Crossing the threshold that divided the Mozob Wastelands and the Galatea Plains brought a cool, crisp breeze across the prow of the airship. Captain Ferasi allowed the clean air to wash over her and clear away the grime and ash of the Wastelands. She watched the sunset across the plains as she turned the ship north to hug the mountain range. Few people lived near this side of the mountains for fear of anything crossing them from the Wastelands beyond.
It gave her a clear path for quite some time before she reached the shipping lanes of the larger cities. The larger cities had numerous freight airships, as well as transports that provided the fastest means of passenger travel.
Captain Ferasi had first made her trade on one of the many shipping companies out of Abydos. She knew their routes and their schedules by the letter. From time to time when she wasn’t working for Lord Malak, she would make a littler extra coin in piracy, thus improving her already dangerous reputation. She looked down at her crimson vest and wiped off what ash was still there collecting among the intricate golden engravings. Her chain whips made of black obsidian were tightly coiled and attached to her belt on either side. Few people in the world knew how to fight with them and even fewer were still alive after Ferasi had found them out.
She smiled as she thought about the last man she had faced. He had only been a student of the arts for little more than a decade. His head had rolled across the cobbled street of Ironmill Sound in just over 2 minutes of their duel. His chain whips along with the other 9 she had taken adorned the wall of her cabin.
Her violet eyes pierced deep into the night as the stars began to unveil. She and her crew had been growing restless for the last several weeks. Everyone else was going off to war, but Lord Malak had kept her ship at bay, waiting for word of those men and his brother. A race had begun, a race for the very blood and soul of Anoria. He had waited for them to make their move and now they had.
It had been some time since she had been back to her birthplace, especially since she had a reward on her head for 10,000 gold pieces and another 25,000 for her ship. The city was guarded by several airships of their own, but nothing that could match the firepower and size of Kraxus. Of course it wasn’t just the size and power of the ship that sent most others fleeing, but her flock of drakes and their riders that were worse.
Ferasi and her own drake had seen several battles themselves. She wasn’t only deadly with her whips but also on her drake as well. She once took out a patrol ship with a crew of forty on her own. She licked her lips and tightened her grip on her whips as she thought about that duel.
Yes, she was ready indeed for Abydos. Her ship had been fitted with the finest and most powerful weapons she could get her hands on, and the drake riders had become masters in their craft, training day and night. Argok, her second in command, had been pushing the crew day and night to get the ship underway and to prepare for attacking the great city, if need be.
“Tristan…” she whispered his name as both a lover and an enemy. She thought about him still from time to time. She could never have Lord Malak, so she had set her sights on his brother when he had arrived all those years ago. She had felt something the moment she had laid eyes on him, and the whole time he was with Lord Malak she had tried to seduce him.
She had come close on several occasions, but he had been too noble, too honorable.
“Eck!!” She spit in disgust. She wanted him in other ways, and she would not be denied. “But you held out didn’t you, Tristan,” she sighed as she thought about him. His face appeared in the veil of stars in front of her as the memories came flooding back. Her heart fluttered, and she licked her lips again as she gazed upon his features. “You had to go and find a higher purpose, misguided as it was.” She closed her eyes and bowed her head, “And then you had to go and marry her.” She yanked the whip on her right hip off, and with a reflex like lightning she snapped the railing into a million pieces. The small cloud of debris hung in the air for a moment before being swept away on the winds.
At least she is dead, and he is free once more, she thought to herself as she heard the boards creak off to the side of her.
“He-he, thinking of him again, aren’t you, mistress?” Argok chuckled as he saw the display of anger while coming up the nearby stairs. He shook his head as his wide girth made each step scream under his weight before coming to a stop at the top of the stairs.
“I told you not to bring that up, or do you wish to see if you can fly?” she mused as she turned to face him. Her right hand snapped the whip once in front of her, the individual chains rattling like a snake.
