Abydos glistened in the afternoon sun not more than 10 miles ahead. Armania had broken away from the currents and had come down closer to the ground as they neared the city. Tristan looked on with awe and amazement as he saw the great city rise up out of the ground near the shores of the Lockdoon Sea. Caravans and crowds made their way up and down the two main roads of Abydos. The first headed north toward the town of Ethos and beyond. The other one headed south toward Drydome and the Mozob Wastelands. Expansive crop lands and herds of animals covered most of the land south of the city from which way Tristan had come.
The seaport on the west side of the city was bustling with numerous ships. Their many colored sails whipping in the wind and they made their way to and from the port. Tristan was most amazed about was the number of airships. He had been on one or two in his previous life but here around Abydos there were more than a hundred of them. Some came in from the seas while others headed dead east toward the mountains.
He had both good and bad memories from being a crew member on one for a short time. Images of skimming the clouds and swooping high up into the heavens put a smile on his face.
And then there was an image of the ship’s captain; deep violet eyes stared back at him. His smile shortened to a smirk and then a slight frown. He had cared for Captain Ferasi, maybe even had loved her to a point. But she had a dark and bloodied past, and he didn’t want to be another trophy. He had seen the good in her and had tried to stoke those fires, but in the end her past won out.
“A life time ago…” Tristan said aloud to himself. Armania looked back at him curiously. Tristan looked down at her and laughed, “Sorry old girl didn’t realize I had said that out loud. I was just thinking back on old memories and past lives.” He looked across the skies at the many airships going to and from the great city. As he turned his gaze back the way they had come he noticed a sparkle on the horizon of the Firestone Mountains. “I wonder what they are doing way…out…there…” He turned around and leaned over to Armania, “hurry girl, I think we got company.”
Armania snapped her wings and screeched an earsplitting scream as she shot off toward Abydos. The wind was fierce and relentless and the great eagle flew across the plains and quickly closed the gap. As she came upon the shipping lanes of the majestic and sometimes gaudy airships, the air became a bit more crowded. A bird her size made people jump and yell as they ran about their ships.
Tristan smiled and waved at people as they wove in and around the billowing sails and air bladders. Tristan looked back to see the distant ship still coming in their direction but it was still a long ways off. “Alright girl, we seemed to have gotten a head start,” he looked around at the ground below. “Set me down by that small pile of rocks, Armania.”
They were now only a mile from the city and the second level was casting a great shadow in their direction as the sun began to make its way down the skyline. The rocky outcroppings were a bit a ways from the road, but still close enough to the city. Crowds watching the magnificent bird in the sky hurried along that section of the road when they saw that she was landing.
Tristan slid off her back and quickly began to undo the bundles tied to her. “Now Armania, you must make haste and head for Father Alban.” He undid the straps and wrapped them up before stuffing them into one of his bags. “Get word to Father Alban that my brother has sent the airship, Kraxus, after us.” He pulled out a scroll, found a quill and ink fountain and began to make a quick note for the old man. He signed it then found a scroll case in another bag and stuffs the note inside. He then strapped that to Armania’s leg and gathered his things to one side.
Looking at Armania, his heart sank, even though it had been a short time, he was going to miss the old girl. Armania seemed to sense the same thing and leaned over and nudged Tristan with her head. The action almost knocked Tristan on his back, which made him laugh as he grabbed hold of her head. He stroked her neck for a bit, and then looked back toward the mountains. The airship was getting closer, he was out of time. “Good bye, Armania…Thank you for getting me this far.” She screeched a somewhat saddened reply as she nudged him one last time. She too turned back to where the airship was coming. She knew what was coming, even from this distance she could sense what dark creatures were aboard that ship. She cried out in defiance as she spread her wings. Travelers on the road screamed in alarm and ran off. Armania leapt into the air as she fervently beat her wings for altitude and speed. The backlash of air became a wild and almost destructive wind around Tristan. Plants and debris whirled around and whipped about in a great whirlwind. Tristan did his best to protect himself and his gear.
Airships veered to get out of the eagle’s way as she shot quickly into the sky. She soared almost straight up before leveling off and heading for the Northern Reach Mountains off in the East. Tristan watched her fly away for as long as he dared too. He longed for the high winds and the exhilaration of flying on her back again. It was a rare freedom that he had enjoyed and now he was bound once more to the ground. “Be safe old girl. May your travels be safe and may you find peace in the darkness.”
