternly he asked me to come with him. I left my notes where Marya could easily see them and followed him, wondering what this was about.
As soon as we were out of the room, Flavius grabbed my arm so tight it was uncomfortable and led me swiftly to his quarters. I tried to ask him what was going on, but he didn’t answer. Clearly I had angered him, but I had no idea why. Perhaps Aelfar had told him I had tricked him? It was the only thing I could imagine as the reason, but he still didn’t seem to trust the dwarf. The way Flavius acted scared me and as he opened his door and nearly threw me in, I was getting seriously nervous.
Once the door slammed shut behind us he began interrogating me, asking me what it was that I carried and where was it from. I didn’t understand at all what he meant by “it” and that only served to aggravate him more. I was honestly scared as he ordered me to stop lying to him and show what it was I was hiding. Only when he said it was something evil I carried, I remembered the vial I had found from the Hordemaster’s tent. I hadn’t needed it in the fight after all and so I had forgotten it in one of the pouches in my belt. I showed it to him and told where I had got it.
As per usual, he was horrified I had such a thing in the first place. He began to lecture me about hiding weapons of evil from him and bemoaning about how on earth did I always end up with the most foul artifacts. It was my cue to get angry. I had picked the bottle because it was useful, because against these odds, we needed every bit of power we could get. Of course it was dangerous, of course it was an evil poison, but that only meant we needed to use it like a poison, to fight fire with fire. I on my turn gave him a lecture on Abraxis’ twisted life force and how it was the perfect opposite of the Lich’s un-life-powered spells. The theory was from something I had read years ago in Waenlan Háe, but the practice only occurred me in the moment. It was actually brilliant that we had the vial now that we were going to face the Lich and the realization took some edge off of my anger.
Once I got him to understand the theory, Flavius reluctantly admitted it might be of use. I assured him I hadn’t kept it a secret on purpose and I guess he finally believed me. He must have seen I had really been afraid and confused over his questions. He was a paladin, wasn’t he supposed to know when he saw innocence? I guaranteed him I would be extremely careful with it and would ask Marya her opinion on how to safely use the poison. I also had Largo in mind as another who might know about poisons, a second opinion wouldn’t hurt. Once he let me leave I went back to Marya and, as I had promised, asked her about the poison. As she theorized and recollected what she knew about magic influenced by Abraxis, I sat waiting and feeling bad for how Flavius had treated me. Clearly there wasn’t much trust between us left if you asked him.
I was feeling strangely determined to be of use in winning this war. I wasn’t quite sure if it was because I wanted to show Flavius he was wrong in always doubting my tactics or because I wanted to show the stupid citizens of Blackhall they were wrong about mages. In any case I spent the rest of the day very productively. Once I had Marya’s opinion on the poison, I moved on to another plan. I hadn’t forgotten Tragroum, the half-orc scoutmaster and his failed plans to use me as leverage against Flavius. He had mentioned he might have been ready to change sides even and I was interested in seeing if we could use that. Aranwe had mentioned the new scout recruits were no good and the five-day sleep had lost us a whole shift of scouts. I had only one way of contacting the half-orc and so I locked myself into my chambers, this time making sure Flavius wasn’t around and went in for a nap with the Triad.
It was surprisingly easy to find Tragroum, but once I entered his dream, I could see why. I featured it, along with some human women, all undressed. I could recognize Fida and some of the other women were faintly familiar, probably they had also been at the slave pit with us. After the initial shock faded and I gained control over the dream through the Triad, I refused to let the circumstances disturb me and once I calmed things down, went straight to business. He was now perhaps even more interested in jumping on our side since the orcish army was pretty much destroyed. But what he asked for in return of his services surprised me. He wanted a woman, which wasn’t very surprising, but he didn’t just want a slave, but companionship. I hadn’t thought an orc possible of wanting such a thing, let alone understand such a word, but it must have been his human side talking. I pondered a moment before agreeing to the terms and arranged to meet him by the mountainside at dusk to seal the deal.
I got myself a trainee paladin to escort me to the Bardic College to see Largo for his suggestions on both the poison and especially for how to get what Tragroum wanted. I wasn’t much of a matchmaker, but Largo was. I didn’t understand how, but from first hand experience I knew he understood what people wanted, sometimes better than they themselves. When I met him down at the bar he was as cheerful as ever and I was relieved to see the dream hadn’t harmed him. We went to a more private room and I showed him the poison vial. His opinions on how to use it safely were much like Marya’s, so I was rather convinced we could work with it.
I then explained him about Tragroum and what he wanted. Largo was unsure of his skills in making this match, but as he queried about the half-orc’s taste in women, I mentioned I had seen Fida in his dream and that she still was alive and in the city. As Largo asked if she would be willing I realized she might. She was a servant of Asta and of a very forgiving type. On top of that she had treated me with great respect and gratitude, which had until now made me feel uneasy since I hadn’t really done anything to earn that trust. But I could see how I could use it to my advantage in negotiating this deal and it would be irrational not to use a leverage when you had it. Tragroum was sure to like Fida and so I left Largo to his bardic businesses and went to Asta’s shrine to find Fida.
The shrine was bursting with patients and I got some bad looks from some of the citizens waiting outside, but the young paladin escorting me held their fury back. In the inside it was peaceful and calm. Fida was easy to find, she was healing and helping and it looked like she had been doing that since she was fit to stand herself. I didn’t want to stay for longer than I would have to, so I simply explained her my plan. I tried to speak good of Tragroum but not lie. I ended up using telepathy and showing her the moment Tragroum had showed compassion to me on our trip to Avondale. He could be kind and what he had asked for was companionship, not just someone to have sex with. She wasn’t pleased, but did agree to go through with it as she too knew we would need any possible help in the upcoming war. I felt terribly ashamed for asking her to do this, however logical a solution it was. Fida was a nice, gentle woman and she had helped me. I didn’t know for sure, but it was probable that Tragroum had raped and abused her in the past and here I was asking her to go through it again. I hardened my heart and asked her to meet me in the evening at Black Hall so we could go meet Tragroum and seal the deal.
Next on my list were the guard captain, Sir Yorick and Aranwe. I went to each of them to speak about recruiting Tragroum. His skills were needed, everyone acknowledged that, but I had a hard time convincing them he would be trustworthy. I was the only one who knew him, and although I was fairly certain he wouldn’t turn against us if we didn’t give him a reason to, the others hadn’t even seen him. Eventually they all agreed because we really were that desperate to get one more skilled scout.
In the evening Fida came to meet me as she had promised to. Aranwe was to accompany us for protection, although we would be travelling through my portals. Nearly on the last minute I decided I should tell Flavius about this beforehand. Going about this behind his back would just serve to build his distrust in me, so I asked the others to wait and went to find Flavius in the map room. He was obviously busy in a meeting with Sir Garrin and some of the other army leaders and nearly hoping he’d say no I asked if he had a moment. I was somewhat surprised as he promptly excused himself and came to speak with me even when the others seemed impatient to continue.
I hurried to explain him how I had recruited Tragroum and where we were going now. I made it clear that the plan was set, ready and I was only informing him, not asking his permission. I half expected him to yell at me again, but apparently he could see my point in doing this. He asked me some details of the deal and I answered briefly. After he was sure I knew what I was doing he said he should return to the meeting. Before he went he thanked me for letting him for once know in advance. Although I winced at the “for once”, the fact that he clearly was pleased of me telling him brought a silly smile on my lips. I wiped it away before I went back to Fida and Aranwe.
We met Tragroum by the mountain side and I introduced him to Aranwe, since Aranwe was the official scoutmaster in Flavius’ army and they would have to work together. The meeting went rather well. Fida was very scared and nothing I tried helped, but Tragroum tried his best to be polite. Although I still felt guilty for using my influence on Fida to create this deal, it seemed things might work out. I warned Tragroum that although I had gotten Fida to agree to this, it was a give-and-take business to build trust and the companionship he wanted. I felt silly giving relationship advice even to a half-orc, given the state of my own heart. It was ridiculous that I could see what was logically smart and yet be unable to follow my own advice. Tragroum grunted something as an answer, but I had a feeling he was willing to try. We settled the details of the deal and returned to Black Hall.
In the evening we had our last planning and briefing about our attack to Avondale. We meant to ride out in the morning with Grand Master Sir Garrin who was now wielding the Sword of Order and Jack-of-all-Trades as our trap expert. Flavius had been busy arranging the city’s defenses with his second in command, the leader of the dornites and Sir Yorick who was left to lead the paladins. Aranwe had done his best to help train the new troops and with the help of the priestess’ of Asta, Aelfar had created a sanctified ring, blessed by Asta around the city. We had done just about anything we could to bolster Blackhall’s defenses, now the only thing we could do for it was to survive our own mission and get back as soon as we could. The mist was moving and it would most probably begin to attack the city while we were gone.
Only those who were to leave with us were in the room as we went trough our plans. Marya had insisted to come with us since she still had business with Kirilya and if things went south, this would be her last chance. I presented the vial of Abraxis and explained the theory behind using it. Marya told what she had gotten out of the book so far but we decided to not use the ritual she had suggested unless it was absolutely necessary. Plans and briefings were made, but we had been planning the mission for so long that there actually wasn’t much to discuss. It was time to execute. The air was grave as we left the room, each of us deep in thought.
Looking back, it seems amusing that I ended up spending the last evening mostly in prayers. Aranwe suggested the two of us pray the elven God of Life for protection and naturally I agreed. We prayed in the druid garden and I remember wondering whether the God of Light might somehow grant us a more pleasant death than the one I had evaded twice now. As an immortal elf, the concept of the last night of your life, of coming to terms with the fact that you will quite probably die the following day, was very foreign to me. I knew elven soldiers had specific rites and prayers for these times, but I did not know them, I had only lived in the time of peace. The only encounter I had ever had with death before meeting Flavius and embarking on this adventure had been the death of my mother, of which I had only heard stories. The two times I had ended up at the gates had both been more or less surprises to me and I had not had time to fear death before it was already upon me. This was different. While Aranwe seemed to be calm and collected and get even more strength from the prayer, I only got more worried. Perhaps it was because I had never been very religious, but I didn’t feel much of an effect from the prayer.
As I went to my chamber, all it took was one look at the bed that I realized I would not get any sleep. I could just feel the nightmares waiting for me and I turned on my heels and went to find Flavius. He had told me to ask his help instead of using the Triad and so I did. He gladly agreed to help and so we went to my quarters and began the now already quite familiar ritual. Only this time some things were different. When we held hands during the prayer, facing each other as was usual, Flavius suddenly slid his hands along my arms in a caress that made my heart skip a beat and held me in a semi-embrace. He continued the prayer and I felt Keldan’s purifying light slowly drive away the fears from the back of my mind. But the real reason for my head feeling dizzy and excited wasn’t religious. It was from being suddenly so close to Flavius, but at the same time I craving to be closer. His hands rested on my shoulder and hip for the rest of the prayer and their touch made my skin tingly. For quite some time I had trouble following the words of the prayer.
In the end it was at least as soothing as it always had been and when I settled for the night, the nightmares were as far as they could be, for there was no room in my mind for anything but Flavius.
I was again in the war camp tent, the canvas radiated by the early sun light outside. I was helping Flavius put on his armor, as I had done so many times before. I knew we had only just been standing by the map table, after checking the plans for the fight. He had ended up explaining me some specific thing about maps, something that wasn’t really important now but that was just an excuse for talking. I had never been very interested in geography, but when Flavius spoke, any topic was fascinating.
I fastened the buckles and fixed the pieces of armor on their right places for him and he held the bigger pieces in place as I tightened them. We worked in a comfortable, pleasant silence. At the same time as I was in the dream donning his armor, I was somehow aware that I was dreaming and that I had seen this dream before. I knew what to expect once I finished with the last pieces of plate and handed him his sword. I felt mildly interested in seeing which ending the dream would take this time, but just as I saw myself glance at Flavius and our eyes locked in what would become the long, emotion-filled gaze that would either end in nothing or in a kiss, I felt myself pulling back from the dream.
Somehow as I felt my consciousness stir, I knew the dream hadn’t been interrupted by my awakening or left unfinished but rather it had ended there on purpose.
Fallen and Corrupted
As I and dressed up in the morning, I felt surprisingly awake. I had slept well, but there was none of the usual morning drowsiness, I was perfectly alert. Instead of sleepy I felt that fear of death had sharpened my senses and as we gathered on the courtyard of Black Hall, I had a feeling we were going towards a very dark place. Seeing the Gates again would be terrible, but at least I knew something what I would face. Also I had a feeling that Elethéne might have something to say about his mother dying, but I wasn’t sure if I feared what he might do more than death. What I truly feared was to be separated from Flavius for forever. I had decided that this time I wouldn’t leave so much unsaid, I had a feeling that was what my dream had been trying to tell me. The aching pang of regret I had felt when me and Flavius had walked to the Gates of Death was still sharp in my memory. But no matter how determined I had been to speak my mind now, when I saw Flavius, I felt the fear of rejection suddenly grow to terrible measures.
