Changes in the Land
Introduction: #UO15 trivia contest fiction and images.
Changes in the Land is the story of Lord Raven’s return to Sosaria. It covers my real-life absence from the game and provides an explanation for Raven’s disappearance. As this is also the 15th Anniversary of Ultima Online, I’ve decided to launch a contest to celebrate both my return and the anniversary of Ultima Online. You can read about the trivia contest here. Answers to the trivia contest questions come from this story and the corresponding #UO15 image galleries at the Digital Memories of Ultima Online gallery.
I hope you enjoy the story.
Chapter One: The Decorator’s Apprentice
It was early morning and the streets of Zento were busy. Pyoro stepped from the rickety boat, happy to be on dry land. In her hand was a note with “Rokuon Cultural Center” scrawled over a rough map of the town. As she neared the entrance she was shoved aside by a bodyguard for the Minister of Trade. Her hand instinctively reached for the cleaver in her belt. Then she remembered her oath… no more killing. She had tossed her prized cleaver into a lava pit in the Stygian Abyss after a bloody fight with a merchant over a meager pile of loot. It turned out that merchant had powerful friends in a bloodthirsty guild. Pyoro could not return to the Abyss until things cooled off a bit.
Until then she had to eat and pay her rent at the inn lest she find herself living under a bridge like so many these days. A chance encounter with a talkative stranger led to her discussing her need for employment. She was not the type to engage in small talk or discuss personal matters but the stranger had such a familiar way that she felt at ease. They started talking as she left The Scholar’s Inn heading north towards the cobbler. She meant to stop and get her boots repaired but she had been so engrossed in conversation with the stranger she only noticed her whereabouts as they reached the water’s edge.
The stranger then introduced himself as Rockwell and mumbled something about being The Minister of Trade for Moonglow.
I have trade contacts throughout the lands, and there is an opportunity for employment in the Tokuno Islands if you hurry.
He passed her a note and pointed towards the ship. The ship’s sails snapped and fluttered as they caught the wind so Pyoro decided she must repair her boots another time, and off she ran. As the boat pulled away from the dock, she turned and waved to Rockwell but he was already deep in conversation with another man. Someone well-dressed and important looking.
After a full day of travel, the ship arrived at the Makato-Jima dock and as Pyoro entered the cultural center she spied the Architects huddled over a set of plans. A man with a full head of white hair and a tiny moustache immediately noticed the dark elf wearing a Fire Robe and signaled her to approach.
What is your business here?
Pyoro tried to explain about her encounter with Rockwell but was cut short as another man stepped forward. “Rockwell sent you?” From his tone it seemed that he found the idea of Rockwell and Pyoro talking to be absurd. “Well, never mind. The job is for an Apprentice Decorator. Which means very little decorating and lots of heavy lifting. I doubt you could do the work.”
Laying on the table next to a set of plans was a heavy oak ruler. Pyoro grabbed it and quickly snapped it into two pieces. The elder Architect gasped at the violent display.
You’re a lot stronger than you look. That ruler will come out of your wages… you’re hired.
The Architect gathered the broken pieces of the ruler and tossed them into a nearby basket. Taking a closer look at Pyoro he explained: “There is a small house next to Malas University. You must be there early in the morning to receive deliveries throughout the day. Your first delivery will include a set of plans instructing you on the placement of furniture and chests. Other craftsmen may also arrive on site to complete work on the house and to build some of the custom furniture pieces. Keep an eye on them. There may be other items such as rugs, and portraits… you are to decide where to place those. Use good judgement, don’t place a portrait over a window or something silly.”
One of the other Architects began to chuckle. Seeing the confused look on Pyoro’s face he explained: “Its happened before. The last apprentice mounted a gorilla trophy on the front door. When the new owner arrived it fell off and broke his foot. Just use some common sense, you’ll do fine. The members of your race are known for intelligence so I doubt we will have a problem with you.”
Pyoro’s new employer raised his arm dramatically and pointed at the door. “Go Dark Elf, for the last ship to Britannia departs now and if you are not at the house in Malas tomorrow, your first day on the job will be your last. I will stop by in a few days and we can discuss your compensation when I see the quality of your work.”
Pyoro had hoped to take a moment to visit the cobbler in Zento but again she found herself running to catch a ship. Her boot sole slapped on the pavement as she ran through the crowds.
Chapter Two: A Paladin with an Axe to Grind
Thorn’s great calloused hands tended the grapes with a feather touch. They were almost ripe and he inspected each one for signs of spoilage, or insect infestation. The vineyard lost most of its crop the previous year to a fungal blight but this year promised a bountiful harvest. Since he retired from the Paladin Guard, he had taken up residence in the peaceful forests of Yew and volunteered most of his time helping the monks tend to the vineyard. He spent so much time there that Father Alexander had given him a monk’s robe and joked that he should take his vows like the rest of them.
He was not like the rest of them. Thorn was a natural-born killer. His days as a Captain of the Trinsic Paladin Guard were filled with battles against monsters and men. At times a difference in opinion, mere politics, was enough for orders to be given and battle to commence. The ones giving the orders never visited a battlefield afterwards, or tended to the wounded in makeshift shelters after a bloody clash. They didn’t understand the nature of death, or the true value of life.
The reminiscence of his days as a Paladin were interrupted by movement behind him. Turning quickly he saw the fair Camille. A scribe at the monastery. She was a young lass with fair hair and she had an obvious crush on the old Paladin. When Thorn would tend the grapes she would find any excuse to leave her duties copying scrolls in the library to hang around outside. Today she seemed a bit nervous, perhaps turning so quickly had startled her but old reflexes die hard.
What is it Camille? What do you have in your hand?
In her hand was a crimson envelope with gold trim. Thorn opened the envelope and immediately recognized the insignia of the Paladin Command in Trinsic. The note was an order to return to active duty and report to Trinsic. A brief flash of anger, calmed by the big brown eyes of Camille. He didn’t want to startle her, but something serious must be going on for Trinsic to re-instate an old Captain to active service. He spoke to her gently, “Camille, it seems that I will not be around for the harvest this year. Take care of yourself lass.” He turned and strode away quickly so he wouldn’t see the tears well in her eyes.
Thorn walked directly to the bank and asked that his chest be retrieved from the vault. Elliott hauled the chest over and set it on the floor with a thump. The Yew Mint did not have private counting rooms like city banks. Twisting the key in the lock produced a loud snap as the bolt released the lid. Inside were several pieces of armor and a very nasty looking axe.
As Elliott looked on in amazement, Thorn stripped off his monks robe and began to pull on the heavy armor. He tossed the robe into the chest and slammed the lid shut. “Back into the vault!” he barked at the Minter. With his eyes fixated on the large axe, Elliot grasped the handles of the chest and backed away towards the vault. Running his thumb down the blade’s edge, Thorn whispered: “You’ve gone dull, old girl. Let’s pay a visit to the Blacksmith.”
Arriving in Moonglow, Thorn produced a repair deed and watched closely as the Armourer prepared the weapon for use. “That’s a fine axe you’ve got there sir!” Selina cooed as she polished the blade to a brilliant shine. After she finished with the axe, she made a few minor adjustments to Thorn’s armor and patted him firmly on the shoulder.
Whatever you’re setting out to kill, you’re ready now. Good luck!
Thorn tossed a pouch containing several gold pieces onto the anvil and moved purposefully towards the door. Trinsic was his next stop and there was no reason to waste time getting there.
On his arrival, Thorn noticed the smell of smoke. Rounding a corner he spied a town guard setting fire to some bushes and shouting nonsense at the top of his lungs. It was worse than he thought, civil insurrection must be the cause of his orders to return to Trinsic. Nothing worse than having to cut down civilians. He would rather fight ten dragons than have to face himself after killing shopkeepers and tailors. Now in a foul mood, Thorn barked at the protestor: “This is shameful! Back to your post!”
The guard continued his mindless rant against anyone and everyone.
A nudge from his boot heel sent his horse into a trot and soon they arrived at the barracks. As he walked around the training compound, Thorn pulled open the door to each barracks, and found nobody inside. A visit to the mess hall yielded similar results and he noticed that there were some plates on the table with unfinished meals.
Whatever is going on, it must be big. Even the Paladin trainees had been called to duty.
Heading back to the main barracks, Thorn set his axe on the corner of a desk and noticed another crimson envelope like the one Camille had delivered at the vineyard. His name was on this note, written in the same hand.
After tearing the note open, Thorn could barely believe his eyes when he read the familiar writing from an old friend.
Chapter Three: The Visit
Click, click… the needles moved quickly in and out of the fabric propelled by Lady Rachel’s nimble fingers. It was late in the day and a pile of fine leather armor lay at her feet. The warmth of the day permeated the house and blanketed Rachel in a warm fog. The needle and thread fell to the floor as exhaustion pushed out the last of her energy and she began to sleep.
As her mind wove its way into the surreal lands of misty dreams she envisioned strange creatures, colorful lights, sounds and all of the trappings of mysterious dreams. Friends came to her in the dreams, sometimes she couldn’t recognize their faces, but still she knew who they were. At times she found herself in some strange location, again that hint of familiarity and she wondered if it was some place she had discovered while marking runes for her shop in Trinsic.
A sound caused her to wake and she realized that there was someone knocking gently at the door. Who could be coming to visit her here? This was her private house where she came to sew and relax. None of her friends would bother her here and strangers did not pass by often. She picked up her spellbook just in case the need for action arose and headed towards the door.
As she pulled the doors opened she was surprised to see her old friend Lord Raven of Minoc! How long had it been since she had seen him last? Where had he gone? He better have a good explanation, she thought while stretching out her arms to offer a warm embrace.
The familiar smells of sulphur and mandrake permeated his cloak and brought back many memories of their long hunts together.
“Hello M’lady” Raven spoke in a deep gravelly voice. “I have just returned from a voyage that will cause you to doubt my sanity and honesty. You were the first I wanted to tell of the reason for my long absence. A Quest I undertook so many months ago which has now, finally come to an end.”
