Memories washed over Father Alban as he thought back to when he had first laid eyes on Tristan and thus would forever change the young man’s life.
Father Alban had watched from the shadows as Malak’s forces did a final sweep through the village. He had gotten there too late to help or warn, and for that he cursed himself as he watched the brutal efficiency of the creatures running around. Everyone had either been killed, captured, or run off into the woods. He moved from tree to tree, careful not to give himself away as he made his way closer to the nearest buildings. Flames erupted out of a nearby window, roaring forth and whistling from the straw covered roof. He could hear loud voices from the front of what once had been someone’s home. Peeking around the corner he quickly retreated as he saw Tristan’s back to him no more than a few feet away and Malak on his nightmare not much farther ahead.
Gathering his robes, staff in hand, he crept to the corner once more and peered around. The heat was becoming intense from the burning building, its exterior walls were a mix of stone and mud, but the interior was all straw and timber. The fire, he knew, wouldn’t last too much longer for the roofing timbers were beginning to collapse inside. A girl caught Father Alban’s attention running around the corner of a building farther away. An orc archer chased after her before sliding to a stop and notching an arrow.
“No…” The priest’s hand went to cover his mouth in shock as the arrow lifted the girl into the air and launched her through the doorway of the hut that he was hiding behind. Tristan cried out and ran into the burning rubble after her. Father Alban quickly moved back around the corner of the building, holding back tears as he leaned against the wall for support.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen, not like this,” the priest shook his head as he turned to look skyward. “I have failed, Father. How will he help now that he has lost everything he loves?”
Father Alban bowed his head and prayed silently for some time. From within the doorway Alban could here Tristan whispering to his daughter, her coughing becoming less frequent and even more ragged. After that, all sounds slipped away from him.
The smoke began to seep into his lungs, and he did his best to hold back a cough as he slid toward the corner once more. Peering around the edge, he saw Malak was gone and the orc lay dead, its head resting awkwardly nearby. The flames by now had died down, and only a few intermittent fires still lingered. Hearing soldiers nearby, the priest quickly moved toward the back of the building and looked for a way in. A door on the farthest wall was still accessible, and so he made his way inside. It took him a bit as he quietly picked his way through the smoldering debris and few remnants of the home as he neared a wall close to Tristan and the little girl.
Tristan cried out for help and then, after a long period of silence, rose up in anger screaming for revenge. Father Alban panicked, for if Tristan died now or was taken away by Malak’s forces, all would be lost. The priest, without thinking, stepped around the burnt wall and swung hard, smashing the tip of the staff into Tristan’s forehead, dropping him to the ground. Rendered unconscious, Tristan lay in a heap near his daughter. The priest checked his pulse before moving to the girl.
“Oh, sweet child,” tears rolled down his cheeks, “forgive me for not getting here sooner. A whole life was before you, and because of me…” he wiped his eyes as he looked upon her lifeless form. “I was too late.”
He closed his eyes as he silently cried out to Eschua. He placed a hand on her forehead and began to pray; light emitted from his hand and slid down into her body. “Watch over your father, child, from beyond; he will come back to you one day. I promise.”
Tristan stirred behind him but otherwise lay where he fell. More soldiers voices could be heard coming down a nearby roadway. Father Alban watched them march past the window, never giving the building a second glance as they moved on. “My time is short, Isabella Taurel, and there is much to do to prepare your father. I promise, though, that he will come back to you one day.” He moved away from the girl and turned back to Tristan, looking around the building. Seeing no one else around, he knelt beside Tristan’s head and pulled out a strange but beautiful artifact.
“I am sorry, Tristan, but there is no other way. I have walked the rivers of time forward and backward,” the priest spoke barely above a whisper, “following Eschua’s guidance, and this is the only way to save us all.”