By the stables I loaded the little gear I had on my horse and suddenly knew that if I didn’t say something now, I never would. If I was going to die, what was the worst that could happen if I told Flavius something of how I felt? All reason aside I couldn’t deny I loved him. This might very well be the last chance to tell him and if I missed it, I would have to live all my immortal life in aching uncertainty and deep regret. Only my pride was at risk if I did speak and what did that matter now. Flavius was a polite person, I was sure even if he wouldn’t like what I had to say he would be courteous about it. I went to where he was preparing his horse and asked if I could have a word. The others were already beginning to gather by the gates and I turned so that at least the warhorse would be between us and anyone who might walk in.
As he looked at me, waiting for me to speak, I suddenly felt very silly. Who said he cared? Who said he’d want to hear this? All my carefully planned words disappeared from my memory and as Flavius looked at me expectantly, I hesitated. I stalled, asking him why he thought I, a high elf and a foreigner in this land, fought this war. He seemed to have not thought about it, but admitted it was somewhat strange, clearly waiting for me to get to my point. I agreed and told him us elves didn’t make it a habit to fight human wars and that I had been wondering the question ever since the fall of Avondale. According to any logic I should have finished my studies on the portal spell and sought refuge in Waenlan Háe immediately. I would have been needed there. Instead I had stayed, I continued, telling him that leaving didn’t really even cross my mind. His look was questioning as I said that and I half-stuttered as I forced myself to face his eyes as I told him I fought this war solely because of him. I had hoped to say more, to actually confess my love but I didn’t have the nerve. I looked away and, as a desperate attempt to make it sound less like the badly concealed confession of love it was, muttered something about it being good for him as the general to know his allies motivations. It must have sounded unbelievably stupid.
There was a moment of terrible, overwhelming silence during which I fought to keep my eyes on Flavius, but only dared to steal glances. I don’t think I ever in my life have been quite as scared as this, not even at the Gates of Death. I felt like running away and disappearing from his sight for forever. Death would have been a welcome escape as I awaited his reaction. I literally held my breath as I saw confusion and curiosity and finally comprehension and surprise flash on his face and then, after what felt like an eternity of hopeless insecurity, he smiled at me. As I noticed his smile, I was bewildered, but not nearly as much as when he proceeded to step closer, lean in and catch my lips in a tender kiss.
Another eternity went by, this time in an ecstatic bliss that I had only ever imagined before. Now that it was reality the rush of emotions was almost too much. I was blushing and completely breathless as we parted. I wanted to say something to express the outburst of feeling that threatened to turn my mind upside down but I had no words for it. After a moment of silence, Flavius asked if I was ready to ride and the reality of the situation hit me. I assured him I was alright and went to my horse. I noticed Sir Yorick was nearby, seeming quite amused, but I couldn’t find it in me to care whether he had seen us or not. So there was hope after all for my poor, fearful heart. Suddenly the Lich didn’t seem all that invincible or daunting anymore.
We rode up to Avondale escorted by a few paladins. We warned them to make sure they would return to the city before sunset. The mist had been very close to the city walls already the last nights and it had been getting ever closer every night. As we got to the gate and left our horses by it, guarded by the young paladins, the sight that we were faced with was dreadfully sad. The once so magnificent and beautiful, lively city was stained by the stench of rotting corpses and disgusting feel of the Lich’s magic. The feeling of the place had changed from fascinating to terribly eery and I was sure I wasn’t the only one to notice.
As the others scouted the area I linked myself and Flavius trough a telepathy technique Marya had helped me finish studying. It allowed us to speak through the link without it being a strain to my magic. As an extra I was able to see through Flavius’ eyes, experience what he experienced. I had hesitated to suggest it, especially because I knew the spell had in the history been used on unwilling targets for spying. In the end I had spoken out about it while we had been planning and we had agreed to use it since it might come in very handy if we were separated. Having told Flavius something of my feelings and having being kissed in a way that assured me I wasn’t alone with my feelings made creating the link in a strange way both easier and harder. The spell itself was simple enough, Flavius’ mind opened to me easily, but having the open channel to Flavius’ mind and to everything he was experiencing was disturbingly tempting. I could have spied his every feeling had I only tried and only I could break the link.
As we left the paladins by the gates and set off to the city, the first thing we noticed was the slimy mass of countless disgustingly rotting bodies. The mass filled every street and we couldn’t help but walk on it. Clearly this was what would become the army for the King of Bones. As it seemed that the bodies twitched, Aelfar cast a blessing of sorts that seemed to drive away the will that moved them. We decided to head first to the prison area of the vaults to see if the undying guard was still on his place. He was and he seemed to have done a good job at keeping his cell department clean, the slimy mass of bodies ended at the door. He wasn’t very pleased to see us, but told us what he knew when we said we were here to end the whole thing. He warned us about the incorporeal spirits. We would need magic and magical weapons to hurt them. When he saw Sir Garrin carrying the Sword of Order, he seemed somewhat impressed and confirmed that it would surely work on the undead, spirits or of flesh.
He did suggest we try see if there was a friendlier spirit that might help us. He described one he had seen around lately. It was the spirit of a young human boy, just an apprentice, but clearly determined to stay trapped on this plain for some reason. As the jailer described him, I suddenly realized I knew who he was. His name had been Voren and he had been the apprentice of one of Pëllagram’s associates and I had seen him die during the fall of Avondale. A huge orc had ran him through near the front entrance to the vaults when we had been time travelling. I had sneaked past them and ran to the circle, when it would have only required one simple arcane bolt from me to save the boy. But I had been in too much of a hurry and I had been afraid of changing the past, so I had watched his pleading eyes look at me run away when the orc hacked him to pieces.
I told what I knew about the boy and his death and Flavius agreed we should ask his help. He came with me beyond the reach of Aelfar’s undead-repelling spell and I summoned the boy’s spirit to us. Through the ethereal tether link also Flavius could follow the conversation when I talked with Voren. Voren agreed to help us quite easily. The only thing he asked for in return was that we would find his best friend, Karov. The name didn’t say anything to me, but when he described his friend, I had a feeling I had seen them together in one of the dinner parties Pëllagrim had arranged. I assumed Voren’s friend was also dead and with the knowledge I had of him, tried summoning his spirit. A hand-shaped slimy shape reached from not far on the ground and Voern cried out in delight, apparently recognizing his friend in the ghastly form. He grasped the slimy form with his ghostly hand and thanked me, promising he would do anything he could to protect us from the bad spirits.
Voren followed us, dragging the hand of his dead friend with him as we left the jailer to his duties. Sir Garrin looked at them with some suspicion when I introduced them, but he seemed to come to some kind of a conclusion about Voren and settle to just keep an eye on him. We found our way to the hall that used to hold the Dweomerstone. The mass of rotting, corpses avoided us and seemed to quiet down where it couldn’t slither away as long as Aelfar held Asta’s symbol up and muttered prayers now and then. The Vault door was easy to find and the locks were hardly a challenge anymore. As we opened them, we prepared to rush in and closed them behind us. We rushed nearly straight into a battle. Few of Kirilya’s dweomercraft bots were battling undead warriors. These were no mindless undead, they were smart and had military training. We charged in to help the bots and Jack closed the door behind us.
To the Gates of Hell
It was clear that Kirilya was about to loose the battle within hours. With Aelfar being able to keep the undead at range and Sir Garrin wielding the Sword of Order, we managed to down the undead by the door just as the crabs were about to fall. During the fight, Voren suddenly attacked me, clearly not used to his ghost form and powers. Luckily I hadn’t spent my time just staring at Marya while she worked – I had known we were going into war and had studied how to strengthen my magical defenses. Voren’s touch still chilled me, much like the chill of grave inside the Lich’s prison chamber. Something dark must have lurked within his soul that rushed to the surface in the presence of other evil things that could have caused it. Sir Garrin brought the Sword of Order at Voren and the threat snapped him out of it. His light side was clearly fighting whatever darkness was within his human soul. For a moment I pondered whether it was his will to have retaliate the fact that I hadn’t saved his life when I had the chance.
As we descended the stairs, there were signs of battle everywhere, but apparently the undead we had faced near the entrance had rushed through Kirilya’s defenses since we didn’t face any more of them before we got near the iron bar gate. First I thought the undead were already at the gate, but the voices came from just around the corner. Apparently the dweomercrafts were still holding their ground. Aranwe went to sneak a peek and returned to confirm that the crabs were still holding the army back, but just barely. We hurried to Kirilya’s.
He was his own nasty, unwelcoming, busy self, but clearly unharmed, so his defense had worked so far. His rows of crafted creatures had diminished greatly, there were only few crabs left assisting him as he repaired their battle-beaten siblings. I assumed the rest were out fighting or beyond repair. I settled Marya to where she wanted, said my goodbyes just in case and wished her good luck. Kirilya gave us a brief description of where the enemy forces were and what had been happening. Fighting through them all didn’t sound like a very brilliant plan, so once we asked, Kirilya gave us directions to a detour that should still be unknown to the dead. He said them very fast and hurried back to his work, but I managed to scribble them down in a sort of map.
I went back up to the bridge where Aelfar had staid. He didn’t dare step into Kirilya’s line of sight after he had angered the ancient dwarf last time. Apparently Kirilya was a big name among the dwarfs and it seemed Aelfar had taken his wrath rather badly. Well, if we managed to defeat the Lich, even Kirilya might forgive dropping one sword from a shelve. We waited for the others, all the while listening to the sounds of battle getting closer. The gate was closed and the guardian golems ready to defend the bridge, but it was still nerve wrecking to just stand and listen. The noises sounded so close that I expected the undead appear behind the bars of the gate any moment now.
Once the others returned, we followed Kirilya’s instructions to find the detour to downstairs. We went up a bit and had to find our way in the maze of the corridors and passages we hadn’t been in before. At some point my notes confused me, I had clearly gotten something wrong in them and for a moment I feared we might be lost. As I halted to double check the scribbled map, annoyed at the old dwarf for being so vague, Flavius peeked over my shoulder and pointed out that one turn I had marked up wouldn’t physically be possible architecture and that was probably the oddity. I looked at him confusedly as he explained it. Apparently the Vaults weren’t relying on magic in design, at least not in the floor plan and maps were Flavius’ area of expertise. As he began correcting the map while I held it for him I remembered how he had puttered with his maps in dream-Aendrul. We had spent many pleasant moments looking through the maps. His excitement was of a contagious sort and I had loved watching him examine maps of new places with great interest. He solved the mess I had made out of Kirilya’s orders in no time and we found the secret passage. It was well hidden and there was no undead presence, only a few of Kirilya’s crabs.
Through it we got a long way down, past the main force trying to reach the entrance of the Vaults. As it joined the main corridor, we climbed up into the racks that the crabs had used. We had to dodge some reinforcements, but luckily they were in a hurry to get to the fight and didn’t pay too much attention. Of course they weren’t expecting us. As we sneaked closer to the lift downstairs, Flavius and Aelfar insisted that the Lich or someone of his underlings had noticed our presence. We stopped to listen, but all I could hear was the battle far upstairs and I could only feel the traces of the looming magic of the Lich from deep down under. But then again, Aelfar and Flavius would be more inclined to notice these things and we decided to not risk running into an ambush. We had to find a way to distract whoever’s attention we had gotten. It would only follow a living being and that meant one of us had to go.
Flavius made the decision and called Jack for the job. I had a grim feeling about sending him off alone. He had proved himself brave and surprisingly useful and this was practically a suicide mission. But if one of us had a chance to survive that, it was him, so I understood Flavius’ choice. I had a feeling I should help him somehow, given that he had saved my life more than once on our last trip here. I knew it wasn’t much, but I handed him my dagger, not quite sure what I meant with the gesture, but feeling it was appropriate. Once I bewitched Jack invisible and advised him to aim to the jailer’s corridors if he gout out of the Vaults, he disappeared. After half a minute or so we could hear him shout at the undead, beginning his distraction. I found myself hoping very deeply he’d make it.
We continued hurrying downwards. Aelfar, Sir Garrin and Flavius had climbed back down from the racks but the rest of us staid up to have the advantage of surprise. We weren’t surprised to meet guards at the lift doors. We prepared and attacked: Aelfar, Sir Garrin and Flavius on the ground, me and Aranwe surprising them from the racks above. Voren proved his worth in disturbing the spirits that attacked us, but he himself also disappeared. I hoped he found peace, but we didn’t have much time to mourn for one soul. It was strange how familiar the fighting had become to me. Because of the war, I had studied useful spells for it and instead of one flimsy mage, it now appeared as if there were two of me, both of us casting bolts of shining purple arcane power at our enemies. If someone had told me a year ago the spells I would study here, I would have laughed at them. But then again if someone had told me I would be following a human general I loved to fight a Lich with dwarfs and Keldan’s paladins, that would have probably killed me in hysteric giggles. Or perhaps offended my pride too much for me to appreciate the stupidity of the statement.