Realizing that Raven must have come to her at the end of an arduous journey without rest or food, she grabbed his hand and pulled him over to the table. “Sit and rest for a moment, I will gather what crumbs I have here and set out a small feast so you may regain your strength.” Rachel busied herself in the pantry, she didn’t keep much food at her retreat… she so rarely had time to enjoy the solitude here.
When she turned, Raven was gone. “Raven! Raven where did you go?!”
A sharp pain in her finger caused her mind to swirl and she awoke in her chair, finger bleeding where she pricked it with the needle. She had fallen asleep while sewing and dreamt of Raven. It was so real though, was it really a dream? As a Mage, she was firmly connected to the mystical forces that go unnoticed by most. She knew that the dream was too real to just be a dream. There were times before when Raven had reached out to her, communicating between their minds. Had this been one of those moments?
Lady Rachel knew that like the shards of the Gem of Immortality, at any one moment in time there were many possible sets of future events. What she had seen in her vision was only one possible outcome. Raven was somewhere… at some point in time where his safe return to Britannia was possible. But this moment would soon pass and if she did not take action quickly and make careful choices, that future would vanish and with it, any hope of Raven’s safe return.
Chapter Four: Crystal Elemental
Each minor adjustment to the formula brought even greater perfection. Oblivious to the cold stale air of the Pirate cave, Fossergrim focused intently on the reaction in the flask. This batch would be his best ever and would fetch the highest price on the market. Already his competition was feeling the squeeze as more demanded Fossergrim’s product over theirs.
Some say the cause of the town riots was the recent surge in the abuse of psycho-manipulative alchemy products. That’s what the guards and nobles called the substance that now permeated the minds of the baser elements of Britannia’s populace. Fossergrim had a better name, Crystal Elemental. Something catchy that would be remembered by the common folk who barely had enough brains to pull their boots on in the mornings.
At first it had been the Orcs that had recognized the market for something “special” to take the drudge out of the day. For the regular folk of Britannia the constant daily grind for a few gold coins was something they wanted to escape at any cost. Although the trade in Ale was booming, it didn’t quite cut it for many of the daily inhabitants of the lands. You couldn’t show up for work with a belly bloated from beer, and barely able to stand. Folks needed the quick fix that would power them through the day and the Orc Mages had mashed some raw ingredients together for their “Magic Powder”. Fossergrim had laughed out loud the first time he heard that name. The Orcish concoction varied with each batch and at times the effect was a resounding headache and not the promised “boost”.
Realizing that the right product could quickly dominate the market and provide untold wealth to whoever controlled the formula, Fossergrim pooled his vast knowledge of Magery, Mysticism and even Necromancy to craft a formula that would provide the escape that the public demanded. One day, while making his way through Malas, a chance encounter with a Crystal Elemental had given him an idea for the name.
The first small batches had been handed out to criminal elements looking to make some quick gold. They sold quickly but Fossergrim did not like dealing with these types of individuals directly. They all knew he carried gold and while he was making deliveries he had to constantly be on guard. Instead of selling directly, he decided to form a criminal alliance with the Gypsies. They lived outside of Britannian society, and had their own camps where sales of Fossergrim’s product could beyond the watchful gaze of the Town Guards. They demanded a large percentage of sales, but they took all of the risk so that was an acceptable arrangement.
Having established a network of dealers Fossergrim could now focus on perfecting his formula. He needed a quiet place where he could set up a lab. Somewhere cool and dark so that the special ingredients he used would retain their potency. The old Pirate Cave seemed to be the perfect location. A new era of lawlessness had hit the High Seas and the Pirates no longer concerned themselves with smuggling. With powerful new cannon the Pirates could just attack merchant ships at sea so they no longer needed a warehouse to store inventory. They now used an “on-demand” inventory system where they would just locate and seize whatever ship held the cargo they needed to satisfy their black-market contracts. This meant that for the most part, the cave had been abandoned… but not completely.
On entering the cave, Fossergrim made his way to the back and found himself face-to-face with an angry kryss-weilding Pirate. As he was preparing to launch a spell combo a familiar voice asked:
What do you want Fossergrim?
It was Grace O’Malley, the Privateer. Fossergrim relaxed his grip on the spell book. Realizing that he probably would have been cut down before he could cast the first spell he assumed a friendly posture and offered a greeting to the renowned Pirate.
Grace looked agitated but sheathed her weapon. “I asked what you are doing here Foss. This ain’t no place for Gargoyles nor anyone else that ain’t of the Pirate breed!”
Realizing that he had an opportunity to exploit an old friendship, Fossergrim quickly laid out his plans for establishing a lab in the cave and hinted at the possibility of profit for Grace and her crew.
A moment of silence and a stern glance from Grace caused a growing sense of unease but she quickly turned, saying: “I ain’t got no need for gold from your poisons. I’d rather steal it honest from a man and give him a chance to fight back to keep it. You just steal their gold and hope and they got no defense against the foul potions you create.” Grace pointed to the northern portion of the cave. There was a small room there and plenty of open space.
“Set up there, nobody will bother you as long as you don’t bother them.”
With that, Grace turned and stepped into a waiting skiff. The oarsman quickly set to the task of rowing the boat out of the cave to the ships beyond.
Fossergrim muttered to himself, “Poisons, eh… I don’t make anyone do anything they don’t want to do. It’s their choice… humans. Pah!” He angrily set about rounding up some old tables and began setting up the lab. This location was perfect. His Orc competition would not come here out of fear of the Pirates. He figured the Town Guards already took bribes to look away from the activity in the cave. The conditions inside were perfect for maintaining the purity of the ingredients and plenty of space to store finished product.
Now if he could just get the Gypsies to quit selling the Orc’s powder and offer only Crystal Elemental to the citizens of Britannia.
Chapter Five: A Pint of Ale
The guard paced nervously outside of the cell. He glanced furtively at the prisoner, tightening his hand on the grip of his sheathed sword. He was told the old man in the cell had “powers” but the soldiers that brought him to the jail had taken his books, jewelry and armor. They had assured the guard that he was safe and just keeping the cell locked was all that was required.
Before the guard could protest, the soldiers were alerted to a new riot in the city. The protestors had torched another building and were stealing everything they could lay their hands on. The largest and meanest looking soldier drew a dagger from his belt and shouted to the others: “Let’s wet our blades boys!” The soldiers left without giving the guard any further instruction. The old man had been beaten heavily by the soldiers so it didn’t seem that he would be able to cause much trouble so the guard settled on a bench and broke off a bit of stale bread to chew on.
Raven watched the guard eat. His own stomach began to growl but there was no time for thoughts of food. He had to figure some way out of this jail before the soldiers returned. They were transporting him to the castle of a Dark Lord but with less than half the journey complete, had decided to spend the night in town. Talk of a few pints of ale and a soft bed at the Inn had circulated among the soldiers as they approached town and their leader finally succumbed to their pleas to rest.
Almost too weak to stand, Raven knew this might be his only chance to escape before he found himself locked in some keep under the watchful eye of more competent guards or magical beasts. The soldiers had not named the Dark Lord but had made his interest in magic quite clear and so it was almost certain that his destination would be the keep of a Wizard or Mage of considerable power. Often these Dark Lords would seek to build their power by imprisonment and torture of other Mages. Forcing them to reveal the Arcane knowledge that had taken years to learn and stealing the artifacts that had taken generations to acquire.
Typically a Mage would take on an apprentice, and over the course of many years the Mage would reveal Arcane secrets to their apprentice after a bond of trust and loyalty was built between them. However there were some students of the Arcane Arts that had no sense of trust or loyalty and sought to build their powers quickly. Often resorting to trickery or even murdering their mentors to gain power. These Dark Lords became very powerful and wealthy adversaries that were feared by many Mages.
Once they had established wealth and power, the Dark Lords would spin their gold into spider’s web of informants so that any Mage that crossed into their realm would be reported to them. These Dark Lords often bribed local soldier’s or guards to make an arrest under false charges knowing that many good mages would hesitate before killing townsfolk claiming to represent the law. Once stripped of their magical trinkets, the Mage would be dragged before the Dark Lord… powerless to resist.
Raven was well aware of these dangers and had disguised himself during his travels. Wearing a robe that covered his armor and keeping his spellbook concealed were part of his disguise. He also changed his behavior, and avoided using spells when in the presence of other travelers. After a long journey through a particularly dangerous forest he had spotted an Inn and the desire for warm food and a pint of ale had been his downfall.
He had concealed his spellbook and checked his robe. His disguise seemed in order. He walked around the Tavern and saw no horses in the stable and a glance through the window showed no other guests so Raven entered carefully. Except for the Innkeeper the Tavern was empty. Raven’s plan was to have a quick meal and a pint of ale then retire to a room for the night. The Innkeeper poured a pint from a keg behind the bar and slid the mug down the counter. Raven’s mistake was reaching for the ale with his right hand. The torchlight glinted off of his Crystalline Ring but the Innkeeper did not seem to notice. Overcome by his desire for a hot meal, Raven decided that he had not revealed his identity as a Mage and took a few gulps from his mug.
The Innkeeper excused himself to prepare Raven’s meal. It was common at such a small place for the Innkeeper to fulfill several duties so Raven paid him no mind and emptied his mug. As time passed Raven began to wonder about his meal but soon the Innkeeper appeared with a fresh mug of ale. Raven hadn’t planned on consuming more of the stout brew, but the Innkeeper had offered it free of charge to apologize for the delay so Raven felt obliged to accept the foamy mug.
This pint had a different taste and Raven suddenly realized that the Innkeeper had brought it from the back room and had not poured it from the keg behind the bar like the first pint. His mind began to cloud and Raven surmised the mug contained a drug or even poison. His hand fumbled at the strap that held his pouch closed. His fingers were suddenly too numb to work the tiny buckle. The drug was a fast-acting paralytic and Raven slid off the barstool and hit the floor with a thump before he could remove a cure potion from his pouch.