Father Alban cupped the artifact in both hands, its crystalline surface shimmering from blues to reds to greens all along its pyramid like shape. Speaking reverently in the language of the angelic beings, the Eschrehim, the priest lowered the artifact onto Tristan’s forehead. It immediately began to glow a dull white radiance, until it began pulsating, each pulse brightening the light until the priest feared that someone would see it from outside. A slight breeze picked up, stirring the smoke into a stream that glided around the building before seeping into the top point of the pyramid. Tristan’s body rose up and gasped, though his eyes remained shut, as Father Alban saw a light shimmering behind his eyelids before dying away. Tristan’s body came to rest as the light died back down and the priest gave a great sigh of relief.
“It will take time for the process to complete, and in truth, my friend, you won’t know what is going on until after some time has passed.” Father Alban placed the artifact back inside his robes. “Know this, son; what you will experience is nightmares, visions, even voices at times that will shake the foundations of who you are.” Alban closed his eyes for a moment as he thought about what would come about down the road when Tristan finally learned what the priest did to him.
“Learn from these things; don’t shy or run from them,” he laid his hand on the man’s forehead, “especially when the voices begin. Don’t push them aside; there is wisdom there that is paramount.”
Grabbing hold of the burnt wall nearby, he tested its strength. Giving easily in his hands, swaying side to side, Father Alban pushed with all his weight and laid the wall down over top of Tristan and Isabella. It was enough to hide their bodies as the building smoldered around them.
Satisfied, Father Alban moved to the doorway, peeking out as he listened to his surroundings. A patrol was coming through the smoked-fill square, causing the priest to jump back and lean against the wall. Once they passed, he slipped quietly into the night.
In the opening of a window stood a lonely figure, shadowed in thought, watching the workings of his minions far below him at the base of his fortress. Soldiers they were, each doing their own thing, nothing out of control and yet they were preparing for battle in a sort of chaotic fashion. Goblins riding strange beasts jousted with each other, humans and orcs bashed in practice dummies with all sorts of weapons, other soldiers fired volley upon volley of fiery arrows toward bales of hay, screaming and crackling under the fearsome heat of the fire. Troops stood in line gathering weapons and armor and began to form into regiments behind the others already assembled. Human cavalry on Nightmares gathered into formations while trolls brought siege weapons forward into groups. Great demonic creatures stood at the head of many of the regiments, barking orders and beating others into formation. All this happened as the preparing army waited for the order to march off.
The dark figure looked out beyond this chaotic form towards the already growing number of soldiers ready for battle. A trumpet sounded somewhere in the fortress and the whole army turned in unison toward the towering structure with a thundering stance. Silence set in as the chaos subsided and every soldier and worker looked up toward the small window at the top of the fortress. The man just stared at the multitude before him as if judging the stature and readiness of his army. His gaze pulled away from them as he looked off in the distance at the ashen clouds over the mountain peaks. Thoughts and images rushed past his conscious state as he closed his eyes. Waving them aside with his mind, he stepped away from the windowsill, that movement signaling the army to begin their march into the stormy horizon beyond.
Candles flickered violently as Malak paced back and forth in his chambers. The images had returned to him again, images he wanted to forget.
Images of betrayal, hate, bloodshed…
They ate at his consciousness bit by bit.
Why did this have to happen? Why on the eve of war did this happen?
Brother, you have forsaken everything we built, everything we fought for.
Brother you have forsaken me, betrayed me.
Footsteps echoed beyond the chamber doors as a little sniveling man hiked up the endless tower stairs, the wind howling past him and down over the steps. Huffing and puffing, the little man stopped at a landing where two hulking guards glared down at him, moving their halberds away from the oaken doors. The little hunkering man, Cerius, knocked lightly on the door and then quietly stepped in. Malak did not turn as he slunk into the chambers; instead Malak stopped by his desk and looked down at some maps. Cerius took a quick look around the room, admiring his Master’s trophies and weaponry before moving farther into the room. He stopped a good distance from his Master; he knew not to be too close in case his Master’s temper flared up.
“Lord Malak, your armies have begun their march for the eastern borders,” Cerius hobbled closer to his master. “They should reach the River of Sorrows in a week, Master.”
