Chapter 1: The Test Begins
Today was a big day for Suzanne. For one, it was her 16th birthday. By Aliahan law, she was now allowed full rights to weapons and armor so long as she registered her intent to use such items with the Castle. As birthday gifts, she received a full set of leather armor and a copper sword, some of the best equipment Aliahan had to offer. But why would a girl of her age need to wield weapons and armor?
It was because Suzanne planned to go on a journey. Eight years ago, her father, Ortega, left Aliahan to find information on the Archfiend the nation had heard about. Then, three years ago, news came of Ortega's demise. From that time onward, young Suzanne knew she wanted to take up her father's quest right where he left off. She would leave Aliahan, acquire information on the Archfiend, and convince any who listened that now was not the time for petty squabble or politics among the nations.
Of course, there was the matter of how to leave Aliahan. Ships came far too infrequently to serve as much use. The ship that told of her father's death had been the most recent ship to come to Aliahan. Besides that, most ships would not accept people of Aliahan to take back with them. So Suzanne made a petition to the king to have the seal on the Cave of Enticement lifted.
This, of course, was not a small request. The seal was put in place to protect Aliahan from the wrath of the other nations. However, according to the traders that came by, the hatred against Aliahan had lessened. By no means had the other nations forgiven Aliahan, but they were not about to attack Aliahan even if they were made more accessible by lifting the seal.
So it was that Suzanne was awoken by her mother on the morning of her 16th birthday and taken to the Castle for an audience with the king.
The king sat upon his throne, wearing a robe of gold and red and carrying in his hand a golden scepter.
"You know child, that this is a great request you make of me. To lift the seal on the Cave of Enticement would put Aliahan at risk, even if the resentment against our people has lessened these past decades," the king said.
"I know, your Majesty," Suzanne replied.
"I admit it would be nice to have more news of the outside world. But I will not put Aliahan at risk for nothing. Your goal, you say, is to follow in your father's footsteps? To gather information on this so-called Archfiend and warn the people of the outside world against petty feuds and wars at this time?"
"Yes, your Majesty."
The king paused for a moment before continuing. "Forgive me for saying so, but is it not your lust for revenge that propels you forward? Your father was killed by the fiend's forces and you wish to have their heads for it. That is understandable. But what happens when you are cornered on all sides by vile beasts and all hope appears gone? What happens when people laugh at the idea of even listening to a citizen of Aliahan? Will you bloodlust continue? Will you continue your quest?"
However, Suzanne was not faced by the king's words. She spoke confidently and yet also politely, "Your Majesty, with all due respect, I have had three years to calm my 'bloodlust.' I do not do this simply to avenge my father. I do this because I believe as he did that something must be done, even if none will listen to one from our land."
The king took another moment to consider what the young woman said. Then, he spoke again, "You are but a young woman, barely even old enough by the law to wield a sword. Do you intend to go alone?"
If Suzanne did not have as cool a head as she did, she might have gotten angry. She despised how the people of Aliahan viewed women: as weak in body and weak in will. She could not but feel the king echoed these opinions in this last question. Yet, she remained polite and confident in her next words, "No, your Majesty, I do not intend to go alone. I will be joined by Ron the soldier, Thomas the cleric, and Alice the mage."
The king looked up at the mention of Ron's name. "Ron you say? He is a fine lad and quite skilled in the art of battle. He will make a fine leader to your group. I have also heard of Thomas. I know little of magic, but I am told he is a fine healer. A mage in your ranks does not hurt either."
Suzanne could not help but notice the king neglected to mention Alice by name or praise her ability, as she too was skilled in her art. Nonetheless, she made sure not to say anything of the sort to the king. The king went on talking, "It is not lightly I allow this, but you are granted permission to break the seal on the Cave of Enticement. As far as how to accomplish this, you should seek out the Drasoran family in the village of Reeve. They know more of the seal than anyone. Now, you are dismissed."
"Thank you, your Majesty." Suzanne curtsied and left the royal hall. She knew of the Drasoran family already. The only Drasorans left were the wizards, Borthan and Nathan. They were the grandchildren of Gerald Drasoran, who had fought with Desmond against the Archfiend in the second Great War and who had personally put the seal in place on the Cave of Enticement.
As Suzanne walked into Lucia's Eatery, she was greeted by her good friend, Alice. Alice has always been an energetic girl. Her cheerfulness and eagerness often made people underestimate her intelligence, which would be a mistake.
