The Hero of Legend

Chapter 20: Shrine of the Godbird

As Suzanne had thought, the pirates had a great many stories to share with the group. The four learned a lot about how the group operated. As they had suspected, the pirate group did indeed have men inside all of the organizations they attacked. It also turned out the owner of Bear's Arms, the mercenary group that Morrison worked for, was a secret supporter of the pirates and Morrison was not the only mercenary who routinely worked for the pirates. Finally, they found out how the pirates got the drop on the group. It seems the four were not the only ones to hear of the invisibility herbs from Lancel.

"This is the largest criminal organization I've ever heard of!" Ron had exclaimed. "And I spent a brief time as the emperor!"

"Thank goodness their intentions are in the right place," Thomas had replied.

As Ron and Thomas continued to talk with the pirates, Suzanne was having a conversation with their leader.

"Have you ever heard of Luzami?" asked Celia.

"I know I haven't. Alice may know something about it," answered Suzanne.

"I wouldn't be surprised if she hadn't. I only know about it by chance," said Celia. "It's an area considered lost to the world, even more lost than Aliahan. Magic doesn't work anywhere on the island and the absence of ships means its residents are stranded. I have some recruits from the island: people who were glad to get off of it and see the rest of the world."

"Anyway," continued Celia. "It may be worth your while to check it out. There are a good number of wise people on the island. The island is a secret dumping ground for nations that want to get rid of unwanted scholars and intellectuals."

"What do you mean by unwanted scholars and intellectuals?" inquired Suzanne.

"The ruling class would rather some mysteries stay unsolved," answered Celia. "Those that solve them anyway and have the nerve to spread this knowledge to the public are often punished. And these people often have great magical ability or know those that do, making it difficult to keep them in a conventional prison. Besides that, putting them on some island in the middle of the ocean ensures they won't be able to spread what they know."

"I see. So the people on this island may know something that can help us on our quest," said Suzanne.

"Maybe. I'm not making any guarantees. It's hard to further your knowledge of the world when you're stuck on a small island. Most of their knowledge is dated. Of course, this means there is a greater knowledge of older legends and customs on the island," explained Celia.

"So the reason nobody knows about it is that these nations don't want people to go to the island and find the people there or their secrets?" guessed Suzanne. "Do you know which nations are involved?"

"All of them, to an extent," answered Celia. "If you ask around for the lineages of the people there, you can find people or descendants of people from all over the world. Some nations, such as the empire, no longer exile people there as far as we know. I would imagine Aliahan's lack of ships means they no longer do either. But most nations still do."

"Why exile them?" asked Suzanne. "It seems like the best way to prevent their ideas from spreading would be to execute them."

"Never doubt the power of a martyr," answered Celia. "Besides that, if you exile a person to an unknown location many of his or her followers will waste time trying to find that person. And those that don't will patiently wait until the return of that person or until their ideas no longer burn in their hearts, whichever comes first."

"Alright, this island has my interest. I'll talk with my comrades about it. Can you mark it on a map?" asked Suzanne.

Celia took out a map and marked the spot at which she had encountered the village. She and Suzanne would converse for a little while longer before Suzanne decided it was time to gather her companions to leave.

"One last thing, Suzanne," Celia stopped Suzanne before she left. "I know that a public endorsement from us at this time would do more harm than good to your cause. But when the time comes to make a move against that demon, leave a message with the Bears' Arms. My men and I will be ready to join the fight."

"That means a lot, Celia, thank you. Take care," said Suzanne.

After a long night of talking and storytelling, the four reassembled and told each other what they knew. In addition to learning the depth of the pirates' operation, Ron and Thomas had heard another interesting tidbit of information.

"Do you guys remember Zlistan, the wizard who lives in Greenlad?" asked Ron.

"He was the guy that wanted something called the Staff of Change," answered Suzanne.

"That's right. Well it turns out, the pirates were the ones to give Zlistan that thigh bone he was talking about," Ron began. "They found it along with some treasure on one of their non-militant excursions. The bone would magically move on its own to point in the direction the Phantom Ship was. Apparently, it even glowed brighter the closer they came to the ship."

"I believe the ship's occupants are cursed," theorized Thomas. "Not only will their spirits remain but any body parts will always seek to return to the ship. Of course, there's only so much a single bone can do on its own, so the thigh bone can only point people to the ship in the hopes they will take it there."

