Siphidias turned back to Leonidas after Boono closed and locked the doors behind Larsa. Bleeji closed and locked the other doors quickly and then hurried back to the mages. Aeromis sat perfectly still waiting as if waiting for instructions from them. Boono finally came over and stood by Bleeji waiting silently for Siphidias’ commands. Bleeji tried not to cry, but she knew what was coming next. The time had come to move on, but she didn’t want to. Boono sniffed a few times, fighting back his emotions. He was proud to have been in the service of these two great beings. Siphidias and Leonidas had been good masters to them.
Siphidias looked down at the gnomes with admiration and sorrow in his eyes. “The time has come dear friends for us to part ways. We will miss you both, but our journey lies on a different path now. We must follow our Master’s plans. You may stay and watch, but whatever you do, do not touch us until we say so.”
Leonidas turned and look down at them both as well, “Bleeji you have been a wonderful helper all these years in my lab. Boono you have been a great caretaker of these books. I thank you both for your services.” He bowed to them, and then turned back toward Siphidias and began to whisper in a language the gnomes had only heard on rare occasions before. It was the language of the Eschrehim that very few beings in this world knew.
Boono and Bleeji both bowed before the mages. Boono looked up to Siphidias, “Thank you sir for allowing me to serve you over these great many years.” He bowed once more and back away.
Siphidias watched him for a moment and smiled, “Remember this dear friend, you never served us, because the work that was done was in His name and in His service. Therefore you served Him for we are no masters, but servants ourselves.”
Bleeji looked up just then, “We will remember your words, and what you have taught us about Him.” She then backed away to stand next to her husband. Boono grabbed her hand and squeezed softly.
Siphidias then turned to Aeromis. “When we are finished the gnomes will open the doors and you must fly down to the next level where the chapel is. Wait on the balcony for us and then we will all go into the general’s chambers. The time has come, Aeromis, for your work to begin.” The griffin nodded and then also backed away from the mages.
What happened next, Boono and Bleeji never could quite explain everything that they saw. They were so amazed by what happened it was said they were speechless for days.
Siphidias and Leonidas faced each other in the center of the library; their arms stretched up toward the sky lights. They began to whisper in the ancient language; their voices intertwined in unison. Their whispers grew to a normal speaking level, but then they spoke faster and faster. Their bodies began to glow in a soft yellowish hue. With each repeat of whatever they were saying, the light grew brighter and brighter. Soon there was a low humming sound and the air in the room began to crackle. Now the light was so bright that the gnomes had to shield their eyes, and the humming sound became so loud that they tried to plug their ears. The mages’ words became a roar over everything.
And then suddenly everything stopped. There was utter silence in the room, though the gnomes’ ears throbbed from the spectacle. They tried to look but the light had nearly blinded them and so their vision was blurry and spotted. Boono did his best to look up at their masters, but the constant rubbing of his eyes only caused them to be irritated and so he was forced to wait for them to adjust. Bleeji’s eyesight was the first to return, and she stood in awe. Siphidias and Leonidas’ features became crisper and more perfect, if that was even possible to say. Their robes were replaced with armor that was so bright that she was nearly blinded at the sight. But what was even more astonishing was what was behind them.
Wings that were whiter than the purest snow on the highest peaks. Their feathers were so clean and clear like the most beautiful diamonds she could ever imagine. She wept with joy at the sight. She had always known they were in the service of the Almighty, but Eschrehim. Not in her wildest dreams had she imagined that she would be in the presence of even one, let alone two. And yet she had been their servants for all those years and never did she truly believe that it could be true. She was just a lowly gnome, nothing as exciting as this was ever supposed to happen to her. She had known and been reminded so many times over the years, but deep down she hadn’t truly believed. She began to weep again this time in sorrow over her lack of faith.
They beat their wings a few times; the air from them pushed papers around and ruffled the pages of nearby books. And then, like robes, they wrapped themselves in the wings. Rays of brilliant light shown through the sky lights above, forming a halo around the two beings.
