Pyrhus smiled and turned back to Larsa. In a stern voice he spoke, “Larsa, why have you not left yet?”
At that question, Tristan turned to see Larsa standing at the base of the seats, staring at him. Again Pyrhus spoke, “Larsa, why have you not left? Did you not here the orders correctly? Or is there something else on your mind?”
Larsa turned to the general and bowed, “No my Lord, I will do as you ask immediately.” With that Larsa marched past Tristan and out of the council hall.
Larsa replayed those last moments in the council hall as he made his way up the many flights of stairs toward the top of the great tower. He smiled as he walked up the spiral stairs. Things were finally going to plan, and better yet, he had information on his master’s brother. Lord Malak will be pleased indeed. His brother is found and Feyraven is about to be taken.
The plans of the Dark Lord are going well indeed. After all my hard work, living amongst these fools, working side by side, sharing in their joy and their sorrow, and yet they no nothing of true power. They follow the ways of the “Almighty” and their precious “Eschrehim” protect them they say. The true god of this world is about to take his rightful place. The Free Races will not see this coming not one part of it. The Master’s plans are perfect and not a single point is flawed. We will sweep over this land like a storm and all will be ours.
Larsa smirked as he came to the sixth level. He stopped here for a moment and walked into the gallery. In front of him lay the great doors to the Hall of Light, the chapel of Feyraven. For years he had to endure weekly meetings here and pretend to worship their so called god. Just thinking about it made his skin crawl. He shuddered at the memories of his time here. Soon thought it would all change, when the army takes over the fortress, Lord Malak was leaving him in charge of operations. Larsa was to be given a field promotion as general of this fortress when the battle was over. He knew every inch of the fortress; he knew their daily routines, their patrols, and even the tunnel system that led out of the complex. All the Intel he had gathered of the daily operations of both Feyraven and the tunnel system between the two Dwarven complexes had been sent to Lord Malak.
Lord Malak had an assassin in the region with whom Larsa had met in the tunnel system on numerous occasions. They would exchange information and then the assassin, Ceowulf, would make his way into the wastelands where he would meet up with Lord Malak’s Dark Messenger, Keromas. The Dark Messengers serve as the eyes and ears of the Shadowlords in their territories. Keromas meets once a month near the River of Sorrows with Ceowulf to exchange information.
Larsa shuddered at the thought of Keromas. He had only met him once, but once was enough. The Dark Messengers were the offspring of the Fallen Eschrehim and their human or Elven partners. When one was in the presence of a Dark Messenger, their aura reeked of fear and nightmarish thoughts. The last time Larsa had been in the presence of Keromas, he had doubled over from agony as a thousand screaming voices coursed over his body.
Larsa turned quickly and continued up the last flight of stairs, trying to forget Keromas. He could hear a number of people in the gallery ahead of him. It didn’t surprise him as he stepped into the gallery and passed by a number of merchants and travelers. Many visitors to Feyraven on their way to Ishme Dagan or Uruk make a trek up to the top floor of the tower. Here the Mages, Siphidias and Leonidas, reside with their labs and resident quarters. Also on this level is a large library maintained by a gnome couple Boono and Bleeji. He couldn’t stand the two of them, they were always suspicious of him, though he never gave them any reason to be. He only ventured to this level when he was to summon the mages for the general.
Well most of the time anyways.
Ah, yes, just like clockwork, here comes Boono zipping up to the open doorway leading into the library. A stout gnome with scrawny bones under a crimson tunic and pointy hat scrambled into the doorway. His platinum flowing hair and beard shined brighter than any polished suit of armor. The scowl on his face told Larsa the usual demeanor of the gnome when ever he came to this level. Boono put his left hand on the doorway and tapped his foot, “And what does the ‘honorable’ Larsa want today? Come to snoop amongst our books again? Just like I caught you a few times up here at night…” A crease spread across his forehead.
Larsa scowled, “I didn’t sneak in here you little pipsqueak; the only time I come here is when the general summons the mages. You should know that by now. I don’t want anything to do with your stupid books.”
That was a lie. I had actually come here a few times in the last few weeks to look at some of the old maps and historical books on the Sanctuary of Nemalia.
Boono scoffed and turned to move aside from the doorway. Larsa stepped forward into the grand library when he thought he heard Boono whisper, “Liar.” But when Larsa looked in the gnome’s direction his head was turned to the small crowd in the gallery.
He turned back around shaking his head, the first thing I am gonna do when I am in charge here is feed him to the trolls. They like a good gnome snack, now and again.