"Well if we ever need to find this ship, we can just ask the pirates where it is. I don't know if we'll find the item Zlistan wanted in exchange for the bone," said Suzanne

"That may be a bit of a problem," answered Ron. "After they got rid of the bone, the pirates tried to find the ship again, but to no avail. It was in the Batay Sea but no amount of searching led to the ship. It is a moving target in a large body of water after all. Being ghostly probably doesn't make it any easier to find either."

At long last, the group left the pirate hideout and teleported back to Romaly. They spent a day restocking supplies and resting. They also had to give time for Captain Marbeley and his crew to reassemble and prepare to ship out. When the four had started their investigation, they had let the captain know that it would likely be a short while until they needed to sail and so the captain and his crew had enjoyed a short vacation in the empire's capital.

"I wish we had those monster arenas in Portoga," Marbeley lamented. "My crew and I had a blast down there! Too bad I don't have much of a knack for picking the winner though."

Suzanne, Alice, and the captain looked at their maps and the marking and directions that Celia had given and decided to it would be quickest to teleport to Aliahan in order to reach Luzami. Since they had just finished with a tough assignment, had ended up in their hometown, and did not know if they would have the time during their next adventure, the group decided to celebrate Thomas' birthday over a week early. Although Suzanne, Ron, and Thomas (despite his continuing dislike for his own birthday) had a good time, Alice was uncharacteristically withdrawn throughout the day.

"What's up with her?" Ron had asked. "She's been quiet ever since we left the pirates."

"She had a talk with Morrison before we left," Suzanne answered. "Sounds like he gave her a good telling off."

"Ouch. You think she really liked him?" asked Ron.

"She definitely thought he was a nice guy. But if she actually wanted to or still wants to date him I don't think she even knows," Suzanne replied.

"Better that they stay away from each other," Thomas said. "Relationships require honesty and trust, two things which were lacking from the very beginning with those two."

Ron was surprised by Thomas' comment, "Well listen to mister relationship counselor here! But don't you think that's a bit harsh? Surely they could start over if they wanted to."

"I may have to agree with Thomas on this one," said Suzanne. "If only because we still have a quest to finish and no idea how much longer it will take. We're always on the move and he stays around the Batay Sea. Maybe when all is finished she can go back and find him but as for now, it wouldn't do for them to get involved with each other."

The next day saw Alice in much higher spirits. A day with her friends and family had helped her mood immensely and she made sure to apologize to Thomas for being distant during his birthday party. The four returned to the Mad Hound and shoved off to the southeast. After two and a half days of sailing and a few extra hours of searching, they found a small island.

"Geez, how did the pirates find this place?" Alice asked. "It's tiny! And their operations aren't in this area anyway."

"Yeah but it's only a few days' trip from their hideout," said Suzanne. "Maybe they came across it while they were looking for a suitable spot to make their headquarters?"

The Mad Hound found dry land and the four went ashore. Despite the small size of the island and having Celia's directions finding a settlement turned out to be somewhat difficult as the entire island was a forest. After an hour of searching they finally came across a settlement. There was a clearing of trees with some small houses and tents set up for the residents. As the group approached the settlement the people going about their daily work quickly took notice of them but after a swift glance they went back to their routines.

One man quickly came out to greet the group. He was an older man, bald but with a large grey beard and wearing long green robes. "I apologize my young friends but I will have to ask you all to leave. Your last visit caused enough of a stir as it is."

The four looked at each other in confusion before Suzanne stepped forward to answer, "I'm afraid you have us mistaken for some other group. We're not here on any sort of recruiting mission."

"Oh? I owe you more apologies then. You see, this village has only had armed visitors once before. Their visit released a lot of bottled emotions and memories. Emotions and memories that were better left bottled," explained the man.

"I'm guessing you're talking about a group of pirates," replied Suzanne. "It was they who gave us your location."

"I see. Well my name is Mlician," the man introduced himself. "And who might you four be?"

"I'm Suzanne. These are my comrades Ron, Thomas, and Alice," answered Suzanne.

"May I ask what your business is here then?" Mlician asked.

"Have you heard of the Archfiend?" asked Suzanne. "We're trying to gather proof of its existence and power as well as information on it. We heard that this village was filled with wise people."

