Chapter 28: Ramia
"When the moon is full, the lake will show the way."
That phrase was the last hint for the location of the silver orb. The four had braved the Necrogond Mountains and finally arrived at the area they had been told to search. The group could find no sign of any other humans, not even cannibals. Fortunately, they did find a lake.
"It's called the Lake of the Spirit," said Alice. "I'm afraid I know little more than that. We probably wouldn't even know the name of the lake were it not for the Great Wars. Those are the only times in history that the tribes of the Necrogond have had any real contact with the rest of the world."
"Do you know anything about that purple fog that's on the lake?" asked Suzanne. In the middle of the lake was a large cloud of purple fog. Due to the fog, the four could not see across the lake.
"Nothing more than I wouldn't recommend breathing it," answered Alice.
"Could that be where the silver orb is?" asked Suzanne.
"Your guess is as good as mine," said Alice. "I guess if I were going to hide a shrine a big cloud of probably poisonous fog would be a good way to do it."
"I disagree," said Thomas. "It's too easy."
"It's always too easy to you," interrupted Ron.
"Hear me out," responded Thomas. "The cloud may keep anything from seeing what's in the middle of the lake but it still looks very suspicious. We have to believe the Archfiend hasn't found this shrine yet, otherwise this whole excursion has been pointless. If there was a lake with a giant purple cloud in its backyard I'd think it'd investigate it. And I'm sure it has some minions that are immune to any poison that may be in that cloud."
"The man at Billville also mentioned the full moon," said Suzanne. "We probably won't even be able to see the purple fog when night falls. Plus, we'd need to build a raft to get to that cloud. Before we do that, let's investigate as much of this land as we can. We'll make sure to come back to the lake every night to watch for the moon. We scheduled our trip around the full moon for a reason, after all."
After escaping the cave the group had gone down the hills to a forest. The forest stretched northeast for a half a day's journey to the Lake of the Spirit. Directly north of the cave was a large lake, larger than the Lake of the Spirit and connected to that lake by a river. There was no large purple cloud in the middle of this lake. Instead, the tallest peaks of the Necrogond Mountains rose out of the water seemingly to the sky. At the top of those peaks was a large castle.
Alice did not need to give a history lesson on the castle; all four of them knew its history. It was named Venorl Castle. Legend had it that a forgotten king had built the structure long ago. The king had sought to unite the tribes of southern Tarasia into one kingdom. His efforts were destroyed by the rise of the Master Archfiend and the First Great War. No human would try to establish a kingdom from Venorl ever again though some of the Necrogond tribes took up residence there on occasion. The Archfiend who began the Second Great War would take up Venorl as the seat of its power before being thrown down by Desmond. Now the current Archfiend was residing in Venorl Castle.
On the third night the moon was completely full. Throughout the night the group watched the Lake of the Spirit for some sign as to where they should go. For hours they watched the lake, paying particular attention to the moon's reflection on the lake. It was Thomas that spotted something strange in the reflection.
"Look at the seaweed sitting on the reflection!" Thomas said suddenly. His sudden outburst startled the other three.
"Keep it down, Tom!" whispered Suzanne. "What do you see?"
"The seaweed!" responded Thomas, now whispering. "See how the seaweed forms such neat, horizontal lines upon the moon's reflection? See the organized breaks in the seaweed, forming columns? See the shapes they form? I've seen those symbols before!"
"Tom's right!" exclaimed Alice, her voice almost breaking out of a whisper. "It looks like writing!"
Ron took a hard look at the seaweed. "You guys are right!" he said. "But it doesn't look like any language I know of."
"I don't know it either," said Alice.
"Tom, you said you've seen those symbols?" asked Suzanne.
"Yes," confirmed Thomas. "It's a dead language; near forgotten to the rest of the world. When Venorl was first built many of the tribes of Southern Tarasia used a common language. They did not write as we do but carved their symbols into trees and rocks. The language is read vertically, starting at the top."