A sense of peace and tranquility fell about the place. Bleeji’s sorrow melted away and she smiled at the sense of peace. She felt like she was a child again being held by her father when she was sad. Her father’s arms were always a great sense of security. She felt that now and wrapped her arms around herself and closed her eyes as she basked in the warm of the light. Boono too felt a great peace enveloping him and wrapping him up inside its hold. But instead of standing he sat down and relaxed as he leaned against the wall behind him. A song his mother once sang to him as a child filled his heart and soul. He smiled as he remembered the tune of old.
Leonidas and Siphidias stood up straight, closing their eyes and looked up toward the light. Siphidias was the first to speak, “Almighty, it has come time as you have promised it would. The one holding the key has arrived, and the race for the scrolls has begun. We have done as you have asked over the past few millennia. We have watched, we have learned, and we have taught others in passing of what we know.”
You have done well; you both have been good servants, faithful servants.
Leonidas spoke next, “The time has come Great One, for the Time of New Beginnings is at hand. We have watched the Free Races grow together, learn together, and thrive. They have done well in prospering, but many hearts we fear are beginning to falter in your teachings. Greed has arisen, and power is the new faith of many. Not only do they fight the Dark Races, but they fight amongst themselves too. They may pledge to be united, but lust of power and wealth is turning many away from you.”
I have seen what you have seen. I have felt great sorrow over what has transpired across the lands. But I ask you this; do you believe they are still worth saving? Are there any noble and faithful hearts left?
Siphidias and Leonidas looked at each other for a moment and then looked up to the light once more. Siphidias thought for a moment and then spoke, “General Pyrhus, Kerak, and Father Alban are among the few that we have met that indeed have a pure heart and mind. The general fights to protect his people with the greatest of heart. Kerak is faithful to you and his general. Father Alban has never faltered in your service for as long as he has been alive.”
I know they are indeed good servants and they will be blessed greatly before the end.
Leonidas spoke next, “These two gnomes have never wavered in their service to us and have never lost faith in you, Great One.”
They have indeed done well too, though they are not entirely perfect, they have proven faithful in all that they do. They will be blessed as well.
Siphidias looked down at that moment toward the gnomes and smiled. But then after much thought he became saddened.
What is wrong Siphidias? Why have you suddenly become sad?
Siphidias looked back up into the light, “When the war consumes this land…I mean to say fall upon the shoulders of the Free Races; what will become of the gnomes? Will they be swept away by the Dark One’s fury?”
No Siphidias, they will be in my protection. That is part of their blessing, where ever they go, peace will follow them. My hand will guide them to a safe place until this is over.
“Understood Master, but must everything that is to come…must it all happen?” Leonidas looked down on the gnomes and pictured all the Free Races.
What has transpired in the past must be fixed. Everything that has happened because of the Dark One must be atoned for. So yes, everything that is to come must do so in order to make things right. Do not forget that the races of Anoria have been given the greatest gift…
“Choice...” Both Eschrehim whispered in unison.
Yes, and with the privilege of choice comes great responsibility for one’s actions. And the Free Races haven’t always made the right choices. The Time of New Beginnings is not only a time to make things right because of the Betrayal, but also a time of repentance for what the others have done.
Siphidias lowered his head as well, “Understood Great One. Your plans have never failed and have always had a higher purpose. Forgive us Mighty One.”
“What do you ask of us now that the Chosen One, this Tristan, has arrived?”
Show him of what is to come and let him make the choice of what to do.
Tell him what you know and then wait for his answer.
He carries a great burden with him.
A burden he has tried to get rid of but it follows him everywhere he goes.
Have faith in him, he will come to do great things.
He only has to choose.
Go now, for it is time to begin anew. Darkness has come to you and you must do as I have instructed.
“We will do as you have asked, Master.” They said in unison.