When Raven awoke he was sick with the effects of the poison and too weak to move. He was held upright by ropes that bound him to a support column in the back room of the Inn. Looking around he could see that there were rings set in the floor which could be used for securing chains and guessed that this was not the first time this room had been used to hold a prisoner. He had been stripped of his armor, jewelry and spellbook and figured the Innkeeper was a common thief and murderer. It would not be long before his throat was cut and his corpse dumped in a ditch behind the Inn.
Chapter Six: The March To Town
The soldiers picked up their pace as the Inn came into view. Although they were only half a days march from town, they had all decided that a quick stop for some of Peter’s fine ale was just the remedy for a hot day. Harris was the leader of the group and he kicked open the door to the Inn shouting,“Peter! Bring some ale now boy!”
Peter came running up to heavyset soldier with his hand outstretched. “I want my gold! I want my reward gold! I have something for the Dark Lord, I want my gold!”
Harris took a step back from the Innkeeper, surprised by his demands for gold. “What are you talking about, fool? What tiny trinket have you found that you think would be of interest to the Dark Lord?” Harris drew his robe aside, showing the leather pouch that contained gold given to him by the Dark Lord for bribes and rewards to informants.
“Let me see it! Let me see the gold, then I’ll show you!” Peter’s excitement was spreading and several of the other soldiers began to urge Harris to pay so they could see what Peter had found. Harris pulled the pouch from his belt and tossed it on the bar. It landed with a solid thud making the coins inside jingle.
A grin spread across Peter’s face, nothing but gold made that sound. Satisfied that the soldiers could pay, he gestured towards the kitchen door. “Come, come! I will show you…” Harris and the soldiers followed him through the filthy kitchen. Some rats scurried across the floor, others munched contentedly on pieces of rotting meat and moldy cheese. One of the soldiers gagged. “Ugh, I’m never going to eat here again!” Another grumbled, “You don’t come to a place like this to eat, you drink here fool! The ale is good!” The other soldiers laughed but stopped short when the group came to a solid oak door secured by a heavy iron bar.
Peter struggled to lift the bar and it crashed to the floor, barely missing Harris’s toes. Harris growled, “Watch it boy these are new boots.” He fell silent when the door swung open to reveal Raven inside, tied to the support column.
The guards looked at each other, unsure what to do. Peter went to the corner and kicked a chest over to the soldiers. “Look inside, then pay me my gold.”
Harris motioned to one of his subordinates to open the chest. Inside was a spellbook and jewelry as well as armor and a robe. “It’s all in there, I kept none of it for myself. It’s all for the Dark Lord.”
Harris looked at his soldiers as a big grin spread across his face. “Take the gold Peter, take the whole pouch!” Harris tossed the pouch onto the dirty kitchen floor and laughed as the Innkeeper scrambled to keep the rats from running off with his prize.
They would not be stopping for ale after all, Harris realized this prisoner must be taken immediately to the Dark Lord. “Grab that chest, unbind him from that column and chain his hands behind him!” The soldiers jumped to follow the orders. Dragging Raven up from the floor they roughly searched him and bound his hands with chains. One of the guards noted, “He can barely walk.”
“Carry him then!” Harris barked. “There is a jail in the town half a day’s walk from here. We can lock him up there and get a healer to tend to him. Looks like Peter gave him some bad ale!” The guards laughed roughly.
Hearing voices and feeling that his ropes had been removed, Raven tried to move on his own pulling away from the soldiers holding him. Thinking that he was making an escape attempt they began to beat him savagely, knocking him to the ground again.
“Knock it off!” Harris bellowed. “He’s in a daze, he doesn’t know where he is. Just finish with those chains and let’s get moving.” Although the soldiers were good in a fight, Harris was often revolted by their brutal treatment of people they encountered daily. An off glance from a passerby could trigger the group to deliver a savage beating and there were times Harris felt he could barely keep them under control. Though they dressed as soldiers, they were little more than a band of thugs that operated outside the law under the protection of the Dark Lord. They did not take orders from the standard military chain of command and most of the soldiers had been drummed out of regular units for their brutality and lack of discipline.
Taking careful steps to build his power in the land, the Dark Lord had hand-picked many of the men in the group. They in turn were rewarded for recruiting others of the same temperament and skill. The groups of soldiers operated independently of each other, assigned to different areas of the Dark Lord’s realm. This was a tactic he employed so that the true size of his army would not be apparent to the Nobles who felt they were the true rulers of the land.
Harris was one of the earliest recruits and he knew of some other groups, but even he was unaware of the true size or nature of the forces the Dark Lord had amassed. Only the leaders of each group were permitted access to the inner chambers of the Dark Lord’s keep. A chamber piled high with chests of gold, and armor imbued with magic. Harris knew that he would be rewarded greatly for bringing a Mage to the Dark Lord. As they marched through the forest to the nearby town, his thoughts were focused on how to hide his rewards from the other soldiers. He knew that they would all demand equal shares, but as their leader he felt he deserved most of the gold as well as his pick of the armor and weapons offered by the Dark Lord.
His thoughts were interrupted when one of the soldiers asked, “Hey, how much gold will we get for him?” The other soldiers stopped marching and turned to Harris, waiting to hear what their reward would be. Harris had not yet decided what excuses he would give the men for what little gold he intended to pass on to them. Surprised, he answered gruffly, “The Dark Lord will determine your reward, not I. Now shut-up and march. We need to get him to town before he dies. You’ve beaten him so savagely I will probably need to pay a healer to look after him and that gold will come out of your shares, not mine!”
The soldiers resumed marching but several exchanged glances and angry grumblings. None of them trusted the other. They knew loyalty only to themselves and the gold they fought and murdered for. Harris’s answer hadn’t satisfied their question and his threat to deduct the healer’s payment didn’t sit well either.
Two of the soldiers began to walk a little closer together and fell back from the main group by a few paces. Not far enough that the others would notice, but enough that nobody would overhear their whispered conversation.
Chapter Seven: Raven’s Flight
The guard was distracted by the commotion outside so Raven began to work his wrists against the ropes binding his arms together. Too sick and weak to walk on his own, the soldiers had to carry Raven to town. Along the way they had complained incessantly of the extra burden the weight of the chains added and Harris finally relented, removed the chains and bound Raven’s hands with rope. With Raven barely conscious, too sick to stand and his spellbook taken Harris felt he posed no threat of escape.
As he worked his wrists against the rope, Raven took stock of his situation. He had been robbed of all of his magical jewelry, spellbook armor and shroud. The Innkeeper had tossed a filthy tattered robe over him to cover his body. Only one original article of clothing remained, his boots.
To prepare for his Quest, Raven had carefully selected clothing designed to disguise any magical properties so that he could blend in with the “regular folk”. The Innkeeper was smart enough to realize that even ordinary looking armor and gloves would certainly have magical properties and had removed them to be safe. As footwear, Raven had chosen his most decrepit looking arcane boots. The had none of the fancy stitching or fine leathers usually associated with magical footwear. They were weathered, cracked leather with the soles worn thin. They were in such bad shape, Raven had reasoned that nobody would even bother to steal them from a corpse.
Looking at his feet, Raven considered the twists of fate that would lead to these old boots being his only hope for salvation. They were a trophy he had taken from the corpse of a Ratman during his early years as an Apprentice Mage. Later his tailor friend, Lady Rachel had infused them with arcane charges. That was back in the days before Tailors knew how to craft suits of armor that made it unnecessary to carry reagents. In his early days as a Mage, Raven could find himself in a tight spot if he ran out of Black Pearl or Mandrake Root during a heated battle. The stored charges in the arcane boots would not only allow him to cast a cure spell to stop poison, they were also quite handy for running away from a powerful foe!
How many charges were left in the old boots? Only a skilled Tailor could really tell so Raven decided that he would use Magic sparingly in his escape. Now if he could only get his hands free…
A commotion at the door caused Raven’s heart to sink. Harris had sent two of the soldiers to fetch a healer and they had returned, but without the healer. The guard began asking what was going on.
A dagger flashed from the robe of one soldier and the guard’s neck erupted in a spray of blood. The body hit the floor with a sickening thud as the blood spread from the lifeless body.
Raven shoved himself away from the cell door as the second soldier jammed the keys in the lock. “Come on you!” He rasped. “We’re gettin’ you out of here so get yourself moving! We’ll talk about our reward later.”
It dawned on Raven that these two soldiers were the ones that held back during the march to town. During his occasional moments of consciousness he noted their intent conversation and now he realized they had been conspiring to arrange their own reward. Perhaps they thought they could ransom Raven to the Nobles instead of dealing with the Dark Lord. Raven struggled to his feet, doing his best to hide the fact that the rope binding his wrists was ready to fall off.
One soldier grabbed his arm and pulled him towards the door. Raven stepped over the body of the slain guard. He felt sorry for the man. The guard had really done him no harm, but these were lawless lands and the innocent often suffered. They emerged from the jail into the commotion of the street. A riot was in full swing and it was not difficult for them to blend into the crowd. Both soldiers pulled their hoods up over their heads to avoid recognition, but nobody was looking at them anyway. Smoke was bellowing from the Provisioner’s Shop and it was clear the the rioters had taken control of the town.
As they headed to the gate, there was a tense moment as two town guards approached but they were headed towards the fight in town and didn’t cast a second look at Raven and his hooded escorts. They probably thought it was just an old disheveled man and his two bodyguards rushing from the chaos in town.
A while later after trekking deep into the woods, they sat Raven on a large boulder and offered him wine and bread.
“Look here Mage, we wanna make a deal with you. Harris was gonna screw us outta our reward and the Dark Lord don’t care about us anyways so what can you offer? Make your first offer your best, or we’ll cut you like the guard and leave you here in the woods for the wolves to chew on!”
Raven decided to take a gamble and pulled his hands free of the loose bonds. One soldier gasped, “His hands are free!” The other moved forward quickly, pulling his dagger from under his robe.