The medallion around his neck glowed for a moment and he looked down at it. He was surprised to find the eagle on the medallion was the object that was glowing. It gave off a golden white light that pulsated for several heartbeats. Then, as quickly as it started, it had ceased and the light faded back into the medallion.
Tristan looked toward the sky, “Thank you for hearing my prayers, and for sending one of your servants to help me for a little while.” The cloud cover broke overhead of him for a moment as a beam of sunlight pierced through. It shone around him and the rocky outcropping, bathing him in warmth that seemed to rejuvenate his body. Like the medallion, the sunlight was gone as quickly as it had come. Tristan looked back at the airship that was now about a hundred miles south of the city. With determination he grabbed up his things and hurried towards the city.
Scarlet Ferasi, of all the people my brother could send after me.
She was the most ruthless, cunning, and seductive creature. He prayed his time aboard her ship as a part of her crew would pay off. He knew a great deal about her and how she worked. He also knew that for her, this was personal, and she would not give up easily. She would throw everything she had to get Tristan back.
I pray Scarlet that I can still find that innocence I saw in you once, a long time ago.
He knew that if she caught him, it may be the only way to be free of her machinations. He knew all to well that her fury could very well destroy the city.
And she has a flight of drakes to prove it.
Tristan rushed through the crowds on the road and as politely as he could push his way onward to Abydos.
“Curse you to the Wastelands, Nagrz, get those riggings in order.” Argok bellowed from the upper deck as he stomped across the hardened wood. Nagrz, an ochre skin goblin hurried about. He turned to his left, “get those crates stowed below deck, Grumtasc and get Togrin to help you!” An orc with a slashed gut and tattooed arms kicked a sleeping orc off two crates. The creature bellowed in anger as it crashed on the floor. Grabbing for its dagger it rose to attack its assailant. But just short of jumping at Grumtasc he was stopped in his tracks by a roar that crashed over the deck. All heads turned toward the upper deck.
“Get this ship ready now!!” Argok cried out, “we are less than 100 miles to Abydos and its many airships.” He leaned against the rail, the wood bending slightly under his massive weight. For a Turok, he was a massive beast, but he was big even for one of his own kind. Standing at over 9 feet tall, his chestnut fur rippled over his muscles in the wind. His somewhat Orcish features snarled as he glared at the crew.
“We will have this ship ready for inspection before the captain gets here, or I will start throwing crew overboard.” Several crew members chuckled quietly to themselves, “and if that doesn’t work I will start feeding you to the drakes!!” That shut everyone up; they all shuddered at thinking of being the next meal of those foul serpents below deck. As if in response, several blood curdling cries rose from below deck. The great bellowing made the crew shudder as they continued to prepare the ship for battle.
Argok frowned at the uneasiness of the crew on deck. They needed to get their heads into moment, even if it has been a while since they seen battle. At the thought of battle he slid his black tongue over his canine like teeth at the anticipation. Even he knew he was a bit out of shape from waiting for Lord Malak’s command to go. It had been months of sitting at the fortress.
He gripped the handle of the weapon by his side tighter. It was a creation of his own, called Soul Reaver. The handle was over 6 feet in length and made of the hardest wood on Anoria from the Umber trees of the Northern Reach. The blade on the end was a combination of an axe blade and hook on the end. The axe blade was aimed downward while the hook was aimed upwards with both blades ending in a sharp point.
His other weapon was a bastard sword that he used sometimes in tandem with his other weapon. But he preferred Soul Reaver, and he relished tainting its blade once more with blood. The smile on his face at the thought made some nearby quickly move on. His troll like tusks protruding from his mouth seemed to grow as he snickered.
His revelry was shattered at the call, “Captain on deck!” Sailors scampered out of the way as Captain Ferasi in all her deadly beauty came marching onto the deck. She held one of her whips in hand, casually swinging it back and forth as she looked over the work being done above deck. Her boots clacked along the steps as she made her way up to the upper deck to stand beside Argok. With the flick of her wrist she coiled the whip back up and secured it to her belt.
“Things seem to be running smoothly Argok, I commend you.” She smirked as she glanced at her second.
“They are ready my lady, the bloodlust is washing over them even as we speak. I can feel it myself; for too long we have waited for this moment.” He tightened his grip on the railing in front of him, causing the wood to scream under the assault. He looked over at the captain and noticed for the first time that she was wearing her crimson armor, no doubt in tribute to the coming battle. “Red suits you captain, I pray you get a chance to feed the bloodlust yourself in the coming hours.”