"Ah yes, the Archfiend. I do believe there are a couple people here who were exiled for 'starting riots' to get the people to accept the threat it poses to humanity," answered Mlician. "If that is your mission then I am surprised that you did not find this island under escort as the rest of us have."

"Well we never stay in any nation long. If we stayed a while continuously warning about the dangers of the Archfiend they may have seen reason to do just that," guessed Suzanne.

"A possible answer. Well if it is information on the Archfiend you want then you should talk to Mathias," suggested Mlician. "I can take you to him."

Mlician began to lead the group through the small village towards Mathias' dwelling place. As they walked, Ron had a question for him.

"So Mlician, if everyone here was put here against their will, why didn't you all leave with the pirates?" asked Ron. "Even if you didn't support their cause I'm sure they would've given you passage to land."

"Ironically enough," began Mlician, "this prison isle has brought freedom to several of her residents. You see, when you work under the eye of a nation and her ruler, you have to abide by that ruler's laws and regulations. And as you can see, a nation is not always so appreciative of her scholars. Meanwhile, here we can make our own laws and our own regulations. We can create a community tailored for study and knowledge."

"That is why the pirates are less than popular with the people who have remained here," continued Mlician. "And why I was somewhat rude to you when I thought you were with them. Many of the younger people here, whether they were exiled or the descendant of an exile, were quick to take them up on their offer. They wanted to see the world. The older people disagreed. Now we find ourselves with a severely depleted younger generation. The future of our community is bleak because of it. Many people here believe the pirates stole our dreams of a scholarly community."

"But if you wish for a community dedicated to knowledge, then you have to branch out, don't you?" asked Alice. "I've learned so much since we left our homeland, which was similarly cast off from the rest of the world."

"Your words have their own wisdom Miss Alice," replied Mlician. "For some, it was not knowledge but fear of change that guided their decision. But do not get me wrong, there is still much to learn on this island, and for some that was the only thing that guided their decision. I myself am quite fascinated with the magic seal covers the island. Never before have I heard of a magic seal with no record of a human or monster who created it."

The five continued through the village until they came across a large house. The group entered and found the house was used as a smithy. The house's occupant, a well-built middle-aged man with hair that was dark except for some strands of grey, was busy at work as the group entered. After seeing he had visitors, the man quickly finished the part he was working on and went over to talk with them. Mlistan introduced the man as Mathias and then introduced the group to him.

"Mathias, would you be kind enough to tell these nice people why you were exiled?" requested Mlistan.

"Very well. But you lot will want to take a seat. It's a bit of a story," said Mathias. The five pulled up some chairs and stools and took their seats.

"I'm originally from the land of Samanao, far to the north of here," began Mathias. "Samanao has been xenophobic for the past decade or so. Our king convinced us to blame all outsiders for the strife that was caused in the last Great War. So great pains were taken to shut ourselves in. Samanao is naturally surrounded by mountains, except for one gap which is covered by a poisonous swamp. Eight years ago, a group of people managed to find their way in to Samanao. They told us about the Archfiend gathering power in southern Tarasia."

"Eight years ago?" cut in Suzanne. "Did you meet this group of people?"

"I did. Why do you ask?" asked Mathias.

"My father, Ortega, went on a journey similar to our own starting around eight years ago," replied Suzanne. "I was wondering if you met him."

"I did meet him, though not immediately," said Mathias. "He was not part of the initial group that visited Samanao."

"Perhaps they visited Aliahan after Samanao then," theorized Suzanne.

"It is possible," agreed Mathias. "We will have to talk about your father after my story. But back to the original tale, I and some other people were worried by the group's story. We decided we not only believed them, but we would do everything in our power to help them. Some of my countrymen and I accompanied them when they left our land, almost literally chased out by the king."

"We split off from that group and eventually made our way to Tarasia, where we saw the devastation first-hand," continued Mathias. "But as we had been told, the way to the Archfiend's land was surrounded by impassable mountains. It was risky, but eventually it was decided that we needed to find a way into its land. We needed more information and we believed that some proof of the Archfiend's power would convince more people to believe us."

"We've reached similar conclusions," said Suzanne.

Mathias nodded and continued his tale, "The two groups reunited for a time. Then your father and three others continued the journey while some of us stayed near the Isis-Romaly border. We were intrigued by some of the volcanos that were in the Necrogond. Among us were several who knew much about magic and about geology. And I know how to forge a good magical item. We had a theory, some may have called it crazy."