Malak looked up with malice, “NO! It must be sooner; we must make haste.” He pounded the desk, “I don’t care what it takes, how many lives are lost, just get them there in 3 days.”
Cerius gasped at the time constraint, “My Lord, it can’t be…” He stopped in mid sentence as Malak slammed a knife into the desk down to its hilt. Recovering quickly, “It will be done, my Lord.”
Malak continued to look at the map, studying it as he slid his fingers across the tattered papers.
Suddenly pain began to rush through his body and up into his head. It was pounding so hard he felt like he was going to explode from the inside out. He fell backward into his chair, grasping his head on both sides. Darkness washed over him, causing him to spasm and wretch. Cerius felt the dark presence fill the room as the lights dimmed and turned a sickly green. Cowering in a corner, Cerius hid his face from the evil that had enveloped his master’s study. Gripping the desk and his head Malak cried out, “Master, please take the pain away! It is unbearable!” The veins under his skin turned purple under the pressure and pulsated with each wave of pain.
“Your emotions are clouding your judgment again, Malak.”
The voice seeped into his veins, boiling his blood and contracting his muscles.
“Your thoughts return to your brother. If you had killed him like I told you to, you would not be punished like this.”
Again the darkness reached out and caused Malak more pain.
“He knows too much and now that Priest of Light, Alban, is sending him after the scrolls. As we speak, he is preparing to leave for Abydos.”
The deep, foreboding voice boomed in his head like a sledgehammer hitting stone.
“Lord Delnok, please, I have done everything I could to find my brother again. He disappeared into the wilderness. My men have searched everywhere for over a year now. But I will not fail you again, Master. My army is already on the march to Feyraven Tower.” The pain subsided a little but did not let up. Malak grabbed the edge of the table with his left hand to steady himself.
“That army must take the fortress in order to attack the dwarves, but you must also send a separate force to Abydos to intercept your brother. One of my spies in Nemalia tells me that he is meeting up with a group of warriors from Helmcross. They search for the scrolls, too; they must not get them all. Eesakar, the black dragon, will send his forces to the tower from the east to ensure Feyraven’s capture.”
The pain increased again as his Master’s voice grew louder and angrier. Malak fell to his knees on the floor as he grasped his head once more. “Yeess, Master. I will do what you ask…agghhhh!!!! Please Master, I will not fail you again. I will send the drakes out. They will destroy the group and anyone in their way.”
“If you fail me again, you will know no bounds to the greatness of the pain.”
Sickly green light engulfed Malak, and the skin on his hands began to burn and boil. Acidic smoke filtered into the air from his wounds and Malak looked on in agony and horror.
“Finding the scrolls is your priority now. Let the dragons and the other Shadowlords wage war on the ‘Free Races’. The Dark Messenger that has gone with your armies will take care of the fortress while the others will keep the Anorians distracted while you search for the scrolls.”
The burning stopped but the pain did not. Malak let out a silent cry, half from the relief of a slight reprieve from the burning and half from the agony of continued pain.
“Find them quickly. A priest from Helmcross travels with the warriors, and he has the first scroll. I sent a rogue to spy on their movements, but be careful with the priest. His god has blessed him with great powers.”
The darkness began to wither away from the room.
“Find them in Abydos; my spy says that is where the next scroll is… Now I must attend to other business.”
As quickly as the darkness had come, it ended. Silence filled the room as Malak slowly rose to the chair. His head screamed from the pain as he looked down at his scarred hands.
“Cerius…” he gasped as he stared, red-eyed, at his hands, “change of plans.” His pain and anger-filled pupils bore into the sniveling little weasel. He quickly regained his strength and charged toward the door. Slamming it wide open, he crushed one of the guards into the wall. But addressing the other, he commanded, “Send word to Captain Ferasi of the Kraxus. I have a mission for her.” Malak’s eyes burned into the heart of the standing guard. “Move, now! I want the Kraxus in the air immediately.” With that he slammed the door shut, and the guard who had been pinned behind it slid down the wall. His head hit the stone floor with a loud thud. The other soldier didn’t waste time and quickly ran down the steps.