“You’re the one breaking the ship again, so it’s on you,” he snickered, not flinching as he watched her handy work. “Besides, we both know what this assignment means to you.” He pulled out his battered sword and began to scrape away at the claws of his right hand. His chestnut fur rippled and swayed in the wind. He was one of the only Turoks that actually liked to be on a ship, air or water bound. His troll like physique and his Orcish facial features made even the most battle hardened warrior falter at times.
“Watch it, Second. You are trying my patience.” She rolled the whip back up and turned toward the stars. She bit on her lip in ecstasy for she knew what Argok was talking about. She finally had the chance to get Tristan back, and if he didn’t take her this time, she would make him pay for the pain he had caused her. Yes, she would make him love her or she would make him suffer. Either way, she would get joy out of it in the end.
Seeing her lost in thought, Argok slid his sword away and stepped closer to her. “The crew is ready for inspection, mistress. The drakes are restless. If it pleases you, they could do with some free time in the air,” his deep voice broke the silence like distant thunder. “There are several villages nearby, and we could do with a few more supplies before reaching the shipping lanes.”
“Hmmm? Yes, very well Argok. Let the others know…” She closed her eyes once more and breathed the night air in deeply. “…I will have him this time, Second. Make no mistake in that; this is what I have been waiting for.” She quickly turned to him, his left eyebrow rising in interest. “Be it reclamation of a prize or revenge for a sin, I will see this through to the ends of Anoria.”
“Yes, mistress, your will be done,” he bowed his head before turning and lumbering back down the stairs.
Tristan looked over a number of maps in a large oval room of the monastery. The afternoon’s sun light was beaming through the large stained glass windows on the west wall. Scroll upon scroll lined the other walls from floor to ceiling in this room. Scrolls of historical events, maps of every kind, and scriptural passages that were given to the priests by the Almighty were found here. Tristan sat at a wooden table in the center of the room; its cherry finish glistened in the sun. The legs were ornately carved griffins standing like sentinels as if they were guarding the contents of the table they held up. Tristan rubbed the grit of sleepiness out of his eyes as he flipped back and forth through various papers. He looked over sea charts, caravan routes, and geographical maps of Anoria before and after the Great Cataclysm, the sundering that had taken place inside the cavern between the Eschrehim and Delnok’s forces. He wondered what the world would be like now if the Cataclysm hadn’t caused the Great Dividing, forever changing the shape of the world and the lives of everyone in it.
Tristan smiled as he thought about the lessons that had been thrust upon him by Father Alban what felt like ages ago. After Tristan had left the village and his daughter’s grave behind, he eventually had stumbled upon Father Alban who took him in. For awhile he had stayed at the Sanctuary of Nemalia, living among the priests and monks, learning from them, getting to know them, and helping them with their daily chores. Eventually though, Tristan had sought solitude and didn’t want to put the monastery at risk in case Malak was still looking for him. In the end his little hut had been the beginning of a new life, a new chapter, for him.
His mind began to wonder back to yesterday’s events. Just in one day Father Alban had turned his world upside down. Many questions had been answered about his brother and who he served, but now many more turned up. In a little bit he was leaving for Abydos to meet up with a group of adventurers from Helmcross to search for some sort of lost scrolls. Apparently, his brother was searching for these scrolls, too, throwing everything he had into finding them. Father Alban said they would bring back Delnok, but that made no sense. His brother was not the kind of man to be serving demons. He had honor and integrity; he kept telling himself and the priest that his brother was a good man. He was just being brainwashed or lied to.
He slammed his fist on the table, the loud thud the only sound in the room.
Malak, what are you doing? What have you become? Tristan looked down at his throbbing hand.
He closed his eyes tightly and leaned against the table, I have forgiven you of Bella’s death because I know you are not yourself. I wish we lived in a different world where Bella could have known her uncle.
“Nooooo! Why did this have to happen?” He cried aloud, swiping away the contents of the table.