"What was your theory?" asked Alice curiously.

"We believed we could make an item that would cause one of the dormant volcanoes to erupt," explained Mathias. "Near one of the volcanos was a break in the mountains. But this break was covered with hostile waters. This body of water was landlocked so the only way to cross would be to build a bridge or a raft, but it was impossible to build anything on those rough waves. Likely the Archfiend cast a spell over the waters so that they could not be crossed. But if the waters were replaced with land…"

"I see!" said Alice excitedly. "You wanted to cause a volcanic eruption in the hopes the lava would cover the water! And once it cooled, you had a suitable land bridge to use."

"Very clever, lass," said Mathias with a smile. "Yes that was the idea. But the plan went awry. We figured out how to make such an item but as you can imagine, it would not be easy to make. I needed specific materials for our work and unfortunately I had only ever encountered some of these materials in my homeland. We would have to sneak back in."

"Thankfully, the king and his forces never discovered how we made it in the first time," Mathias continued. "A friend of mine and I managed to sneak back in with little effort. His name was Simon, named after the hero of the First Great War. Could always tell he'd end up being a hero too. Anyway, we went to work gathering what we needed and making the artifact that would make a volcano erupt."

"It was a masterpiece," said Mathias, as he looked as if into the distance. He no longer realized the other five were there as he remembered one of his greatest achievements. "The Sword of Gaia, we called it. My specialty had always been blades. However, this blade was not enchanted to slay other creatures. Don't get me wrong, it'd do great in a fight but that was not its purpose. Its purpose was to be thrown into the crater of a volcano and work its magic."

Mathias refocused on the group as he went on, "But unfortunately we had attracted too much attention at this point. We weren't the only ones who had been worried by our comrades' first visit, just some of the only ones to follow them. People began looking to us for inspiration, wondering how they could help us. Some even began to suggest that Samanao should reintroduce herself to the rest of the world."

"As you can imagine, the king didn't take well to that," continued Mathias. "Simon and I were arrested. We were charged with treason for trying to begin a rebellion. Like many on this island, the king realized there would be riots if we were executed. So we 'disappeared.' No doubt the story was spread that we deserted Samanao, realizing our 'evil plot' had failed. He made sure to separate us so we could not work together. He also found out how we had made our way into and out of the country and sealed it up. And to add further insult, the king made sure to send the Sword with Simon so that I would never see my masterpiece again. Now, I have no idea what happened to Simon or the Sword of Gaia."

"Why wouldn't he just destroy the sword?" asked Ron.

"To further torture me," replied Mathias, anger and sadness entering his voice. "If he destroyed the Sword, I would at least know what happened to it. A certain amount of closure comes from that. But as things are, I know the greatest thing I've ever made is out there somewhere but I have no idea where. I can try to make more objects, but even if I had the materials and support I had I am always haunted by the ghost of my greatest achievement. Any time I strike my hammer against metal I am reminded of the incredible blade and the enchantments within. And although I know it's exactly what the king wanted, I regret to admit that my work has suffered since. I used to take great pride in making the best swords, even non-enchanted ones. Now I can look at any sword I've made since and find flaws in it."

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bring up any bad memories," apologized Ron.

"Don't be sorry. It's not your fault," replied Mathias.

"Is that why you didn't take your chance to leave the island when the pirates came?" asked Suzanne.

"That's right. I just don't have the fight in me that I did, the passion," answered Mathias. "It warms my heart to see you youngsters picking things up where we left off. Tell me Suzanne, how is your father?"

"Unfortunately, my father met his end three years ago," answered Suzanne. "We were told he was fighting a dragon on his own on top of an active volcano in the Necrogond mountains."

"Another good man lost," lamented Mathias. "Why was he fighting alone? What happened to the other three?"

"They were ambushed by a hoard of monsters and separated. We were told that two of them died on top of that volcano as well," said Suzanne. "One survived, a dwarf named Gerule. He managed to escape the volcano and come to Aliahan to tell us what happened.

"Ah yes, Gerule. I remember him. Well at least he survived. It seems as though most of the great people I worked with met an ugly fate," commented Mathias.

"Could you tell me more about my father?" requested Suzanne. "I didn't have a good chance to talk with Gerule and haven't seen him since. You worked with him some. Could you tell me some details about his journey and his achievements?"