Tristan again looked at his friend from across the table; he could tell something was troubling him. Putting his glass down, he reached over and tugged on Alban’s sleeve. “Father Alban…Alban, wake up!” Tristan called still tugging on his cloak.
“Huh? What?” Alban said turning around to face Tristan who had a concerned look on his face. “Oh, I’m sorry my friend.” Alban paused for a moment and then continued, “Forgive me, Tristan, I guess I was just thinking about something.” Alban finished his drink and put the glass down without letting go. Tristan sat back and put his glass down as well, studying Alban for a moment.
“What’s wrong?” the young man finally asked. “We have been friends for some time now. You can tell me anything.” Tristan smiled at his friend, and then leaning forward in his chair, he moved the glass aside.
“Well, I don’t know how to tell you this. Tristan, I have kept something from you for some time now,” Alban responded, seeing that his friend wouldn’t give up on him. Reaching behind his neck, he undid the clasp on the chain he was wearing, a silver medallion with a golden eagle chasing a golden dragon on it, and turned it slowly back and forth. He held it up to the light for a moment and then handed it to Tristan. “What do you see on the medallion, Tristan?” Alban leaned forward waiting for a reply. Tristan looked it over for a moment, turning it over and studying it for a while. He had seen it before many times, Alban always wore it wherever he went. A gold-covered eagle swooped around the left side chasing a gold-covered dragon swooping around the right side of the medallion. In the center of the medallion stood an ornately carved door with markings all over it, and three temples surrounded the door, each with a beam of light striking the door.
Tristan shrugged, “Just a detailed medallion that you never go anywhere without.”
“The eagle and the dragon represent the war between good and evil. The door in the center is the gateway to the Realm of Darkness.” Alban never took his gaze from Tristan’s eyes, watching his reactions to what he said. “The gateway is the key to allowing Delnok and his minions back into this world.”
Tristan stared at the medallion for a bit and then laid it down on the table, digesting what the old man said. He remembered the stories of Delnok, of the Great Dividing, and the Angel of Healing, Nemalia, sacrificing herself. But he thought they were just legend, stories from long ago told to children as bedtime stories. “I have seen this before and heard the stories, but what does it have to do with you?” Puzzled, Tristan waited for Alban to continue.
“Delnok waits in the Realm of Darkness, biding his time and seeking out people here to do his work and to release him,” Alban finally replied taking back the medallion. “This piece is the key to opening the Gateway once more and allowing Delnok to return. His legions search for it relentlessly across the lands. You know them as the Shadowlords and their armies of orc, goblins, trolls, and other fiends.”
Shadowlords? His brother was called a Shadowlord by the dark acolytes that spoke with the ancient one.
Tristan pondered it all, Is the ancient one that his brother served, this Delnok?
“How do you know all of this Alban? Where did you get the medallion?” Finally Tristan responded. He poured himself another drink and sat back trying to go over everything in his mind. Alban placed the medallion back around his neck as he looked over the valley below them stretching out in a sea of green.
I might as well tell him, it has everything to do with him, and he has a right to know.
Alban looked back at Tristan and thought for a minute on how best to tell him the whole story. “How well do you know the story about how Nemalia, Angel of Healing, part of the Eschrehim, sacrificed herself out of sorrow for her brethren lost to her?” Alban refilled his glass as well and sat back waiting for Tristan to think it over.