"Can you read it?" asked Suzanne.
"I think so," replied Thomas. "But it will take a bit. I'm not well versed in this language."
"Try to hurry," said Suzanne. "We don't know how long the seaweed will stay like that."
Thankfully, the seaweed stayed still while Thomas tried to decipher the symbols. "The trees that are always green," he said after some time.
"'The trees that are always green?'" echoed Ron. "What does that mean?"
"Evergreens," guessed Suzanne. "Look over there." She pointed at a nearby tree. It was an evergreen, unlike the vast majority of trees nearby.
"What about evergreens?" asked Ron.
"We'll have to wait until morning," declared Suzanne. We'll hardly be able to see the evergreens or their surroundings now. They'll stick out easier in the morning."
The next morning the group started looking for evergreens. From the lake there was only one evergreen the group could see, the same one Suzanne had pointed to the preceding night. The four examined the evergreen but could find nothing suspicious. Ron saw another evergreen off a small distance away.
"It said 'trees' right?" Ron had asked. "So maybe it's not about one particular tree."
The group walked to the other evergreen and took a look around. Again, there was nothing suspicious about the tree or the area around it. From that tree the group could see one other evergreen besides the one they had just examined. They walked over to this new evergreen. A pattern was quickly established. The four walked to the next evergreen and found that only two evergreens could be seen from this one: the one they had just been at and one other.
"It's a path!" declared Ron. "If we follow the evergreens I bet it'll lead us to the shrine!"
"Which means the exact opposite is happening," said Thomas with a sly grin on his face. "I've seen you at the monster arena. I don't trust your betting." The comment earned a laugh from Suzanne and Alice and a friendly punch from Ron.
The evergreen path led the group for a while before it circled around. Realizing they were heading back the way they came, the group began to doubt the path. However, Alice looked at her map and noticed something.
"See the path we've made here? We've already been to this spot," she said. "We've just intersected our own path. Which means if we look to our left and our right, we should see some evergreens. But they're not there!"
Alice spoke the truth. According to her map, the group ought to have been able to see two evergreens to their left and right. However, the only evergreens they could see were directly behind and in front of them.
After two more hours of following evergreens the four finally arrived at a structure. It was a simple structure made out of wood. But upon the front of the structure was a painting of a shining, silver orb. The group proceeded forward with caution.
The inside of the structure was simple but it still had its charm. Just inside the entrance two rows of lion statues formed a small entrance hallway. At the end of the makeshift entrance hallway were two lit ceremonial torches. Past the hallway was a small garden filled with beautiful flowers. Above the garden the ceiling was open to allow sunlight inside. In the middle of the garden was a small stand upon which sat the silver orb.
A man was standing behind the silver orb. He was older and was dressed in the manner of the tribes of Southern Tarasia, though he dressed in blue. He also wore a blue cloak.
"I'm amazed that you made it this far!" greeted the man. "You can surely defeat the Archfiend!"
Suzanne approached the man cautiously, weary of an illusion or trap. "I take it you are the guardian of the silver orb?"
"Yes," answered the man. "I am Cilson, the last guardian of the silver orb."
"Well met, Cilson," said Suzanne. "I am Suzanne and these are my comrades Ron, Thomas, and Alice. It seems like you were expecting us."
"That's because I was," replied Cilson. "As beautiful as this garden is, I don't spend all day tending it. My people have great talent in the magical arts. And only the best of us become guardians of the silver orb. My ability to tell the future, though limited, is the only reason I've survived to become the last of the guardians."
"What happened to the other guardians?" asked Suzanne. "It was quite difficult for us to find this place and we never would have managed it if we had not been given a hint. If all of you stayed here then how did the other guardians meet their end?"
"You're correct, the magic that protects and hides this place is strong," said Cilson. "Because of that, its effect range is limited. We have to go out hunting to sustain ourselves. It's not an easy task; most natural wildlife has been chased out or killed by the Archfiend's monsters. The other guardians were all lost when they went out hunting. My ability is of great help in finding game and avoiding trouble."