As Mathias went into another story, the other four excused themselves and left Mathias' house. Mlician took Ron, Thomas, and Alice to his own dwelling place, a small two-room house towards the outskirts of the village.

"I hope you found Mathias' story useful. Despite its ending, he really does like to tell it," said Mlician.

"That's good. For a little while I was worried I upset him," commented Ron.

Mlician smiled and shook his head, "On the contrary, normally he refuses to go into such detail at the end of his story. Your presence and what you are working towards seems to have had a positive effect on him. Tell me, do you think your travels will take you to Samanao by any chance?"

"At some point I'm sure we will. It sounds like we'll have to keep on our toes over there, if we can even find a way in," confirmed Ron.

"Well it's not like we've never cracked open seals before," said Alice cheerfully. "I'm sure we'll find a way around this one."

"Oh great," said Thomas sarcastically. "Then all we have to do is convince what will probably be the most hostile government we've encountered yet to go against a decade of their foreign policy to help us."

"Before you do that, you may want to see if you can find the Sword of Gaia," suggested Mlician. "If you could show the king of Samanao what the Archfiend is capable of, even he may have to come around."

"Actually we've been working on that," said Alice. "We came across an old Portogan legend that says 'whoever can gather the six orbs can travel anywhere they wish without a ship.' We've managed to gather four of them. We were wondering if anyone here knows about the last two."

Mlician was noticeably surprised by this latest bit of information, "Wait, did you say you have four of the orbs!" he asked excitedly. "I never thought it possible!"

"You're familiar with the legend?" asked Alice, as surprised by Mlician's reaction as he was to hear about the group's progress.

"That I am," said Mlician, calming down a bit. "But I had never dreamed that a group of people could gather so many of the orbs! The mere idea of gathering six objects scattering randomly throughout the world…"

"Sir," cut in Thomas. "Can you validate that this legend is more than a myth? We've been gathering the orbs but are unsure as to what we will find should we acquire them all."

"Ah but why accept the validation of an old man when you can see for yourselves?" asked Mlician. "Far to the west of here is the frozen land of Liamland. Towards the center of that land is a shrine. Bring the orbs you have with you. You will find the answers you need there."

"Ha! I told you!" yelled Alice with glee, pointing at Thomas. Thomas gave her a confused look and she went on, "I told you it was more than a nursery rhyme! I told you!"

Ron, Thomas, and Mlician were all giving Alice strange looks and so she went on, "When we first heard about the orbs you said it was just some nursery rhyme!"

"Would you stop shouting?" asked an irritated Thomas.

"Didn't we first hear about the orbs months ago?" asked Ron.

"Seven months and 17 days ago, to be exact," replied Alice, her voice lowered but her grin just as large.

"Please tell me you don't remember every argument you ever have just so you can prove yourself right later," said Ron exasperatedly.

"I wouldn't put it past her," said Thomas with a scowl on his face.

A cough from Mlician reminded the three of where they were.

"Sorry Mlician," apologized Ron.

"Oh do not be so sorry," said Mlician with a chuckle. "It is nice to see the fire of youth around here again. But I believe we should get back on track. Do you have a map I could use? I wish to show you where you can find the shrine I was speaking of."

"Hey guys! We may have a way into Samanao after all!" said Suzanne excitedly when she returned to the other three.

"How's that?" asked Ron.

"Remember when we were hunting for the Final Key? We came across Zlistan in Greenlad. Just before that, we came across a shrine which had three traveler's gates we couldn't get to because we didn't have the Final Key yet. We kind of forgot about it after finding the Key because we wanted to visit Jipang and after that we've always had a lead to go on. It turns out that one of those traveler's gates goes to Samanao! The sealed doors were put up by the Samanaon authorities after they caught Mathias and Simon," explained Suzanne.

"Did he have any idea why those Samanaon soldiers at the Tower of Arp acted like they did? Or what they were doing there in the first place?" asked Thomas.

"No he didn't. He did confirm that they wore the colors and armor of Samanao though. It makes me wonder if the king hasn't also heard of the Portogan legend and is actively trying to keep people from finding the orbs," said Suzanne.

"Well in any case, that's great news Susie!" exclaimed Alice. "It turns out Mlician had more to tell us as well. Tom, why don't you tell her what she told us?" Alice lightly ribbed Thomas as she talked, prompting another scowl from him.

