Shadows danced along the damp walls of the keep. The candle’s flame flickered from the breeze seeping in the room's lone window. The early winter night darkened as the heavy drizzle outside grew in strength. It pelted Livoria, causing the monstrous trees embedded in the capital's outer defenses to sway. The ramparts and battlements fogged from the exhales of the sentries that scurried throughout them. A distant owl surrendered its call, heralding night’s arrival. Lightening streaked across the sky like a glowing spider web, fracturing the dark clusters of storm clouds.
Marcus Oliver stood in the solitude of his room, high in the far reaches of the keep. He relished the welcomed heat of the fire, extending his wrinkled hands over the flames. Muttering, the old man pulled the heavy gray cloak that hung from his stooped shoulders closer around his frail body. He shifted his weight onto his staff. His back hunched from age and his beard, graying and overgrown, bobbled up and down as he shivered. With a heavy sigh, the burden of a stressful day drifted away with it. His soft, green eyes turned to the window, catching a flash of lightening as it illuminated the sky.
“Eighteen years…” Marcus muttered to himself.
He remembered every moment as if it happened the last night. He still felt the sorrow of watching his daughter and his new born grandson flee from the burning Twin Cities, her eyes filled with malice. Elijah’s blood on his hands as he allowed his son-in-law to die before him. Nothing made him forget the choked words coming from the Watcher’s mouth.
“The boy…will be…an Opener…”
Marcus turned from his fireplace to a leather-bound trunk resting in the corner of his room. With shuffling steps, the sorcerer made his way past his bed to where the chest lay. Dust coated it. Corrosion ate away the once shining steel clasps. Marcus winced as he kneeled. The old man whispered, springing open the lock. His face darkened as he lifted the lid. With scooping hands, Marcus produced a pile of purple cloth.
The ends frayed over the years. Time couldn’t mask the deep crimson stains that marred it. Marcus fought back tears as he rubbed the soft cotton. He held the hood of the cloak up and even now he pictured his daughter’s face; Marie’s dark hair, her sharp chestnut eyes and the wiry smile she seemed to always have. Marcus clasped his hands together, pressing the cloak to his forehead as he cried.
“God!” Marcus muttered to the ceiling. “I’d trade it all away for just once glimpse of her!” He cursed himself. He didn’t deserve to see her again. It was his fault she left. Marcus sat for a few minutes as the storm grew louder. The old wizard wiped his eyes on his sleeves and folded up the violet cloak. He laid it back in the trunk, lowering the lid back until it closed snugly. He turned to walk back to the fire when a shudder rocketed down his spine.
Marcus turned away from the flames crackling at his feet, stumbling back toward a simple oak chair. He lowered himself down onto the numbing wood. His stiff fingers gripped the edge of his cloak hood, tossing it up over his long winter-colored hair. His neat bed lay undisturbed in the corner of the room.
“During such dark times,” Marcus thought, “I would rather be killed fighting with my staff in hand than having my throat slit in the night.” As the evening wore on, the storm grew in strength. Puffy snowflakes coated the grounds as frost clawed up the window's glass like a cancer. The wizard's eyes disappeared behind his drooping eyelids. His breathing slowed to a steady beat as the shadows of slumber seeped into his mind. But just before he plunged straight into the dream world, he heard the handle of the door click open.
Marcus bolted up, his chair slamming down onto the stone floor. His staff readied to strike whoever dared invade his quarters. His brow crinkled in an angry glare, but as he got a good look at his opponent, his eyes softened. The shining white light that glowed at the tip of his staff faded. A smile spread across his lips.
“Morlean?” Marcus inquired. The elvish guard bowed. Marcus lowered his staff and returned the favor, confusion plain on his face.
“About to burn me to ashes, Master Oliver?” the broad shouldered knight asked. Marcus sighed as he threw back his hood.
“Why, you didn’t even knock!” he said. Even in the darkness, the elf’s toothy smile spread from behind his golden-green helm.
“I knocked for quite a while,” the warrior said. “It’s not my fault you’ve become such a dense sleeper.” Marcus leaned back onto his staff.
“Well, I may be old, Morlean Bearchest, but I could still go toe to toe with you with a blade if you ever wish to wager,” the older man said. The knight chuckled, producing a torch that forced the darkness of the room to expire.
“I may take you up on that, Master Oliver, but I’m afraid now is not the time. Lord Londinlin has requested your presence in the Lithliana Hall,” the guard informed. Marcus’s bushy eyebrows arched.
“What about?” he demanded. “Is something wrong?”
“He wouldn’t tell me anything. All he said is you would be very grateful for being woken,” the knight replied. Hope sparked inside Marcus. The older man nodded, exiting the room. The duo navigated the wavy, slender passages of the elvish keep.
Even in the dead of winter, the halls of Lithliana were glowing with radiant violet and gold hues. The white marble walls held dozens of silver lanterns that lined their passage. A warm sensation replaced the cold of his room and Marcus relished in the elves’ boundless knowledge of sorcery. He even seemed to lose his pains and soon carried the staff as he hurried.
