The Scroll of New Beginnings

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Chapter 4

Some time earlier that day…

High above the courtyard of her father’s castle, a young woman with long chestnut hair breathed in deeply the valley’s air. Her eyes closed tight as her head pointed toward the heavens. The air smelt better at this height than any other spot in the valley. She never tired of it; it was like a wave of energy flowing over her. Try as she might, her mother did her best to hide the seasoned skin and athletic build of her daughter but to no avail. The young lady spent most of her days outside in the valley or on the occasional adventure with her father and his friends. Her uncle and father had spent many years teaching her how to fight and find her way in the wilds of Anoria. She knew for a time her father had secretly wanted a son, but time and again she has proven herself worthy.

A wind picked up messing with her hair and causing her robes to swing lazily around her. She wore emerald green robes trimmed in gold, just like the mithral armor she wore on adventures that adorned a stand across the room. The armor had been a gift from her father from his last trip to the Dwarven city of Uruk. The young lady, Merwenna Greystoke, princess and daughter of Lord Orin and Lady Alicia Greystoke, leaned over the balcony rail of her chambers and looked down upon two figures marching through the gates of the castle walls. The smaller of the two she knew right away was her father’s oldest friend, a dwarf named Halfgrim Axethrower. He tried to wave at each of the guards as he did his best to keep up with the brisk walk of the taller figure. She noted his pack sliding to the side once in a while and giggled at the scene. Halfgrim’s backpack never fit him right and she tried to get him a new one but he stood his ground and always said no. He said it was his lucky pack; it was almost as old as he was. How it was lucky was beyond her, since there were holes and tears all over the ratty bag. She smiled as a memory came to mind of when she was only 5 years old. Halfgrim would toss her on his shoulders and skip around the courtyard like a pony and she would laugh and giggle. Like her uncle Berwyn and Brother Thomas, Halfgrim had been an important mentor to her growing up.

Merwenna looked back at the two now crossing the courtyard and she realized the taller, robed figure was Brother Thomas.

Brother Thomas is back from his trip, she thought to herself, Halfgrim isn’t smiling behind him, something must be wrong. She grabbed the edges of her robes, lifting them a little so as not to trip, and quickly turned and hurried across the room. As she reached out for the handle on the door, there was a soft knock from the other side, startling her.

“Princess Merwenna, Lord and Lady Greystoke request your presence in the main hall.” Cristiana, her personal body guard called from the other side of the door. Merwenna opened the door swiftly, startling Cristiana, whose eyes went big. The princess smiled at Cristiana as she closed the door behind her while stepping onto the landing in the stairwell.

“I was just coming down Cristiana; I saw Halfgrim and Brother Thomas from the balcony.” She quickly said as she grabbed Cristiana by the arm and pulled her along as she made her way down the stairs. Skipping every other step as she went, she finally let go of Cristiana’s arm and concentrated on keeping her balance. Her body guard quickened her step to keep up with her. Her armored boots clanked through the stairwell with each step. She wore a light half-chain, half-leather suit of armor. The metal pieces were made of gold and the leather was dyed a forest green with golden vines weaving around the outfit. She carried a short bow with 10 arrows wrapped around it, and a short sword strapped to her back.

“My lady, please slow down, you might trip on your robes,” she huffed sarcastically as she followed her to the bottom of the stairs and down the hall toward the east end of the keep where the main hall was.

“Nonsense Cristiana, you know me better than that, I could run from here to Dushuan in a dress and it would phase me,” She replied nonchalantly, not taking the bait.

“Your mother wouldn’t approve of you running through the keep, you’re a lady of the court and princess of Helmcross,” Cristiana chided with a smirk on her face as they rounded the last corner of the hallway leading to the main hall. Up ahead were two massive oak doors, each with a carved relief of battle scenes from the War of the Black Serpent. Merwenna’s ancestors fought in the war to protect this valley and the only pass over the mountains. Ever since then it has been her family ruling the town and guarding the mountain pass. They came to a stop next to the doors, hearing muffled voices on the other side.

“Figures, it sounds like I am the last one to get here again, everyone seems to be inside already.” She straightened out the ruffles in her robes from her journey down the stairs. She checked her hair in a mirror on the wall behind a small table with flowers on it in the hallway. “Ok, how do I look Cristiana? Good enough for the people of the court?” she smiled as she spun around and then started off into a graceful stride to the doors.