Making eye contact with the dagger wielding soldier, Raven placed his hands on his knees in plain sight and spoke calmly. “You can see that I could have freed my hands at any time. I chose to come with you. I appreciate your help and I can offer a reward.” Thinking again of the guards demise Raven was barely able to choke out the words, “Thank you for rescuing me.”
In ordinary circumstances he would have blasted these two murders to pieces with a Chain Lightning spell. However in his weakened state, in a strange land he needed their help. The ingratiating comments had the desired effect and the soldier placed his dagger back in its concealed sheath under his robe. The other soldier’s face relaxed and his look of anxiety turned back to greed as he asked, “What reward do you offer, Mage?”
Keeping his hands still and in plain sight, Raven sighed loudly. An act put on to break the tension between the three men. It seemed to work as both soldiers assumed a more relaxed stance. The effect was similar to when a commanding officer would bark “At Ease!” to the troops and Raven had masterfully played on the military training of the renegade soldiers.
Raven was now in command.
Chapter Eight: A Rumor of Raven
Zento was quiet this evening and Splinter decided to walk to Elysia’s house. The stillness made the crunch of his boots on the path seem unnaturally loud. Usually Splinter would execute a quiet approach, using the grass to cover the sound of his footsteps but in this part of the Tokuno Islands he was safe from ambush by man or beast. It was not necessary to hide his movements.
As he approached Elysia’s house he noted that no light was visible through the windows. It was too early for her to have retired for the evening, she must have gone out with friends. Disappointed, Splinter turned back towards the Moongate only to see a figure crouched in the bushes near the road. Drawing a bolt from his quiver, Splinter readied his crossbow for a lethal strike.
“No, wait! It’s me, Feradrim!”
Splinter recognized the Elven archer and lowered his weapon. “You know, hiding in the bushes like that is a good way to get killed, Feradrim.”
“I wasn’t hiding. I am looking for something and I didn’t see you approach or I would have let you know I was here. Believe me Splinter, I don’t want to get on the business end of your crossbow.”
Feradrim began kicking at the bushes along the road with his feet and mumbling. Amused by the display, Splinter approached and also began kicking the bushes. “Tell me Feradrim, why are we kicking bushes? What did they do to you?”
Feradrim grinned. “Nothing, they have done nothing to me but I’ve lost my Daemon Slayer crossbow and I thought it might have ended up in these bushes. I… uh… was paying Nissa a visit the other night and Elysia came home. I had to jump out the window and I landed in these bushes. Much later I realized the shoulder strap for my bow had snapped and it was gone.”
Splinter gestured towards the bank. “Come with me my Elven friend. I have something that will cheer you up.”
Although it was late, the banker opened Splinter’s bank box and then shuffled back to his cot. “Close that up and lock it when you’re done.” The minter, said while barely stifling a yawn.
Feradrim leaned over the chest to peer inside. Splinter was a well-regarded Paladin Archer and there was sure to be some interesting loot in the chest. Splinter fumbled around a bit and then pulled out a fairly new crossbow.
“There ya go, take it! It should work well against those big nasty Daemons. Hey, let’s go test it now!”
Although Feradrim had been planning on an evening meal at the Inn, he couldn’t refuse an offer to hunt with a Paladin of Splinter’s rank. It was a rare few that made the grade and could survive the rigorous training that a Paladin had to endure and Splinter was also known as one of the best shots with a crossbow in all of Britannia. Feradrim would be in good company should a Paragon Daemon attack, and he might pick up few tips for using his new crossbow besides.
As they headed towards the Moongate Splinter made small talk about this and that. It was something that Humans tended to do. Elves could appreciate silence and listen to the sounds of nature around them but Humans always had to have the sound of their own voices in their ears. It’s one reason that Elves usually made better hunters. Feradrim barely listened and only nodded his head when he felt that Splinter was addressing him directly.
Splinter took a look at the shimmering Moongate and then stepped into the blue light. The Moongates had been around his entire life, but his Father had told him stories about the days before the mysterious rocks fell from the sky and made the portals between distant parts of the land. How brave the first traveler must have been to step into the light not knowing where they would emerge. According to legend, originally the gates were unstable and one could end up almost anywhere. In time, powerful Mages had cast a series of spells to stabilize the gates and now the destination was easily selected by thinking of the desired destination. Of course the destination had to match one of the opposing gates and if the person was weak from battle or distracted the gate would not transport them. However, most of the time travel was certain and safe.
Immediately appearing at the Compassion Moongate in Ilshenar, Splinter pulled a bolt from his quiver and fitted it to his crossbow. A momentary increase in the intensity of the gate indicated the arrival of Feradrim and both set off to the South East making their way towards an area known as Daemon Alley.
There was some peril on the way as Ratman Archers and Mages would lay in ambush and at times bands of Brigands would also attack from behind the rocks. Splinter and Feradrim were powerful foes to these lesser fighters and while some were foolish enough to attack, most stayed hidden. Soon they spotted the Gypsy camp that signaled the entrance to the main Deamon spawn area.
There had always been speculation about why the Deamons chose this one spot on the surface while most of their brothers would lurk below in the dark dungeons scattered across Britannia. While there were other spots Deamons would congregate above ground, this location was notable for the Paragon Daemons that would appear and attack without mercy. Even on horseback it could be difficult to outrun these ferocious beasts. Feradrim was grateful to have Splinter as his companion. If they met with a Paragon, they had a greater chance of survival fighting together.
Sure enough it wasn’t long before the first Daemon challenged the pair and Feradrim was pleased with the brutal efficiency of the crossbow Splinter had given him. One after another, the Daemons fell and it was not long before the first Paragon challenged the pair.
Both Feradrim and Splinter received wounds but Splinter could cast the Paladin’s healing spell and that helped keep them both alive until the Paragon had fallen to the ground, dead. After each confrontation they would inspect each others armor for damage, and apply bandages if needed to dress any wounds.
For the most part they remained unscathed as they had the benefit of firing on their adversaries from a distance which was not something that a Swordsman or Armsman could pull off. Melee fighters had to step directly into harm’s way to deliver their blows and had to rely on their great strength to defeat their enemies quickly. Some felt that Archers were not as brave as other warriors. They didn’t understand the discipline it took to arm and aim a bow while being charged by a mad beast.
Splinter nodded towards the Gypsy Camp and said:, “Lets go count our gold.”
Feradrim’s shifted his backpack on his shoulders and fell into step beside the tall finely armored Paladin. At the Gypsy Camp they were presented with chests to store their loot. Splinter looked over at Feradrim’s bank box and then dumped his gold into it. Feradrim was surprised by the action but Splinter was known by reputation as being a generous man when it came time to divide up the loot.
“Thank you, Splinter!” Feradrim knew that any protestations would be futile so he snapped the lid on the bank box closed and tightened the shoulder straps for his backpack.
“There, that’s much lighter! If we had any more gold and a Paragon had appeared I would have not been able to outrun it.”
Splinter mounted his horse and chuckled. “I’m sure the Daemons has feasted many times on the flesh of the greedy and stupid. I wonder how it tastes? I bet Lord Raven would tell is if he was here, but he’s been gone a long time now and nobody knows where he went.”
At the mention of the Legendary Scholar’s name Feradrim’s sharp Elven ears perked. “Raven’s exact location is unknown, but he is still in the lands… or so I’ve heard.”
Splinter jerked the reins and his horse stopped quickly, offering a whinny of protest at the tug of the bridle. Splinter’s smile vanished and his gaze was now focused directly on the Elven archer. “What have you heard, Feradrim? Who knows of Lord Raven’s whereabouts?”
“I overheard the Elders speaking of him.” Feradrim’s throat felt dry, and Splinter’s intense gaze was making him feel uncomfortable. “I only heard his name and something about…”
His throat suddenly became very dry and Feradrim stopped to open a sheepskin pouch filled with water. Splinter’s gaze became even more intense and he swung out of the saddle onto the ground directly in front of Feradrim.
“Feradrim, I consider you a friend but if you don’t tell me what you have heard of Raven I may have to reconsider that friendship. That will not be a good thing.” Splinter crossed his arms and assumed his most imposing stance. It was one he had used many times while training the young recruits at the Paladin Headquarters in Trinsic.
After swallowing a few gulps of water Feradrim said, “I should probably not repeat what the Elders have said. They would not approve… and I might not have heard their words well as I was standing at a distance. I would not want to give you false information Splinter. Perhaps you should ask them yourself.”
Feradrim cringed. He knew that Humans were often impatient and Splinter would not like having to go seek the answers himself. He was surprised when a grin began to spread across the archer’s broad face.
“You don’t want the Elders to think you were eavesdropping on them do you? That’s why you don’t want to tell me what you heard, isn’t it?” Splinter chuckled and began to turn to mount his horse.
“But I wasn’t spying! I just have good ears, I hear everything.” Feradrim was dismayed. He didn’t want the Paladin or the Elders thinking he was spying on people.
“Fret not young Feradrim, that is not what I thought at all. I know you have keen hearing. I will visit the Elders myself and I will not reveal the source of my information. It is best that I hear their words with my own ears. I will visit the Elven Heartwood tomorrow. Now I will return home for some dinner. Would you like to join me?”
Feradrim breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you Lord Splinter but I have other matters to attend to this evening so I will take my leave of your company. Thank you again for the fine bow and sharing your gold with me.”
Again Splinter’s mouth spread into a grin. “Other matters, eh? Now don’t go losing that crossbow in the bushes under Nissa’s window! Sanctum Viatas!”
Before Feradrim could respond to the jibe, the Paladin’s Sacred Journey spell engulfed Splinter in a brilliant white glow and he was gone.
Chapter Nine: Lorekeeper Nillaen
The following morning Splinter arose early to make the journey to Heartwood Gate, the portal to the Elven City. It is located in Yew, but none were really sure of the actual location of the magical Elven City. For Humans, the portal in Yew was the only gateway to the Elven city. Some speculated that the Elders had established the portal as the only entry to protect their city from attack from the many enemies of the Elven race.