The lift was stuck downstairs and Aranwe climbed down to unleash it. I already feared the worst, but finally the lift came up and he was in it. He told there were plenty of angry undead to beat up down there and as we stepped in the newly redecorated lift knowing we would now face the real army. Sir Garrin seemed eager for a proper fight. So far we had insisted him to stay back since we needed him in full strength to fight the King of Bones.
As Aranwe had said, as soon as we reached the ground floor, a horde of undead soldiers surrounded us. There were few elite anub guards leading a mass of skeletal warriors and only Aelfar’s prayers to Asta allowed us to rush through out of the lift to get more space to fight them off. Magic with the stench of the Lich had twisted the previously blessed chamber horribly and the door that had lead to the prison was now a dark corridor that not only looked dark but felt like the blackest, darkest place in the world. Just as we started to get things under control with beheading all of the anub guards and pushing the skeletal warriors back, I felt a huge, abhorrent presence in the dark corridor behind us. That was where the King of Bones’ prison had been, but the whole area had somehow changed, grown and I felt that whatever was there was huge and it was closing in on us fast. Through our mental tether I relayed the information to Flavius and he yelled me to attack whatever it was.
I turned to hurl an arcane bolt to where I felt the thing approaching us was and as it hit the creature, the quick flash of purple revealed the monstrous head of a ferocious-looking, huge undead dragon. I must have sounded horrified as I yelled both out loud and through the tether that it was a dragon. The creature charged at us and an overwhelming horror froze me as I tried to figure out a weak spot, anything that could help us. There was none. This was our end, there was no way to escape this terrifying monster.
Only Flavius’ voice snapped me out of the stunning fear. As he and Sir Garrin rushed in front of me to face the dragon, he ordered me to deal with the skeletal warriors. For once the Iron Crown actually was useful as it added strength to his command and helped me turn my back against the horror and start flinging my arcane bolts at the skeletons Aelfar was holding back. In a flash I saw the same fear that was chocking me on Aranwe’s face and I saw Thorondir flying away. The paladins charged the dragon and through the tether link I saw Flavius defending and Sir Garrin using the Sword of Order to deal massive blows to the creature. I saw Aranwe’s arrows soar towards the dragon and stick to its thick skin. Not that it would work, it hardly seemed to care, only get angrier. I kept fighting the skeletons as I had been ordered to and it felt as if hours went by in terror and struggle. The only reason the fear didn’t petrify me was that I could sense Flavius’ unwavering courage through our link and could follow the battle behind me through him. I saw him and Sir Garrin move in unison and clearly neither of them hadn’t lost hope. The skeletal warriors coming at me seemed to be endless, wherever I cut one down, two would take its place, but at least they were mostly staying back thanks to Aelfar.
Then, finally, with a surprisingly quick and smooth move Flavius managed to jam his shield in the monster’s jaws and pull its huge head to the side, opening its neck to Sir Garrin’s sword. As the Sword of Order cut the black, rock-hard skin like butter, I felt a quivering flash of hope. Once the one critical hit was in, it didn’t take long for the paladins to hack the dragon’s head off.
As the heinous creature finally stopped moving the fear that had gripped me started to fade and with Aranwe’s help me and Aelfar finished off the rest of the skeletal warriors. Aelfar immediately checked if anyone needed healing and once Flavius was sure there were no enemies, he asked if I was alright. Of course I was, I wasn’t the one the dragon had tried to bit in pieces! Sir Garrin seemed pleased at the fight and neither of them seemed to have given in to fear. They joked about it as if it was their everyday job while checking and rearranging their armor from where the beast had ripped it. I didn’t know what to say, I was so impressed. I had thought the beast unbeatable and the fear would surely have paralyzed me had I tried to fight it. I simply stared at them, especially Flavius, with a look of amazement and admiration.
After everyone was ready we continued onward to the now huge dark corridor. As I lighted my staff with magic to see around us, the darkness surrounding us seemed to suck almost all of the light. The chill of death was cold enough to hurt and my magic wasn’t enough to warm me. Through the tether I knew Flavius felt it too, but he seemed determined to ignore it and finish what we came here for. I couldn’t be sure since I refused to spy on his feelings, but there was a decisive look on his face.
As the corridor opened into an endless space far bigger than the mountains under Avondale, we seemed to be faced by all the hounds and monsters of Hell. The King of Bones himself was clearly at his full power, in his own realm and with the army he had had plenty of time to gather. He sent his endless armies running towards us, laughing at our efforts. But since the dragon had fallen, I suddenly found a spark of hope in me. Sir Garrin dressed up in the funeral gear we had looted from one of the anub soldiers and sneaked off into the shadows, meaning to circle around and avoid the main army. We needed to pull everyone’s attention to us and give him the chance to use the Sword of Order. Me and Flavius had a short but fierce debate over should we use Wylan’s Triad against the Lich, in the end I had to succumb to his will, he wouldn’t have it.
Now this was the moment to use the Vial of Abraxis. As the first wave of enemies reached us, I opened and held the vial as Aranwe tipped an arrow in the poison and aimed it right at the Lich. To my utter horror, as I tried to shut the vial, I spilled it on my hand. It was just a drop, but its twisted effect felt right away as a sickening mixture of pain and a strange tingling that sent a rush of heat through me. I yelped for help and suddenly Aelfar was there, chanting a prayer to Asta. I felt panicky, but wasn’t going to give into it. As my skin began to twist and froth, I threw a sharp dispel at it. Aelfar was still praying and I felt a sharp, warm light touch me. I felt the magic give in under our spells and it seemed it was gone. Aranwe quickly took the bottle and threw the it away. He had shot the arrow and I saw the King of Bones holding his head, roaring as if in pain. It wouldn’t kill it, but this would give Sir Garrin the chance.
In my mind I heard that Flavius had noticed Sir Garrin somewhere behind the Lich and a heartbeat later I saw him in my own eyes as he raised the Sword of Order and slashed hard at the feet of the King of Bones. He roared and stumbled and I saw the paladin continue his attack, completely surrounded by the demons and monsters. Flavius ordered us to charge in an attempt to get to protect Sir Garrin. We pushed through the masses of frenzied undead and demonic monsters, Flavius leading the charge. I could see Sir Garrin beating the half-sitting Lich, but even while Aranwe tried to cover him with his arrows, it was clear the Lich had now noticed him and was about to properly concentrate on the paladin. The Lich’s servants also had realized their master’s problem and were very eager to help. We wouldn’t make it in time, there was nothing that could be fast enough to distract the King of Bones. Nothing – except if the distraction came through a place where time was only a relative thing and the masses of undead between us didn’t mean anything. I grabbed Wylan’s Triad and stared through the pearl into the Dreaming, trying to reach the dreams of the King of Bones. The Dog of War had been undead and he had had dreams, surely a Lich would have, too. I refused to hesitate just because of what had happened with the Dog and lunged in to the dreamland. I held on to someone when we ran and as I began falling, I felt someone pick me up. Then everything went dark.
I saw a deserted place. There were mountains and rocks, but not much foliage. There was nothing living, but there were many unliving. I saw myself and everyone I knew standing in the troops of the King of Bones. It was a terrifying sight, it especially hurt to see Flavius amongst the mindless masses. His body was rotting, armor dim and dark, his strong will had been broken, now obedient and ready to follow the Lich’s every command. For a moment my consciousness flickered between seeing the dream through the King of Bones’ eyes and through the eyes of the broken undead version of myself. I felt both the intoxicating sense of amazing power over other’s souls the Lich felt and the surprisingly pleasurable feeling of mindless obedience and sense of worship-like admiration he had forced upon us as his minions. For a moment it was tempting to join his troops and never feel the need for anything but obeying the master’s will. I fought out of it and, seeing as I was in the Dreaming, called for Waenlan. Only for a moment I wondered whether Elethéne might be a better ally, but I shunned that idea almost immediately. I trusted Waenlan’s capability to handle this more and Elethéne was only a child, I did not want to bring him into the dreams of a Lich.
Waenlan answered me, faster than I had expected. I explained her our situation and asked her help. Unsurprisingly, she wanted something in return, but I had no idea what to offer her. As I tried to think of something, she asked if I could arrange a tiny security leak in to the secret vaults of Black Hall castle. Of course I could, thanks to Flavius I had as full access as anyone out of the Order could have to the castle. I did hesitate. This could be something Flavius would never be able to forgive me. I had seen what he had done to Nora when he had felt she had betrayed him. He had already tried to lock me up once. Then the reality of the situation hit me again: which was more important, to kill the Lich who would wreck havoc all over in the world, or to save one already quite doomed love. If Flavius ever found out about this deal, he would shun me as he had done to Nora. If Sir Garrin died before he could kill the Lich, Flavius would be the next to try the deed and would most probably die trying. Either way there would not be a happy ending to this.
As I quickly agreed to the deal and Waenlan pushed me back into the waking world, I saw her fulfill her part of the deal right away. The Lich was about to smash Sir Garrin when it suddenly got distracted by something invisible. It had to be Waenlan in the Lich’s dreams and mind. I feared to think what nightmares weer bad enough to disturb such a monster, but then concentrated on my surroundings. I had been dragged along by the others and there was fighting everywhere.
I got up and continued to fight off the undead masses with the others, constantly approaching the Lich’s body that was now half-laying on the floor. Its other leg had been cut and Sir Garrin was on top of its chest, reaching for the magical, glowing diamond in its chest. The amounts of magic that hit me as I opened my senses to it were frightening and I doubted if even the Sword of Order could destroy it. If it could, it would be such a blast I feared for Sir Garrin’s life if he tried hitting it. He did. An outburst of energy: mostly magic and unlife burst through the King of Bones’ chest and I could feel its menacing presence diminishing. I couldn’t see Sir Garrin, but I could almost feel him keep hitting the Lich in the pace its unlife force was lost. We held back the smaller undead until the Lich’s powers faded completely and suddenly every demon and monster lost its interest in fighting. They scattered away, not scared, just uninterested and some perhaps confused, as if they had forgotten what they were doing. They avoided us as Aelfar lifted his repelling prayer back up and held Asta’s symbol in front of him.
Flavius rushed to find Sir Garrin from the crumbling remains of the King of Bones. He was still alive, but just barely, more dying than alive. I turned to make sure Flavius and Aelfar had peace to treat him as they began chanting powerful prayers. The creatures around us were wandering off, uninterested, but I stood alert. Through the tether I could feel Flavius praying almost in a desperate manner for Keldan to heal Sir Garrin. I regretted not knowing what the older man had meant to Flavius, if they had been close friends. I faintly felt Flavius’ prayer being answered with a choice that would save Garrin, but transfer the damage to him. I knew it was private and struggled against the temptation to eavesdrop his commune with Keldan. I could only hope he wouldn’t do anything stupid, like sacrifice himself. As the thought crossed my mind, I sent small a plea through the link to him to not do it. It was a deeply selfish wish and he didn’t answer me, but through the link I felt he was annoyed at my intrusion, so I stopped listening. I was sure I couldn’t handle loosing him. Not yet, not like this. Not that I knew if I would ever survive loosing him.
In the end Flavius emerged from the middle of the Lich’s broken body. He was unharmed, but supporting a terribly aged and wounded Sir Garrin who was only barely alive despite all their healing prayers. There was a grim look on his face as he grasped the Sword of Order and allowed Aranwe help him carry Garrin. We set off to leave as fast as we could. As I noticed Aelfar carefully wrapping the sword of the Lich into cloth and picking it up, it suddenly struck me that there might be something of use here. I scanned the crumbling, corpse that had shrunk to the size of a normal, strong warrior. There were many magical things on him, but they all had the ghastly feel of evil magic to them. All but one ring. It felt very potent in magic, but I couldn’t feel anything dangerous or evil in it. I would have time to research on it later. I picked it up in the pouch at my belt and followed the others out of the grim realm of evil.
We were a grim retinue on our way back up. I kept the tether link closed, respecting Flavius’ privacy, whatever was in his mind. I had a feeling I had yet again done something to anger him, but he couldn’t have found out about my talk with Waenlan. Perhaps I was misinterpreting his expressions, perhaps he was just worried about Sir Garrin surviving. Him and Aelfar had done anything they could to spare his life, but at a cost. Aelfar had lost the chalice of Asta and yet Sir Garrin had only survived as a feeble old man. He literally couldn’t raise his sword anymore and Flavius carried it for him, seemingly pained to see his friend in this state. I considered him very lucky. He had slayed a powerful Lich and lived to tell the tale.