“You look wonderful my lady, as usual,” Cristiana turned and opened the door for Merwenna. The princess walked into the massive throne room where her mother and father dealt with issues of the court, both local and abroad with the people. Cristiana closed the door quietly behind them and followed Merwenna 5 paces behind her keeping an ever watchful eye. Ahead of them, in the center wall of the room sat Lord and Lady Alicia on their thrones high up on a grand pedestal. To the side of Lord Orin leaned Berwyn the Carver, Lord Orin’s brother. They were deep in conversation under hushed tones while Lady Alicia chatted with Father Tillman the head priest of the Hammerfell Chapel here in the keep. Berwyn and Lord Orin were both large men, seasoned from fighting and living in the mountains. They wore light mithral armor with animal skins over top. Berwyn had two short, curved blades strapped to his back, and a long scar down his left arm. Lord Orin wore an emerald crested gold crown on his brow and had a large shield and broadsword strapped to his back. A large mithral axe with blue stoned carvings all over it leaned against his throne seat. Lady Alicia sat in a red satin long dress with golden vines sweeping across the sides. Father Tillman was adorned in a silver priestly robe with crimson trimming on the arms and legs. They whispered amongst themselves waiting for all attendants to arise.

Lord Orin looked up to see his daughter strolling toward them. “Daughter, you have arrived at last,” he pulled back his royal robe as he made his way down the steps to his daughter. Arms wide he enveloped her in a mass of flesh and furs, lifting her off the floor. “What took you so long my dear?” he chuckled, knowing full well she had run down the stairs like she always did when he called her to the main hall.

She slapped his chest in mock astonishment. “Father please, I would never do such a thing,” she looked past her father to see her mother’s frown, “it’s not lady like, mother would not approve.” They both laughed together and then hugged again.

Cristiana stepped to the side while they talked catching a glimpse over Lord Orin’s shoulder at Berwyn who winked from where he stood next to the throne. She winked back and then straightened her poster as Lord Orin stood back and looked her way.

“I thought Cristiana you were to keep her in line? Hmmm,” Lord Orin smiled at her while putting his hands on his hips.

“If I may speak freely, sir?” she smiled back while still standing straight. Lord Orin’s grin got even bigger, if that were even possible.

“You may Cristiana, I always welcome your advice when it comes to my daughter,” he replied while glancing back at the others who were now listening intently.

“Your daughter is impossible to turn into a lady, her spirit is too wild. Like these mountains, she is untamable,” she glanced around at everyone while keeping her posture, and waited for the inevitable retort. But it didn’t come.

Lord Orin stood for a moment and then looked back at his wife. “You know, Alicia, my queen, I think that is the most profound thing I have heard about our daughter,” he waited for her reply. Lady Alicia contemplated everything for a moment and then, resignedly, she nodded in agreement. Lord Orin turned back to the two young ladies, a large grin across his face once more. “Indeed, you have described our daughter perfectly.”

He bowed to Cristiana in admiration and then grabbed his daughter’s right hand gently. “Come dear, I am sure you are wondering why you were called down here. I know you have many questions but please hold them for now.”

They strolled up towards her mother as he whispered things into her ear, making her giggle at times. Lady Alicia and Father Tillman returned to their whispered conversation as well. Father Tillman bowed as Merwenna and her father climbed the steps to Lord Orin’s throne where he sat down once more.

Berwyn came over to Merwenna with a big smile on his face and giving her a big bear hug, he lifted her off her feet. They both laughed and talked quietly before Lord Orin beckoned Merwenna to his side. “My dear, I have received some troubling news just moments ago before you came in,” his voice was low but strong and steady. “Father Tillman has been hiding something of great value here in Helmcross for many years now. He kept it a secret from all of us, and though normally I do not tolerate deception amongst my ranks, he had good reason to hide this.”

Merwenna looked up toward Father Tillman to see him watching her, as if searching for answers amongst her features. “He has in his possession, a scroll, not just any scroll but a scroll that holds many secrets and great power within its words.” Lord Orin turned to Father Tillman for a second; the priest nodded his head for him to continue. “The scroll is one of 7 scrolls; they each continue a section of the history of Anoria.”