Ferasi allowed herself a smile at Argok’s words, “I…pray…that I find Tristan before our men do, I relish in that meeting I have so long waited for.” She licked her lips at the thought of seeing Tristan once more, whether it was to take him back to Lord Malak or tear him apart with her own devices.
“Prepare the cannons for the coming battle; I want every last ship that comes into our range a burning wreck.” She looked out over the landscape between them and the great city that loomed before them on the horizon. “It is time we send a message to the aristocracy of Abydos and the armies of the Free Races.”
Argok stood straight and crossed his arms as he turned toward the captain, “And what message do you wish to send, my lady?”
Captain Ferasi turned, a wicked smile lighting up her features, “That darkness has come and we hide no longer in the shadows.” She looked on at Abydos in the distance as they quickly closed the gap between them. Her ship was being driven hard as the crew prepared for battle. The great airship soared through the air along the jet streams that flowed at these great heights. The winds rushing over and around the deck plus the thought of battle exhilarated Ferasi as she held onto the railing beside Argok. She breathed in the air and allowed the crew to see her smile for a moment. She licked her lips at the thought of Tristan finally within her grasp again. “It is going to be a good day, Argok,” she let go of the railing and let the winds raise her up a bit, “A good day indeed.”
Argok smirked between his tusks, “So it seems my captain. Just don’t let the crew see you so happy,” he snickered, “they might think you have gone a bit soft.”
Captain Scarlet Ferasi laughed a wickedly disturbing laugh that caused a few crew members to cringe and hurry on with their work. “Once in a while it’s good for morale to let the crew see another side of their captain.” She turned and began to walk back down the steps to the main deck, “Argok make sure all is ready, and the first ship that comes into range, and blast it out of the sky. I want our presence known to all before we reach the city proper.” She stopped a moment and looked up at her second, “The more chaos the better, don’t you think?”
“Aye, aye captain,” he turned to the crew, “you heard the captain, the more chaos the better!” Cheers went up and even the ship seemed to lurch forward at higher speeds as they rushed onward toward Abydos. Argok turned back to the captain, “Where will you be captain, in case something comes up?”
The captain didn’t bother looking back as she headed toward the stairwell that would lead into the belly of the ship. “Why with my pets, Argok. Where else would I be?” As if by some unseen command, the drakes below roared, hissed, and bellowed causing more than a few crew members to scamper away from the stairwell.
Argok smiled as he watched his captain saunter off down the stairs. Her departure heralded by more blood curdling roars.
3 days had passed since Merwenna had left the safety of Helmcross. Geldwheel Gate tunnels had been smooth and well worked with torch sconces every so many feet. But that had only been for the first 2 miles on the first day. Now the ground was rough and sometimes damp with moisture. Some sections were only 3 feet wide while others were 30 feet tall. Merwenna had been on many adventures with her father in the mountains, but this was much worse. There were no trees just strange fungus and lichens that glowed in all kinds of colors and hues. The closest thing to a forest down here had been on the second day when they came to a massive chain of caves. The entire complex was covered in mushrooms. Mushrooms from every shape, color, and size had been seen. Some mushrooms were no bigger than your finger while others towered over 50 feet in height.
Truly though, the worst part was not being able to see the sky. Whether a blue sky with clouds dancing along or a starry night glittering like diamonds, she could not see them here. Down here it was always dark and time just seemed to stop. The 3 days had felt like one long never ending night. She wasn’t the only one who felt that way either. She could tell that her bodyguard, Cristiana, and the other humans from Helmcross were in a sullen mood.
Only the 3 gnomes seemed to be enjoying themselves in the deep of the world. They chattered away most of the time in whispered tones until their ears perked up. When that happened several times, Merwenna and the others were surprised by some creature or a small band of goblins and orcs. So the delegates from Helmcross came to rely on the gnomes and let them lead the way.
The High Magus Adoril Millstone was a very enthusiastic talker. Each time they made camp he would sit by Merwenna and explain the culture and the politics of the Northern towns. He would talk about the customs of the gnomes and how an ambassador is expected to act in the presence of others. Merwenna learned a lot but she was thankful when Cristiana would politely intervene on Merwenna’s behalf.
Things had been going well for her first emissary trip. It was even starting to get boring again after their last encounter with 3 monstrous insect like creatures. They were known as Tunnel Crawlers by the gnomes because they had 15 pairs of legs and could crawl up the walls and even the cave ceilings. 2 had been over 10 feet long and Merwenna learned from Adoril that they were the females. The third had been a male at over 17 feet long. The gnomes believed there must have been a nest nearby otherwise they don’t normally attack.