As we got into the lift, Aelfar and I began theorizing whether we would need to do any sealing here now that the Lich had opened the gate to that dark place. As we rose up in the lift however we noticed that the chill was gone and the grim decor began to fade. Once we were all the way on the upper platform, the lift looked the same as it had when we first had seen it. Judging from all the signs and the way the portal was opened, we deducted that it had been kept open only by the sheer will of the King of Bones. It was most probably already shut. A good thing we had gotten out in time before it crashed.
Apparently our work in the vaults was done. We walked back up the stairs towards Kirilya, keeping an eye out for Jack. I hoped he was safe right until we found his lifeless body laying in the middle of the corridor, eyes wide open and a look of absolute horror and anguish in his eyes. I was surprised to feel hopeless sadness over a mortal I couldn’t say I even barely knew. I had felt bad for everyone who died in the fall of Avondale, in the battles against the orcish horde and during the dream, but this one single separate death of someone who had saved my life gods know how many times by now seemed to make the grief more distinctive and sharp. It gave a face to all the people who had lost it all because of these events and his death was on our responsibility. As I looked into his eyes I could still see the spirit that had killed him, haunting him. It had not been quick, he had died in pain and terror. I stated we should take him with us and no-one disagreed. I noticed he was still grasping the dagger I had given him. I touched his cold hand, but didn’t have the heart to try take it from him.
The undead armies were now only properly dead bones and corpses and allover we could see Kirilya’s bots and creatures scavenging their broken cousins. We all entered Kirilya’s smithy. Aelfar went to the ancient dwarf to offer the blade of the Lich as an apology for his last mishap. I went to find Marya settled next to a big, golden cauldron decorated with runes. It radiated magic and I had to give in to my curiosity and ask about it. It was a cauldron made specifically for transmutation spells by Kirilya. Apparently it was a gift to Marya, probably for whatever their deal had entailed. I was slightly suspicious as to what she would use it for, but it was a fascinating object and Marya seemed very happy about having it. She asked me to carry it and I couldn’t refuse the honor.
Before we left I gave the smithy an attentive look. Many of his creatures were probably beyond repair, but the hammer was still banging at the same phase as before. The Dweomerstone was gone, but some of its power was still stored in the hammer’s mechanism. It was hard to say, but I estimated that should he so want, he would be in full control of Avondale by Spring. Once we shut the cold iron doors behind us I told it to Flavius. He seemed to think it was a good thing. I had to retort something about crazy tinker dwarfs not being the best neighbors, but when he didn’t take my point, I realized he probably thought Kirilya as less of a danger than the wizard school had been.
Once we got out of the Secret Vaults, we headed towards the only safe place we knew here; the jailer’s corridors had been kept clear even during the Lich’s attack. He was his own impolite self, but allowed us to camp by the cell doors. He told us we had been away for over two days. That explained the exhaustion and the feeling of having fought for forever. Aranwe stuffed Marya out of sight right next to Jack’s corpse. Sir Garrin was in a bad shape and while the rest of us were tired enough to sleep while standing, I decided to go out scouting and get a mattress or some sort for him. Flavius seemed too tired to argue and let me go when I reminded I could call help through the tether and would be invisible the whole way. I sneaked through the vaults and up to the the empty city. It was eerily quiet, but the staining effect of the King of Bones had faded. I could feel an ancient, magical being of some sort follow me, but it didn’t seem to want to harm me. I had felt its presence already when we had left the vaults and seen that the masses of dead meat and bones had began to dry and the Lich’s control was clearly lost. I wondered what it was, possibly Marya could give an educated guess.
It was easy to find what I had come to look for, I strapped some blankets and handed them over to my unseen servant to carry. Invisible, I went to look towards Blackhall by the gates. What I saw chilled my insides. Blackhall was in fire and under heavy, well organized siege from the Dog of War’s armies. There was also smoke rising from where I knew Leawick was and it seemed the Dog had separated his army a bit. They were strong, however. It looked like a textbook-perfect siege. They could have probably already taken the city, but they were doing it properly and with grave determination to destroy it completely. The Dog was smart. I memorized what I could of the siege and then returned to the prison corridor.
Flavius was already fast asleep and I didn’t bear waking him up just to tell bad news. Blackhall would last the day without us and in any case we wouldn’t be of use this tired. Marya would stay awake and scream us awake if something happened, so also Aranwe was already nodding off. Me and Aelfar arranged Sir Garrin as comfortable as we could with the blankets and as the dwarf staid for a moment to check the old paladin’s condition and to say some more prayers, I went to get some rest myself.
The corridor was narrow and since the jailer had sternly warned us to not take too much space – and most importantly, because I wanted to, I settled next to Flavius who was sleeping in one end of the corridor. I magicked the floor under us warmer and laid down next to him, almost close enough to touch. The ethereal tether link was still between us and I used it to take just a tiny peek into his dreaming mind. He had been through a lot and I was worried about him. To my relief I could feel he was deep in a dreamless, restorative sleep. I pulled back from his mind and slow and gentle severed the link.
It was a strange feeling to be suddenly all alone in my head now after having all the two days had Flavius’ thoughts and everything he experienced in one corner of my mind. Few weeks ago I would have liked to claim I cuddled closer to him because the jailer kept walking close by past us or even because it was chilly so close to the door, but now I believed it was more a reaction to severing the link and suddenly feeling too far away from him. Or just because the closeness made me feel content. I watched him for a while, just letting his peaceful expression calm my own mind and enjoying the feeling of finally being able to rest my tired body and soul.
I remembered how I had felt just before leaving for this assault against the Lich. The feel of impending doom and the desperate need to somehow let Flavius know how I felt before we would be separated for all eternity in death. Now could I smile at my thoughts, remembering how sure I had been of our demise on this incursion. The odds had definitely looked depressing, but we had faced them and survived. We still had time and we were still together. And Flavius had kissed me, actually kissed me. I drifted asleep remembering the wonderful, gentle kiss we had shared. It was as if I had again felt his arms around me, sending pleasant chills through my body and mind. Either his presence had a soothing effect on me or I was too tired to even dream, but the nightmares never came.
Portals to Places We Need to Go
I woke up slowly, feeling very comfortable. I felt the hard stone floor under me and I remembered where I was. It was strange to feel so rested and content after a massive battle like the one we had went through. As I opened my eyes, I could see the reason to my sweet dreams and the lack of fear. Flavius was sleeping right next to me, his arm around me holding me close.
He stirred and in his dreamy flexing hugged me closer for a moment. I could feel a deep blush rise on my cheeks as he opened his eyes and once he noticed me there, smiled warmly at me. I was suddenly very aware of how close he was and got all shy and awkwardly scuttled about a bit. I conjured up the first decent topic I could speak of and cut the intimidating silence. I began to explain him about what I had seen on my scouting trip, trying to hide my nervousness. He listened to my bad news with almost an amused look on his face. Once we got up and ate, he asked me to prepare my portal spell for us to get into the surrounded Blackhall and went up to the city to see for himself what was going on. Aranwe went with him and stealthily sneaked Marya with him so the jailer wouldn’t find him. Aelfar staid with me and settled further to pray to Asta.
After some time Flavius came back and once my spells were ready, he took us to the city where Aranwe and Marya were waiting. It was dark and as we looked towards the Blackhall, the sight was terrifying. The whole of Lancomb valley was filled with the undead army. Blackhall was clearly about to break, but the castle was still standing firm. After checking our specific destination from Flavius, I channeled open a portal to the Throne Room of Black Hall. We stepped into it, but instead of the stone floor of the Throne Room, we landed in shallow water. Once Flavius and Aelfar conjured us some light, I could see where I had taken us by accident. It was a small island in a small lake and there were the ruins of a tower. To my horror, above in the tower was a dark figure pointing with her bow at us. I yelled my name, fearing Nora would attack. She scanned through everyone in our party and, clearly scared to see him, aimed at Flavius.
I tried to explain things both to her and everyone else. It was terribly embarrassing to have accidentally failed at this, while of course it was possible. I apologized and theorized something about my last portal here having created a ghost link within the ethereal that I must have not noticed when I was casting now. No-one seemed to listen. Flavius and Nora were arguing, Flavius was shouting about how she was a traitor and I couldn’t but feel angry at him for being so mean to her. Nora was just about to shoot at Flavius when Aranwe jumped in between them and began to try talk her down. Marya suddenly spoke and asked if Nora was the new resident. I confirmed it and I introduced her as Nora Stredd, the captain of the city guard in Blackhall. That got Flavius’ attention and he turned his angry attentions at me and told me off for using a title she didn’t deserve anymore. After the distraction Aranwe got them both to calm down. Marya apologized for possibly having affected my spell casting, she had missed her home. I was hesitant to blame her, the spell was new to me and I had been under some stress as I cast it.
Marya went on to question Nora on how her Tower was and if her servant was doing well. Nora seemed confused at the undead head’s questions, but answered politely. Meanwhile Flavius demanded me to get us out of here. I sternly snapped at him that if he’d just stop yelling at everyone for a few minutes I might have peace enough to do the magic. Once he shut up, I began to channel for the portal to reopen. I tried to be careful, directing it more precisely, but I also wanted to get out of the island as fast as possible. Nora had lowered her bow thanks to Aranwe, but there was no way of knowing when she and Flavius would begin their arguing again and into what that would escalate to.
The portal opened and I told everyone to get in. We did, but when the darkness around us didn’t dissolve and turn into our destination, I felt a panicky feeling rise in me. I recognized the place we were in stuck, of course, there was only one place as empty as this. We were stuck in the Void. Suddenly there was some light and Elethéne ran towards us from the midst of the nothingness. He screamed happily for “mom” and “dad” and I couldn’t but open my arms to receive his hug as he reached us. I saw Aranwe and Sir Garrin stare at him in confusion. I exchanged desperate looks with Flavius when Elethéne, the courteous boy he was, went to introduce himself to each and everyone in our party as our son. I saw Sir Garrin mutter something to Flavius and I could feel Flavius’ embarrassment. I tried to distract Elethéne by asking if he could help us with getting to where we were going, but as he went to introduce himself to Jack’s corpse as well as the others, I froze. Elethéne seemed to imagine having a conversation of sorts with him and maybe he did. I couldn’t but stare at him. I wished he truly did speak to Jack, I could have asked him to tell him I was so sorry for his fate. Flavius seemed disturbed by Elethénes talk with Jack and tried to scold him about it, but didn’t get the child to understand what was wrong about it.
I went back to persuading Elethéne to help us get out of the Void into the Throne Room in Black Hall. As I spoke of us having to go, his grey eyes filled with tears and I had to console him. Flavius joined me in promising him we would be back as I embraced him. In unison we explained that we had a very important war to fight but that after it we would come right back to him. Finally he calmed down and took me and Flavius by hand and led us out of the Void. As he disappeared and we emerged into the Throne Room, he grew up in a split second and wished to see us soon. I threw a hesitant look at Flavius and I could see he too was quite unnerved by the unexpected meeting. At least he wasn’t blaming me for it.
Sir Garrin demanded to get the Sword of Order back and ordered us to get Sir Yorick to him. I could see Flavius was pained at the rules that denied him the right to wield the weapon even after all the things he had done to get it back and show he was worth it. He did give up the Sword nevertheless and arranged to send Aranwe and Aelfar help whoever was left to defend the city retreat to the Black Hall castle and to find Yorick. We could see from the windows that the city was in fire and the gate had been breached.
He himself came with me and Marya to go find the Lich Tome and get it for Marya to finish the ritual she had been preparing. Once we got out of earshot from the others, Flavius warned me he had a plan I might not like. He told me he would need me to trust him and do what he told me to do without hesitation even if it sounded bad – and after saying that he asked if I even wanted to know the plan. Of course I would, and he would want me to know it if he wanted the plan to work. I wasn’t a paladin who would just blindly follow anyone’s orders, although this specific paladin was the one who would get closest to getting me do just that.
Since I asked, Flavius explained what he had in mind. He meant to challenge the Dog of War, separate from his army, kill him with Yorick wielding the Sword of Order and then use the Iron Crown to take the Dog’s place as the leader of the undead army. As he said he wanted my help with using the Crown to claim the armies, describing it as “a king needing his queen”, all my protests threatened to escape my mind. His plan was to either march the whole of the army to as far North in the sea as he could and leave them there for all eternity, or if they disagreed, to march them back under the mountains and keep them there, ruling over the armies until the end of his days. I was surprised to hear such a plan from the righteous evil-hating paladin I had come to know that all I could answer to that at first was that that would surely be a hell of a place to raise Elethéne. It clearly got him uncomfortable and to avoid the topic I questioned him about details in his plan and what if things wouldn’t work out as he had planned. I asked him if he wanted me to empower the Iron Crown through a ritual to aid him in controlling the grown armies of the undead and he agreed to it.