Merwenna was confused, “What is so big about that, in many scriptoriums and libraries there are scrolls about our history father, what is so special about these scrolls?” she shook her head, “Father, what is this scroll? Father Tillman what do you possession that would cause you to deceive my father, to deceive all of us?” She crossed her arms as she looked at Father Tillman.

Ever since she was a little girl he had taught her how to read and write, taught her about the world, about the Almighty’s teachings, and even trained her in some of the Blessings of the Almighty. With devoted concentration she could cure light to moderate wounds on a person. Through song with the help of Father Tillman, and Diana the local bard, for the music, she could inspire hope in those around her during battle. She felt betrayed at that moment, as if she could never trust the priest again. Not only had he lied to her father, but he had lied to her. She had come to him over the years with many questions and problems and now, now she didn’t know what to think, she didn’t know how to feel. “I don’t understand, what would cause you to lie to us for all these years?”

Father Tillman’s heart ached with each word she had said to him. He loved Merwenna like a daughter; he had taught her and guided her through so many things over the years. The last thing he wanted to do was to betray her trust. “You must understand Merwenna; I was sworn to secrecy about what I possessed. My devotion to your father is only succeeded by my devotion to the Almighty, you know this,” he straightened his posture and took a few steps toward her. “This scroll, this secret, has been past down from one priest to the next all the way back to when the Sanctuary of Nemalia was first built on the tip of the Southern Reach.” He looked into her eyes as he cupped both of her hands in his. “Please Merwenna you must believe me, I had no choice, The Almighty commanded it of me and my devotion to him has never wavered, you know this yourself.”

Merwenna looked into his eyes for the truth, and she found it, there, deep in his eyes where she always seemed to find the truth of what he told her. “I believe you Father Tillman, but what is important about this scroll of history, what is different then any other scroll about the history of Anoria?” She smiled at him to reassure him that she believed him but she was still confused about the scroll.

“This scroll and the others that it belongs with, tell not only the history of Anoria that we know, but the complete history.” He cleared his throat and then continued, “There are parts of our history that if people knew about it they could use that knowledge for power. And in the wrong hands, that power can bring great pain and suffering to the lands.” Father Tillman let go of her hands and looked up at the arched ceiling high above them for a moment.

Through the small windows near the top of the timbered roof, the sunlight filtered through casting shadows in every direction as it past over the support beams and columns that held the great stone and timber roof above them. He looked back at Merwenna and the others, “Part of the history that was left out was the location of the 3 temples of Delnok, and do you remember them in your studies Merwenna?” He watched as she thought over the question for a moment. He stroked his short, snowy beard, it itched his skin a little just under his chin. It always seemed to itch more there, especially the older he got.

Merwenna contemplated the question for a moment. She remembered the lessons about the war on the plains of the, now, Mozob Wastelands. She remembered that the Eschrehim had chased Delnok and most of the demon minions back to the Gateway Cavern. It was there that is was believed to be the gateway to the Realm of Darkness. “Let’s see, during the fight between the Eschrehim and Delnok and his minions, Delnok was wounded and with the help of his dark acolyte priests, the gateway was opened. Unfortunately the power was too great and Delnok and his minions were trapped in the Realm of Darkness. The Eschrehim were torn from their physical bodies and sent back to the Realm of Light and the ensuing explosion destroyed the cavern and it was believed that the 3 temples were destroyed.” A little smirk appeared across her face as she was proud of the fact that she had paid attention. She saw that her mother, who remained quiet with here hands crossed on her lap, nodded in approval.

“You are right that the temples were destroyed, for the most part anyways. The chambers in which each of the keyholes was located to protect the gateway remained intact. The ruins of the temples and the chambers were cast to the far reaches of the known world of Anoria. Like the Lost Scrolls of Anoria, their locations were kept secret. You see each scroll contains a new piece of history that was untold, including the location of the next scroll. However, a few of them also contain the locations of the 3 temples.” Father Tillman felt a little chill each time he talked about the temples. He hated the mention of or even thought of those demonic buildings.

Each one was devoted to the pain, suffering, and everlasting torment that Delnok and his followers brought to the races of Anoria. “If Delnok’s followers got hold of these scrolls and the locations of the temples, they could release Delnok back into our world along with his demonic soldiers.” Brother Tillman breathed deeply as he watched the horror grow in Merwenna’s crystal blue eyes. He noted also the sorrow that crept back into the features of Lord Orin, Berwyn, and Lady Alicia. They all wanted only peace to be in Merwenna’s life but they knew it wouldn’t last forever. Rumors of great bands of orcs, goblins, and trolls coming out of the dark places of the Reaches had come to them through merchant stories down at the Scarlet Bard Tavern.