He walked toward the center of the library and found Bleeji dusting the shelves. Bleeji didn’t look up when he approached, he figured she was ignoring him like usual. “Bleeji I need you to gather the mages for me, general’s orders.” Bleeji continued to dust the shelves and even began to hum a tune. “Bleeji did you here me?” Larsa yelled. His skin was beginning to crawl.
I think I will feed both of them to the trolls.
Bleeji put her feather duster on a nearby table and turned abruptly on Larsa. “Hold your tongue Larsa, I heard you the first time.” She put her hands on her light blue dress, and flipped back her platinum long hair. She looked up at him through golden rimmed glasses, “I’ll get Leonidas out of the lab, and you’ll find Siphidias in his chambers. If I am lucky when you disturb him he might turn you into a toad.” With that she shuffled off toward the left wing of the library where two ornate silver doors stood. Leonidas’ lab was behind those doors while Siphidias’ labs were behind the golden doors on the right wing of the library.
Larsa’s face reddened at her last comment. Maybe I will introduce them to Keromas instead.
He turned abruptly on his heels and marched toward a pair of golden doors on the opposite side of the library. The doors gleamed in the sun’s rays as they cast down through the skylights high above. In the center where the doors met was an ornate carving of the seal that Tristan wore around his neck; an eagle chasing a dragon with a gateway in the center and three temples surrounding the gateway. Both the doors to the labs and to the private chambers held the same symbol. The mages were also artifact historians. Few knew what the symbol meant and when asked the mages never give you a full answer. When Larsa had first seen the symbol on the doors he had immediately reported back to Lord Malak. Since then Malak had wanted Larsa to snoop around to find any clues about the scrolls and the gateways he could. In his months of searching however he had only gathered about the same amount of information on the prophecy that Lord Malak had already known about.
Larsa knocked quietly on the doors and then stood back, as the golden doors opened silently on their own. Inside and to his left was a great stone fireplace with two pillars that were carved to resemble gnarled tree trunks. A velvet red armchair sat to the right of the fireplace with a wooden side table that looked just as gnarled as the pillars. Siphidias sat, reading quietly through a battered and worn out black book. Long golden robes trimmed in rich silver runes that wrapped around him like great wings. His hand was raised until Larsa came closer, at which point he lowered his hand and the doors closed behind Larsa. Larsa’s skin crawled because no matter how many times he asked the mage he never told Larsa how he could do that. It made him wonder how far his powers really went.
Larsa stepped up to the left side of the fireplace and waited quietly for Siphidias to put down the book. Siphidias read quietly some more and at one point he grabbed a golden chalice from the side table and took a sip of its contents. Larsa knew better than to interrupt the mage when he was reading. When he had first come to this room and had done that very act, Siphidias smiled and then quietly whispered some words that caused Larsa to have green hair for a week. Never disturb a mage when he is reading, got it. Kerak, after laughing for several minutes, said he had gotten off easy. The last guy to disturb Siphidias got donkey ears and a tail for a month, because the guy blew his top and yelled at the mage.
Larsa shook his head at the memory and began to look around the room to pass the time. Shelves of various sizes contained all kinds of items. There were books on magic, historical books, fictional books, skulls of various creatures, gemstones and rocks of various sizes, and all sorts of other knick-knacks.
I still can’t decide if I want these quarters as my own or the general’s when the battle is over.
The general’s was bigger but these quarters were more elegant and exotic. Larsa couldn’t decide and before he had a chance to ponder it some more, the sound of a throat clearing caught his attention. Larsa turned back, to find the mage searching intently with hazel eyes, while his chiseled face gave way to no emotion whatsoever.
“Good day to you Larsa, what brings you to my chambers today?” Siphidias had put the book down on his lap and held onto its edges with the utmost security.
“Good book, Master Siphidias?” Larsa eyed the way the mage held tightly onto it.
“Good book indeed, Larsa. Now what can I do for you?” Siphidias replied as he reached for the chalice once more and sipped long and deeply from its contents.
Larsa sighed and remembered what he had come for, “General Pyrhus needs you and Leonidas to bring the orb to his chambers immediately.” Larsa noted a slight smirk and a slightly raised eyebrow appear across the mage’s features.