Merwenna’s thoughts over the last couple of days were interrupted by Lebus rushing into their camp. His red curls bounced up and down as he hopped about the camp. Finding Adoril asleep, he snorted at the sight and then kicked Adoril in the rump. He began to hop up and down again and pointing back the way he came as Roono came up trying to calm the gnome down.
Adoril half rolled into the fire, his wispy snow colored beard getting singed in the process. He jumped up slapping his beard and rubbing his sore bottom at the same time. Merwenna stifled a laugh but she heard a few of the men chuckling as well.
“Confounded you graveled lump of clay, what did you do that for?” Adoril’s face was beet red as he gathered up his mage robes and cleaned himself up. He stopped suddenly as he realized what Lebus was doing.
Merwenna was puzzled by Lebus’ hand gestures and clicking sounds. She had been shocked to learn the gnome didn’t speak at all when they first had met. Adoril stopped what he was doing and shook his hands at Lebus, “Slow down lad, you’re not making any sense.” Lebus stopped, caught his breath, and then started again, but slower this time.
Merwenna saw he used a combination of clicks and hand signs. After a few minutes Lebus stopped and starred at Adoril and Roono, waiting for a reply. Roono shook his head and stepped back, he made a sign with his hands for a moment and walked over to the fire and sat down. Merwenna saw now that something was seriously wrong, because even Lebus was anxious, nervous even. Usually he was the happiest member of the group. He would hop along the tunnel as they travelled, clown around, and he even used magic for amusement.
He once conjured a crimson rose which he handed to Merwenna. When she had bent over to sniff it, it burst into miniature red frogs that hopped all over the soldiers causing a raucous.
Merwenna smiled for a moment; but only for a moment.
When she looked at Adoril’s face she knew there was danger ahead. His face was ghostly white and seemed to be lost in thought. She could tell he was muttering something to himself. She beckoned Cristiana to follow her as she got up from their sleeping area and hurried over to the High Magus. The knights took notice as Commander Barbossa came over as well.
“What is it my lady?” The commander’s charcoal locks masked his face as he belted his scabbard on.
“I am not sure, Adoril seems beside himself at something Lebus communicated to him.” Merwenna stepped up to Adoril, he was still muttering; shaking his head as he held onto a talisman around his neck. She had never noticed it before that moment; it must have been buried in under his robes. It was small and completely enclosed by his little hand.
“It shouldn’t be here…” Adoril muttered as he shut his eyes and muttered again. “It never ventures far from the Heart…”
“Lady Merwenna, what is he saying?” Sir Gavland had come up next to Barbossa. A bleached bone colored bow rested on his back. Auburn hair fell in braids down his back just like the long braids of his beard fell to his belt. He was the tallest man amongst all the knights of Helmcross; even a few inches over Lord Orin himself.
“Something shouldn’t be here?” She was confused by the muttering, it just wasn’t like the mage. “Something that shouldn’t venture far from the Heart?” She looked questioningly toward the 2 men. It was Barbossa’s turn to go white for a moment. He shook his head as Merwenna stood up and turned to him. “What is it, commander? Do you know what Lebus has found?” Cristiana stood nearby, her eyes scanning the small cavern they were in. Her left hand rested on the hilt of the short sword at her side.
“Impossible, that creature was defeated over 200 ago.” He suddenly became angry at the thought of deception, “The gnomes and dwarves lured it away from the Heart so it could be killed.” Barbossa pushed past Merwenna suddenly and grabbed Adoril and lifted him up. The gnome whimpered and grabbed helplessly at Barbossa’s arms, the talisman slipping into the folds of his robes once more.
“Barbossa, I command you to put him down!” Demanded Merwenna as she came up beside the two of them. Sir Gavland came up on their other side and tried to help bring the gnome down.
“Now come on, commander, it’s just a legend it can’t possibly be true.” The knight pulled on Barbossa’s arms again in vain.
Barbossa just stared angrily at Adoril as he held him by the collars of his robes. “Tell them what happened gnome,” he said venomously, “tell them what your people unearthed, and said to have destroyed!” He raised the gnome even higher, the mage’s little stubby legs kicking widely, “Tell them!”