Other creatures were rumored to have been seen, winged demons that look like small dragons with knights in dark armor riding their backs. Rumors of giants, abominations, and other nightmarish creatures swarming out of the Mozob wastelands had also been talked about. But the most disturbing news is that of these “Shadowlords” that seem to be gathering all manner of dark forces to them and creating armies. No confirmation from Commandeer General Vaelas Krin had reached them yet of these rumors but they knew that his soldiers were looking into it. General Vaelas Krin of the Royal Army had a large number of soldiers across the lands. Every man that was labeled a soldier had spent years at the academy in Folkstone before being given a post to be stationed at. Helmcross had about 100 soldiers, but the rest were rangers and mercenaries that manned the walls around the valley.

A knock on the massive doors at the front of the hall, jolted everyone back to reality. Cristiana marched quickly to the door, keeping her right hand near her sword. “Who is it?” She reached for the great brass ring on the door but waited for a reply.

“It is Mariana and Timothy, escorting Brother Thomas and Halfgrim Axethrower to see Lord Orin.” Mariana was Lady Alicia’s body guard and personal escort around Anoria. Lady Alicia had sent her to meet their two friends at the steps of the keep.

Timothy was Lady Alicia’s personal squire and errand boy. 5 years ago, Lady Alicia’s convoy on their way to Green Burrows had found him unconscious by the side of the road. Alicia had spent the next few weeks caring for him and with the help of Father Tillman, healing his wounds. They found out later, that a band of goblins had attacked his family’s wagon on the way to Helmcross. Only he had survived, and so Lady Alicia took him in and basically adopted him. Ever since then he has been in the service of a squire learning the ways of a knight, running errands, and learning to read and write from Father Tillman.

Cristiana took hold of the great brass ring and pulled back heavily on the door. A deep, moaning sound came from the hinges as the massive oak door crept back toward the wall. Mariana marched in wearing a similar half chain half leather suit of armor. The difference was that it was dyed crimson red with golden vines creeping and wrapping their way around her body. As she walked the golden hilt of her scimitar bounced with each step and her short bow swayed with each stride. Her cold, calculating eyes swept the room, checking every shadow, and every corner as she walked to the final column in front of the thrones. There she stopped, bowed and turned to face the opposite column and waited for her next order.

Timothy walked briskly trying to keep from running, as he entered the great hall next. Father Tillman and Mariana spent hours each day, teaching the proper way to address Lord and Lady Greystoke as well as the ways of the court. His sandy hair swept back and forth over his brow as he took each stride. He constantly bit his lip when ever he came into the great hall. A frown and cold look from Mariana stopped that in an instant. He concentrated instead on Lady Alicia’s warm face. A small smile appeared across her face, and she nodded at him as he stopped at the column opposite Mariana. He bowed and then turned to face Mariana, trying not to look into her cold eyes. Why Lady Alicia had her as a body guard and assistant, Timothy never knew. Mariana was always cold and straight forward. Her words didn’t seem to have any feeling in them. Unlike Lady Alicia, who was kind and warm hearted. She was very lady like and always tried to act proper in the matters of the court.

Timothy learned from Father Tillman that Lady Alicia had come from a prominent family in the Royal City of Othar. Everything had to been done properly, from entering and exiting the great hall to saying hello and goodbye to someone. She had a way of doing everything. “Uncle” Berwyn said that she came from a ‘classy’ background, what ever that meant He just knew that he loved her like a mother ever since she had taken him in. He did everything she told him with out question. He shot a quick glance up at Lady Alicia, smiled and then quickly looked back to Mariana, who frowned again.

Cristiana came next, she marched over to the column beside Mariana’s and stood facing the opposite one as Brother Thomas and Halfgrim hurried into the hall. Brother Thomas walked briskly between the columns, his staff clanking with each tap on the cold stone floors. Halfgrim hurried behind him, constantly pushing his pack around on his back. Brother Thomas could see the surprise in everyone’s face as he broke the rules of etiquette that Lady Alicia had ordered everyone to follow.