"It's about time you got here. So are we ready to go on a real adventure?"
That voice came from Ron. If Ron weren't a friend of Suzanne's, she would describe him as a 'typical guy.' Macho and reckless almost to a fault, he was also nonetheless a confident and hardworking person.
"Hold on guys. We don't know if the king approved our adventure yet."
The voice of cold reality belonged to Thomas. For a cleric, he certainly wasn't cheerful or sympathetic. He had a realistic, sometimes pessimistic, demeanor about him that made many criticize him as being cold or uncaring, but his friends knew it was because he cared that made him want to look at the reality of situations.
"Well, you need not worry," began Suzanne. "The king gave us permission to break the seal."
"Alright! So where's our first destination? Reeve, I'm guessing," said Alice.
"You're right. We're going to try and talk with the Drasoran brothers," replied Suzanne.
"Hmmm, and what if they deny our request? The king's approval could very well mean nothing then," said Thomas.
Ron shook his head. "Hey Tom, lighten up will you? I'm sure we'll figure something out if that happens."
"Like what? Study the seal ourselves? That would take—"
Suzanne cut in. "Not now guys. Tom, you bring up a good point, but for the moment there's nothing we can do about it. We're just going to go to Reeve and talk to them."
Ron spoke up again, "Okay guys, everyone ready?" Everyone nodded. "Good. Take up positions and move out."
After a few days of journeying, the group made it to the village of Reeve. The journey saw few hardships. The land of Aliahan had a small share of monsters. Not many of the monsters were dangerous; there were only slimes and bigger, mutated versions of ravens, anteaters, and rabbits.
The village was not very extravagant by any means, but neither was any settlement in Aliahan save for the castle town.
When they entered the town, Alice spoke up first, "Okay, if I were a couple of powerful wizards, where would I live?"
"Might we try finding them tomorrow? I'm feeling a little tired," said Thomas, who indeed sounded weary.
"Ha! If you can't handle that little journey how are you going to handle the mountains we will surely climb and the battles we will surely fight later," questioned Ron.
"We'll have plenty of time to get used to the road later. For now, I'm with Tom, that was a tiring walk. How about if we go get rooms at the inn and you two just try to find where the brothers live before the day ends?" Suzanne suggested.
Alice, like Ron, didn't seem tired at all. "Sounds like a good plan! Come on, Ron!"
"Hold on, I'm coming."
"So what did you find out?" Suzanne asked as the two came into one of the two rooms Suzanne and Thomas had gotten for the night.
"Uh, you're not going to believe this," began Ron.
"We might have a problem," continued Alice.
"Yes? And what is this problem?" asked Thomas, sounding impatient.
Alice took a deep breath. "I'll tell the story. Apparently, Borthan has cast up a seal on the Drasoran house. They say it's about as powerful as the one on the cave. At the same time he did that, Nathan disappeared altogether."
Suzanne's jaw literally dropped. She recovered after a moment and asked, "Are you kidding me! Why?"
Ron took up the story from here, "We don't know. As far as Nathan goes, he disappeared the same day Borthan sealed himself up. Nobody knows where he is. When we went near the Drasoran residence, a voice called out to us and said, 'To prove yourself worthy of breaking the seal, you need only open the door to this residence!'"
Thomas shook his head. "What happened when you tried the door?"
Alice continued, "It was locked. No mystical force pushed us back or anything. Only thing is, Ron tried to break down the door."
Suzanne turned to Ron. "You tried to break down the door to the Drasoran house? Do you know what kind of consequences that could entail?"
"Relax, it didn't work!" defended Ron. "Some people we talked to said they tried the same thing themselves, even in large groups. It won't budge."
"So, let me get this straight. Borthan Drasoran knows someone wants to break the seal. Not unlikely, he is a powerful wizard. So he must also know how to do so, as we suspected, but he won't let anyone into his house. But he says if we can get through the door to his house, we've proven ourselves worthy of breaking the seal?" Thomas recapped.
"Sounds about right," confirmed Alice.
The group was silent for a while. After a few minutes, Suzanne had a suggestion, "Okay, I think we have to find Nathan. His disappearance at such a time is likely no coincidence. This is some sort of test. Maybe if we find Nathan, he'll tell us how to pass the test."