Adoril coughed and sputtered as he tried to speak, “I, I…cc…can’t…bbbreeath…”
Merwenna grabbed Barbossa’s other arm, but gently. He seemed to notice her for the first time. His anger abated a little bit. “Commander, please,” she said softly to him, “Adoril can not tell us unless you put him down.” Barbossa stared at her for a long time. “Please…Barbossa?” she looked deeply into his eyes for what seemed like eternity.
In that moment his anger shattered and he lowered Adoril back down. He let go, hung his head, and went and sat by the fire with Roono who just solemnly nodded.
Merwenna watched Barbossa for a moment as he sat staring into the fire.
What is going on? She thought to herself. She turned back to Adoril who was still coughing and sputtering. Sir Gavland knelt with his water skin in his hand.
“Here, Master Millstone, drink slowly.” The knight helped the High Magus with the water skin. Adoril drank long and deeply for some time. He sighed when he was done and sat on a nearby rock. Lebus puts a hand on Adoril’s shoulder for comfort and it seemed like he was trying to consul him.
“Thank you, Sir Gavland. I am better now,” Adoril wrapped his robes tighter around himself and he seemed to regain some composure. “I believe, Lady Merwenna, that you and the others deserve an explanation,” the others moved closer except for Barbossa and Roono.
Merwenna sat on a rock near Adoril with Cristiana standing behind her. “Adoril, what is it that has the gnomes, and Barbossa, upset?” She glanced at Barbossa when she spoke.
Adoril took a deep breath and then set his eyes on the fire. He did not take his eyes from the flames for the rest of the conversation.
“Over 200 years ago in a great city underground lived a community of dwarves and gnomes…”
“Kholdorum…” Roono interrupted with a deep sadness in his voice.
“Yes, Kholdorum…” Adoril echoed in a far away voice. “It was a wondrous city full of the most advanced technology and inventions that could be found on Anoria.” Adoril cleared his throat before continuing, “In order to power so much technology, the inhabitants of Kholdorum dug deep into the rock. The area they were in had a lot of geothermal energy and they harnessed its power.”
Barbossa turned toward them just then, “until your people got greedy with power.”
“Yes…unfortunately.” Adoril agreed with a bit of shame in his voice. “We craved more power after we had built a sprawling a cave city complex. With so much innovation and technology we had tapped into every geothermal source in the area.”
“Not all, Adoril…” Roono whispered just loud enough for all to hear, though his gaze never left the fire.
“I know Roono, it’s just…” he lowered his head and closed his eyes in shame, “…it’s not a proud moment for either the gnomes or the dwarves.”
Merwenna smiled reassuringly and laid her hand on his shoulder. “Please continue Adoril. I can tell it is a heavy burden you bear.”
Adoril nodded, “Yes I suppose it is time to bring the truth to light.” He patted her hand with his, “there was one vent that rivaled all others…”
“…the Dragon’s Throat.” Barbossa, Roono, and Adoril said in unison.
“I’ve heard of the legend,” Sir Gavland spoke up. “Kholdorum was built around the Dragon’s Throat and it was believed that the vent bore all the way to the center of the world…”
“…the Heart of Anoria. The Heart, that is what it is called.” Barbossa broke in, “and its no legend, it’s the Abyss-forsaken truth.”
“You are right that the city was built around it, Sir Gavland. It became the focal point of the city, a symbol of its power.”
Barbossa grunted before taking out his water skin and taking a deep drawl from it.
“The city and all of its technology need more power to keep it running. So teams were sent down the vent tube to assess how we could funnel the energy back up to the city.” He wiped sweat away from his brow as he continued, “We cleaned up the walls and industrialized the tunnel as we made our way down the tube. About 1,000 miles later, the tube breached the Heart of Anoria. A massive cave that could hold the entire continent inside lay before us.” His voice had picked up in volume and fervor. “Oceans of lava spread out as far as you could see. Thousands of volcanoes erupted constantly as we looked around. The heat and temperature was so intense we had to have the highest level of magic to protect ourselves.”
Merwenna was a bit confused as she listened to the gnome, “Adoril, you keep saying ‘we’, I don’t understand.”
For the first time, the gnome smiled and turned his head towards her, “That’s because I was there.” The others around them murmured and whispered at the revelation.
“Kholdorum is my birthplace; I was born there over 317 years ago. I was just a mage’s apprentice then, working for an engineer who cared for the energy crystals that powered the city.”