“Forgive me for not properly entering the hall but I have a matter of great importance to discuss with you all,” he stopped before the thrones and bowed swiftly.

“As do we have something to discuss with you as well, Brother Thomas, but please, what is so urgent?” Lord Orin leaned forward on his throne scratching his chin. Berwyn crossed his arms and stood behind his brother’s left side. Merwenna stood on her father’s right side, her left hand resting on the back of his throne.

“Thank you, my lord. You know that I have been away on business far in the south at the Sanctuary of Nemalia. A month ago, I had a disturbing series of dreams, visions I believe from the Almighty. I believe them to be warnings of things to come in our near future.” He cleared his throat and leaned against the staff. “I immediately told Father Tillman and Lord Orin, and they agreed that I should go to the Sanctuary and seek guidance and answers from Father Alban and the scriptorium they have there.” Merwenna glanced over to Father Tillman to see him nodding in agreement. Again with the secrets, father never said anything about why Brother Thomas had left. “Well, I have found my answers and have returned as quickly as I could. Last night I told Father Tillman everything that I had learned and he finally told me of the scrolls. Afterward, last night, I had another vision from The Father. He wanted me to take this staff to Halfgrim, to prepare it for a blessing that Halfgrim witnessed just a little while ago in the forges.” Brother Thomas turned and winked at the dwarf.

A blessing?! Ha! That blessing nearly tore down the whole forge underneath the keep.” Halfgrim growled, but held his tongue in check from other words he wanted to say. “Sorry Brother Thomas, you know I respect your faith in the Almighty, and I have my respect for the big guy upstairs too, but my forge is a mess right now.” Both priests frowned at him and he shut up then, allowing Brother Thomas to continue.

“As I was saying, the Father has blessed this staff with great powers, because it will be needed in the upcoming quest we must go on, and eventually for the war that is brewing across Anoria.” Brother Thomas looked at everyone’s faces as he talked. All of them listened intently, though he could tell Lady Alicia was still upset about his ill ‘mannered entrance into the hall.

“Wait, wait, wait. What quest? What war? Brother Thomas you are not making any sense.” Lord Orin stood up, confused and a little frustrated, and walked down the steps to Brother Thomas.

“Lord Orin if you please let me explain,” Father Tillman raised his hand as he walked over to the two men.

“Alright then Father, explain to us all what your scroll, this staff, and Brother Thomas’ visions have to do with each other.” Lord Orin crossed his arms as he waited for the priest to gather his thoughts.

“Thank you, my lord,” he quickly sorted through everything and then continued, “like I said before, the scrolls contain great information, and with that information comes great power and responsibility over how to use it. Now I have the first scroll, and it is written in the language of the Eschrehim. Now I have some knowledge of the language of the angelic servants of the Almighty but it was Brother Thomas who, fluent in the language, was able to decipher the scroll. He learned that the next scroll is in Abydos at the university being kept hidden by a professor of lore.”

Father Tillman looked to Brother Thomas for confirmation, who in turn nodded in agreement. “Brother Thomas was given a series of visions from the Almighty, and through them I have been able to discover that the dark lord, Delnok, has been communing with some of his acolytes. They in turn have brought forth these “Shadowlords” we have heard rumors about lately. They have been building fortresses in remote places around Anoria and have been raising armies. These are not just petty squabbles of orcs and goblins, but large battalions of all manner of Delnok’s minions. Even new creatures have arisen in these past few years. Horses covered in fire, all manner of abominations, and even small versions of the mighty dragons.” Father Tillman watched the emotions on each and every one of their faces, Timothy was terrified but the priest was impressed that he held his composure well.

Sorrow could be seen welling up in Lady Alicia, for she knew too well the truth behind his words. She knew deep down that her family was about to be torn apart by war and chaos. She was helpless and confused, why was this happening now? Helmcross is a peaceful place; she and her husband have spent their reign bolstering the political and commercial value of the town. Their daughter was coming to age where a suitor was to be found soon, and for that matter an heir to the throne. She looked up at Father Tillman who stood in silence watching her every movement. He knew all too well what he was talking about, he knew that from this day forth, nothing would be the same.

“What are these “Shadowlords” building the armies for? Who are they going to attack? And what does this have to do with us?” Lord Orin paced back and forth slowly still thinking over what the high priest had said.