The Elves and Humans generally got along well except for the Dark Elves. That more sinister breed of Elves often resented having to deal with Humans and some speculated that there were groups of Dark Elves that conspired to overthrow the Human leaders of Britannia and establish their control over the lands. Splinter decided that it might make the Elves more talkative if he were accompanied by one of their own.
Nissa the Alchemist had lived in the Human lands for many years yet retained her ties to the Lorekeepers and Elders of the Heartwood. For this reason, Splinter headed to Zento to see if Nissa was home and if she would accompany him to make introductions.
Nissa came to the door of Lady Elysia’s estate in Zento. Surprised to see Splinter, she assumed he was here to visit Elysia but just as she turned to call for Elysia, Splinter spoke.
“Nissa, I need to speak to the Elders and I would like you to accompany me to make the necessary introductions.”
“I could make introductions but it has been some time since I visited the Heartwood. The Elders are often biased against those of us that choose to live among the Humans. May I ask the nature of your inquiry? That information would help me decide which Elder is the best to approach.”
Splinter was unsure if he could trust Nissa to keep quiet if he mentioned Lord Raven’s name. Raven had been a great help to Nissa when she first came to Britannia and she even lived at his palace in Minoc for a short time before she settled with Elysia. In fact, Raven had introduced Nissa to Elysia so Splinter knew that any word of Lord Raven would most likely fall upon Elysia’s ears. Since he wasn’t sure what, if any real information the Elders had about Raven’s whereabouts he didn’t want to contribute to the gossip that already circulated about the mysterious disappearance of the noted Scholar. Splinter decided that he needed to trust the Alchemist as she would feel betrayed if she later found out that he was making inquiries about Raven and hid that from her.
Splinter leaned forward and whispered, “I have only heard a rumor so please do not repeat what I say. I have heard that the Elders may have some information on Lord Raven. I don’t know what information they have, or if the rumor is even true.”
Nissa’s eyes lit up, “Lord Raven has been gone for so long, I thought all had given up on finding him. Even Elysia seems to have given up.”
Nissa covered her mouth with her hands as if to silence her own speculation. “I can see that this information could be hurtful if it got out and raised people’s hopes for no cause. You can count on my silence Splinter. Just promise that you will let me know if you find any real information.”
Splinter nodded, satisfied that he could count on the Alchemist’s discretion. “Very well, if you have time now let us head to the Heartwood Gate. I would like to start my inquiry right away!”
Nissa summoned her pet beetle and slid onto its hard shell. They made good time to Yew and entered the shimmering portal to the hidden Elven land. Nissa approached an Elven Lorekeeper but even before she finished introducing Splinter, the female turned and walked away.
“Oh, I remember her now.” Nissa mumbled. “She never was very nice to me. She picked on me when I was little and she’s not changed a bit!”
Splinter chuckled at Nissa’s minor burst of temper. It was unusual to see her get worked up over anything and her work as an Alchemist kept her inside away from people most of the time. “Let’s try that one over there.” Splinter suggested.
“Do you know which one was speaking of Raven?” Nissa asked, looking around to see if any of the Lorekeepers she knew was nearby.
“I don’t have a name, just rumor of a conversation overheard.” Splinter turned and saw a platform where some Lorekeepers had gathered. “Let’s go ask them, they look important.”
The platform had roughly hewn logs for steps and two Lorekeepers were pacing around, each deep in thought. Splinter was reluctant to approach them but Nissa prodded him on. “That is Nillaen the Lorekeeper. He has great empathy for Humans and their struggles. If any here will help you he will.” Nissa gave her beetle a nudge and it gave a low rumble as it ambled away on its spindly legs.
Splinter took a deep breath and ascended the stairs. Nillaen became still as Splinter approached and though he said nothing it was clear he was aware of Splinter’s approach and was listening.
“I am Splinter, a Paladin from Trinsic and a friend of Lord Raven of Minoc. I have heard a rumor that there are some in Heartwood that may have knowledge of Raven’s current location. Can you help me find them?”
Nillaen turned slowly and said, “Splinter I know all that is known of Raven in the Heartwood. When he left Britannia, he passed through here to the other world.”
“The other world? Passed through? But there is only one entrance and exit to the Heartwood. I do not understand.”
“I will tell you something that is a secret our people. Do not share this knowledge outside of Heartwood. There is another portal.” Nillaen turned to face Splinter. His gaze was so intense the Paladin took a step back to distance himself from the Elven Lorekeeper.
“I will take the secret to my grave. I promise you.” Splinter made a fist and slapped it to his chest. A salute that was a very Human gesture but the Lorekeeper recognized its meaning. A promise bound by the Honor of the Paladins. Nillaen leaned forward and began speaking in a low voice.
As Splinter listened he began to realize that what he thought he knew of the lands of Sosaria was a mere grain of sand on the beach of knowledge.
Chapter Ten: Raven’s Gambit
Raven awoke early the next morning. It had been a long night without much sleep. To prevent his escape the soldiers had slept on either side of him and their snores had been frequent and loud. They had given Raven a blanket to cover him, but it was more to secure their prize than for his comfort. He was wrapped up in a wool cocoon and the ends of the blankets were pinned down by the weight of the soldiers sleeping on either side. Raven thought of trying to squirm out of his wool prison but feared that if he roused the guards they would immediately assume he was attempting to escape and slay him.
Before they settled down for the the evening, Raven had learned their names. The one that had murdered the guard in town and was so free with his dagger went by the nickname “Spike”. The quiet one identified himself as John. Luckily for Raven, the days exertions had worn the men out and they did not pursue questioning him about the reward they would get for his rescue.
That was a good thing, because in these lands Raven had no fortune. When he took the secret portal from the Elven city of Heartwood he left his fame and wealth behind. The clothes on his back and the items in his pouch were his only possessions, and those had been stolen by the Innkeeper. Jim and Spike hadn’t secured the chest containing those items when they “rescued” him from the jail. Now Raven’s ability to cast spells would be limited to the number of charges left in his weathered arcane boots.
When the men awoke the first topic of conversation was sure to center around their reward and Raven’s chances of surviving another day would depend on convincing them that he was worth a lot more alive than dead. The trick would be to get them to join him to fight the Dark Lord. Clearly he could not call on their sense of civic duty so he would have to convince them that their reward was contingent on their assistance. He would use their greed to enlist their aid without making it seem too dangerous or difficult. They would surely just kill Raven or attempt to ransom him to the Nobles if they felt their reward was out of reach.
Movement on his right side indicated that John was now awake. The soldier rubbed his eyes and looked around the camp perimeter. Satisfied that they were still safe, he looked at Raven and a crooked grin began to spread. Raven thought of the time he had battled an alligator in the swamps outside Trinsic. It had that same toothy grin as it tried to snap his legs off.
“Wake up Spike!” John reached over Raven and slapped the snoring brute on the shoulder. John got up and poked at the campfire, stoking the embers and bringing the fire back to life with a handful of kindling.
Spike sat upright and looked over Raven. “Well we will have a long day of it today but at day’s end I’ll be in the tavern spending my gold on fine ale. Where do we go to get our gold, Mage?”
Raven shrugged the blankets off and stood slowly to stretch. Explaining that their reward depended on further assistance would be tricky and if he had to make a break for it he wanted to be ready to run.
“Well Spike, as you can see I have no gold with me. You also failed to secure my armor, jewelry or spell book so I can not offer those in trade for my freedom.” Now for the big lie… “I have a small chest at a bank about three days journey from here that has a tidy sum of gold, it should be a sufficient reward for your efforts. I am not from these parts and I do not recall the name of the town, but I wished to lighten my load as I traveled and so left the chest in the care of the Minter. My deposit receipt was tucked in the pages of my spellbook, but I’m sure the Minter will recognize me. Well I hope he does, I’m dressed differently now.”
John grumbled. “What is a tidy amount? We don’t just want the contents of a small chest you could carry on your journey, we want so much gold a cart and horse are needed to carry it off! You Mages are loaded with the stuff. Where is your castle!”
Clearly John and Spike thought Raven would live in a castle like the Dark Lord that contained entire vault full of treasure. Their limited experience with Mages caused them to think that all practitioners of the discipline would be wealthy and powerful. The truth was that most Mages spend a lifetime perfecting their mastery of the Arcane Arts so they could apply its benefits for good and not their personal gain. The sad truth was that there was little reward for good deeds, while evil was very profitable.
Raven’s life would end quickly if he revealed the fact that he came from a world that was not connected to theirs by land. Only the magic of the portal had allowed him to travel here. He barely understood the Arcane forces that had propelled him to this land, there was no hope of explaining that to these men. They would just think that he was insane. Back in Sosaria, where the use of Moongates was common it still sounded crazy when folks tried to explain them. He had seen no Moongates in this land and the portal from the Heartwood was the product of even greater magic. It is very possible that these men had never seen a gate or portal. He had to convince them that he was from their world, but a part so remote that they would have no knowledge of it’s existence. To enlist their aid to fight the Dark Lord, he would have to make them think that pairing with him was the easiest path to wealth. Raven decided to gamble on a common element in every land he had ever traveled through, water.
“I came across the Great Sea to explore these lands. My castle and wealth are months behind me now for I have traveled far. As I traveled I drew maps so that I could find my way home, and those too were tucked in the pages of my spellbook. It may be years before I can find my way home again to offer you a proper reward. Of course your companionship and assistance on that journey would be welcome! I suggest that we skip breakfast and begin our journey now. I think somewhere to the South would be a good start. I know I passed through a town in that direction. I may recognize a landmark on the way so I’m sure eventually we can make it to my castle.”
Raven’s gambit paid off. The mention of the “Great Sea” earned a strong reaction from both men. Many men feared travel over water and from the soldiers reaction Raven knew they did not welcome the idea of a sea journey to gain their reward.
John leaned forward and spoke first, “How much treasure do you have in your castle over the sea?”
“I have a vault full of armor and gold. And as my saviors I would reward you with land and homes of your own.” Raven beamed a smile at both men.