"Forgive me for being insensitive but why couldn't you use your ability to prevent your comrades' deaths?" asked Suzanne.
"I understand your curiosity," answered Cilson. "As I said, my ability is limited. I can only look a short time ahead in my own future, through my own eyes. Until I was the last one, we didn't dare ever leave the orb unguarded. So when I wasn't in the hunting party I was unable to help my comrades. In hindsight, I should have always gone on every hunt but we had thought at the time that my talents would be of more use to try and predict an attack on this shrine. As this shrine has never been found by anything else until today it would seem that was a fatally foolish decision."
"I am sorry if I brought up some bad memories," apologized Suzanne. "If it is any consolation, I likely would have made the same decision. The Archfiend also possesses powerful magic; there was no telling if he would find this place."
"To be honest, that's the worst part of going on a hunt," said Cilson. "You'd think, at my age, the worst part would be the physical exertion but the anxiety of not knowing if I'll find the orb here upon my return hits me every time."
"And so I thank you, Suzanne, Ron, Thomas, and Alice, for coming to take my burden away from me," continued Cilson. "It is time for the guardians of the silver orb to officially go extinct."
"How do you know we do not work for the Archfiend?" asked Suzanne. "Why would you be so eager to hand the silver orb to complete strangers?"
"I appreciate your caution!" said Cilson. "You would have made a great guardian yourself. My ability to see into the future is once again the answer. If you were servants of the Archfiend and I gave you the orb I would have seen you teleport directly to its lair to deliver the orb to it. Instead, you first pull out that intriguing flute of yours to make sure this is the real silver orb. Then you teleport to the town of Assaram to discuss your next course of action."
"Well since you know about the Echoing Flute, I see no reason to delay that portion any further," declared Suzanne. Taking her cue, Ron pulled out the Echoing Flute and played a quick tune. The resulting echoes were quite audible leaving little doubt that the silver orb was right in front of them.
"Please, take the silver orb!" urged Cilson. "Relieve me of my duty at last!"
"It must've been hard for you by yourself all this time," said Suzanne. "We'll do our best not to let you down."
As Cilson had predicted, the group teleported back to Assaram to try and figure out where the yellow orb, the only one they had yet to find, could be.
"Alright guys," began Suzanne. "Let's go over what we know of the yellow orb. The seers at the Shrine of Courage told us it's also known as the Wayfarer Gem."
"I remember them telling us that it travels the world," grumbled Thomas. "I specifically remember one of them telling us it'd be almost impossible to find."
"Let's not focus on that," said Suzanne. "I remember one of the seers said that when he tried to look at the orb's future the only phrase that came to mind was, 'Departed companions will once again help you.'"
"I remember one of the seers talking about how valuable the orb looked," said Alice. "He kept talking about how it kept changing hands among rich people. So maybe we should go to a few cities and find out if any rich people have recently purchased a valuable item?"
"That'll be like looking for a needle in a haystack," declared Thomas.
"Hey, I got it!" exclaimed Ron. "It's Bill! Let's see if Bill has the orb!"
"Although I have no doubt Bill would buy the orb and try to sell it for a profit he's unlikely to have it," said Thomas. "He's far away from any other wealthy people that may try to sell it."
"It's called the Wayfarer Gem for a reason, Tom!" replied Ron. "I don't think great distance is a problem for it. And think about it, everything fits if it's Bill! He was a companion of ours but now he's departed from us. Like you said, Tom, a valuable looking orb seems like something Bill would buy."
"Well I think it'd be better if we returned to Lancel," said Thomas. "Maybe one of the seers has seen another connection."
"Both good ideas," acknowledged Suzanne. "I say we go to Billville first. We don't lose anything from doing so and if we don't find anything then we can go to the seers at Lancel. Sound like a plan everyone?"
Ron and Alice both agreed. Thomas was more reluctant. "I'd rather not go anywhere near Bill ever again but I suppose that plan doe make sense."