Then we got to his back-up plan, which was even more terrifying scheme to hear from him of all people. Not that it was bad – it was a very good plan, he had clearly thought it through properly. It was totally feasible, we had what it took and it would solve all problems at once. But to hear that Flavius was ready to kill all life in Lancomb valley to vanquish the undead army was frightening. The stakes were high, we all knew it and I might have suggested the plan myself had I had time to think, but what bothered me was that Flavius had thought of it and decided it was what we would use. Sacrificing himself to save others would certainly be his kind of thing to do, but to gamble on the lives of everyone in Blackhall and beyond… He had certainly changed from when I had first met him to have settle upon a plan like that. Even if I had before been frustrated over his absolute refusal to play with high stakes and fighting fire with fire, now that he was ready to do it, I was afraid of what it would do to him. Before he hadn’t seemed to believe in no-win scenarios or that there would ever be a day when he would need to use evil to fight evil and somehow he had gotten me to believe so also. But here we were now, he wearing the Iron Crown that radiated Kord’s bloodlust, discussing on how to best use the Lich Tome that was too evil to be touched in this war.
Marya pointed out that the ritual would need a lot of energy. We knew where the Dweomerstone was, but controlling it would be a problem and we wouldn’t want to risk severing the souls of every living thing in the world. I asked if Flavius knew whether the vaults of Black Hall would have a suitable source of power stored in them. There probably was something, but he didn’t know the entire contents of it and had only been there once to seal the Heroslayer. Finally Marya, clearly disappointed at our ideas, said we could ask the gods for the power. She noted that since we had the Champion of Asta, a God of Life’s blessed one, a Keldan’s chosen one and one with a link to Waenlan, it would be stupid to believe that a coincidence. We agreed to use that, although we would have to get Aelfar and Aranwe’s approval also.
After hearing the plan in it’s simple grimness, I asked Flavius if he seriously meant that should he fall and fail to kill the Dog of War and claim his place in charge of the armies, I was to cast the ritual no matter what. He said yes without hesitating and I again began feeling the impending destiny of doom above us again, I promised to do it. If he died, I didn’t feel like living myself.
But just as I thought of it, I realized that should we both perish, which might very well be the case should we need to use the ritual, no-one was there to stop Elethéne from destroying what ever was left of the world. I pointed that out. We would need to send word to someone we could trust to deal with him. I was surprised as Flavius suggested Iontario should take the message to Waenlan Háe. Of course the elders would have resources and interest in dealing with a Dreamborn threatening to kill time. And I could trust Iontario, but I was surprised that my trust in him seemed to be enough for Flavius. We quickly agreed that I would ask Thorondir find Iontario and get the message to him as soon as possible.
The etheral tether had proved a useful channel for discreet communication and since Flavius was going to be against the Dog of War alone while the rest of us would be busy keeping his minions at bay, we crafted it back in its place between me and him. Again I promised him to not abuse it, but he didn’t seem to be bothered by it at all. I would have been.
We then left Marya to study the Tome and I settled to Flavius’ quarters to prepare my spells. Flavius went to find Aelfar and Aranwe. They had just arrived back from evacuating the city and when he came to me with them, I heard that Sir Yorick had been made the new Grand Master of the Order of the Honest Chancellor. While I was still in meditating, Flavius briefed the plans to Aelfar and Aranwe. I didn’t pay much attention to them as I studied my spells, but it seemed they agreed quite easily and didn’t seem to have much to protest. Once I was ready, we went through the plan again. I would try contact the Dog of War and lure him out to the gates. It was a duty I didn’t look forward to. The nightmares I had gotten from him on our last meeting still haunted me bad enough. Aelfar and Aranwe would need to keep the lesser undead away from Flavius and Yorick long enough for them to kill their leader. Once Flavius challenged the second in command, we would need to be ready for just about anything.
As a last thing I brought up the trouble with Elethéne. Flavius just told me to get the message to Iontario, but I hesitated. It wouldn’t be a nice discussion to have with your pure-blood high elven cousin, to ask him to take care of my half elven bastard and I was hoping I could avoid it. I contemplated on whether it would be smarter to just try pull him into this realm now, if we had the time for the ritual, since then if things went wrong Elethéne’s problem would literally die with us. The comment suddenly made Flavius suddenly very awkward. Through the tether link I felt uncharacteristic embarrassment and hesitation, and considered it strange. I quickly re-thought the theory behind the ritual and suddenly realized that the ritual would most surely require us to recreate the moment of Elethéne’s conception. Of course we couldn’t just find an empty moral shell for him, we would have to literally make him again, this time in this, physical real world. That silenced me. Not that the prospect wasn’t pleasant, but to have brought it up just like that made me feel myself quite silly.
I muttered something about it being best left for later since the ritual would certainly be somewhat complex. I wasn’t technically lying, I knew Marya had been doing something similar with the statue in her Tower and that already was tricky, but this was on a living thing, a child. Especially the timing would have to be very precise. I now realized why Flavius had given me time to think and had been so awkward about it. Now that I knew what the ritual was, I also knew that while we might indeed have the time for it, this would need some discussion and of course the ritual would need preparing. I gave in to Flavius’ plan and asked Thorondir to try bring Iontario’s falcon to me, or if he could find Iontario, tell him I needed to speak with him immediately. Aranwe and Aelfar went back to protect the gates while I prepared the ritual to empower the Iron Crown.
Flavius wasn’t going to let me do it alone. I almost snapped at him and asked didn’t he have a castle to defend, but then resigned to keep my mouth shut and let him stay. The Crown had bested me before, he was only being sensible. I settled on his bed, the Iron Crown in front of me and the magical ring I had looted from the Lich in my finger as the source of power for the empowerment. I closed my eyes, concentrated and began to weave the threads of magic, luring the ring’s power through me, in to the Crown and binding it there. It wouldn’t be permanent, but we only needed it for the moment when Flavius would try control the whole of the undead armies.
As I felt the empowering take effect, the voices of the Crown Ghosts grew louder. They had been easy to resist before because Flavius was in the room and I was determined to to show him I could handle it. I also hadn’t had to touch the thing, he had settled it next to me. But now it was calling me as loud as if I had held it. The spell I was channeling had lifted both me and the Crown hovering slightly, the threads of loose magic swirling around, breaking the laws of the ordinary world. Had Flavius not been tethered with me and standing by the bed, I might have lost myself to the Crown’s whispers of power and prestige. But as he was, all I had to do was open the link enough to feel his soothing presence and crack my eyelids to see his form standing there, guarding. I knew he would stop me if needed and continued the spell. Once it was ready, I climbed off the bed, careful to not touch the Crown.
Its voice was very loud now and the choir of ghostly voices asked us who was the bearer of the Crown. Flavius claimed it, stern confidence in his voice and took it from the bed. As he put it on I could see through the tether that the crown ghosts were now visible and very real around him. They were eager for a fight and I could feel Flavius had to adjust to their new, greater existence in his mind. I myself almost felt overwhelmed by all the voices in his head, even though I could quiet the link down and not pay attention to it. Once Flavius seemed to get the Crown in control again, I hesitantly asked if he was okay.
I asked if he wanted me to break the tether link since there was now so many strong ghosts in his mind already. He shrugged and said “That’s really up to you, my love,” a twinkle of a smile in his eyes as he saw me blush out of delight at his words. My heart flipped of joy and excitement and with a slightly shy but meaningful look in my eyes I answered him I would rather stay. We stood there for quite a long moment just gazing into each other’s eyes, certainty of the other’s love growing ever stronger with each second. Through the tether I could hear the Crown ghosts’ impatience to get to the battle and especially the orc ghost had a thing or two to comment about me. Apparently it didn’t much care for starry eyed gazes and gentle courting. His suggestive comments brought the Book of Body Magic to my mind and I had to quiet the tether link. I turned my gaze to hide my heated thoughts from Flavius and noted we should go put the plan in action.
We went to check that Marya was ready for the ritual should we need it and then walked out on the courtyard of the castle. We went by the gates and I reached in to the magical realm of souls and begun to search out for the Dog of War. He wasn’t hard to find. It would have been impossible to miss him, his presence was like a burning, blazing furnace in an empty cave. Fighting my fear I opened a channel to talk with him and tried to talk him into coming to the gates. He wouldn’t be fooled and would only agree to a duel to the death. Through the tether I asked Flavius if I should settle for a duel and although he wasn’t pleased, he told me to say yes. I did and almost immediately I heard a sharp sound of trumpets that halted the attack at once.
I saw Flavius speak with Sir Yoric, who was now carrying the Sword of Order and I knew what Flavius was asking him to do. It was clear Yorick wasn’t at all pleased. I knew our plan wasn’t a very paladin-like, especially now that it would be a duel Sir Yorick would have to interrupt but it was the only way. Desperate times, desperate means.
Aelfar and Aranwe came down from the wall and Flavius and I stood waiting side by side as the gate was opened. The Dog of War walked through the ranks of his army and in to the yard in full gear and clearly ready for the fun. As a show of his power he drew a solid circle to the stone floor for the duel area Flavius laughed at his show-off attitude and hearing confidence in his voice brought hope to my fear-filled quivering heart. As everyone was looking at the Dog as he barked the rules of the duel, I took Flavius’ hand in mine for a moment and squeezed it before stepping back to stand by Aelfar and Aranwe. I whispered him “good hunting” through the tether.
As their blades clashed for the first time I grasped Aranwe’s hand. I was so scared I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to stay quiet. Flavius was faring well, but I couldn’t help feeling as if each blow he took had been a stab to my heart. As the fight continued, I held on to Aranwe and suddenly couldn’t hold my tongue. I asked him in a near-whisper “How do you bear the fear of loosing her?” He didn’t answer and kept his eyes in the fight, I wasn’t sure if he had even heard me. Perhaps my question was too personal. Aelfar patted my back in a calming manner, and I tried to fight my fear. As Flavius took first proper hits that pierced his armor, I felt his pain through the tether and realized I had to do something, anything, to help him. I went through the tether to see through his eyes. The Dog was a horrible sight as he stared straight at him and through Flavius at me. I forced myself to look for things Flavius wouldn’t have time looking for in the Dog’s way of fighting.
Surprisingly being inside Flavius’ experiences calmed me as he himself was fully concentrated on the fight and not letting fear get to him despite the Dog’s taunts. I could see that the Dog was an experienced fighter, used to wielding many different weapons and from his style I could see he wasn’t in a hurry to finish the battle. He was probably going to wear Flavius down since he had no need for rest. I could also see that he was very methodological in his fighting style, clearly used to fighting other methodological warriors who had rules for how to move and use their weapons. I quickly relayed whatever information I had on the Dog and suggested Flavius he should try something unexpected. He didn’t have time to answer, but in the next moment he jumped on the Dog’s spear and that clearly surprised the undead. For a moment the fight was on Flavius’ favor and with some forceful shoves he managed to tackle the Dog and push him out of the duel ring. My eyes stared at Yorick, desperately hoping he would join the fight to end it, but he staid still. I asked Flavius if he wanted me to call Yorick in, but he only said not yet and continued.
As I surveyed the fight my eyes fixed to the undead army standing in perfect formation within a spear’s throw from the gate. I had a feeling that something was amiss and as I looked at the ranks, I noticed that the leaders of the units didn’t look at the Dog of War for orders but seemed to have no interest in him but the casual cheering of a mildly interesting duel. The army clearly had a second in command and it had already completely prepared for loosing the Dog as its leader. I realized they would attack no matter the result of the duel and went to find the city guard captain.
Captain Benko was standing close by and as I noted my observations to him, he agreed and said the new commander was most likely the axe banner. He assured me they were prepared and I returned to Aelfar and Aranwe. As I watched the unending ranks of undead, I suddenly remembered the Chained Sentinel. He would be somewhere there and he would know who the Dog’s second in command was. I sneaked behind a corner in the wall, just out of sight and very carefully reached in to the ethereal and pulled the spirit of the Chained Sentinel close enough to speak. I was pleasantly surprised as he remembered my name. I presented my question to him and he told me the axe-banner was lady Merian’s. All he knew about her was that she was a brilliant leader and had the troops under her complete command already, but she wasn not a warrior herself. The information might get very useful, since Flavius was right this moment proving his worth as a warrior. I thanked the Sentinel and he expressed his hope that Flavius would indeed beat the Dog of War. As the Sentinel’s spirit disappeared, I hurried back to Aelfar and Aranwe and whispered them what I had found out.