Spike interrupted, “I don’t like being in a boat! I’ve ne’er heard of a sea journey that ended well. Some I’ve know have set upon the water to seek their fortunes and have never returned.”
John chuckled. “Fishermen go out on a boat daily, they return every night to sleep with their fat ugly wives… they may wish they had drowned.”
Spike and Raven laughed with John.
This was good, Raven though. The men were bonding over humor. A joke was a good way to get someone on your side and unlike Spike, John had a sense of humor. Raven decided to focus on him.
“That’s right John, fishermen do have ugly wives!” Raven delivered the line in an earnest tone that made it even more amusing to the soldiers. They were laughing heartily now. Spike was holding his sides as as he rolled around on the ground. It wasn’t that funny, Raven thought.
Before the laughter could end Raven offered another path to wealth.
“This Dark Lord you speak of, he has a vault doesn’t he? If you can get me inside his castle, I could over-power him with my Magery. We would need a good plan but if we entered undetected I could catch him by surprise.” Raven stroked his chin thoughtfully, keeping a careful eye on the men to see their reaction.
“Are you crazy!” Spike stood up quickly, placing his hands on his hips he looked like a defiant child.
John was silent for a long time. He looked first at Spike, then Raven and finally turned to Spike saying, “That is actually something I have been thinking of for a long time. I’ve been in that treasure room. Harris took me in there once.”
“What! Harris took you into the treasure room, and not me?” Spike began to grumble, kicking at loose stones with the toe of his boot.
“I was helping him carry a heavy chest you clod. You don’t think the Dark Lord lends a hand dragging his loot to the vault do you? The door is secured by Magic, could you open it Mage?” Both John and Spike watched Raven closely, his reply would determine his survival.
Answering in the affirmative too quickly would just sound like a convenient lie to save his skin, so Raven decided to build a little suspense before he answered.
“Hmm… as I’m from across the Great Sea I do not know the power of your Dark Lord. Are there any symbols drawn or carved on the door?”
It was a common practice among Mages to inscribe a symbol of enchantment on a door. Most of the time this had no real effect other than to convince the locals that some horrific fate would befall them should they cross the threshold. In many cases, it was unseen magic that provided the real protection. Some mages would cast a spell that would cause harm or even kill someone opening the door. Others would use a spell that created an energy field that blocked passage. Most folk could not even detect the presence of magic. If they could, they would realize that Raven’s arcane boots stored magical energy.
Raven now had the full attention of both men so he turned to John and asked, “You have seen this door so I need you to describe the symbol.” Grabbing a twig, Raven drew a couple of lines in the dirt. “There, like that… draw the symbol you saw on the door.”
John hesitated, “Are you sure I can draw it and not get… well hurt… or something?”
Raven’s could barely keep himself from leaping for joy. These men knew NOTHING about magic. The Dark Lord’s ambitious consolidation of all Arcane Power had made knowledge of even simple magic unknown to most inhabitants of these lands.
Back in Raven’s home world, magic was common and often used by many who were not Mages. Paladin’s used magical energy for their spells, though they certainly did not exercise the same control over the Arcane Ether as a Mage. Even warriors could call on magical energy to execute special attacks in battle. The idea that magic existed and could be used by all was common knowledge back in Brittain.
Stifling a grin Raven gestured at the ground with his finger. “You won’t be harmed, I assure you. If I sense that magical energy is being summoned I will stifle it and protect you both.” Raven wanted to get the men thinking of him as their protector. A role reversal that would work to his advantage later.
John began to drag the stick across the dirt. Tracing each line slowly, then looking up at Raven to seek approval before continuing. Clearly he feared that he might burst into flames at any moment. He did not realize that the symbol was more like a container for power. A Mage would also cast a series of spells while drawing an Arcane symbol and often a specific ritual had to be followed for the symbol to be energized. At least most of the time that was true. There were some symbols that should not ever be drawn. Raven watched carefully. Nodding his head at each halting stoke of the stick.
John tossed the stick aside and leaned back. “There that’s it close as I remember. Those were carved in the archway and the door itself. Filled in with something red, I suspect blood from what I know of the Dark Lord.”
Spike nodded, “Aye, he likes blood that’s for sure. I have been to his dungeons and my boots were sticking to the floor.”
Raven inspected the lines John had scratched in the dirt. It was a Pentagram. It was striking how different worlds had so many common elements. That was reassuring because Raven had not tested the full strength of his powers in these lands and had no gauge to measure the his powers against those of the Dark Lord. It would be a short confrontation if Raven’s attempt to cast an attack spell-combo ended in a fizzle.
Raven was counting on the Dark Lord relying as much on fear as magic to control his minions and perhaps many of the protection symbols used around his castle were not actually charged with any magical spell. Raven hoped he wouldn’t have to waste the precious charges in his arcane boots defusing traps as they made their way into the castle. He would have to rely on a quick salvo of high energy spells to kill the Dark Lord before he invoked any protection or fire off a counter attack. Without any armor, a single Flamestrike would spell a quick end for Raven.
Raven reached over, grabbing the edge of one of the tattered wool blankets the soldiers slept in. He dragged it between them and spread it out. Reaching to the fire he grabbed a charred stick and dragged it across the blanket. The charred end of the stick produced a dark smudge on the blanked. Raven drew a couple of lines then handed the stick to John.
“Here, draw what you can of the castle. We need a plan and I’ve never been inside. Both of you work on that for now while I prepare breakfast.” Raven stood and began foraging for roots and berries they could eat safely. At first Spike reached quickly for his dagger, perhaps thinking Raven was making an attempt to escape but when he saw Raven plucking berries from a bush he turned his attention to the blanket and stick.
“Here, give me that!” Spike grumbled, snatching the stick from John’s hand.
By grabbing the hem of his tattered robe and holding it out in front of him Raven used it like a basket to collect a good supply of berries and other edible plants. He marveled at how two different worlds could have the same flora and fauna. Well… at least they looked the same. It was possible these could be poisonous, they would know soon enough.
John looked up from the crude floor plan that was taking shape on the blanket. “Oh, thanks!” He grabbed a handful of berries and shoved them into his mouth. The purple juice ran down the side of his mouth.
Spike was still focused on the map. He was scratching out the locations of the guard posts and indicating potential weak spots in the surrounding walls.
Raven began picking berries from a bunch and chewing them one at a time. Watching the men work on on the plan gave him hope that soon he would be able to return home.
Chapter Eleven: Goodman’s Rune Library
After spending a long day in the Elven city of Heartwood Splinter was exhausted. He wanted to find a quiet Inn with a comfortable bed and sleep. He knew that night was coming soon and he had a long way to go to make it to Zento. If he missed the last ship to the Tokuno Islands it might be two days before he reached Goodman’s Rune Library. There he hoped to find the missing pieces to the puzzle that Nillaen had presented.
The Elven Lorekeeper had been surprisingly candid with the secrets of Heartwood but he did not provide all of the answers Splinter needed to plan his next move. Goodman’s Rune Library was known throughout Britannia as a repository for knowledge of all types. Lady Andrasta was the Curator of the prominent establishment. She spent countless hours cataloging and arranging the runebooks and artifacts, but it was not her advice that Splinter sought.
Like Nissa, Fand was also from the Elven city of Heartwood. She was much older than Nissa, yet young for her race. Humans often thought of Elves as being immortal but that was not true. While Humans measured their lifespans in decades, the Elves measured theirs in centuries.
Fand had helped Raven before during his first encounter with Firmus the Cruel. Her mastery of ancient languages had been instrumental in gathering the information needed to uncover the evil plans of the Dark Elf. Despite her previous assistance, Splinter was unsure if she considered Raven a friend, or had any loyalty to him or other Humans. Her actions were often shrouded in mystery and she could seem cold at times.
A storm at sea made it impossible to get any rest on the ship. Splinter stumbled off the ramp and onto the dock more exhausted than before. After getting his bearings he headed towards Goodman’s Rune Library. He knew that Lady Andrasta and Fand communicated frequently and he hoped that he could ask Andrastsa how to reach the reclusive Elven linguist.
Located outside the city walls on the northeast corner of the city, Goodman’s Rune Library was an impressive structure. A public repository of runebooks that cataloged many interesting locations throughout the lands of Britannia and beyond. Splinter quickly mounted the stairs to the third floor and began looking through the collection of Elven artifacts for any clues that would help decipher the information provided by Nillaen.
After a futile search, Splinter realized that the translations would not help him unlock the true meaning of Nillaen’s words. Neither Andrasta or Fand were anywhere in sight so he decided to take a moment and visit the rooftop memorial to Lord Goodman. Perhaps some fresh air would re-vitalize him.
Splinter was lost in reflection as he stood before the statue of Lord Goodman. He heard no sound, but noticed a shadow on the stones near his foot. Someone was standing behind him! Turning quickly, Splinter realized that it was Fand who had been watching him quietly during his meditation at the statue.
Tired and desperate to find his friend, Splinter dispensed with the usually banter most exchanged as a greeting and immediately began telling Fand of his journey to Heartwood.
Nillaen told you of the secret portal!
Fand was both surprised and angered to find that Nillaen had revealed one of the Elve’s most guarded secrets.
“Raven discovered the existence of the portal through his scholarly research so it’s existence was already known to Humans. Raven realized that if his research could reveal its existence, others likely knew as well. He visited Nillaen was to warn him of this and to surrender the scrolls that revealed the portal so that the Elves could safeguard their secret. In doing this he earned Nillaen’s trust and was also given a dangerous quest.” Splinter moved towards a nearby bench. He was so tired and the hard wooden bench looked as inviting as any bed.
Fand considered this new information. “I can see how Nillaen would be grateful to Lord Raven for the warning, but I do not understand why it would fall to Raven to undertake the quest.”
“I do not understand it all myself and I am very tired. I only wish to see if there is anything I can do that will help get my friend Raven back to these lands. He has been gone many months and all feared he was gone for good. Knowing that he may be alive and probably in danger requires me to take action. I just don’t understand what I can do. I can make no sense of what Nillaen told me. Fand, I really need your help, Raven’s survival may depend on it.”