"He was very excited when he heard we have four of the six orbs," explained Ron, when Tom refused to give Alice the satisfaction. "It seems he's also familiar with the Portogan legend, and by the sounds of it he believes it whole-heartedly. When we asked if he could tell us more about it he recommended we go to the frozen land of Liamland. He marked it on a map for us."

"And what would that mean, Tom?" asked Alice, further taunting Thomas.

"It would mean that over seven months ago when we first heard about the orbs and had nothing more than one sentence to go on for information that I, not wishing us to go on a wild goose chase and waste our time when there is so much to be done, was wrong about the validity and importance of that sentence," replied Thomas. His next sentence almost dripped with sarcasm, "I apologize for questioning the legend and you Alice."

Not appearing to notice the sarcasm, Alice cheerfully replied, "Oh no apologies necessary Tom. It's a sign of strength to admit when you're wrong."

"Okay before Tom decides that our group would be better off as three instead of four," cut in Suzanne, "it sounds like we have two possible destinations. What do you guys think?"

"I say we go to Liamland," said Alice, drawing another glare from Thomas. "It's not just to prove you wrong," continued Alice defensively, "but it would be nice to see what we've been working for. Tom is right about one thing, we've only had one sentence and the beyond-coincidental presence of the orbs and the Echoing Flute. And Mlician really wants us to visit Liamland. He said we'd find all our answers there."

"As much as I hate to say it, I agree with Alice," conceded Thomas. "Our mission in Samanao, whether it is to find the Sword or convince them to join us or both, will be much more difficult and likely take much longer. From what Mlician told us, the trip to Liamland will not be too difficult so long as the captain is able to navigate the frozen waters. So we may as well get the easy trip out of the way first."

"Yeah and I have to say, even as someone who knows nothing about magic, these orbs have my curiosity," said Ron. "We keep hearing about them and keep finding them but we still have no idea what they do. Let's go to Liamland and find out."

"How do you think I earned my reputation of losing my marbles?" laughed Captain Marbeley, after the four had asked if he could make the journey to Liamland. "My crew and I made the trip to Liamland once! It wasn't the easiest but it can be done!"

"Why'd you go to Liamland?" asked Ron.

"To prove we could! Everyone said we couldn't do it. There ended up being quite a lot of money riding on the trip," recalled the captain fondly. "Paid for the trip and a little extra! Of course, if they had been smart they would have bet that I couldn't get the ship to dock on Liamland itself."

"Wait, you didn't dock on Liamland?" asked Alice.

"Heavens no! I'm not that crazy!" the captain laughed again. "The bet only said that I couldn't step foot on its frozen tundra. So we went as close as we dared and then used rowboats to go the rest of the way. It wasn't too far."

"If you're sure you can make it, let's go right away," said Suzanne.

"Consider it done Susie!" beamed Marbeley. He then yelled at the rest of the crew, "Okay gents! We're going back to Liamland!" His announcement was met with a chorus of cheers and shouts.

"All this excitement to go to what is probably one of the coldest and most miserable places on the planet?" commented Thomas.

Ron chuckled, "He and his crew have definitely earned their reputation. I'm glad we have such a spirited group to help us out."

The Mad Hound had to sail for a few hours to escape the anti-magic field around Luzami. After that they teleported to Aliahan to pick up the orbs they had in storage there. Then they teleported to Lancel, which was the closest they could get to Liamland. They made sure to stock up on supplies in Lancel, including heavy coats to fight the cold. They set off the next day for Liamland.

After two days of sailing southwest they began coming across some icebergs. Captain Marbeley had the ship reduce its speed but continued onwards, as the day was clear and so visibility was very good. But the closer they came to the icy land the more treacherous the waters became. After a couple hours, the captain declared that they would have to row the rest of the way.

After some extra hours of rowing the group finally laid their feet on Liamland. Unfortunately, the day was nearly over by this point and so the group would be subjected to the merciless elements of Liamland. Or so they would have been if not for Alice. She was able to cast a spell that helped keep out the elements in the night. She had to be woken up every couple hours in order to renew the spell and the four still had to wear their heavy coats and use their heavy blankets but they managed to survive the night.

The next day they continued their journey to the center of the frozen land. Thankfully, the land was not very large and Mlician had been sure to provide a very accurate location for them to go for. The four reached a large shrine that had a giant statue of a magnificent looking bird on its roof.

"My goodness!" exclaimed Alice. "This place looks amazing!"