“I don’t know a whole lot about the story, just the things I have heard from you over the last year.” Tristan shrugged as he leaned his head forward to scratch a spot that had been bugging him for a while. “Let me see, Nemalia is an Eschrehim, a winged being from the Realm of Light. She, in particular, was the Angel of Healing; she passed over the wounded healing them and sending them back into battle.” Alban nodded and waited for Tristan to continue. “She also helped lead the armies in the War of Sorrows on the plains of what is now the Mozob Wastelands, during which time a great explosion, known as the Great Cataclysm, erupted from the Firestone Mountains sending Delnok and his minions to the Realm of Darkness and the Eschrehim back to the Realm of Light.” Tristan saw the confirmation in the old man’s eyes, so he continued to recall the legend. “Well, seeing the Eschrehim torn from their physical forms during the Cataclysm, Nemalia sacrificed herself in an explosion of sorrow, causing the Great Dividing that ripped asunder the lands. Then, the war ended with the Dragon Mozob and his army chasing everyone out of the resulting wastelands and claiming that territory as his own.” Tristan smirked as he realized he hadn’t slept through every one of Alban’s lessons.
“Not bad young man, not bad,” Alban bowed with a smile. “I guess you didn’t sleep through every one of my lessons after all.” He chuckled at Tristan’s expression. Pushing back from the table, he rose to his feet and rubbed his right leg. “This old thing still gives me quite a bit of grief at times, you know?” He grabbed his staff and began making his way toward the cart and Joulin. Tristan, just as confused as ever, put his cup down and followed the old man.
“Wait, Alban, what is going on? Why did you show me the medallion and ask me about it?” Reaching the old man he put his hand gently, but firmly, on his shoulder. The old man slowly turned and looked into Tristan’s eyes, staring into them as if he were looking right into his soul. Tristan could see a deep sadness in the old man’s eyes. He stumbled back at this; he had never seen Alban like this before. “What is going on my friend? What is it that you are not telling?” Tristan asked more gently after seeing the change in the old man.
Alban just stared at him for a moment, reminiscing over the time he had spent with this young man before him. The task that the Almighty had shown him in a vision could very well take Tristan’s life. The vision had come to him last night in his sleep. The images of the Realm of Darkness and the Realm of Light were still locked into his mind so vividly, as if he were still there. A war has been raging between the forces of Good and Evil, and now it had come back to this land. It would consume everyone and everything; of this, Alban had no doubt. He had seen the visions of time and knew them to be true. In a small corner of his soul, he wished it wouldn’t happen yet. But those thoughts were folly, and he knew what must be done. If his god, the Almighty Eschua, gave him a vision, he would follow it without hesitation. Time could be his ally and his enemy; that he knew too well.
“Tristan, I need you to come back to the Sanctuary with me; there is a lot you do not know and little time to explain.” Alban turned back to the wagon and walked over to pet Joulin. “Eschua gave me a vision last night and it involves all of us.” He stroked the long hairs of the horse’s mane, pulling out fallen leaves and brushing away dust from the road. He turned back to Tristan who stood waiting to hear what he had to say. “A war is coming, my friend, a war that will decide the fate of us all. It involves you, me, your brother…and many others.” Tristan’s left eyebrow raised at the mention of his brother. “Right now though, I need you to grab your things and return with me to the monastery. You have a long road ahead of you, and I need to prepare you the best I can. I will explain more when we get to the Sanctuary.” Alban turned once more back to the cart and, laying his staff in the back, he slowly climbed up onto the seat and grabbed the reins.
Tristan watched the man for a bit, his mind spinning at the news he was given.
What could possibly involve everyone?
What war is coming?
There has been peace among the people for a few centuries now. I don’t know what to think, but if Alban is this shook up about it, then I better do as he says.
Tristan turned and trotted back into his cottage and began rummaging around for stuff. Ten minutes later, he came out in a traveling cloak, with two swords strapped to his back and two bundles, one under each arm, with him. Tossing the bundles in the back of the cart, Tristan then plopped down on the edge of the wagon, letting his legs dangle over the side. The old man whistled at Joulin and snapped the reins, leading the horse into a steady trot back down the road. Tristan wondered if he would ever see the cottage again as he watched it sink slowly behind a hill they were passing over. A wisp of smoke still lingered around the chimney from breakfast that morning. He watched as it danced lazily back and forth in the wind. And then, just like the cottage, it vanished from sight as well.