Again Splinter eyed the wooden bench. What he wouldn’t give to sit in it, just for a moment to rest. He then thought of how exhausted Raven must be, trapped on the other side of the Elven portal. The desire to help his friend revitalized the Paladin. Squaring his shoulders he looked expectantly at Fand.
“I will help you Lord Splinter. I can see your exhaustion so let’s sit and eat first. Then you can tell me what Nillaen said and I will see what I can do. I hope you like sushi and miso soup.”
Splinter chuckled and followed Fand to the stairs. “I would probably eat a boot right now if you offered it with a pint of ale!”
Chapter Twelve: Respect My Authority
Fossergrim emerged from the Compassion Moongate in Ilshenar and headed for the Gypsy camp to the southwest. His arrangement with the Gypsies was working out well. They sold his product and every few days he would make the rounds, collect the gold and deliver a new batch.
His decision to partner with the Gypsies had outmaneuvered the Orcs and their ambition to control the illicit substance trade in Brittain. Most people found the Orcs displeasing to deal with anyway so Fossergrim’s decision to use Humans to distribute his product sealed the deal. Crystal Elemental cost more, but the combination of a superior product and Human dealers attracted new clients and kept the old ones coming back.
A brief conference with the Gypsy Fortune Teller brought the good news that even more product would be needed in the following week. Fossergrim hopped down the steps of the wagon and was surprised to find himself face-to-face with Lord Splinter.
Fossergrim and Splinter knew each other but they had never gotten along that well. For a time, Fossergrim was a practitioner of Necromancy and as a Paladin, Thorn was a sworn enemy. Thorn had been introduced to Fossergrim during a difficult time for Raven and at one point, the Necromancer was instrumental in saving Raven’s life. It was for this reason that Thorn had developed an odd friendship with Fossergrim. Later, Fossergrim renounced Necromancy entirely and after a dramatic magical conversion from Dark Elf to Gargoyle he undertook the study of Mysticism.
Once Thorn had asked Fossergrim why he had renounced Necromancy and had undergone the painful, transformation to the Gargoyle race. Foss’s reply, “I like the wings.”
Fossergrim could tell by the look on Thorn’s face that this was not going to be a social visit. He thought that Thorn was retired so he was surprised to see him decked out in armor, carrying a massive and deadly looking axe. For a second, Foss thought of trying to cast a Paralyze spell on the Paladin but it was unlikely he could complete casting the spell before the blade of the axe met his neck.
“What is it Thorn?” Fossergrim decided to bypass the usual greeting. The axe was making him nervous.
“Greetings Fossergrim. Today I will give you a chance at another transformation. There will be only one chance so listen carefully.”
Picking up on the threatening tone in Thorn’s voice several of the nearby Gypsies turned and slowly began to move away from the pair. It was clear to Fossergrim that his business partners were not going to get involved in a dispute with a Paladin.
Thorn continued, “Everyone knows what you’re doing Foss. You have escaped the attention of the law until now because the threats to the land have been so great and numerous of late that petty criminals like yourself have escaped justice. There is a new King and the law of the land will now be enforced.”
Fossergrim’s thoughts raced. So this was an arrest. He could make a break for the cave entrance just to the southwest. Beyond lay danger but no more than he was facing now. His wings were strong and he could take flight quickly but he knew that Thorn was ready for him. Perhaps a negotiation would work to save his neck… would Thorn accept a bribe? He began to pull a pouch of gold from his belt.
“Don’t even think of attempting to bribe me Fossergrim! I’ll cut you down right here for the insult to my honor!”
Fossergrim quickly moved his hand from the pouch. Things were not looking good.
Thorn shifted his weight, resting the axe on his shoulder. “I have arranged a pardon for you Fossergrim. The new King wishes to appear merciful and I had some favors owed to me. I used them all to save your neck. You are done in this business, understand?”
Fossergrim was shocked and relieved. Surely there must be some catch. Thorn was not so great a friend that he would stake his own reputation to save Fossergrim’s life.
“How can I repay this debt old friend? Let’s move away from here and discuss this… confidentially.” Fossergrim did not want the Gypsies to overhear any more of this conversation. They had moved away at the sight of Thorn’s axe but some where now shuffling back within earshot. There was still a chance Fossergrim could deal with Thorn later and save his enterprise. He was making so much gold… stinking Paladins!
Fossergrim quieted his raging thoughts and gestured towards the Moongate. “I have somewhere we can talk privately.”
Thorn mounted his horse and followed Fossergrim towards the Moongate, his hand firmly grasping the handle of his massive axe.
Chapter 13: Avatar
The two soldiers were arguing over the best plan to enter the castle. Spike advocated assassinating the guards as they moved forward to prevent them from sounding an alarm. John clearly did not want that much blood on his hands and was arguing they should use stealth to circumvent the guard posts.
“I don’t want to be crawlin’ on my belly and have a spear shoved in my back!” Growled Spike.
“The guards are lazy, most will be asleep or drunk we could walk by most of them in broad daylight and the wouldn’t even notice! Besides, if someone finds the body of a dead guard, they will surely raise the alarm!” John kicked at the corner of the blanket in disgust. “Why did we even bother drawin’ this map if you just plan on murdering everyone so you can try and walk in the front door?”
Raven waited a moment so the men’s tempers could cool down then he offered his own plan.
“You say there are few guards inside, correct? Its just the patrols outside camp we need to get by, right?” Raven looked at Spike. He needed to get him to recognize the need for stealth.
“Yeah, nobody wants to be inside that place. Only a handful of men are ever inside and they usually stick to the main halls. There are dark corners in that castle that nobody goes near!” Spike stabbed his dagger in the ground for emphasis.
Raven scratched his chin thoughtfully. “The Dark Lord probably has many spies and he may already know of my capture. The guards could be expecting you to show up with a prisoner and would let you right in the front door if they thought you were taking me to the Dark Lord.”
John sat upright, attentive to Raven’s plan. “Yeah, that’s right. I’d bet the Dark Lord already knows we captured a Mage… but how will we explain that we are not with Harris or the other soldiers? The guards will ask about Harris.”
Raven turned to face John. “The riots. We were separated from Harris and the other soldiers in the riots. The both of you decided it was best to bring me directly to the Dark Lord instead of wasting time searching for your comrades.”
Spike also began to grin. “Aye, that might work. Most of those men can barely figure out how to pull their boots on in the morning. They have probably been told to keep an eye out for returning soldiers with a prisoner. The trick is to get you inside before the news of our arrival spreads so we should go at night. Most will be asleep then and we can bluff our way past the gate guard easily.
Spike rose quickly. He grabbed the blanket and rolled it up carefully to not disturb the map drawn on it’s surface. Raven had gotten a good look at the map and memorized the layout of the castle. Between the two men they had knowledge of most parts of the structure. Raven would be able to move quickly through the building to find and defeat the Dark Lord before an alarm could be raised. Of course, Raven’s success would rest on the accuracy of the map.
The men made quick progress through the forest and after passing through a clearing they came across a game trail through the tall grass.
Spike grunted, “This runs close to the main road. We can follow this trail and the castle is not far off. As the grass thins we’ll come into a small grove of Oak trees. We’ll hide there until dark.”
As the men started moving forward, Spike took the lead on the narrow trail. There was a sudden movement in the grass and a glint of sunlight on steel. Spike’s head came flying off, flinging blood over Raven and John.
“Harris!” John shouted, trying to pull his sword from its sheath. Surprise favored Harris and he moved forward, quickly plunging his sword into the heart of his treacherous subordinate. He quickly turned and held the tip of his sword against Raven’s neck.
Harris spoke softly, “Listen… listen…” His eyes held Raven’s for a moment, then he lowered the sword. Raven stood quietly. It was clear Harris could have killed him too. He had surprising speed and agility, far beyond what one would expect from a common soldier. Raven began to wonder if Harris was really just one of the Dark Lord’s thugs… or something else.
“These lands have been shrouded in darkness for some time and your arrival through the Elven portal has been foretold. The Dark Lord knows that a Mage has been captured but he may not yet realize that it is The Raven that flies to his keep.”
Raven was taken off guard by Harris’s last words. He did not remember telling Harris his name though he may have done so while under the effect of the Innkeepers vile poison.
“So, Harris… do you intend to join me? It seems that I’m short a couple of men now so I’m not sure if you’ve helped the situation much.” Raven wiped blood from his cheek. Probably spray from Spike’s head as it had flown by.
“I will not assist you directly. I have done too much already. Those men would have turned you over to the Dark Lord. They only pretended to make plans with you to keep you from trying to escape. Besides, what a tale that would have made to tell the other soldiers. How they outwitted you and led you right into the castle. At least that’s how they would tell the tale after a few pints.”
Harris pointed his sword to the grass on his right. “Look there. That is the only help I can offer.”
Raven felt that Harris was being a bit mysterious but he played along and pushed the tall grass aside. A backpack lay on the ground. Raven recognized it as his own. Inside were his armor, spellbook, magical jewelry and a fine robe.
“Go on. Put on your armor, but leave the robe in the pack.” Harris sheathed his sword as Raven dressed.
As Raven slid his Crystalline Ring onto a finger Harris continued, “Wait until you are inside the castle before you put on the robe. Its magical power will be detected immediately by the Dark Lord; surprise is a crucial element of your strategy.
“The robe will magnify the power of your spells as you battle the Dark Lord. I can not join in your fight. I have interfered in these lands too much already.” Harris shrugged and his shoulders slumped.
Surely there was some burden he carried from past deeds in Sosaria. Curiosity piqued, Raven could not resist asking, “You refer to your past deeds and use them as an excuse to not join the fight against the great evil that binds these lands. You do not strike me as a coward but your actions do not match those of a hero.”
The soldier straightened his shoulders and glared at Raven. “You test me with your words. Clever, and dangerous!”
Harris shifted his weight, looking up to a passing cloud.