"You did get a bit heated with him last time," said Ron.
"For all his talk I still find it hard to believe he wasn't abusing his power," said Thomas.
The four made the journey to Billville. The town had not changed much since the group had last been there two months ago. They were quite surprised by this as the town had been experiencing seemingly impossible growth.
"Maybe this means Bill took our advice and let his people relax a bit," suggested Ron.
"Alright, Ron and I will talk to Bill. Tom and Alice, you guys try to find the local hangouts and find what news you can," said Suzanne.
As Suzanne and Ron walked the streets of Billville they found that the people were in much less of a hurry than they had been on their last visit. However, many people still looked very unhappy.
"Ron, is it me or does this town seem more vacant than it did before?" asked Suzanne.
"You're right, Susie," answered Ron. "Maybe now that they're not working so hard more people are staying inside and relaxing?"
The two walked towards the town hall. Bill was nowhere to be found inside the building. Instead, Polce was busy sweeping; he was the only one inside.
"Well Tom will be happy that Bill isn't sitting on the throne," commented Ron.
"Excuse me, Polce," said Suzanne. "Do you know where we could find Bill?"
Polce looked up from his sweeping. The two were surprised to see that there was a sorrowful look on his face. "Oh my, you haven't heard?" he asked.
"Heard what? Did something happen to Bill?" asked Ron, concerned.
"Yes," answered Polce. "Just over a month ago the townspeople decided they'd finally had enough. They stormed in here, seized Bill off his throne, and threw him in jail."
"My goodness!" exclaimed Suzanne, shocked. "Was he really being that bad?"
"He was a bit out of control," answered Polce. "He was always pushing everyone to work harder while he seemed to sit on this throne all day. He made schedules for tasks and projects to be completed and if the work wasn't completed on time he would fine or even jail the workers."
"Wow," said Ron. "The power really did get to his head. How long is he in jail for?"
"Indefinitely," replied Polce. "Meanwhile we haven't been able to figure out who will take his place."
"Why not you?" asked Suzanne. "You were the one to come up with the idea. Couldn't you lead this town?"
"I'm afraid not," said Polce. "Most people see me as being too connected, too friendly with Bill. And now they argue over who can lead. In the meantime the town's growth has stopped. Nothing is being accomplished anymore and some have even left."
"We noticed there seemed to be fewer people on the streets," said Suzanne.
"Anyway, you didn't come here to hear me complain all day," said Polce. "They allow Bill visitors. If you go just down the road you'll find the jail on the southwest end of town."
Suzanne and Ron thanked Polce for the information and went to the jail. As Polce had said, they found Bill inside. He was dressed amazingly well for a prisoner. In fact, he was dressed fancier than he normally was; he was wearing a golden colored shirt with a green mantle upon his shoulders.
"Ah, Susie! Ron! Glad to see some friendly faces!" greeted Bill.
"Hey Bill, I'm liking the prison getup," replied Ron. "If that's standard prison uniform around here this place can't be all that bad, right?"
Bill gave a sigh. "Sadly, this is their idea of a joke. I get several people coming in a day to mock the 'King of Billville.'"
"I'm sorry," apologized Ron. "So you really must've angered everyone here."
"I guess so," said Bill. "Look, I know I did some things wrong. I know I pushed everyone way too hard. But you must believe me, it wasn't for me! Everything I did, I did for the town.
"Polce visits me often and tells me what's going on now," continued Bill. "My less-than-friendly visitors tell me everything has just been getting better and better since they got rid of me but Polce tells me the truth. With nobody to lead there is nothing being done. And without any progress being made the town is starting to fade away, just like I said it would. It's not much right now, Polce tells me the place is still bustling but it'll only get worse from here. As much as they hate me they haven't even renamed the town because they can't decide on a new name."
"You're right," said Suzanne. "Ron and I noticed it on the way over. There are definitely fewer people here. Those that remain don't seem any happier than they were the last time we were here."