“So it has finally come time for its intended purpose. That is interesting, very interesting indeed.” Siphidias laid the chalice down and slowly rose to his entire 6’-6” stature. Still protecting the book with the greatest of care, the mage half strolled, half floated over to a nearby painting. Larsa always wondered how the two mages walked without making a sound. It was as if they floated on the air just barely above the floor’s surface. As Siphidias reached the painting he whispered a few words and glided his hand over the edge of the frame. The painting was an exact duplicate of his chambers facing the fireplace. The only difference was that in the painting on the left side of the fireplace there was a great wooden chest with symbols carved all over its surface in gold. The painting was large, well over 6 feet tall and at least 10 feet in width. Everything was so well detailed that Larsa felt he could actually step right into the picture and warm himself by the fire. The chest was in the foreground closest to the frame of the picture.
As the mage waved his hand over the painting the flames seemed to spring to life and he could have sworn the light from the fire in the painting was casting shadows into the room. Then the most amazing thing happened next. Siphidias leaned over into the painting and took out a key, whispered a few more words and then opened the chest. He laid the book into it and scrambled around inside the chest for a minute or two. Larsa couldn’t believe his own eyes; he lost his balance leaning against the fireplace and almost fell into the fire. Regaining his composure, he stood more relaxed but made a mental note to keep this secret to himself for now.
I think I might choose this room after all. He thought to himself.
Siphidias finally backed away from the chest and held out a giant white crystal orb. It was highlighted all over in various schemes of blue. Intricate caverns, crevices and what looked like flashes of lightning encompassed the orb. Siphidias turned to a statue of a griffin with its wings spread high above its body in the corner of the room. From talons to wing tips, it stood over 8 feet tall. The griffin sat on its hind legs with its right front arm outstretched with its claws turned upright as if it was meant to hold something. This time Larsa slipped and got his foot right into the embers of the fire as he saw what the mage did next. Siphidias laid the orb into the opened claws and as soon as the orb touched the talons the griffin came to life. It immediately clasped down onto the orb and beat its wings, trying to get a better grasp on the stone platform it stood on. It beat its wings a few more times and then rested them around its body while still holding onto the orb.
Siphidias walked forward and caressed the griffin’s head. The griffin made a clicking sound at the back of its throat before turning its head and staring at Larsa. The griffin not recognizing Larsa beat its wings and set the orb down on a nearby chair. Turning back to Larsa, the griffin scraped at the ground with its talons and began to beat its wings violently. “It seems that Aeromis doesn’t like you. I apologize for his demeanor but he is the guardian of the orb. Where it goes he goes, and he is very protective of it. That is why he was created; to guard it for eternity.” He scratched the golden feathers that ran down its neck and across its wings. Its underbelly and legs were covered in silver feathers. Siphidias turned back to the painting and whispered more words before waving his hand over the painting once more. The shadows disappeared and the fire in the painting seemed to no longer flicker.
“That was some trick, Siphidias.” He smirked at the mage while folding his arms over his chest.
“Tricks indeed, Mr. Larsa; now I believe the general summoned us.” He moved across the room to the doorway and grabbed a tall, slender rod. It had ruins of an ancient language Larsa had no clue how to read or speak it. “Now, shall we be on our way? I believe Leonidas will be in the library waiting for us,” he turned back to the griffin who was cleaning its feathers. “Aeromis, come along now.” The griffin looked up, ruffled its feathers, and grabbing the orb in its beak walked toward the open doors.
Larsa waited a minute to allow the griffin and Siphidias to leave the room. He wanted to give that creature as much room as possible.
I will have to have one of Lord Malak’s acolytes decipher the paintings in the room. I am most curious about the chest, but what do the other paintings do?
He looked at the other paintings in the room before stepping back into the library. There was one painting that was 7 feet tall but only 4 feet wide and it was a view of what looked like the entrance to the Tower of Light in the Royal City of Othar. Another one, similar in size to the fireplace scene, contained a painting of an underground tunnel leading into the caverns over Uruk. There were many others, and after looking at each one quickly, Larsa wondered what each one’s purpose was. He shook his head and hurried out the doors.
Siphidias and the griffin stood in the center of the library with Leonidas. Boono and Bleeji were off to the side whispering to one another and cleaning the shelves. Leonidas wore a silver robe trimmed with golden runes. His long blonde hair flowed down around his shoulders. He scratched at a clean cut goatee as he conversed with Siphidias. Larsa always thought that the mages’ features were too perfect; he couldn’t find a scratch or blemish anywhere on them. That thought had always tickled the back of his mind when he was in their presence. Was it a spell? Or was it some other reason why they were the way they were?
“Larsa go ahead to the general’s quarters and let him know we will be there shortly. Aeromis will fly from our balcony down to the chapel’s balcony and meet us there.” Siphidias looked intently into Larsa’s eyes as if searching his mind as he spoke.