“My great battle in these lands lies far in the past. When I arrived from the stars my quest was to slay a great Wizard who had bound Sosaria to his evil will. As I battled Mondain, the Gem of Immortality was shattered and I fear I may have done more harm than good. For this reason I will not fight again in these worlds. I can only show you the path you must take and rely on your Virtue to guide you to success in battle.”
Raven assessed the soldier’s words carefully. His heart began to race, could the legends be true? Was this the mysterious traveler from the stars that had slain Mondain the Wizard?
The soldier looked at Raven and said, “I am not Harris. I am Avatar. Go to the castle now, and beyond that lies the Elven portal to your home world. Slay the Dark Lord and return to your friends. If you fail… his evil will flow through the portal and destroy all that you love.”
With those grave words, Avatar fell silent and stepped aside. Raven moved forward quietly. He did not know what to say to the warrior of legend. He had so many questions, but there was no time for them.
A few feet down the path he turned to look back and Avatar was gone.
Chapter Fourteen: Assembly at the Heartwood Portal
Over their meal in Zento, Fand had explained many things and though Splinter still felt overwhelmed by the information Nillaen had given him he could now make a plan. The secret Elven portal in Heartwood was not created by the same magic as the Moongates. It would only exist for a while longer then it would vanish. Each use of the portal caused more of its magical energy to dissipate and sending someone to find Raven could end up closing the gate forever.
The trick would be to use the magical energy of the gate as a conduit for a spell, something that could be used to seek out Raven’s unique life energy and locate him. It might even be possible to communicate with him in this way, but any attempt cross into the other land and provide direct assistance to Raven would surely close the portal forever.
What Splinter needed were Mages to cast the spell and open a channel to the other world. Having little time he sought his friend and comrade in arms, Thorn. A few inquiries in town led him to the Compassion Moongate in Spirituality and a near collision with Thorn and Fossergrim as they were preparing to enter the gate.
“Thorn!” Splinter dismounted and strode up to the Paladin Swordsman, slapping his chest in a salute to the veteran soldier. “I have need of your immediate assistance, Lord Raven has one chance to make it back through the Elven portal and I need help gathering friends and materials.”
Thorn was surprised to see his friend and the rush of information coming from the Archer was not making any sense. “Splinter, Raven is gone. You have to accept that. He probably cast some spell that went horribly wrong. We’ve been through all of this.”
Fossergrim had remained quiet but he then stepped forward, snapping his wings for attention. “The Elven portal is a secret. How did you learn of this.” Before his transformation to a Gargoyle, Fossergrim had been a Dark Elf and privy to many of the secrets of the Heartwood.
Splinter turned to Fossergrim and barked a reply. “Nillaen told me about the portal! Raven went through the portal months ago. He is not dead, he is trapped in another land.”
Splinter turned to Thorn begging his old friend for help. “Thorn, I barely understand all of this myself and I don’t have any time to explain it all. There is a chance we can communicate with Raven through the portal but we need to gather some items. Fand explained a ritual that could be performed to help give Raven the power to return home but we need Mages for that. Thorn for now do not ask questions, just follow orders soldier!”
Although Thorn outranked the Archer the urgent situation demanded someone take command and Thorn respected Splinter enough to remain silent and await his “orders”. Fossergrim also sensed the urgency of the situation and move closer to the two men. “I am a Mage, I am ready to help any way I can. What do we need to do Splinter.”
“Fand has given me a scroll that will allow us to cast a spell through the portal. We also need a personal item of Raven’s, clothing or something he touched. Someone who knows Raven well should cast the spell. Unfortunately neither you or I are Mages, Thorn so that leaves us out. Fossergrim, as a Mage and a friend of Raven’s it looks like it will be up to you to cast the spell.”
Thorn nodded. “I may have a personal item from Raven at my home in Yew.” Thorn turned to Splinter. “Well lad, you’re in charge of this so when and where do we meet next?”
Splinter described the location of the secret Elven portal in the Heartwood. “I’ll need to gather a few more people, we really don’t have a lot of time. Tonight… I think… let’s meet at 8 o’clock this evening. That should give everyone enough time.” Splinter snapped a quick salute and stepped back through the Moongate.
Thorn and Fossergrim also stepped into the gate, the importance of saving their mutual friend put aside all other concerns.
Chapter Fifteen: An Old Enemy Lives
Raven moved slowly through the woods. He could not risk detection in these unfriendly lands. As he pushed through the thick tangle of dead branches he thought of his brief encounter with the man who called himself Avatar. Was he really the warrior of legend, or did he just use the old myth to hide his true identity? No matter now, once Raven defeated the Dark Lord, his quest in these lands would be over and he would return home to Britannia. If the soldiers had told the truth, the portal to his home world would lie just north of the castle of the Dark Lord.
Night was falling as he reached the edge of the forest. Across a clearing was an ominous stone structure. Not as large as the castles of Raven’s native Minoc but it was large compared to most dwellings in these lands. Surrounded by an iron fence, the main entrance was up a wide flight of stairs which ended at two solid looking metal doors. There were fewer guards than Raven thought. He guessed that many did not like being close to the keep of the Dark Lord and the few men there had set up camp to the northeast.
Raven settled in to watch the guards and the house. From his vantage point in the woods he could see the east side, and front of the house. There were no windows along the side of the house so Raven would be able to remain unseen for most of his approach across the clearing. Two guards stood near the front of the house talking. Another guard appeared inside the gates. Jerking violently on the rusty gate, the guard was finally able to pull it open. Swearing he kicked at the gate while the other soldiers laughed at his display of childish anger. After a couple of unsuccessful pulls the guard gave up on trying to close the rusty gate and all three men wandered off to the camp.
At the sight of the open gate, Raven began to feel the first real hope since he had first set eyes on the stone fortress. The gate let into the fenced area around the house and there was certainly a back door to the north. That is where the soldier had come from so it would not be necessary to breach the main entrance. Just a sliver of a moon was on the horizon. Raven decided to wait a couple more hours until night had taken full hold of sky. The harsh laughter of the men echoed in the distance and it was clear they were drinking and would soon lay asleep or passed out in their camp.
Raven passed the time thinking of his friends back in Britannia. He had been away for many months now and he wondered how they had coped with his sudden disappearance. The eventual success of his quest depended on the ability to travel incognito and the Elven Lorekeepers had insisted that he keep the secret of the Elven portal. Raven did not tell his friends of the quest before he left. He could not take the chance of the news reaching these strange lands before he could locate the Dark Lord.
Now that he was here and the end close, Raven hoped that the Robe of the Avatar would give his spells the power to quickly overcome the magic of the Dark Lord. Unsure of what traps lay waiting inside the house all Raven could do was count on the instincts that had guided him through many dangerous adventures.
The alcohol fueled revelry at the guards camp had faded and the camp was silent. Raven moved from behind the trees into the clearing, moving swiftly he approached the open gate. A quick glance around confirmed he hadn’t been spotted, and Raven stepped inside the gate.
At the end of the wall there was a steel door. Raven tried the latch and it too was unlocked. The interior hallway was lit by a torch flickering at the far end. Raven could see several barrels and the odor of the potion was strong. These were barrels of explosion potions.
Raven moved carefully towards the end of the hall and into a treasure room with armor and weapons. The powerful artifacts were tossed carelessly on the floor. Stepping around the collection of magical armor Raven made his way to the stairs. He wondered how many had died to provide such a magnificent collection for the Dark Lord. He wondered if his armor would be in the pile when the night was over.
At the top of the stairs, Raven listened. It seems that Spike and John were right when they said that guards would not patrol the inner halls out of fear of the Dark Lord. Raven moved around an interior room and spotted an arcane seal on the door. This was the inner chamber and most likely, the Dark Lord was inside. This door would be protected by powerful magic and Raven decided against a direct assault. Deciding instead to hide around a corner to wait for the Dark Lord to emerge.
The Avatar had instructed Raven to wait until he was inside the house before putting on the robe. Raven felt this was as close as he wanted to get to the Dark Lord without the protection of the robe and in the darkened stairway, he pulled the robe from his backpack and put it on.
It wasn’t long before Raven heard a sound coming from inside the room. As the doors swung open, Raven immediately cast a paralyze spell on the figure that emerged. “An Ex Por!”
“Firmus! Firmus the Cruel! How?” Raven was shocked to see that his old enemy Firmus the Cruel was still alive. The Paralyze spell was supposed to be the first of three spells in fast succession but Raven’s surprise at seeing his old enemy caused him to miss the opportunity to cast again before the paralyze spell faded.
Free of the spell, Firmus spread his wings and immediately dove down the stairs. Running to catch up, Raven was confronted by a wall of fire. Firmus cast the Firewall spell to block Raven’s pursuit and as he flew out the front door, Raven remembered the back door to the castle. Running through the treasure room Raven thought how dangerous these artifacts would be if they were left behind. As he exited the castle, Raven turned and blasted a fireball spell towards the kegs of explosion potions. “Vas Flam!”
Raven could see Firmus heading towards the portal and with no time to loose, he again cast a paralyze spell. This time Raven did not hesitate before casting the remaing spells and Firmus erupted in flames and began screaming in agony.
Firmus turned and cast a spell creating an energy barrier between him and Raven, then let loose an Energy Vortex. Raven was ready for this, quickly dispelling the summoned energy field. “Vas An Ort!” Firmus turned to the portal and was desperately trying to activate it so he could escape, and this gave Raven the opportunity to cast the final, lethal series of spells.
Firmus fell to the ground, dead. As Raven cast the final spell he could hear the voices of his friends, calling him home.
“Am I dead too?” Raven patted his chest with his hands as if to certify his own existence. “I recognize the voices…”. Turning to the portal, Raven realized the voices came from the gateway to the Elven lands. Some sounded familiar, though distorted by their journey through the arcane ether.
In the distance the castle was burning with a bright white flame leaving no doubt that the corrupt treasure contained within its walls was being destroyed. Raven had completed his quest.
The portal surged to life with a brilliant green glow and Raven stepped into the light. It was time to return home to Britannia.