“So he told you nothing? Nothing at all?” Marcus asked. The elf grinned.
“I may be Londinlin’s guard, but he doesn’t tell me everything. All I can say is that Princess Eilaer is also there,” the soldier explained. Marcus stopped, looking over at the warrior in confusion.
“The princess?” he questioned.
“Aye, the princess. And you know what that must mean…” he reminded. The duo hurried after that, moving through the silence of the halls. As they turned the corner of the final hallway, Morlean grabbed the handle of the lone door and it creaked open. Marcus thanked him as he stepped into the Lithliana Hall.
Livoria’s great hall never ceased to capture Marcus’s amazement.
The hall remained beautiful even in the dead of winter. Lord Londinlin’s throne, a large chair carved of white wood and shaped like an unfurling lily, rested empty on his right. Next to it, the indoor waterfall still trickled with water, filling the entire hall with a thin veil of steam. The use of sorcery kept the lilies that covered the hall in vases alive and colorful. Marcus moved down the stairs , making his way past the tall pillars.
The glass ceiling lay shrouded with snow. The tree-like columns that lined the main entrance stood tall and defiant, their marble branches holding up the roof. Marcus saw candlelight in-between two of them. Lord Londinlin leaned onto one of the long tables that rested in the hall. Princess Eilaer sat across from him and the pair spoke in hushed elvish when Marcus interrupted.
“Ah! Master Oliver,” Londinlin exclaimed as he caught sight of the wizard. He bowed and Marcus returned the favor. Marcus marveled at how well the king looked for being as old as he was. He was tall and thin. His jet black hair hung below his shoulder blades. It kept it in check by a shining circlet of twisted silver and gold, shaped into an array of lilies while pearls and emeralds dotted all over it. His face was handsome, free from the lines of age. When Marcus caught his eyes, he saw a gaze of strength and determination, and yet, the cool sea-blue eyes held a deep sadness. His magnificent clothing, crafted of elven silk, seemed to shift from violet to a hint of gold back to a dark forest green. It played with Marcus's eyes as he watched the king's thin lips spread into a smile.
“Mena Asporlor, Master Oliver, for waking you at such an hour. But my daughter saw a vision…” the king said. Marcus looked over to Lady Eilaer, bowing with a spreading smile.
“You don’t say, your grace,” Marcus replied, his eyes never leaving the young elf. A dark green, silken dress hugged her frame and a heavy, fur lined cloak clasped on her shoulders. Long, straight midnight color hair spilled out from her hood, lying on her chest like blanket. Around her neck she wore an exquisite necklace, forged from shining silver. A great emerald, cut into the shape of a star, dangled down upon her breast.
Her blue eyes sparkled as the light from the dying candlelight bounced off them. Eilaer’s stunning face held soft, full lips, bright rosy cheeks, and those strange pointed ears that every elf adorned. Her skin was smooth, mimicking the fallen snow. She stood up and bowed, which Marcus returned.
“Good evening, Master Oliver,” she said, her voice sweet and low. Londinlin offered a seat in front of her, which the sorcerer accepted. Marcus leaned his staff against the table, unable to take his eyes off Eilaer’s eager eyes.
“So my lords, what is it that Lady Eilaer saw?” he asked, trying not to give away the excitement building in him. Lord Londinlin, his face stern and worrisome, motioned to Eilaer. The princess smiled as she grabbed Marcus’s hands.
“I have seen the Andawelm…” she whispered.
The wind seemed to die in the hall. Marcus felt a pang of disbelief flood through him. He knew it even before he stepped foot into the hall. Yet his heart wouldn’t believe it. Even Londinlin smiled as Marcus’s stumbled to find words.
“What--when? Where?” he blurted out. Eilaer let out a giggle.
“Maybe a moment to allow her to explain, Master Oliver?” the king joked. Marcus nodded.
“Yes, yes,” he said. “Sorry--please, my lady. Tell me everything. Every detail.” Eilaer stood up straight and sighed.
“I saw all four as clear as I see you and father right now,” she began. “There were three young men and a woman, maybe twenty years of age. They were in a place I have never seen. All I could see were shadows, except for silver lanterns that illuminated the walls. Something was wrong though. Serpentines were all around them. There were flames that clouded everything. Not even the darkness withstood it…then nothing.” Marcus gripped her hands tighter.
“What did they look like? Did any of them resemble Marie Oliver?” he persisted.
“Marcus, how can she know? She was just a child back then,” Londinlin reminded. Marcus sighed.
“True. Do you have any idea where this place is she is describing?” Marcus asked. Londinlin nodded.
“Yes,” the king said. “It sounds like a dwarven mine. That is clear from the silver lanterns. But you know how Eilaer’s visions are. They can happen tomorrow or years from now.” Marcus stood up, scooping up his staff.
“I don’t believe it will long. These old bones tell me it’s soon,” he announced. Londinlin looked over to his daughter.
“My dear, would you give Master Oliver and me time to discuss this alone. It is late anyway and you should rest,” he asked. Lady Eilaer stood to her feet. She hugged her father, kissing his cheek. The princess turned and smiled at Master Oliver before wrapping her arms around him.