"We were just starting to get some real attention too," said Bill. "A wealthy merchant came to town trying to sell a beautiful golden ball. I could see the ball was very valuable. As expensive as it was I thought it would benefit the town if we could show we had some money to spend. I thought that if I bought that ball than other wealthy merchants would start coming here and that could only mean good things for Billville. Unfortunately, when the townspeople found out about it that was what finally convinced them to put me in jail. They were unhappy to find that so much of their tax money was gone."
"Wait, did you say a beautiful golden ball?" asked Suzanne.
"Yes, why do you ask, Susie?" wondered Bill. "You usually don't care about such objects."
"We think it may be one of the orbs," answered Suzanne. "Do you still have it?"
"I put it in a secret compartment behind my throne," replied Bill. "I was planning to put it on display in the theater but the people rose up against me before I had the chance. That turned out to be a good thing; the people really want to get rid of the ball and get the money back. I refused to reveal where it is because I thought it could still do the town some good when everyone settles down. Do you really believe it's one of the orbs you've been searching for?"
"The last one we need, in fact," answered Suzanne.
"Then I want you lot to take it," declared Bill. "You don't need to pay me now but I want you to promise me that you'll have the money for it someday."
"Hey, man, hasn't your love of money gotten you in enough trouble?" asked Ron.
"It's not for me," answered Bill. "The money that paid for that orb came from the townspeople. I'm letting you all have it for only a promise because I realize how important your mission is. Some missing gold won't matter if the Archfiend destroys this town. But if the orb is going to leave this town I want the money that went into buying it to return. It's for the good of the town."
"That's very honorable of you, Bill," said Suzanne. "Although this town may have brought out some bad things in you it would seem it brought out some good as well. If you can promise me that the money will go back to the townspeople, regardless of what project or object you think it should go towards, then I give you my promise that the money will return here."
"Very well," answered Bill with a smile. "Let us seal this agreement."
Suzanne and Bill shook hands on their deal.
It had been almost a full year since the four had first heard the Portogan legend of the orbs but at long last the group returned to Liamland with the last two orbs. The group teleported to Lancel and took a day to prepare before the Mad Hound made another trip to Liamland.
"Our only problem will be if the men get bored," laughed Captain Marbeley when asked if there would be any problems with traveling to Liamland again. "Trips through those icy waters are beginning to feel mundane to my crew."
The near frozen waters kept the captain and his crew on their toes but they were able to deliver the four to Liamland safely. The group made it back to the shrine without incident. The elven women were still in the shrine singing their song. The four took the silver and yellow orbs and put them on their respective thrones. As before same-colored flames sprung up from the orbs. The elven women, still not missing a beat of their song, did their dance around the two new burning orbs.
After they finished both their dances the two elves returned to the middle of the room in front of the egg. Suddenly their tune became more excited and upbeat. The four realized that they were now singing different words:
We have waited
for this day to come.
Let us rejoice.
The time has come.
Awake, awake, the time is high
to fly on wings into the sky.
Higher, higher into the sky!
And after that, the two elves finally stopped their song. Everything was still for a minute. All sound had ceased; even the burning orbs made no noise. Then the egg in the middle of the shrine shattered and a great light filled the area, obscuring all vision. Finally the silence was broken by a loud bird cry. After the light dissipated the two elven women immediately rushed outside. The four followed them. In the air a large golden bird was flying around.
The bird descended and made a graceful landing on the frozen ground. A beautiful voice talked to them through their minds. You all have my most sincere gratitude. Thank you for your hard work. Because of your efforts I have returned to life.
"It was our pleasure," answered one of the elven women.
"It is we who should thank you," answered the other. "We can think of no greater gift than to see you fly again."
You are too kind, answered the bird. You have fulfilled the mission of your line. I will return you to your beloved forests.