With that, the light faded around them and all returned to normal. They were normal for the most part anyway, except they were still in their angelic forms. Boono and Bleeji looked up at the two in awe. They tried to speak but found that their voices had been taken from them. They began to worry and looked at one another and then at the Eschrehim. Siphidias smiled and walked over to them, “Do not fear, your voices will return in time. Few have been in the presence of the Almighty and lived to tell about it. You both have been blessed with what you have seen. Now listen closely to us and do not stray from our instructions.” Siphidias looked into their eyes closely as if he peered into their very souls when he spoke. The gnomes exchanged glances and then nodded their understanding. “Good. Now you must pack your things immediately. Do not linger long in doing so. You also may take any number of books that are in this room that you can carry. That is our gift to you both. Second, when you are ready to leave these grounds wait for us in my chambers.”
Siphidias then looked over to Leonidas who came to stand next to Aeromis. Leonidas looked up just then, reading Siphidias’ thoughts, “We also ask one last task of you.” The gnomes looked at each other, smiling. They would do anything for their masters; especially now. “We need you to bring a message to Othar’s Council immediately. They will be able to send out their armies and help with the refugees.” The gnomes nodded that they understood, but they were still confused. How will that help since the Royal City of Othar is over 1000 miles northeast of here? It would takes weeks for them to reach the capital, and weeks for the council to delegate and send the army back.
Siphidias smiled at the gnomes’ confusion, “It is alright to question our request, and under normal circumstances it would indeed do little good to send a message. However, these are not normal circumstances. We have ways of a faster means of transport. Do not worry little ones, before the night is over you will be standing on the streets of Othar.” With that he sent the gnomes away to pack their things. Bleeji wept quietly as they left for she still didn’t want to leave their side.
Working for them was all that Bleeji and Boono knew, what would they do now that their services are no longer required?
Where would they go?
Leonidas turned back to Aeromis, “Meet us on the balcony below, we will be there shortly.” Aeromis nodded and then galloped toward the eastern doors. Before the griffin reached them, Siphidias raised his left hand and the doors swung open bringing in more sunlight to that side of the room. Then they both walked toward the doors leading into the gallery. By now the gallery was empty and silent as they headed down the stairwell to General Pyrhus’ quarters. The general and his companions would indeed be in for a surprise when they walked in.
Orin leaned against the side rail of the grand airship, and looked out over the landscape below. He felt a little woozy from the flight but he was getting used to it. When they first left Dushuan that morning, the jolt of the take off had nearly toppled the large barbarian. He had spent the rest of the day wobbling around and holding onto rails and people. When they had stopped in Aldcross that afternoon, he was eager to get off and plant his feet on solid ground. They had stopped to drop off a few passengers heading north and picked up a few more heading toward the south. Orin dreaded getting back onto the ship but it was the fastest way to Abydos and time was against them.
As the sun set over the horizon and the final rays of light rolled away from them, Orin’s thoughts trailed to Helmcross and the two most important women in his life. He prayed to Eschua that they were safe and hidden away from the troubles he heard were brewing in the south. He bowed his head and closed his eyes as horrible pictures of goblins and orcs blanketing the valley in darkness came to mind. He shuddered at the thought, and tried to brush them away from his mind.
Why am I on this quest? Berwyn and Halfgrim could have guarded Brother Thomas with out me. I don’t get it, I know Cristiana and Merwenna can handle things at home, but what if an army did invade the valley?
He was overwhelmed again with images of battles around the valley and in his keep. He stood up and rubbed his face in his big leathery hands and then placed them on his hips as he tried to keep his balance on the deck of the ship.
Shaking his head, he turned around and was startled to find Brother Thomas a few feet away from him. His staff glistened in the starlight as he leaned against it for support. Orin could tell he was tired, this trip and every time he called on the powers of the Almighty drained him even more. Orin couldn’t even begin to understand the sacrifices and burdens that a Priest of Light had to deal with and overcome. Brother Thomas’ hood was low over his face and so Orin had a hard time making out his features. “Good evening, Brother Thomas. Are you feeling better?” He crossed his arms as he looked for any sign of life under the hood.