“Lord Orin, the Shadowlords serve Delnok, they are consumed by power and greed. Delnok it seems has promised them much, and given them much as well. They each seem to have a fortress and armies at their command,” Brother Thomas spoke again, switching his staff to the other hand and leaning on his right side. “They are building the armies to once again fight the Free Races for rule of this world. Delnok wants out of the Realm of Darkness, he wants to at least be the lord of these lands and he wants to pay back the Almighty and the Eschrehim for defeating him. He is jealous of the Father’s creation and wants the power of being a god over all.”

Halfgrim walked over to the steps and plopped down on the second one from the bottom. His pack sat next to him and he used it as an armrest while listening to everyone talking. “So how big of an army do these Shadowlords have, Brother Thomas?” Halfgrim finally got a word in while the others had been contemplating what the priests were saying.

“The armies range in the thousands, maybe even the tens of thousands. I do not know for sure how big, but that is not the pressing matter at the moment…”

Halfgrim cut him off, “How is tens of thousands of orcs and goblins raining arrows down on us, not a big problem?”

“The Shadowlords know about the scrolls, Delnok told them. They are seeking for them even now, because if they find the three temples and open each lock, they can unleash Delnok on Anoria once more. The scrolls are the key to everything, like we said before; they hold great power for any who know how to use them.” Brother Thomas took a breath for a moment while he realized that everyone no longer cared about etiquette. Cristiana and Mariana and moved over to the thrones. Mariana stood by Lady Alicia’s side with Timothy sitting on the steps in front of them. Cristiana stood next to Berwyn, her hand in his behind their backs. Merwenna sat on the steps by her father’s throne, stroking her hair, while deep in thought over what had been said so far.

“Is there anything else you haven’t told us, Brother Thomas?” Lord Orin’s shoulders had sunk a little, and he breathed deeply while looking at everyone. “You still haven’t told us how we are involved.”

Father Tillman put a hand on Brother Thomas’ shoulder as he was about to speak. “Let me answer that, Brother Thomas. Please,” Father Tillman walked over to Lord Orin who now leaned against one of the columns. “My lord, the Almighty has chosen you because you have always ruled with a firm hand, and a kind heart, and have given orders with the greatest wisdom any of us have ever seen. Each here has proven themselves time and again over the years. They all have been chosen by the Almighty to play a role in this war, but not all can go with you on this quest,” his eyes saddened, he looked around the room. “Someone must get this town ready for war. In the near future, when the fighting begins people will flock here seeking refuge. Its remote location and large food supply will be able to save countless lives. I am afraid that there will be many that need saving.”

“Lady Alicia, beloved, you will stay behind and act in my stead. You have done it before countless times when I have gone on my many adventures. I could not count on anyone else to rule in my place.” Lord Orin looked into his wife’s eyes with a deep sorrow. He knew that this quest will not be like the others he has faced in the past.

“Yes beloved, I agree that my place is here. Mariana, send word immediately to Constable Jotham, and Sir Redwald, I will need their help in matters of security. Please send word to Ulbran as well, he will know how to handle the food distribution.” Lady Alicia stood up as she spoke looking deeply into Lord Orin’s eyes.

“Yes, my lady. I will go immediately,” and with that Mariana slipped out of the great hall swiftly and silently.

Within a few hours the great tower came into sight. The massive stone structure of the fort pierced the horizon like a great fiery sword. Like the burning stones of the Firestone Range, the tower gave the idea that it was constantly burning in the noon day sun. “Armania, we must warn them before moving on to Abydos. Land in the Plains in front of the southern gate,” Tristan pointed ahead. “They might not be partial to giant eagles landing in the middle of their courtyard.” Armania circled twice before landing in a grassy null less than a mile from the gates. Guards scurried to their posts on the wall and bows were raised. Tristan slid off the eagle’s neck with her help. “I won’t be long Armania, but be ready in case I need you to get me out of here quickly.” Armania spread her wings once more and took off high into the sky. The archers on the wall watched her leave, their bows still taught. Tristan made his way through the grass until he reached the gravel road leading up to the gates. With his hands held out to both sides, he walked slowly toward the fortress. The gates opened and a small contingent of soldiers marched out to meet him a few yards from the entrance. The soldiers comprised of both humans and dwarves, all fully armored and armed. Tristan gulped as they stopped in front of him, there hands dangerously close to their weapons. A large stout dwarf came forward staring him down with a nasty scarred right eye.