The bird then turned to the four. Forgive me. She said to them. I must bring these two back to their homeland. For decades they have watched over me. Every day I could sense them from within my egg. It is the least I can do. Before we leave, I believe some introductions are in order. I am Ramia. Might I learn the names of the brave humans who were able to find all the orbs?
The four introduced themselves. Then Ramia asked, When you were here last time you spoke of an Archfiend. You said you needed me to help you gather proof by flying you over the Necrogond. What did you mean?
"We hope that we were not being presumptuous by counting on your help," began Suzanne. "But the world needs your help again, Ramia. We have made it our mission to try and rally the forces of the world together against the Archfiend that has risen in the Necrogond. We have gained the support of some nations but some others are still skeptical. We had hoped that if you could fly people over the Necrogond they might see the Archfiend's armies. If they saw its armies perhaps that would convince them to join the cause."
I see, answered Ramia. I will not lie to you; I have lost some of my powers and memories. I do not remember much from my battles against the Master Archfiend. I could see the paintings upon the shrine and I found it difficult to believe I was the one in them.
"I was wondering why you seemed smaller and why none of your feathers are blue," commented Ron.
"Ron!" scolded Alice.
Please, it is alright, said Ramia. He spoke nothing but the truth. I am not what I was in that war. In time I may regain that power but I sense that we do not have that amount of time. I will gladly pledge what power I still have to oppose evil once again. I would guess one of you has a map of the world. Take it out. Before I take these two away we must decide where I will rejoin you.
The four teleported back to Assaram and waited for Ramia to return. They only had to wait six days, amazing considering the distance she had to travel. The group arranged to meet Ramia away from the town. They did not want news of Ramia's rebirth to become public knowledge just yet.
It was true that Ramia was not as large as she was in the paintings of her but she was still able to carry the four without too much trouble. Though any more weight and I fear my maneuverability will not be enough to fly over the Archfiend's lair safely, Ramia had warned. I would guess that it has many flying minions. Nevertheless, with your power added to my own and with Xlysinil slain I fear none of them.
The four had told Ramia of how Ortega had died killing Xlysinil. I am sorry that he died in combat with the dreaded beast. It would seem I owe a debt to your family, Suzanne.
"You don't owe us anything," answered Suzanne.
"Uh, Ramia," began Ron. "I don't know how to ask you this but I was curious: what's it like to die?" The question earned Ron an elbow from Alice.
I do not know that I can call it death now that I have returned from it, answered Ramia. Though I suppose I have no better word to name the event by. Of the memories I have retained from my past life those of my final battle against Xlysinil are some of the most vivid and unbroken. I remember terrible wounds and terrible pain. But after the killing blow I remember nothing. Next thing I knew I was inside of my egg.
It took only a day and a half for Ramia to fly the group from Assaram to the skies above the Archfiend's lair. Ramia was able to fly faster and higher in the air than any other bird. Although she had lost some of her powers she had retained magic that protected the four in high altitudes. With this Ramia was able to keep herself concealed until they were flying over Venorl Castle. At that point they had to descend to get a good look at the Archfiend's forces. What they saw horrified them.
"Oh my…" gasped Suzanne, unable to finish her sentence.
"This is impossible!" said Ron, barely above a whisper.
"We're doomed," said Thomas.
"This…this just can't be!" screamed Alice.
Down below a sea of monsters stretched for miles. The four had read descriptions of great armies throughout history and seen pictures of these armies made by witnesses but none of it compared to the sight before them. Perhaps most horrifying of all was that this sea of monsters was being fed by streams of monsters coming up the mountains from all directions.
"They're not even moving," noted Ron, still unable to bring volume to his voice. "They're just standing there in a huge group. How are they not fighting? How are they not dying of hunger?"
"The Archfiends' signature ability is to subvert the laws of nature," said Thomas. "Monsters' instincts are overruled and they are sustained by the Archfiend's magic. But no story of the Archfiends' power describes it as being this great."
"Can the united forces of humanity even stand a chance against a force like this?" asked Suzanne.