Scrolls rolled onto the floor scattering this way and that as they bounced along the marble tiles. Tristan collapsed into the chair behind him and hung his head in distress. He leaned on the left armrest holding his head in is his hand as he slowly massaged the temples of his forehead with his fingers. Suddenly sharp pain pierced every fiber of Tristan’s mind, almost shattering the stained glass window that was his memories. Everything twisted and clouded in an immense fog that threatened to flood his brain. Tristan screamed, grasping his head in his hands, as he fell out of the chair to his knees. One by one shards of ethereal glass sliced into his mind, pushed slowly—inch by inch, piece by piece. He cried in agony as he collapsed on the ground, his body trying to protect itself by curling into the fetal position.
A memory he didn’t recognize was forcing its way to the front of all others.
It isn’t allowed…it doesn’t belong… Tristan thought as he tried to focus the images that came crashing down on him like a tidal wave. He was drowning in thoughts and images, things he had never seen before and did not recognize as they mixed with things he did know. Yet as all this was happening, he felt a slight familiarity to them. There was the faintest of recollection pulsing from the roots of the memories. He knew they weren’t his— they couldn’t be—and yet there was a sense of déjà vu. It terrified him at the core as he began to bring the images into unity; the pain dissipating with each connection.
This all happened in a matter of seconds, though it felt like an eternity, until Tristan cleared his mind of all but a single memory. It floated before him in a sea of fog in the shape of a sphere. Light emanated from the globe but got lost in the fog surrounding Tristan. The fog seemed to both lift him up and carry him along as if he were floating in a river. He finally focused on the globe itself as he reached out for it until his fingers glided across the mercurial surface bathed in amber light…
He saw a myriad of stars race across a portal in opaque streams that stretched into oblivion. Shades of black back-dropped the flowing river of light as Tristan stared into its depths; the kaleidoscope display almost mesmerizing. In his peripheral he could see others soaking in the simplistic yet intoxicating view. They were but grey shadows as his vision focused on the portal in front of him. He smiled as he stepped close enough to touch the transparent wall before him. His hand slid across the smooth, liquid-like plane that separated him from the black void beyond. He had been here many times before, soaking up the view, especially when he needed to clear his head of things around him…
With a flash the memory disappeared and the globe disintegrated like sand into the fog around him. The fog itself began to fade from his mind as he slipped back into reality. His eyes fluttered as he tried to clear his vision, sucking in everything around him until he was whole once more. Tristan grabbed hold of the chair arms and pulled himself up until he collapsed into its embrace. His chest heaved relentlessly as he desperately tried to calm his racing heart beat.
What was that? What just happened?
He felt something warm pool inside his ear and slide slowly down his neck. Fearful, he reached up and felt liquid wrap around his fingertips. Pulling his hand back in front of him, he saw that the liquid was his own blood. It didn’t last long, but he pulled out a piece of cloth from his left thigh pocket and daubed up the remnants. He folded the cloth up and tucked it away as he looked around the room. He noticed the mess he had made and winced at the idea of one of the monks walking in on the chaos.
Just then there was a slight knock on the door. Tristan shook his head, and slipping out of the chair on to his knees, he began to pick up the scrolls around him.
“Come in,” he called as he straightened up the papers on the table in front of him.
Brother Cristof flowed silently into the room; his robes never seemed to move when he walked. “It is time, Master Tristan. Father Alban waits for you in his chambers at the top of the east tower.” His voice was slow and methodical.
Tristan remembered a couple of lessons with this guy on history that nearly put him to sleep with that voice. Brother Cristof was a tall but gangly gentleman; he always had his head held high and looked at you as if peering down from the edge of his pointy nose. He was a researcher these days, spending long hours by himself or with his assistant pouring through ancient texts.
“Thank you, Cristof. I will be right there; I just need to grab my things…”
“No need, sir, Father Alban had them brought up before I was called to come and get you. Everything is ready for your departure.” The priest interrupted with some annoyance of being kept from his research. “If you please, sir,” he gestured with his hand toward the door.