Brother Thomas took in a deep breath and then in a low voice said, “That short nap helped a great deal Lord Orin. Thank you for your concern, but do not trouble yourself with my burdens. The Father would not have given them to me if he didn’t think I could handle it.” He pulled back his hood and smiled as he looked into Orin’s eyes. He studied Orin for a moment and then moved toward the rail. Slowly, methodically, he took each step with his staff making a soft tapping sound on the wooden deck of the ship. He set his staff against the rail and put both hands on it as he peered into the moonlit landscape of Anoria below them. “Being in this ship affords us some of the best views of the Eschua’s creation.” He turned around and watched Orin look at him for a moment and then stroll up next to him.
Orin looked past the stern of the ship and noted the sparkling waters of the Lockdoon Sea. “So where are Halfgrim and my brother?” He asked with out turning to look at the priest.
Brother Thomas watched Orin’s movements for a moment ignoring the question, and then answered, “You are thinking of home aren’t you Orin?” He noted that the lord made no comment or movement at the question for a long time.
“Why would you say that Brother Thomas?” He replied without turning around as he looked down at the deck of the ship.
“Your demeanor today and when I looked into your eyes I saw a sorrow there that could only be from thinking of home. Your emotions betray you Lord Orin; they are your strength and they are your weakness.”
Orin turned around and huffed at the word “weakness” being said of him. He was of barbarian decent, he was lord of Helmcross, and he has slain hundreds of denizens of the deep shadows.
If he had been any other person, Orin would have reached out and grabbed him by the neck and haul him overboard. Weak, indeed…
“Just what are you getting at priest? I am responsible for keeping you and when we meet with this other character safe. I have no time for such idle thoughts; Alicia and Merwenna are strong women. They can handle things back home; I have no doubt about that.” He stood up straight and crossed his arms as he spoke.
Thomas could see he hit a nerve with the big man. He put his hands up in defense, “Orin, settle down my friend. I am merely pointing out what you are secretly thinking about.” He scratched his chin for a moment as he thought what to say next. “You are an open book my friend, no matter how hard you try to bury your thoughts and emotions inside, they are read plain as day on the outside.”
Orin relaxed his posture for a moment and studied the man for a couple of minutes. “And what is it exactly that I am thinking about?”
“Your thoughts dwell on your family; they dwell on your home, and your people. You wonder if they are ok and if not, then how you can get back to them quickly if they are indeed in trouble.” He paused for a moment to let the words melt away Orin’s defenses a little before continuing, “You wonder why you are here, with us on this quest. You wonder what your part is in all this.” He smiled as he saw the creases in Orin’s face begin to relax and the look in his eyes turn to amazement. He knew he was on the right path of thinking with Lord Orin. Everyone in the group was wondering the same thing about themselves; it was only natural to think such things for this quest is nothing like anything they have ever partaken in before.
There was silence between the two friends for a moment. A strong breeze picked up and caused the boat to sway even more than usual. Just then they heard a commotion behind them and watched as a couple they had picked up in Aldcross came bounding up the stairs from below deck. They giggled and whispered amongst each other and waved as they caught sight of the other two. Orin waved back and Brother Thomas nodded a hello as the two turned the corner of the wheel house and moved toward the back of the ship to gaze up at the stars.
Seeing the young woman holding the man’s hands lovingly as they walked together reminded him of when He and Alicia were younger and had first gotten married. They would walk along the banks of the Bluestone River at night holding each other’s hands. Alicia would ask him to tell of his adventures he had gone on with his brother and father. So Orin would think about it for a moment and then spend the next hour or so retelling of some great adventure. He would embellish here and there to make it even more exciting and to try and impress her even more. Alicia would hold on to his arm or his hands and listen intently as they walked along.