“Who in the Northern Reach are you? And what the bloody heck is that creature that dropped you off?” the dwarf spat as he talked, grinding his teeth every so often.

“I am Tristan from the Sanctuary of Nemalia. That creature is Armania; she is a great eagle from the Tri-Peak Mountains.” At the last part there were a few murmurs in the group behind the dwarf. The dwarf quickly turned around, glaring at them. Nobody moved or said a word, not wanting the old dwarf’s wrath.

“Sanctuary of Nemalia, eh? You don’t look like one o’ them priests. What business has you here? Speak quickly, because we are busy preparing for battle.” The dwarf stared hard at him as he spat in the gravel in front of them.

“I am not a priest; I am on a mission for Father Alban. I stopped here on my way because I saw the army from the Wastelands heading your way. They are not more than a few days out.” Everyone started murmuring again behind the dwarf. He glared back at them, shutting them up quickly.

Looking back at Tristan for a moment, he noticed the medallion around his neck. “I see you tell the truth, that trinket around your neck belongs to old man Alban. I know him well, a good man. If you are telling the truth then I better get a message to Uruk immediately, we thought we had another week or two, not days.” He turned around and started marching toward the gates. The soldiers followed suit in unison. “Come on Tristan, my commanders will have questions for you. Welcome to Feyraven Tower. By the way, I am Kerak, 1st Lieutenant of the South Wall Battalion.” With that he quickened his pace.

Tristan hurried after them, praying to the Almighty that this wouldn’t take long. He had to get to Abydos and meet up with Brother Thomas and the others. However, things never turned out the way people wanted them and with his brother's army nipping at their heels, he wasn't too sure he had enough time either.

Lord Orin turned to his daughter, “Merwenna, you are not coming with us this time. It is far too dangerous…”

“No father, I want to help. You know that I am a good fighter, and that I can heal most wounds,” she grabbed hold of her father’s left arm as she pleaded with him, “I am a good addition to the group, I have always held my own in the past you know this father. Please, let me come with you, I want to help.”

Lord Orin looked over at his wife, who shook her head, her eyes begging him not to take her along. “Merwenna, my precious daughter, you have never failed me in the past. I know that you can hold your own, I never once doubted that. You had some good teachers,” he half smiled through watery eyes as he looked upon her tear strewn complexion.

“Father please do not do this to me, I can fight…”Merwenna’s shoulders slumped low and more tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Your mother will need a strong leader and warrior to manage the townsfolk into militia. She needs you here, I need you here. I need to know for sure that our home will be well looked after while I am gone. You and your mother are the only ones I can trust.” Lord Orin wrapped his trunk like arms around her. “I can’t keep wondering every 5 minutes if everyone is safe here. It’s too dangerous of a distraction. Please understand this, please do this for me.”

Hugging him with all her might, she finally gave into her father, “Alright father, I will do as you ask, and I will do my best to protect mother and the townsfolk.” She pushed back from him for a moment, staring into his eyes. Then holding her head high, she walked out of the hall, Cristiana walking a few paces behind her. She marched toward the tower stairwell leading to her chambers. Emotions raced all over her. Fear, anger, sorrow, and pure agony engulfed every inch of her. In just one day, she had been betrayed by those who love her, and given a huge responsibility of helping her mother keep their town in harmony. She wanted to go so badly with her father on this adventure, like so many she had done before. She still couldn’t get over Father Tillman keeping this big of secret from them for so long. She thought they had no secrets between each other. She felt betrayed by both of them, but she knew better than that. She knew they both meant well and they both have their reasons for doing what they are doing.

Merwenna slowly began the long walk up the stairs to her chambers, high above. Cristiana remained a few paces behind her, silently contemplating the day’s events. Berwyn would leave soon to go with Lord Orin, and she would have to stay behind with Merwenna. She almost wished Lord Orin would let Merwenna go, so she could be close to Berwyn. Oh, how her heart ached to be held by him once more.

Tears welled up in her eyes as she realized once more the truth and the danger that laid ahead of them. Lord Orin was right though to keep Merwenna here. Lady Alicia was going to need all the help she could get to keep this town safe.