Tristan grabbed the maps that he wanted and rolled them up together before turning to the priest, “Again, thank you, Cristof. I guess I will be going then.” He slapped him on the back as he walked by. Cristof was easily agitated, and slapping him on the back was one of the best ways to push his buttons. The priest mumbled under his breath and said a quick prayer to calm his nerves before closing the doors to the scriptorium.
Brother Cristof followed him as far as the hallway that led to the east tower and the long staircase that ascended to its heights. “Godspeed on your quest, Master Tristan.” Brother Cristof turned to leave down the opposite hallway. “I pray for all our souls that you do not fail in your quest,” the priest bowed slightly before continuing back to the labs.
As Brother Cristof walked away, Tristan noticed a small marking on his right wrist, just below the palm of his hand. He didn’t think much of it at the time and instead called after the priest, “Good luck in your research; I know how much your work means to you.” Cristof shot a glance back but kept walking. Tristan smiled as he turned and began the long trek to meet up with Father Alban.
Making his way up the long staircase to Father Alban’s chambers, he thought again about the past few years. Images of his brother teaching him the ways of war, training him to be a knight, and telling him the teachings of the “Master” flooded his mind.
“The ‘Master’—for so long, Brother, you had talked about him, praised him.” Tristan closed his eyes, “Delnok used you, Brother, he got into your heart, and now look what has happened.” He shook his as he continued up the stairs, looking out the occasional window as he walked. From the tower you could see the vast Gulwren Plains spreading out before the base of the mountain to the west. The Kadesh Sea glistened on the horizon to the southwest, and the tops of the Ashevale Grove swayed to the south. The land was indeed beautiful here; all of it gave him peace.
I guess that is why the priests built their sanctuary here. The Almighty definitely knows how to create a view.
He kept walking up the stairs; each step seemed heavier than the last as he thought about what Malak planned to do. Soon the Shadowlords would be attacking the dwarves, trying to make a foothold in the south. He knew Delnok wanted the Gateway Cavern found and excavated; it was key to bringing him back this world. The Shadowlords would have to attack Feyraven Tower first and use that fortress as a base point to launch assaults on the two Dwarven cities, Uruk and Khardazaun. Once Tristan shared his knowledge of Malak’s plans, Alban had immediately sent a messenger to the Dwarven Council in the underground Dwarven capital of Uruk. There, an army would need to be dispatched as quickly as possible if they were going to save Feyraven Tower.
The war would change everything in Anoria. This quest would change everything, and it would change him too.
Was he ready for this? Was he ready for what lay ahead of him?
He rounded the last set of stairs and came to a large marble landing. Before him stood two doors dipped in gold with carvings of various battles. At the top of the doors was a relief of an eagle, its wings spread wide in both directions.
I wonder if this will be the last time I walk through these doors? Even now they take my breath away despite how many times I’ve seen them.
He reached for the silver door handle and knocked on the door. “Father Alban? It’s me, Tristan.”
“Come on in, Tristan,” a solemn voice came from the other side. Tristan could here a rustling sound and something sharp scraping against stone. He edged the door open slowly, not knowing what to expect. The door gave a loud, deep creaking sound as Tristan swung it back against the wall. He scanned the room looking for the priest.
As usual scrolls and ancient books littered the floor and a large stone desk in the middle of the room. Paintings of the Eschrehim, Nemalia, and scenes of the Great Cataclysm adorned several walls. Tristan took a second to soak it all in. He had spent many hours in this room, learning all he could from Father Alban. He remembered how many a time he would just stare past the priest as he talked and drink in the paintings. A pedestal stood before a grand balcony to his left. On it sat the Book of the One, containing all the teachings of the Almighty, Eschua. Beyond that was a sight Tristan was not expecting on the balcony.
Before him stood Father Alban caressing the neck of a large eagle who turned to stare at Tristan. The eagle took up most of the forty-foot wide balcony with clawed feet bigger than a man. The bird’s silver-tipped wings were tucked tightly against its sides until they fluttered at Tristan’s approach.