“That will be fine Siphidias, but the two of you need to not delay long. General Pyrhus is patiently waiting while trying to get the defenses ready.” Larsa started to walk toward the door.
“We understand Larsa; we will only be another moment. I know time is precious and we have little time left, but Leonidas and I must talk over a few things first. Get our thoughts in order if you will, before we come before the general and this visitor.” Larsa nodded and headed for the stairway.
General Kurznak stood atop a small rocky outcropping in the center of the army’s camp. Here his tent had been staked out so he could see over the whole camp and the surrounding countryside in all directions. Goblins and orcs were busy digging trenches around the perimeter in front of wooden palisades that were being built by bugbears. Giants and trolls were in the nearby woods tearing down the trees for the lumber needed for the camp’s defenses. Hobgoblin archers stood guard over all of them while the cavalry patrolled the surrounding land.
General Kurznak smiled through crooked fangs as he admired their precision and their speed. The “Master’s” teachings through Lord Malak had indeed paid off. It had taken them 5 years to control, train, and prepare this army. The day they left for Feyraven, Lord Malak had looked over the army one last time and had announced that the “Master” was pleased. Kurznak, like all the other dark creatures, wanted only to please the “Master”. They had once thought their dark lord dead after the Great Cataclysm. Centuries had gone by but the stories and the faith had endured through out the shadows of the world. Then one night these ‘Shadowlords’ had appeared with prophecies and proclamations that their dark lord was locked away in the abyss and he needed their help. The “Master” had a plan, plans to not only bring him and his minions back from the abyss but to rule Anoria once more.
He patrolled the edge of the outcropping while overlooking everything that was being done. The soldiers were indeed the finest warriors he had ever seen. Not only were they finally fighting together instead of each other, but they had a common purpose. Their strength in numbers and now in might will overwhelm the wretched races of the Almighty.
General Kurznak wrapped his cape around him as a breeze came across the river to the west and swept over the camp. The slate colored cape flapped and twisted around him as he closed his eyes and let the wind engulf him. He breathed in deeply stretching upward toward the sky. His obsidian armor creaked and grated under his movements. He cringed at the sound but smiled at the feelings that rushed over his body causing him to shiver.
“It is fear in the air I smell today,” he looked up toward the sky and breathed even deeper. He was getting used to the surface finally after a century underground. He hated the sun, oh how it beat down on his pale brown skin. An orc was built for the shadows of the world; darkness was his ally and tomorrow night that would be put to the test. Tomorrow night his army would be the first of many battles across the lands. Feyraven, in the south, was the gateway to the eastern cities. It was the key foothold needed for their plans to work. For the Dark Lord’s plans to work, he reminded himself. If it wasn’t for the Dark Lord, most of this army would still be skulking in caves and holes fighting amongst themselves over scraps.
General Kurznak looked down at the eastern entrance to the encampment. He noted a rider coming in through the newly built gates and that his assistant Strax, his clan’s shaman, was now talking with the scout. From the looks of the large moorhound he guessed it was Bazg back from his mission. After a moment, Strax lifted his staff in the air giving the signal that the mission was a success. Kurznak smiled a big toothy grin. The plans were going along very well indeed. He walked up to a large copper brazier at the edge of a path that led down the outcropping to the level ground. He lit it signaling that the troops had one hour to finish the camp and then gather around his tent for their final instructions.
Strax nodded as he saw the brazier being lit. He turned quickly back to Bazg, “Before you go, the general has one more task for you.” His maniacal grin showed Bazg that he was going to look forward to this assignment.
Bazg dismounted from Seros and sauntered up to Strax. “So what does the general request?” He smiled as he pulled his bow off of his shoulders and laid it down near the moorhound.
“Our spy in the tower has informed us that Lord Malak’s brother is there in the fortress at this very instant,” he smacked his dry lips for a moment and grabbed a water skin hanging around his neck. He held up his hand for patience as he opened it and took a long deep drawl of the brew inside. The surface air played with his lungs causing his mouth to dry out often and make it hard for him to breathe from time to time. “Much better, now as I was saying, Lord Malak’s brother is in the tower and we want you to go and find out what he is doing there. And, after talking with our spy Lord Malak very much would like his brother returned to him.” Strax leaned against his staff for support. For a hobgoblin he was very old, in fact he was the oldest creature here next to the Dark Messenger Keromas.