What does the future hold for all of us?, she wondered as she also began the long walk back up the stairs. Oh Berwyn, please don’t go, she silently wished.

I wish only to be held once more, to feel your skin against mine, to smell the scent of fresh pine and the dust of the road. Oh how she ached for it again.

Their love had been kept secret for so long, sometimes she would forget about the time they had first met. Lady Alicia and Lord Orin wanted a woman of noble blood to wed Berwyn. That way the pure blood line of the Greystokes would continue on through him. There were a few times on their adventures that she thought for sure that Lord Orin had caught them together. If he knew of their relationship though, he didn’t show it. Perhaps secretly he was happy for his brother. She didn’t know what to think, especially after the conversation in the great hall. They probably wouldn’t leave until early in the morning, they would make better time through the pass during daylight. She was determined to sneak out and see Berwyn one more time before he left. She wondered if it would be last time they would be together. She prayed that it wouldn’t be true, but only time could tell.

Lord Orin watched Merwenna and Cristiana leave. His heart was torn asunder by seeing her go like this. He turned back toward the priests who whispered quietly to themselves. “What do we do now Father Tillman? Where do we go from here?”

Father Tillman looked over to Lady Alicia catching her gaze. He nodded toward Timothy who rocked slowly back and forth on the steps. The expression was a mix of horror and confusion. Tears rolled down his cheeks falling onto his tan pants leaving temporary dark stains.

Lady Alicia got up from her throne and stepped down next to Timothy. Bending over, she whispered into his ear, “Why don’t we go down to the kitchen and get something to eat. I am sure Kaela will have something wonderful brewing about now.” She rubbed his back soothingly as she talked. Timothy looked up at her, nodding his head in agreement. He wanted to leave the hall and forget everything that had been said. It felt like a bad dream to him. Lady Alicia looked up at Lord Orin as she took Timothy’s hand in hers. “My dear, I am going to take Timothy to get something to eat. May we talk privately in our chambers later?”

Lord Orin turned toward her; she looked beautiful even after everything that had been laid before her. Oh how he admired the strength she carried inside. “Yes, beloved, we will talk more later on.” He winked at her and then turned back to Father Tillman.

Lady Alicia turned in hand with Timothy and walked out the opposite side of the great hall and headed off for the kitchen.

“You must leave immediately for Abydos. There you will find a professor who has the next scroll. Brother Thomas has received word from the Sanctuary of Nemalia this morning that another man will be joining up with you in Abydos. He is to come with you on your journeys, for he holds the key to unlocking the gateway. He is being told the very same thing as you have, this very moment. He has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders, and he is more connected to this war than anyone else.”Father Tillman looked back to Brother Thomas before continuing, “He is valuable to both us, and the enemy. Brother Thomas will guide you the best he can when it comes to the scrolls, but Lord Orin, of course will be in charge of the group. Watch out for each other like you always do, but don’t forget this will be far more dangerous than anything you have ever faced.” He waited for Berwyn as he walked down the steps to stand beside his brother. Halfgrim hobbled over to Brother Thomas’ side. “You will not only be tested physically as you trek across Anoria and face many monsters. But, you will fight for your souls as well. Delnok may be in the Realm of Darkness but he has many followers at his command. Dark creatures such as these fiery horses, living shadows, undead soldiers, spirits, and even some of his demons survived the Cataclysm. You must be careful, I wish I could go with you but my place is here. My duty was to protect the scroll until it was time, and I have done that. Now it is up to you to prevent the Shadowlords from bringing Delnok back.”

“Thank you Father Tillman. You have been a good friend and mentor for so many years. I know you would not have intentionally deceived me unless it was important. May the Almighty watch over you and Helmcross as we cross the breadth of Anoria.” Lord Orin turned to the others. “Gather you things together and meet in the Scarlet Bard tonight. We will talk more there and get some information if we can. In the morning we leave for Dushuan. From there we will head to Aldcross where we can take an airship to Abydos.” They all nodded in agreement, for they all knew what was ahead of them; they just weren’t sure if they were ready. Who could be ready for something like this?

Berwyn finally spoke, “Until tonight, then. May the Almighty bless you; I will take my leave brother. I have some things to take care of before tonight and not much time to do it.” With that he walked out the front doors of the hall. The others milled around for a bit talking and then each in turn left the hall.

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