“Don’t be frightened, Tristan, Armania here, is an old friend.” Father Alban patted its neck and then, walking over to his desk, grabbed a large fish out of a bowl sitting on one side. “I had Brother Maldon grab some fish for me so I could feed her. There you go, old girl.” He tossed it to her and she snapped it in midair, the bones crunching under each bite.
“Nice to know she enjoys seafood, Alban,” he said with a slight smile, still a little nervous around her. The sheer size of the bird sent a chill down his spine. “Umm, Alban, why is Armania here on your balcony?” He stepped over to the desk, keeping the pedestal between him and the eagle.
“Well, Tristan, I thought it was obvious. Armania is taking you to Abydos; she is the quickest and safest way to get there. If you went by horse, it would be weeks, and we don’t have that kind of time.” The priest saw the apprehension in Tristan’s face, “Now don’t worry, she is always careful when she takes on a passenger. I trust her with my life.” Father Alban patted him on the back and then turned and tossed another fish to Armania. She snapped it in half in midair before gulping it down.
“Easy for you to say; you’re not the passenger.” Armania twisted her head, giving Tristan a sideways glance. “How did you two become ‘friends’ anyway?” Tristan noted that his traveling pack and swords were lying against the opposite wall.
“She saved me once, when I was near the Sol’ Natei Woods. I was visiting an old friend in the Elvish city, Instillende Sol, when a very large troll came bounding out of the tree line. She happened to be hunting near that part of the woods and saw the troll charging me down. Next thing I know, she came swooping down out of the sky, speared the troll with her talons, and flew high into the air before dropping his body back down to the ground. Then she came back down and gave me a ride back to the city.” He went back over to pat her on the neck again and rub her feathered side. “Yes, we have seen a great many things, you and I, haven’t we?” The eagle nudged his side, causing him to stumble a few steps back.
“Now, your stuff has been brought up, and I added a few items to your pack. Here, don’t forget this,” he pulled the medallion off his neck and put it over Tristan’s. “This is the key to everything. Without it, you can’t lock the gateway forever. I received a message from Brother Thomas of Helmcross. The group he will be leaving with departs in the morning. They will be in Abydos in a few days.”
Father Alban stood back and took a deep breath, “It’s gonna take them longer since they have to ride horseback through Dushuan before they can pick up an airship in Aldcross. Once they reach Abydos, all of you will find the second scroll and then be on your way. No delays now, because if they haven’t already, the Shadowlords are sure to be on your trail.” Father Alban sighed and looked past Armania out over the Gulwren Plains. Sadness crept into his features. His eyes grew watery, and he quickly wiped them clear.
“Father Alban, are you ok? If it is about me, don’t worry. I am ready for this, ready as I will ever be. You have been a good friend and mentor these last few years.” Tristan grabbed both of the priest’s shoulders and turned him around to see his eyes. “We will prevail. I don’t know how to explain it, but we will get through this. What is it you always say? ‘Keep your head high, your feet in front of you, and your heart safe. When this happens, nothing can defeat you.’ I have put that to practice everyday because of you, and because of that I am a better man. I have even been able to forgive my brother, and I know there is still good him.”
Father Alban smiled a bit at that, “I hope so, Tristan, I hope so. I still worry, because I know that darkness has always been here, around us. It just took a while for it to be bold once more and seek to consume. That is what always happens, either light consumes us or darkness does. Both cannot consume us together; that is why there is always a battle both inside each of us, and around us. Sometimes darkness wins over, and sometimes light does. This time, though, the darkness feels stronger than it ever has. But you are right; I need to listen to my own words once in awhile. Anyways, no more delays, Tristan. It is time for you to go. I must leave soon myself, for I am heading to Othar to speak with the Grand Council. They must be warned; they must prepare all troops. If what you said is true on our ride here, then the Shadowlords will be attacking from many directions, and we must be ready to fight back.”