The fight was going badly now and I could feel Flavius was beginning to loose the control of the fight. Dog was strong and his blows went through Flavius’ armor like it was thin air. I kept the tether link almost closed, not able to handle the pain. Flavius had taken already a couple of bad hits and I felt through the tether how much his wounds hurt him. He didn’t show it, but he was getting shaky and a hard blow on his head had his head fuzzy. I glanced at Yorick who was standing close by and his face was grim as he watched the duel, but he wasn’t moving. Flavius was getting hammered by the Dog’s flail and his shield was already badly buckled. Me, Aelfar and Aranwe began a whispered conversation on what to do and just as Aelfar was promising he would drag Flavius to safety no matter what, I saw and felt Flavius take a huge blow to his head and just knew he couldn’t take another one like that. I ended the conversation by telling them I was going to interfere and walked towards the corner. As I went past Yorick, I didn’t even try to order him, I just told him he would need to act now if he was going to end it before the Dog ended Flavius. His expression got even darker as he said he knew and I hurried behind the corner.
I leaned on the stone wall, grasped the Wylan’s Triad and delved in to the Dreaming, reaching out for the spirit of the Dog of War and at the same time desperately searching my imagination for something that could be unsettling enough for him to be confused. A good thing I had listened my dreamweaving mentors at the time. I remembered their speech about how nightmares were seldom something truly scary or horrible and that their form depended on the person’s experiences. A real nightmare was composed of something that the receiver could not understand, something too far out of their daily normal, usually an emotionally stressful situation they did not know how to handle.
It was suddenly very clear to me, what kind of a thing the Dog wouldn’t be able to handle. I used my memory of praying for Keldan’s protection with Flavius, him holding me close and the feeling of a strange duality of heartwarming excitement and blessed peace. As I lured it in to the Dog’s mind through the dreamworld, I could feel he faltered. Through the tether I saw Flavius got a hit through and I prepared to do the disturbance again. I searched my memories for another, stronger feeling the Dog wouldn’t understand. I only hesitated for a moment, but threw the memory of confessing my feelings to Flavius at the Dog next. It had a charge of so much love and fear I was sure he wouldn’t handle it. But something went wrong, the memory was too strong and the emotional charge disturbed me, too. I suddenly realized I hadn’t aimed only at the Dog, but at every soul nearby, most probably reflecting the memory to each and every mind around me. I could hear the Dog yelling “did you feel that?” and calling off the duel. As I jerked myself out of the Dreaming and looked around the corner, I saw the Dog had stepped off the duel ring, Flavius charging at him and Yorick finally rushing in to help. From the undead ranks a female voice yelled a command and a shower of arrows flew on the courtyard and Captain Benko shouted his archers to answer.
As the Dog of War took a mighty hit from Yorick’s Sword of Order, he faltered and fell. The hordes of undead began rushing at the gates and Benko’s men ran to close the gates. I could see and feel Flavius was in a bad shape, but through the tether I knew that he wasn’t going to back on the plan. I quickly threw at him the information I had gotten about the second in command he would have to fight the control of the army with, lady Merion and proposed he’d use the fact that he had just given them quite a show of his talents. Although I could feel his pain, he lifted his head proudly and used the Iron Crown to challenge lady Merion, trying to control the undead forces.
As he spoke with the Crown’s amplified voice, I rushed to stand by him. Although the commanding voice wasn’t targeted at me, its power was remarcable. Suddenly the attack halted and lady Merion stepped out. Flavius faced her standing tall and looking every bit the general he was as she demanded to hear what he had to offer to the army for its services. I held my breath as they settled a truce until midnight by which Flavius would have to have a satisfying deal for them or the siege would continue. I felt proud of him as he stood straight right until the gates behind lady Merion were closed despite the unbearable pain I knew he was in. I felt through the tether Aelfar’s healing prayer warm him and give him strength and felt his gratitude.
As the gates closed, his posture collapsed and I saw Yorick take a step to help him, but then stop and the somber look on his face told me he wouldn’t help. I supported Flavius the best I could and with Aranwe and Aelfar we got him to his quarters. As we walked, I saw a familiar falcon soar around us. I knew it was Iontario’s and the other’s had also noticed it. At the moment I just wanted to see Flavius to safety, though so the bird would have to wait. Flavius was badly beaten and Aelfar began to treat his wounds. Captain Benko and Sir Yorick appeared to ask the general for orders and as I felt his head was still spinning from the pounding, I gently suggested him through the tether that he’d tell them to send every possible soldier to rest and to get rested themselves. He did and scheduled a war council after midday. Once they left, Flavius told me in a surprisingly stern voice to get our message to Iontario and come back right after. I did as he said and hurried to my old room where the falcon would find me the easiest.
As soon as I got the bolted window open, the falcon was there and through it I heard Iontario. Our conversation was fairly short, for I had no with to prolong an awkward subject as this. Once I found out that he was safe, I explained him quickly that if our plans didn’t go as we wished them to, we would have to resort to desperate means and in destroying the undead army, it was quite possible we would kill every living thing nearby. I told him to leave Lancomb valley and get back to Waenlan Háe with the message of Elethéne the Dreamborn and what threat he posed to this world if left on his own. Last time I had been very evasive on the matter, but now I didn’t have the time. I acknowledged Elethéne as me and Flavius’ son without further ado, but continued without waiting to hear his comment. We had both been raised in high elven ways and those certainly didn’t include illegitimate children with mortals – nor following mortals into war, for the matter. I had a feeling the elders might already know the magnitude of the problem, so I didn’t linger in the details. I did mention our plan to bind him into a physical body, but noted that killing him was also an option, if not a very pleasant one for me. I made him promise to make sure that someone would take care of this matter if we died and he did.
He told me he was on the mountains with Tragroum and Fida and that those two had been busy gathering up all the refugees they could find from all over Lancomb valley. There was only about a dozen, but I was glad to hear of it nevertheless – and that Fida was alive, and even Tragroum. At least I would have one good news for Flavius, not everyone was dead. I didn’t dare ask how Fida and Tragroum were doing, but advised Iontario to ask them to leave the valley also. As I finally ran out of things to tell him, he noted that I sounded like I was preparing to die. I said it was a fairly probable fate since we were at war and I was standing right beside the General but that I had dodged the cold grasp of Death before and would do my best to repeat that maneuver.
As we said goodbye, out of impulse I wished to see him at the spring dance. As he returned my wish, I realized that even if I did survive all this, I probably would not be going home to Greywood anymore, at least not to stay. I would be welcomed, of course, but due to Elethéne and Flavius, I would not find the same peace and serenity in my old home again. The real Aendrul was not like the a home me and Flavius had built out of it in the Dreaming. We would be outcasts there. I had always pitied the few half elfs who had lived in Waenlan Háe, for even if they had immortality and looked like us, they weren’t quite pure elves – now I’m not quite so sure if it was a real feeling, but I always thought you could just feel there was something distorted in them. They weren’t completely a part of our world, but neither were they a part of the human world. They were treated with enough respect if they followed the elven ways, but you could always notice small differences in the way us purebred high elves looked at them. I had done it too, but would not do it anymore. At least I hoped that after all this I had learned to see the value in humans.
Rejection and Burning Love
As I knocked on Flaivus’ door, there was no answer. The guard was standing still and shrugged as I asked if he was sleeping. I knocked again and when there still was no answer, entered, quietly calling for me and saying it was me, thinking he might be sleeping. Flavius was standing facing the opposite wall, his back towards me, one hand resting on the stone wall and head hanging dejectedly. As I called his name, he remained completely still and silent. His posture was slumped and he looked defeated. I closed the door and dared a step closer. When he still didn’t answer, I tried telling him the good news about the refugees Tragroum, Fida and Iontario were with. He still didn’t move and so I gave him a short brief on my discussion with Iontario, hoping he would snap out it, of whatever it was. He didn’t.
I wasn’t sure he wanted to talk about it, but I asked anyway. Finally he turned to me and I was devastated to see pain and grief in his eyes. I was completely confused at seeing him so broken and when he had always been the strong one. Even his voice trembled as he told me that Keldan had abandoned him. At first I couldn’t understand what he just had said, but as it sunk in, I rushed to embrace him. He returned my hug and suddenly he was crying there, in my arms. It was scary to have him so clearly broken and comfortless and I was very afraid of what this all would really mean to him. He
I felt helplessness and deep misery through the tether and I would have done anything to be able to somehow ease his pain, but all I could was to hold him and stroke his back. Once his tears finally died out, I told him I loved him no matter what the gods thought or said and I told him I had always had faith in him and still did, that I – and the world – needed him still. It didn’t help much. His self-confidence was completely crushed and all he could do was wallow in sorrow.
His grip tightened as he explained me what had angered Keldan, that he had tried to talk with Him just moments ago when he noticed His absence and that He would not forgive. It had been the duel that had been the last straw. I felt a cold terror as he muttered the story, but apparently it wasn’t my actions that had broken Flavius’ blessing, it had been when Flavius had ordered Sir Yorick to end the duel whenever he could kill the Dog quickly. He moved to pace around in the room, ranting about how he had dishonored himself, his Order and family, how he should have honored the rules of the duel and how he should have listened to Keldan and staid on the path worthy of His paladins. I disagreed to most of the things he said, but held my tongue.
This was such a strong outburst of feeling that I didn’t dare try talk him down, but neither did I want to leave him to endure it alone. Although the news had affected me, too and I felt scared and lonely, I pushed my own worries aside. Flavius had been strong for me so many times, now he needed me to be strong for him. The intensity of his growing anger did scare me, but I stood still by the wall, out of the way of his furious pacing. He went through our plans and searched for every mistake he had ever done and wallowed in self-pity and self-hatred. I wanted to stop him, but then he began to talk about how he was angry at me for having broken the duel. As he nearly yelled at the room how he didn’t want to accuse me of it but still did, I took a step back and tried to find words to apologize. Suddenly our eyes met as he turned and he just snapped, sharp cold flame of uncontrollable rage flashed in his eyes. I didn’t see the blow before it hit me hard on my face and knocked me over. A rush of fear made me shiver until I turned to see him and realized that he was even more horrified than I of what he had done. My anger melted into compassion. I hesitated only a split second as he offered his hand to help me up, but I saw that even that small sign of fear from me hurt him.
He began apologizing and I was glad to see he was back to himself. Well, if he needed to hit me to get over that terrible hatred that had threatened to consume the man I loved, I was ready to take his anger. Part of the blame on the plans that had been weaved around the duel was on me, whether or not he wanted to blame me. I had been his adviser and I had failed at my job. As he asked to be left alone, I told him he should sleep and as I left, he did indeed settle on the bed. I was halfway through the door when I turned back and still reminded him that if he needed me, or wanted anything, he could call me through the tether or I could sever it if he liked the privacy. He said it was still up to me if I wanted to keep it on and, through the tether I answered that I still would rather stay. I loved him and I said so before I closed the door, hoping he wouldn’t blame himself too much for his fit of rage. The fact that he had hit me had affected my opinion of him disturbingly little. Perhaps because I felt I had done worse things to him, perhaps because I felt the depth of his grief and how upset he really was.
I stepped to the corridor, closing the door and telling the guard that the General wanted to be left alone. Suddenly I had no idea what to do or where to go. I stood there on the corridor, thinking.
Flavius’ fate bothered me. The only thing I could compare it to was if I would be deprived of the use and ability to sense magic. I was honestly not sure if I could bear it and because of that I truly feared for Flavius’ sake. He was strong, but this had broken him, the bruised cut on my cheek was a painful proof of that. He had said there was no going back and I believed him. Keldan was a very black-and-white kind of personality, much more so than Flavius himself. Flavius would have to learn to live without his god’s guidance. The parting had clearly hurt Flavius and I was sure he had done everything he could to make up for his offence and appease Keldan, but apparently nothing was enough. He would just have to accept that Keldan was no longer with him. This would change him, if he could get over it. That was no problem to me, I loved him whether his god did or not, but could he live with himself after this? How would he change? Would he still love me?
I wasn’t sure how long I had just loitered there, staring into emptiness deep in thought when Aelfar came to snap me out of it. He asked what was up and as he noticed the wound on my face he became clearly alarmed. I realized how bad it had to look to him, and possible also to the guard who hadn’t said a word when I had just been standing there. He had probably heard Flavius shouting through the door, might have thought we had fought. I let Aelfar lead me towards my room and tried explaining him that the bruised cut wasn’t nothing serious, that I had hit it somewhere earlier. Once we got out of earshot and inside my rooms I told him that Flavius had lost Keldan’s guidance and that he was quite lost at the moment. I didn’t want to let the dwarf know just how broken Flavius was, so I didn’t linger on the details and he was polite enough to not ask. I said Flavius would need his rest but would surely be fit to his duties once he had some time to handle this. Before that we would need to handle things and finish the plans.