“Do not listen to him. They will be here soon,” she whispered into his ear. She pulled away, bowed, and slipped off towards the door Marcus entered. The two men waited until she exited before Marcus opened his mouth.
“Your grace, I would-”
“No, Marcus,” Londinlin said. “I know what you would ask of me, but I cannot allow you to go running through the countryside looking through dwarven mines like some green adventurer.” Marcus aimed to protest, but Londinlin threw up a hand.
“You have waited years for this but you have a responsibility to this kingdom,” he said. He fiddled with a pocket, producing a scroll from his pockets. Marcus stared at it puzzled as he took the parchment from the elvish king. He unwrapped it, inspecting the thin, blotched writing as his eyes scanned the paper.
“Maximus is on the move again…” Londinlin stated. Marcus nodded.
“Two Serpentine divisions. From the Blackrose border. Eastbound,” Marcus read aloud. He looked up to catch Londinlin’s worried gaze. “Who sent this?”
“Watchers Richarrd and Manorel,” Londinlin explained. “Both found in the wilds with their throats slit open. It has been four years since we have met The Sealer in open battle. I prayed we would sit the rest of eternity ruling our kingdoms in vigilant watch over each other. I was foolish to think Maximus would leave well enough alone.” Marcus threw the scroll down onto the table.
“So my brother would move to invade again,” he muttered. “Does that man ever sicken of bloodshed?” The king nodded.
“He will stop once fish tire for water,” Londinlin said. “Marcus, I need you here in Livoria. My troops have barely recovered from our last outbreak of war and I have just enough men for a standing army. Maximus will spit out thousands of the damned Serpentines like maggots on a deer and I might not wither the storm this time. ”
“But my grandson needs me too…” Marcus pointed out. Londinlin waved him off as he walked over to the throne.
“You still believe that nonsense Elijah said to you before he died?” Londinlin asked. Marcus frowned.
“Don’t cast away his words like a madman’s, your grace. Alvion chose him for a reason,” Marcus forewarned. Londinlin laughed as he seated himself in his throne, the lack of sleep apparent in his eyes.
“So he says. The mad ramblings of a dying man most likely,” Londinlin said. Marcus slammed his staff to the ground.
“Do not speak ill of the dead,” Marcus hissed. “You may be king, but Elijah Thornwood single handedly kept this country from falling into Serpentine hands!” Londinlin looked down, grim anger in his eyes.
“Oh did he, Master Oliver?” he questioned. “Or did he just delay our inevitable doom for a few decades?” Marcus climbed the steps to the throne, staring Londinlin dead in the eyes.
“Elijah died to give us hope,” Marcus said. “His son-my grandson-is an Andawelm. That boy is an Opener. I know he is. Its not you or I who will save us, but the Andawelm. Two locations in the Innerworld have dwarven mines with portals; the Camthalion Mine and the Kactor Caverns in Mardihiem. If you gave me a few months, I could bring a few Watchers and keep a watch on them both just to make sure they are safe and not alone when they come.”
“I could spare the Watchers. Not you, Marcus,” Londinlin murmured.
“And what if it were your grandson, your grace?” Marcus demanded. “What if he enters our world, with only flames and Serpentine claws to greet him? Would you dare leave his life in the hands of anyone else?” Londinlin’s face softened at this. Marcus hit the elf’s soft spot. The king sighed as he slid his crown from his hair and rested it on the seat of his throne.
“Damn you, Marcus,” Londinlin said. “You are more stubborn than any person I have ever met. Very well. You have six months to search the mines. Do you have any certain Watchers I must gather?” Marcus smiled.
“Honeywell, Trofinlin, and Hildro if you could get Captain Wilson to spare them,” Marcus said. Londinlin nodded.
“I will see to it, but, I expect you to summon Lord Tristuana to court. His wife is more than capable of managing Cathrohoan without him and I do not trust another with your position,” Londinlin demanded as he stood. A yawn escaped him.
“Your grace, I am forever in your debt,” Marcus said, bowing. Londinlin brushed it away.
“That I know already, Master Oliver. When will you depart?” he asked. Marcus smiled as the king made his way over to the door that sat behind the throne.
“As soon as I can be prepared,” the wizard said.
“Good,” Londinlin said. He opened the door, stopping as he looked into Marcus’s eyes. “Do you think the Andawelm will save us all? Can four young humans put an end to all of this?” Marcus threw his cloak around himself again.
“They will,” the sorcerer said.
“But how?” Londinlin asked. “How can they accomplish what thousands can’t?”
“With hope,” Marcus whispered. Londinlin smiled, nodding as he threw open the door.
“I suppose that will have to do,” he said. “Gualen Evernor, Master Oliver.”
Marcus watched the king slid back behind the door and close it with a hushed click. The advisor turned to leave when Londinlin poked his head out the door.
“Oh, and bring them back alive,” Londinlin said. “If they are here to save us all, we can’t have them dying.”
“I will,” Marcus replied with a smile....