Orin came to from his memories and turned back to the priest to find him watching him again. He frowned, “Stop watching me like that, I can’t stand it how you read me like that. Yes, I do think of Alicia and Merwenna, and even though it has only been a couple of days since we left, I know that this is different from everything else.” He waved his hands about as he spoke, “and yes, I don’t understand what I am doing here. Berwyn and Halfgrim are more than capable of watching over you and this Tristan guy, if we ever catch up to him. You don’t need me; I should be home helping to prepare the defenses of the city where I belong. I have a duty to my people and a duty to my family. That is why as of late I haven’t gone on as many adventures with Berwyn and Halfgrim or on ones so far from home.” He stopped a moment and caught his breath and waited to see if Thomas would say anything.
The priest smiled at Orin, “I take it you have overheard the passengers talking about the rising attacks across the lands; large bands of goblins and orcs attacking villages and sacking towns?” Orin nodded, he had indeed heard such things and that is why he wished he was home. He could feel deep down in his bones that something major was going to happen. It worried him that he didn’t know what was going on around Helmcross like he always had. “Orin, the rumors are true. The Dark Lord Delnok has risen up many armies and is planning to attack the people of Anoria. All the races are in danger of being attacked but do not fear for Helmcross. They are a good people, they are your people, and Merwenna and Alicia and the soldiers are more than capable of preparing the defenses. You have taught them well, and they have your strength Orin, do not doubt that.”
A small smile began to appear on Orin’s face at those words; he looked into Brother Thomas’ eyes and let his shoulders sink. He sighed and said, “I know the hearts and abilities of my people Thomas, but I hate not knowing what is going on. They will do well in my absence but what I don’t understand is why I am here. Why do you need all of us to find these scrolls?”
The priest chuckled, “The more the merrier for one thing.” He noted that Orin didn’t find that very funny. “Orin, there are many reasons why things happen in our lifetime, and we do not know why or how they turn out. Only the Father knows all and sees all, when he gives us a task it is for reasons that we do not understand. There is a reason for everything in this world even if we don’t understand it or like it.” He grabbed his staff against the rail and took a few steps away from the big man. “You, my friend, are here to lead this group and watch over us in our hour of need. When the time comes Orin, even the Almighty will call on you personally to help on this journey in one way or another.” He walked toward the stairwell leading below deck. “I have no doubt Orin that this quest may claim some or all of our lives. But it is the utmost importance that we see it through the end. Anoria, Helmcross, Alicia and Merwenna, they are all counting on us to find the scrolls and stop Delnok from returning.
Orin didn’t like the sound of that but he knew it was true. He knew his purpose in this group but hearing it from the priest made it even more real to the barbarian. “I understand what is at stake, but I wish the responsibility would be on someone else’s shoulders. I mean why was I chosen, I am just a mountain man looking out for his people. I am no great hero in the Royal Guard or a Warrior of the Blessed. It just makes no sense.” He pointed at his chest as he spoke and then shook his head as he put his arms down.
Brother Thomas stopped at the top of the stairs and turned back toward Orin. “No one every truly understands their role in life or what Eschua has in store for them. You give yourself far too little credit my friend. Like you said you have defeated hundreds of denizens along the Northern Reach and the surrounding lands; including giants, moorhounds, trolls, and many other creatures.” He caught a dry spell in his throat from talking and coughed for a couple seconds. “Heroes are not always some great champion of noble blood, or years of service in the army. They are anyone who believes in the right thing to do and actually does it. Even when everyone else is against something and they are wrong, the hero is the one who stands alone and knows that it is right. You my friend are that person, and so is Halfgrim and Berwyn. You all fight for the people you care about, you help those in need without thinking of the consequences. That is what makes you that person because you do those things when no one else will.”
He beckoned for Orin to follow him, “Now to answer your very first question, Berwyn and Halfgrim are below deck in the mess hall. Let us see what they are up to, we have much to discuss before we reach Abydos tomorrow.” He didn’t wait for Orin to answer as he quietly turned around and began to descend the stairs before him.
The sound of the staff clacking against the wooden steps made Orin smile. On this boat you could definitely tell when Brother Thomas was around. He shrugged his shoulders, thought about what the priest had said to him and then after a moment, followed him down the stairs below deck.