As Aelfar asked if I was alright, I suddenly remembered I had been scared and angry before I had set those feelings aside for Flavius’ sake. I began to unravel my frustration on Keldan’s choice, on how it felt unfair and unjust for Flavius of all paladins be thrown out of his grace. I was angry at the puny god for denying his guidance from Flavius – now of all times. Had he not been pious and virtuous enough for Keldan? Had he not always been infuriatingly honest and righteous? And hadn’t he just vanquished a Lich at the gates of Hell? As I began a long rant about everything that frustrated me about Keldan, I realized this really meant something to me too. Somehow through Flavius I had come to believe in the power and righteousness of Keldan and now it seemed he had failed also me. Of course gods had their own rules and it had been stupid of me to trust one. When push came to shove Keldan suddenly wasn’t much of a use. His law bound him too tightly.
Aelfar insisted on treating the cut and his prayers to Asta healed it completely. I felt a strange feeling of acceptance from Asta at my prompt forgiveness to Flavius and along with the warm sensation and the powerful healing I had a feeling as if the hit had truly never happened. Aelfar didn’t ask again what had happened to me, but I guess he might have guessed. I made sure to talk about Flavius in a way that made it clear that everything was fine between us no matter what he thought had happened. Aelfar was mostly just quiet and listened to my angry monologue, nodding every now and then. His quiet company was soothing and it was a great relief to have such a friend listening to my worries and feelings without judging them. He seemed to understand my need to let off some steam about Keldan, and didn’t even try to lecture me about how I spoke of a god. Once I ran out of elven curse words to throw at Keldan, he finally said something very Asta-like about holding grudges or blaming ourselves only hurting ourselves. I didn’t blame myself and the only grudge I held was against a god I would surely never meet again, so I assured him I was alright and thanked him for listening.
I finally returned to the actual matters at hand. I told him that since Flavius couldn’t channel Keldan’s powers anymore, we would need to rearrange things with the ritual. Sir Yorick would be the natural choice for Flavius’ replacement but I didn’t know what he thought about using magics. We agreed that it would be smart to meet at least with Aranwe, Marya and Yorick to discuss the ritual and what we would do about distracting the undead armies. We would need a back up plan in case Flavius wouldn’t be able to bargain for the control of the army. Aelfar thought it would be smart to start right away but I insisted I should go see Flavius first. As I glimpsed through the tether, I could see he wasn’t asleep, but wallowing in dark self-pity and desperate grief. I told Aelfar I would go make sure Flavius was asleep and then meet him and Aranwe for finishing the plans. Aelfar set off to find Aranwe and Sir Yorick and I returned to Flavius.
The guard didn’t ask anything as I walked straight to Flavius’ door and knocked. The only answer I got was a half-angry grunt that he was trying to sleep. I walked in and said I was here to help him do just that. Once I closed the door, I began to cast the spell, not wanting to prolong my visit or listen to Flavius’ disclaims for using magic. I had planned to put him to sleep and then use the Triad’s power to calm his dreams as I had done once before and then leave him to rest. It didn’t work our very well. The sleep-spell was an old, familiar spell to me, but something still went wrong. Perhaps it was Flavius’ puzzled yell or my own disconcerted feelings about everything, but the spell backfired. As I weaved the threads of magic, I got tangled in them myself. I fell asleep also, collapsing on the stone floor.
We ended up in the same dream and Elethéne found us, glad to see us back. Flavius asked what I had done and I told him he had needed to sleep, but was clearly unable to and I had thought it best to make him sleep, whether he’d like it or not. Not wanting to argue further over my methods, I then proceeded to ask Elethéne’s help in finding a calming, refreshing dream for Flavius. He was happy to oblige. As he moved the Dreaming around us I felt myself being pulled into the dream also. Apparently I was in the dream Elethéne had chosen for Flavius. I might have been able to slip away and wake up, but I didn’t. Perhaps I wouldn’t even have been able to, but I didn’t mind it either way. I was tired and whatever dream Flavius would find calming would surely give me some peace also.
I woke up from my bed in my room back home in Aendrul. The night air was too warm, although I had only my lightest summer night dress on and the window was open to the lake. It was still night and the moonlight showed soft puddles of mist down in the forest openings. I stood up from the bed and walked silently to the window. I did not startle when strong arms reached to embrace me and I felt a warm man’s body press against my back. I knew it was Flavius and I breathed a deep sigh of content happiness as I leaned my back against him. His hands wandered slowly but determinedly on my sides, sending pleasant shivers all over and I relaxed to his embrace.
“Beautiful,” he whispered close to my ear, hugging me closer.
“It’s the moonlight and the mist, it’s always like this at night here,” I heard myself answer and suddenly I recognized the dream. I had seen it before and I remembered where this was going. I still couldn’t help feeling out of breath as he stroked my back, even when I knew to expect it. There was a pleasant shudder running through me as he took a hold of my night dress and pulled it slowly upwards, revealing the warm skin of my legs to the cool breeze coming through the window. It didn’t cool my thoughts, and neither did the deep, burning kisses he planted on my neck.
“I meant you,” he said and decisively he turned me to face him.
Somehow he looked and felt different and I suddenly realized this wasn’t anymore my love-sick dream of Flavius, nor Flavius’ dream of me – it had become our dream of us, since we both were the dreamers. The realization thrilled me beyond anything. I had never seen him look at me the way he did now, even in my dreams I hadn’t quite gotten the look just right. But now this was also Flavius’ dream and the look in his eyes was of naked desire and love. His hands roamed on my body and my eyes roamed on his, as I didn’t quite dare to touch yet. I could feel a conscious thought nagging in my mind, telling me I should stop this and use the Triad to calm the dream down as I had planned to. I hesitated, trying to calm the embrace into gentle cuddle by catching his hands, but Flavius was clearly not interested in cute hugs at the moment.
I lifted my head to see his eyes, darkened by lust and from his look I knew I wasn’t succeeding in hiding the desire from my own eyes. I still had a feeling it would be smartest to call it off. We could just lay on the bed, cuddle and talk. Although I had a feeling he knew I was really here and not just a dream, I couldn’t be sure this was what he really wanted. He was distressed and confused and I didn’t want to take advantage of the situation. Keldan’s paladins had rules for love and I had a feeling Flavius would think they should apply even in dreams and even when his god had abandoned him. If I allowed this to continue, he might feel even worse in the morning. But he seemed determined to drive me over the edge of conscious thoughts and wise plans, and it wasn’t hard – I wanted it so badly myself. As he caught my lips in a feverish, demanding kiss, all I could think of was that this was the real Flavius, not just a dream and he very clearly did want me right now, right here and I could feel my resolve breaking.
As he steered me towards the bed, all the while undressing us and making sure there wasn’t one bit of my exposed skin he hadn’t touched or kissed, I couldn’t help but surrender. The thought of this being finally real, that this really was Flavius touching me was overwhelming and more than exciting. I could almost see my self-control breaking into pieces under his gentle, demanding touches and for a moment Flavius’ lips had a smirk that told me he knew he had won. I found his self-confident smile more arousing than anything and tangled my hands in his hair, pulling him into a kiss. At least in this dream we shared he loved me and wanted me the way I loved and wanted him. Perhaps this was what he needed now, it certainly was what I wanted. For a brief moment I remembered this could be the only chance we had for any closeness and it fed the flames in me even more. I answered his kisses and caresses with all the pent-up passion I had denied myself from showing before, willing him to feel how desperately I longed to be closer, how much I loved him.
None of my dreams had been quite like this. Flavius was different from what I had dreamed, more eager and passionate, more real – just more in every way. My imagination hadn’t been able to picture the fierce passion in him, not by far. It made my head all dizzy to be the target of so much intense attention from him. And to know it was Flavius himself and not just a dream made me loose every ability to think. As we made love on the bed and he whispered sweet, heated confessions of love to my ear in between of feverish kisses and caresses, I completely forgot I was in a dream.
In the Eye of the Storm
As I woke up to Flavius calling my name from somewhere afar, my last memory of the dream was that we had been half-asleep laying on the bed, tired and content, cuddled together when Elethéne had ran in, happily calling for “mommy and daddy”. Instead of soft sheets, I felt cold, hard stone under my cheek and my limbs were numb from having slept on the floor where I had collapsed due to the backfiring spell. I muttered something as a reply for Flavius and as I got up and he realized my spell’s backfire had toppled me down to the floor, he gave a hearty laugh and teased me about getting what I deserved for not asking him if he wanted help in sleeping. I felt annoyed at his comment and was about to snap something at him, but he looked so incredibly cheerful as he smirked at me with a nearly mischievous twinkle in his eyes, that I was stupefied. I got up from the floor and sat on the empty side of the bed, stretching my stiff back and finally allowing myself to lie down for a moment.
I felt both happy and terribly awkward as Flavius hesitantly but clearly purposefully queried after what had just happened in the dream. It was obvious he remembered very well what had happened and was faking ignorance just to tease me. He had a wide, amused smile on his face and he was clearly very pleased with himself when I blushed and nearly stuttered as I confirmed that it had indeed been a shared dream and that I had been there, in that very same dream he had just seen. I couldn’t will myself to look him in the eye without blushing madly and he seemed to be content to just enjoy seeing me squirm. He continued the good-natured teasing for a while and although I was feeling quite awkward and embarrassed, I didn’t want to leave – It was surprisingly pleasant just laying there next to him, flexing my numb limbs on the comfortable, warm bed, bantering about this and that, him joking about me sleeping on the floor and the memories of the last night bringing a deep blush on my cheeks whenever our eyes met.
I had to give myself a moment to ponder how we, a high elven wizard and a human paladin had ended up here, falling in love so very badly. I certainly hadn’t been looking for love, quite the opposite actually and I didn’t think Flavius had been much searching for anyone either. I didn’t believe in a fixed destiny that would bind two people together even before they had ever met. And yet now that I thought of it without the shroud of denial in my mind, there had been something special between us right from the beginning, at least on my side. A tiny fragment of an infatuation caused by curiosity and novelty in meeting new people. Perhaps it would have stayed as just a possibility for something more had we not been swept away together into all these adventures that strengthened the bond between us. Because I don’t believe in a predefined faith, I have to believe that we could have crossed paths and part without ever meeting again had we chosen so.
Of course there had been choices involved, no-one had forced us on these travels together. Flavius could have not accepted my help in researching the Crimson Crossing, I was hardly a very useful ally against the undead, but apparently he had liked some company and had thus trusted me. I could have – should have, really – not left Tolsmir to Bloodfjord to go with Flavius, Largo and Aranwe to search the caverns, it was out of my way and an unnecessarily dangerous, but my curiosity had gotten the better of me. After that there had been also unearthly things that had continued the work of those two seemingly small choices: my nightmares that had only calmed with the help of Flavius’ prayers, and then later, when I was already in Avondale, but was brought back to this adventure when me and Flavius had seen the same nightmares and the same Keldan’s vision about the Iron Crown and Aelfar.
Chance and choice had bound our fates together long before I sat in the library of Marya’s Tower, fresh from the fight with her vault guardians and realized how far gone my heart already was. Then later, when we needed to secure Wylan’s Triad, it had been our choice to trust each other and bind ourselves even further with having Elethéne together and leaving him there as the price for the ritual of two keys.
As Flavius got up to dress, I found myself reaching for his armor pieces and he relaxed and allowed me to help him with them in a comfortable silence. I did feel shy in touching him, but now that I knew I wasn’t the only one feeling like I did, the tension was quite enjoyable. As I slipped away to get to my own rooms as unnoticed as I could, Flavius caught up with me and walked me there, not caring if we were seen. I remembered how embarrassed I had been after we had woken up from our three-day trip to dream-Aendrul and smiled. I was still far from being so openly cheerful and straightforward about it as Flavius, but the happiness I felt overshadowed most of my uneasiness.
We had woken up just in time to the war council issued by Flavius after the duel with the Dog of War. I only had time to change and freshen up before it, so I only saw Aelfar and Aranwe at the meeting. Once we began, I was astonished to hear that while we had been sleeping (or “busy” as Aelfar somewhat hesitantly put it) they had finished preparing the ritual for severing the souls of the undead. As Asta’s champion, Aelfar could conduct a powerful ritual that would channel Asta’s power through him, Keldan’s powers through Sir Yorick, Erin’s power through Aranwe. I and Marya were needed for using the Lich Tome and the spells the ritual required and we would need Elethéne’s help through the Wylan’s Triad. Flavius’ job as the General would be to ensure the undead army wouldn’t disturb us. They would surely realize something was going on the latest when we began the ritual and that would break the truce. Marya had already began preparing the top tower for the ritual with the help of some mage students and Aelfar and Aranwe were going to bless and sanctify the area. It was amazing how much they had managed to do in this short time, but I guess having Asta’s champion on our side did indeed count for something else than just some comforting talks.