"You know what this statue makes me think of?" asked Ron.

"The Tower of Arp?" suggested Suzanne.

"Yeah. If you were going to make a statue of a god-bird, wouldn't it look something like this?" asked Ron.

"Wait! What if the orbs have something to do with the god-bird?" wondered Alice.

"This is all very exciting guys but don't you think we could go in and see for ourselves? Inside, where we won't have this frigid wind coming at us?" suggested Thomas.

The other three conceded the point and entered the shrine. The shrine was made up of a single room but it was extravagantly dedicated. On all the walls were pictures of the same magnificent bird that was on the roof statue. These pictures depicted a large bird adorned with beautiful gold and blue feathers. Several of the pictures depicted great battles in which the god-bird had appeared in. Some of these featured the bird casting spells and using its vicious beak and clothes to fight on its own and some featured the bird ferrying brave heroes into battle. There were also six golden thrones arranged in a circle around the middle of the room.

Also in the room were two elven women. They were dressed in plain white dresses and had long green hair. They were standing in front of square portion of the floor which was sending up sparks for no discernable reason. In the middle of this dangerous looking floor was a normal portion upon which rested a large golden egg. As the four entered they realized that the elven women were in the middle of a song:

We are
Protecting the egg
The god-bird was killed
Dark Sky GuardianXlysinil would claim
Victory that day

We are
Protecting the egg
The god-bird is not
Held in thrall by death
A phoenix she is
She will rise again

We are
Protecting the egg
When the six orbs placed
On the golden thrones
Phoenix Ramia
Will come back to life

After three verses of their song, the four realized that the women were looping the song. Suzanne tried to get their attention. The elves turned around and acknowledged the group but did not miss a single note of their song. When they came to the line "Protecting the egg" they gestured towards the egg in the middle of the room.

"Can you tell us anything about the orbs, the egg, or the god-bird besides your song?" asked Suzanne. The two women simply kept singing their song. Suzanne tried asking them some other questions, but the women refused to halt their song.

"They sure are dedicated to that egg and that song of theirs," said Ron.

"But you realize what this means?" asked Alice excitedly. "The legend was true! The legend was talking about this Ramia they're singing about!"

"Alice, do you know why that portion of the floor around the egg is sparking like that?" asked Suzanne.

"It's trapped," answered Alice. "If you take a step on it you'll feel a dreadful shock go through you. It's incredibly painful and dangerous to take even a few steps on a floor like that."

"Sounds like fun. They should put those in museums. Nobody would touch the exhibits then," joked Ron.

"Look at the thrones," pointed out Thomas, changing the topic. The other three took a look at the six thrones around the room. Each throne had a different colored trim: green, blue, purple, red, yellow, and silver.

"Same colors as the orbs," observed Alice. "Mlician did tell us to bring the orbs. Should we put them on the thrones?"

"It couldn't hurt," replied Suzanne. She walked up to one of the thrones, the one with the blue trim. She took out the blue orb and placed it on the throne. As soon as Suzanne withdrew her hand, the orb was surrounded by a blue flame. The elven women, still continuing their song with no sign of wearing out, walked over to the throne. They performed a small dance around the throne. After which, they returned to their earlier spot.

"Well that was flashy," pointed out Ron.

"Let's place the others," said Suzanne.

The four went to the other three thrones they had orbs for and placed each one. Each one was engulfed with flames of the orb's color and then followed by a dance from the elven women. The only empty thrones were the yellow and silver ones, sitting at the north and south ends of the room.

"So the legend described the god-bird Ramia," commented Suzanne. "That makes sense. As the pictures on the walls show, she was able and willing to bring heroes into battle. And since she can fly, she is not bound by mountains or sea."

"She could carry us right over the Necrogond!" exclaimed Ron.

"And then we'd be able to see the Archfiend and his forces in all their glory," said Thomas.

"We'd have all the proof we need!" said Alice.

"You know, speaking of these pictures, is that who I think it is?" asked Suzanne, pointing at one of the room's paintings.

"It is," exclaimed Alice, suddenly breathless.

The picture the group now focused on was one in which Ramia fought with humans on her back. They were in a fierce battle in the sky against two dragons. But more interesting was one of the humans on the god-bird's back. His face was well-shown in the picture and was one the group was well familiar with.

It was a picture of the original Simon, hero of the First Great War.

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