Bazg rubbed his hands together in delight, to be selected to retrieve the betrayer was a great task to receive. And the bounty Lord Malak put on his brother made Bazg even happier just thinking about it. He licked his lips and rubbed his fingertips together and looked up at Strax, “In what manner does Lord Malak want his brother to return to him in?”
Strax gave a low growl before answering, “He wants his brother alive and unharmed, if possible. The punishment that awaits the betrayer is far worse than what any of us could inflict on him. The “Master” himself wishes to personally torture and torment him.” They both shuddered at the thought of being tortured by the Dark Lord. Not only does the Dark Lord torture the body but the mind and the soul as well. Every bit of the victim is torn apart and broken down by their “Master”. Those that did survive were so far gone in their insanity that they would inflict horrendous pain on those around them and then killed themselves to ease their pain.
Bzag’s smile turned to disappointment when he realized he couldn’t torment Tristan. He was looking forward to that ever since he learned of him betraying his brother, the “Master”, and all the plans put forth by the Dark Lord. “So be it, I will leave as soon as I have resupplied and had Seros looked over.” He turned back to the moorhound, grabbed his bow, and hopped back onto Seros. “What if I can’t retrieve him unharmed? Then what should I do?” He grabbed the reins as he waited for a reply.
Strax rubbed his chin for a moment thinking of the best solution. In the end he just shook his head, “Do what it takes to get him back, but don’t kill him and don’t overdo it on the wounding. He must be alive and in fairly good shape when he goes before the Dark Lord.” He shook his staff at Bazg as if warning him.
Bazg nodded and turned Seros northward and galloped off toward the stables. Strax stood there for a moment watching the pair trod off.
I hope he kills Tristan, he is a danger to us as well as himself. Lord Malak said he had great powers, though no one taught him how to use them. He probably doesn’t even know they exist.
Strax shrugged as he turned back toward the western part of the camp and began to make his way down the dusty road leading to the center of the camp. He knew better than to keep General Kurznak waiting. He rubbed his neck at the memory of the last person who tried his patience. Not a pretty sight he thought as he strained to see a gallows set up at the northern gate. An orc was stretched out in all directions with spiked wires and his head leaned limply to one side. Nope he definitely did not want to try Kurznak’s patience indeed.
On the day of the public torture and execution the general had proclaimed, “The Dark Lord demands perfection from us in order to win this war. So I too demand perfection and those who don’t comply will pay the price…” The howls and screams from the orc drowned out all other sounds.
Even now Strax could hear those screams as he walked along the dirt road. He shuddered and wrapped his black robes tightly around him as a chill ran down his spine. Clouds loomed on the horizon near the River of Sorrows, and it caused an old scar across his left eye to tingle. He scratched at it as he watched the clouds roll closer and the thunder grow louder.
“So, Lord Malak’s acolytes send a storm to aid us in battle. The darkness will greatly strengthen the soldiers and with my help, a little lightning and unnatural rain will dampen the spirits of the Royal Guard at Feyraven.” He chuckled as he stopped at the base of the path leading up to the general’s tent. He looked around the camp at the soldiers still working. They were almost done now with the defenses and more than half the tents were up. Growls, anxious talk, and grunts could be heard all around him. High screeches brought his gaze up to the sky. Keromas flew ahead of the storm on his black dragonling. Fear crept into his cold heart as he gazed upon that horrid creature. A Dark Messenger was never welcome company because of the fear and sorrow that pulsated from their aura. It blanketed them like a walking nightmare and even the most devilish of fiends gave a slight shudder when one came near.
Seeing Keromas meant that Lord Malak had new instructions. He shook his head as he climbed the outcropping, they were ready, they knew what they had to do, what else could the Shadow lord want now?
“Strax, I take it all is in order?” General Kurznak stood at the top of the pathway in front of his tent. His arms were crossed and he was watching the oncoming storm.
Strax took in a deep breath and regained his composure from the long walk. “General everything is indeed in order. The Dark Lord will be pleased, yes?”
The general turned his gaze toward his advisor, “You presume much old one, and The Dark Lord will only be pleased after he is released. Until that happens, his wrath will be over our heads until that day arrives.” He looked back to the storm and watched Keromas on his dragonling stopping in the air to converse with the other riders. After a few minutes the riders dispersed and Keromas headed straight for the camp. “Strax, call the troops together in one hour. There will be much to discuss and much to plan, and then make sure they are well fed and ready to leave at a moment’s notice.” He pulled out a small piece of bone he always had on him. It was the perfect size to pick at his teeth, which he normally did when he was deep in thought.
Strax waited for more instructions, when they didn’t come he bowed and then turned and headed back down the path.