There was only one problem. Since we all agreed that asking for Wylan’s help would not be smart, it would be important to have Dorn on our side along with Keldan, Asta and Erin. The problem was that all the dornites had perished in their heroic stunt that had bought precious time in evacuating the city to the castle. As Aelfar, clearly awkward about it, suggested we should go get Nora back for this, Flavius fumed. He wouldn’t have her back unless there was no other way. I was more worried that she wouldn’t want to come in the first place, especially if Flavius would act the same way he had been the last time they had met. Aelfar didn’t loose his temper at Flavius’ annoyed comments and after a moment of bickering, Flavius decided to go outside and try reach Dorn himself. I looked at him go with a deep sadness. I had a feeling he would fail and I feared how badly he would take it.
I sat down in a quiet corner, took out my spell book and pipe and began to prepare the spell for the portal-travelling. The others talked about the ritual and plans to defend the castle, waiting for Flavius to get back. Eventually he did and as I had feared, grumpily said that Dorn would not accept him and that we could go get Nora if she would come. It was settled that I and Aranwe would go since the others would be needed for preparing for the ritual and bolstering the defenses of the castle. I had a short discussion with Flavius about Nora, asking him if this was going to be a problem. He assured me he would behave and although I was quite sure that having the two now fallen paladins in the same room would inevitably lead into a fight, I had no other option than to trust his discretion.
Marya asked to be allowed to come with us to see her Tower once again and I quickly agreed. She had asked us to also sever her bond to life in the ritual, so I felt that this was the least I could do for her in these last moments she spent in this life. She had done so much for us and been an amazing, highly inspiring teacher to me. I couldn’t understand what she meant by having lived long enough and wanting to rest finally, but I believe this is one of those things about mortals that us elves will always find it hard to understand. I wanted to persuade her to stay, but also felt I had to respect her choice.
As soon as my spell was prepared, me, Aranwe and Marya went through the portal and emerged on the island with the Tower ruins. As we got to the door, a single word from Marya opened it and we entered. We didn’t get far before Nora rushed to us, sword and shield in hand, clearly just our of bed but ready to face whatever horrors had invaded the tower. Aranwe calmed her down and we told her the state Blackhall was in. When he asked why we were here, me and Marya left Aranwe to do the talking. I carried Marya wherever she wanted to go in her home. We met her servant and their reunion was happy. We almost got lost in discussing the exceptional strength of the servant’s magic as we wondered at his development. I took the chance to talk with Marya about Flavius’ plan to bind Elethéne into a mortal body. I knew Marya had been doing something very similar with the golem in his laboratory and she did have quite a few books on the topic. She gladly showed me which books in her library were of use and I gathered them.
In the end Marya asked me to take her downstairs to her laboratory. I felt ashamed of the state we had left it in, but Marya didn’t seem to mind. As we went to the garden and she saw the severed, mangled heads of her undying patients scattered around on the grass, she broke into tears. She was furious to her captors for not taking care of them although she had told them about these people. We decided to bring the heads to the Blackhall, for they too deserved a release from their pained existence. We had to get Aranwe and Nora to help us catch the last one that was trapped in their original rooms. It was still mangled from our fight and we beheaded it so it was easier to carry with the others. The brutality clearly disturbed Marya, but she understood the necessity.
As we prepared to leave, Marya suddenly said I could have the Tower for myself. I was stunned at her gift and thanked her dearly, feeling amazed that I had made good enough impression on her to be granted such an honor. Of course she probably knew I wouldn’t have been able to resist breaking into here sometime later in any case. When we had first met and she had heard I had visited her tower, one of the first things she had asked was what I had stolen and she had only been curious, not at all judgmental. Apparently she herself had also been a curious young mage in her youth. Her only last wish was that I would release the soul of the man that had been bound in the coffin I had seen in the vault. We had visited him and although I was more than curious over what was the story between them, I didn’t dare ask. I promised her I would set him free if only I survived long enough to return here.
Once we returned to Blackhall with Nora, the tension between her and Flavius was clear and their cold looks were chilly enough to cause shivers to bystanders. Sir Yorick and Captain Benko welcomed Nora warmly and Aelfar began to explain the details on the ritual and what it would require of Nora. She had clearly expected to be treated like a criminal, but slowly relaxed and was soon involved in planning the ritual.
We all had a lot of preparing to do and Aelfar insisted everyone who would be a part of the ritual would go through purification rituals. Naturally I asked Flavius for help with them. We retreated to his room and prayed together. He still trusted in Keldan and I did feel the strength of the prayer, but their bond was now more distant and weak. It was still soothing and the peaceful, pleasant ritual with him was a precious moment before the hardships that waited us.
After the prayers I asked him to watch over me as I tried a new spell I had theorized for some time. I had gotten the idea from when Marya had said Wylan seemed to have interest in me. It was a variation of what clerics and priests sometimes did to get visions of current problems and I had a theory that it would work through magic with Waenlan. But as communing with Waenlan would most likely require sleeping and in the Dreaming I wouldn’t be in complete control of myself, I wanted to have Flavius make sure nothing unexpected happened. I settled on the bed and as I began casting, Flavius sat behind me. I could feel the threads of magic awakened by my spell pulling me towards the Dreaming and as my eyes closed, I felt Flavius catch me as I began falling back and drifted asleep.
I was with Waenlan, talking with her. I remember describing the situation we were in to her and asking for her advice. I remember her beautiful, playful laughter as she commented on my new spell and it seemingly being a new habit of mine to try out things that have never before done with magic. I remember that our conversation was pleasant, but can only recall fragments of it. What I do remember crystal clear is Waenlan’s answer to my spell. She showed me a vision of lady Merion chanting a ritual with some of her undead minions. I didn’t know the language or the ritual, but Waenlan’s vision made it clear to me that they were calling for darkness. In the vision I also saw catapult ammo projectiles embroidered with magical runes. It was clear that the undead army was not expecting the truce to hold and was preparing to continue the siege. That ritual was an important information and as I felt myself drifting back to consciousness I sent a prayer of thanks to Waenlan.
I woke up to find that I was laying in Flavius’ lap. I didn’t feel like getting up from such a comfortable position and instead began explaining him what I had seen. As we both were somewhat reluctant to end the possibly last moment of closeness and peace, we spent a few moments laying still, theorizing on what the ritual was and how we could best stop it and what the magic in the catapult ammo was.
I decided it would be worth a shot to see if the Chained Sentinel would have more intelligence on lady Merian’s plans. I cast the summon spirit spell and reached towards the familiar shape of dark chains and a black robe. He was pleased to see me, but hoped I wasn’t in as grave danger as I usually was when I contacted him. I was hesitant to describe our situation too much, but did confirm that yet again stakes were high, but that such was life in war and that I had faith in our plans. I questioned him about lady Merian’s plans on the ritual. He didn’t know the specific ritual, but repeated his comment on her being not so much of a fighter than a general and that her magic was of a powerful sort. Whatever the ritual was it would need to be stopped or we would surely be in trouble.
Once he had told what he knew, he thanked me sincerely for having gotten rid of the Dog of War. He said he was now home and while I had no idea what was home to him, I was glad to hear that. I briefly described the duel for him and he asked me to thank Sir Yorick and Flavius for him. I again tried to ask for who he really was, but he still wouldn’t say. He said he would not be bound again and I understood his worry. As he faded away, I felt very glad to have spoken to him while I still could. It was good to hear he had been released finally. It was odd to feel glad for good things happening to someone who had once killed me, but after what he had done for me at the Gates of Death, I could not hold grudges against him. There was a strange link between us, although he clearly was from a completely different world and I hoped this wouldn’t be the last time we crossed paths.
Severing Ties and Shattering Souls
We made our move late in the afternoon. Once the last of the preparations for the ritual were done, everyone needed for it gathered up at the high tower of Blackhall and the remaining city guard and paladins got ready to begin withstanding the siege and defending the castle again. We were sure that as soon as we launched the ritual, lady Merian would consider the truce over. Flavius’ first priority was to use our remaining siege weapons to bomb the pavilion where I had seen Merian’s ritual was taking place and then just keep the undead army out of the castle. I staid at the courtyard to cast a magical barrier around the castle before I too would go take my place in the ritual. It was meant to ease the defender’s job against any physical damage against the castle, but I was still worried about the rune-enhanced catapult ammo I had seen in the revelation given to me by Waenlan. The bubble-like magical sanctuary would most certainly raise interest in the undead army ranks and Flavius and his troops were prepared to take on a full attack as soon as I began casting. We meant to begin the ritual as soon as I got to my place.
I began channeling the threads of arcane energy for the magical sanctuary and a see-through bubble shining in grey and blue began to form around the castle. There was no attack but the undead army sent a messenger toward the gate, probably to ask what we were doing. Once I finished, I hurried back towards the castle to get to the ritual grounds, but I was delayed.
When my eyes caught Flavius’, I felt an uncharacteristic rush of courage. Instead of running straight inside, I swiftly walked to him and pulled him to a deep, feverish kiss. I knew we were in plain sight to everyone, but couldn’t care less. If this was to be our last embrace, I didn’t want any of my love and desire be left unexpressed. It wasn’t a quick, shy, polite peck, not by far – it was of the type that makes your ears burn just from watching afar. He was surely surprised at my forwardness, but didn’t seem to mind and answered the kiss with equal passion. There was no time for anything more and after we parted I gently brushed his shield, muttered the few familiar words to light it up in a bright, warm magical light and rushed up to the tower. As I ran, I heard shouts from the courtyard. The messenger had arrived and the battle would surely begin soon.
As we took our spots in the circular runed rings carved and drawn in the floor of the highest tower room, Aelfar sent a final blessing of Asta upon us and advised us to keep our concentration in the ritual no matter what would happen. At his words, I decided it would be best for me to not know what was going on with Flavius, at least not through such a straight link as the ethereal tether. I reached out to touch his mind through the link and told him that we would begin now and that I would sever the link as a precaution. I told him once more I loved him and wished him “good hunting” before severing the link. I prayed that despite the numerous nightmares I had had, these wouldn’t be my last words to him.
Once we were all ready, Aelfar, Aranwse, Sir Yorick, Nora and me standing inside the circular shining runes and formations of candles and plants, the cauldron of transmutation in its place near the middle and the Lich Tome on a stand in front of me. Finally Marya and the undead heads of her patients were settled outside the circle from where she would assist me in casting the necessary spells. Wylan’s Triad was hanging heavily in my neck, as if it knew what I was going to do to it. The Ritual would need magical power as well as divine strength and although a stronger wizard might have tried this without anything extra, I didn’t feel like gambling with our lives and the lives of half of the world. I had planned to consume its power to fuel the ritual and to make it easier for me to do my job properly.
We had discussed this with Flavius and he had been more than happy to agree to the plan. To him it was one less evil thing in the world. I wasn’t so sure. The Triad had been used by me to do terrible, bad things because of ignorance and accident, but it had also created beautiful, good things, calmed my dreams, given me and Flavius time together and introduced me to Waenlan. I was also afraid Waenlan would be offended by me destroying a part of her and I had come to really appreciate the fact that she had taken such great interest in me. But as there wasn’t another power source strong enough around apart from the Dweomerstone and that was out of question due to the simple fact that as we had seen before, I could not control it. And this ritual was all about controlling what we were doing. I had no choice but to use the Triad and I felt bad about it.
We began chanting prayers and spells. I had never done anything quite so complicated. Some of the spells were variants from the Lich Tome and as such were in languages I didn’t know. The cauldron was completely new to me and while Kirilya had done magnificent job at it, I wasn’t used to working with it. There was also the divine magic that was quite new. The sharp, golden light Sir Yorick was channeling was somewhat more familiar to me than the strange, smoother and less boiling energy that was radiating around Nora. Gladly Aelfar was confident about his part and led the prayers like the champion of Asta he was. I used the Triad for the last time to call Elethéne to us and when he appeared, the room flickered and as I dropped the pendant to the cauldron, the ritual rings moved us between the physical world and the Void. I had a feeling that there was a strange tremor in the spell as I weaved it, somewhat like when my portals hadn’t been quite as steady. But it seemed to have worked.
We began to see the threads binding souls to their physical flesh and Aranwe called for the God of Life to show us which ones were the undead. Elethéne was holding the Hero Slayer, ready to begin cutting the strings with it once Aranwe had identified them. Suddenly one of the millions strings flashed strangely and as Elethéne turned to look at it, I knew it was my string. At the moment I didn’t know what my son saw in the string that bound my soul to my body, I only heard the heart-rending scream that turned into an angry yell, directed at me and then I fell through the darkness.
(AND HERE GOES ELETHÉNE’S DIFFICULT CHILDHOOD)
to be continued
(In case you forgot, remember that this is a draft and therefore incomplete and therefore not ready and therefore could be missing stuff or might even change.)