He walked over and grabbed Tristan’s things and then went over to Armania. Tristan carefully climbed on to the neck of the great eagle. Father Alban had a strap put on earlier to carry Tristan’s things. Carefully, he tied up the packs without hurting Armania. He then walked over and whispered something to the eagle and then stepped back.
“Will I see you again, old friend? Or is this farewell for good?” Tristan asked as he stared at the priest with sorrow-filled eyes.
“In this world or the next my friend, we will see each other again. Only the Almighty knows when that will be. Now remember, Armania is a good flyer, so don’t worry. Remember Tristan, that when you feel darkness closing in and there seems to be no more hope, call out to the Almighty. He will bring light to the darkness—always.”
Father Alban stepped back as Armania stood up and turned on the balcony. Tristan held on tightly to her feathers as she stretched her wings out and fluttered them a little before stretching her neck. Then to Tristan’s horror, she took two steps forward and dove off the edge of the balcony. Just before plummeting into the vineyard below them, Tristan could have sworn he heard Father Alban laughing. Armania turned her wings and pulled up just feet from the tops of the vines, almost causing Tristan to lose his grip as they lurched forward. Monks and visitors ran in every direction trying to get out of the way of the giant bird. Tristan’s stomach lurched this way and that as Armania swooped high up into the sky again, almost level with Alban’s chambers. She glided back and forth looking for the right current, and then finding it, flapped her wings twice for a burst of speed, and they were off.
Flying high above the plains, Tristan tried to make out the features below. Animals roaming the plains were mere specks on the landscape, while trees looked like little green dots swaying back and forth. He closed his eyes trying not to be sick. He had been high up in the mountains before and in the tops of the great trees of the eastern forests, but he had never flown above Anoria. It was a wonderful feeling to see the beauty of all Anoria from up here, but it was also horrifying to know that he had nothing to keep him on Armania’s back except for his grip on her feathers. He decided it was best to try and sleep a while, somehow sensing Armania wouldn’t let him fall. Perhaps after some rest he would have more courage to look out over the landscape. Lying his head down on the soft feathers, he began to think back to times when he played with Bella in the pasture behind their old village, his wife, Lenora, on a stool by their cottage cutting vegetables for supper. The warmth, the peace of that memory as he held onto it, put him into a deep, deep sleep. Hours passed by as his dreams led him to his family and one of two times in his life that he felt joy.
As Armania glided in the direction of Feyraven Tower, the Firestone Mountain Range loomed in the distance. Its red and orange colored rocks gave it a fiery look. To the far south where the mountains ended in the Mozob Wastelands, volcanoes roared and burned. Their fire and smoke blasting forth into the sky robbed the land of any light. Armania turned her attention toward a large shadow crossing the stretch of wastelands far to the south. Like a great black snake, it weaved toward the River of Sorrows. Armania let out an earsplitting screech that jolted Tristan out of his sleep and nearly caused him to slide off of the eagle’s back. Quickly grabbing the feathers, he yelled out over the wind, “What’s going on Armania? I was fast asleep.” Annoyed, he righted himself and looked up toward her great eyes. Armania turned them towards the Wastelands, beckoning him to look toward the ground in the south. Tristan looked toward the dark lands, making out the large mass of shadows creeping across the land. Random glints like starlight in a night sky told Tristan that there was an army down there.
To his horror he realized that his brother must have sent his army out to capture Feyraven. It was earlier than he expected it to happen; Delnok must be growing impatient. They were no more than a few days away from the tower fortress.
“Armania, we must hurry and make it to Feyraven first. They must be warned that the army is closer than expected.” He knew Father Alban had sent messages out to the Dwarves and Feyraven, but it would be too late by the time the Dwarven army organized and marched. Armania let out another screech, and snapping her wings three times, they shot down towards the land, gaining speed. Tristan held on as tightly as he could. The wind sweeping over the eagle’s great body was practically tearing away his hands from her feathers. With all his might he held on as Armania finally straightened out. She constantly beat her wings trying to keep them at a steady but fast speed.