Barbossa was getting frustrated with the line of conversation, so go up and pushed his way through the group. Sir Gavland stood to stop him, but Barbossa shook his head. He wasn’t going to start something, but there were wasting time by all the talking. “Enough Adoril, no more delaying,” he stood his ground as Sir Gavland stood with his hand pushing against the commander’s chest. Roono had finally gotten to his feet, his weapons at the ready.
“Stand down, Barbossa. Please…”Merwenna stood to face him.
“Tell them what’s ahead that Lebus saw!” He pointed down the tunnel, “Tell them what your people awakened in the Heart! Tell them what followed you back to Kholdorum!” He repeatedly jabbed his finger in the direction of the tunnel as he yelled at Adoril.
“Tell them what destroyed Kholdorum and threatened the Reach!”
Adoril winced at every word for he knew the answer to everything. “I was part of the group that unleashed the creature, Serovax, a fiery demon that was born of the very fires of the Heart.” The weight on his chest lessened a little as he told the truth that had been a secret for so long. “It followed us back up the Dragon’s Throat and unleashed a fiery destruction that annihilated the city. Rock and stone became molten slag,” he gulped as the images flooded back. “Gnomes and dwarves alike were turned to ash from its breath. In the end nothing was left except for a dozen High Magi and a handful of inventors and warriors.” He was sweating profusely now; his brow had rivers washing over him. “The last of us stopped the creature’s rampage finally. Finding its fiery carnage, and out of the ashes we had a new hope…”
“Some choice of words, gnome. Tell them the truth. The creature wasn’t destroyed, like the legend says,” Barbossa sneered as he stopped pushing against Sir Gavland.
The knight’s eyes went wide at the revelation. Sir Gavland spun around to face Adoril, “The legend is a lie? That can’t be…it…what happened?” Confusion and a slight amount of anger mixed with fear washed over the knight. “What did you do if you didn’t destroy the creature?”
Merwenna and the others snapped their eyes from the knight back to the gnome, “You didn’t destroy it?”
Adoril bowed his head for a moment to collect his thoughts before answering. It had been a secret of his people for so long, he had almost forgotten it. “We captured it…” He spread out his hands with a half-hearted smile.
“You captured it?” Merwenna echoed in disbelief. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing, for she knew the legend as well. Growing up she had been taught many of the legends and stories of the Northern Reach.
“Like the various crystals used to power the city, we had one manufactured to harness the power of the Heart.” More images flooded his vision as he recalled the events of so long ago. He sat there for a moment in silence as he relieved those times.
Lebus had moved back a few paces, and found a spot to sit as well. There he watched the humans gathered around them. He was a little edgy and a bit nervous about the secret that Adoril was now sharing with them. But he knew it needed to be explained, especially if they were going to defeat the creature. Adoril was the only gnome besides him that knew the full truth of the events that led to the creature being discovered, fought against, and eventually captured.
Though seeing the creature here now means it was all for nothing, he though to himself.
When Serovax appeared in Kholdorum Lebus had only been a gnome child at the time. His parents had been taken from him when the family had tried to flee the city. It was then that Lebus had breathed in the noxious fumes from the breath of the beast. The toxins in those billowy clouds rendered him speechless for the rest of his life.
Yes, I was there too, he had wanted to say out loud.
He had stared into the depths of liquid amber eyes that seemed to have a life of their own. That vision haunted his nights for his entire life. It hadn’t been more than 2 days later that he had been found wandering the ruins by Adoril. From that day forth he had been at Adoril’s side trying to rebuild Kholdorum. When that failed, all eyes had been set on Geldwheel. Ever since then Adoril had poured his every waking moment into the capital of the gnomes.
Lebus came back to the present situation as Adoril continued, “Using magic and the largest crystal we ever created, we imprisoned Serovax for what we hoped would be for all time.” Lebus knew what was coming next. He turned his eyes toward their comrade, Roono, who he could tell was putting the pieces together.
“Not only did the crystal act as a prison for the creature, but it also acted as a power source. It became the greatest power source the gnomes ever had in their possession.” Adoril sighed as he turned toward Lebus for a moment. He looked where Lebus was looking and saw Roono staring back at them; the realization dawning on his features.
Roono’s left hand reached down for his short sword and gripped it tightly. “Don’t you dare say it, Adoril. Don’t you dare!” His chest was heaving as he struggled to compose himself. He struggled not to rush up to Adoril and plunge his sword into the gnome.
“I am sorry Roono, but it is true…” Adoril bowed his head in submission.
Merwenna saw the tension building between the gnomes. She got up just then, signaled to Cristiana to stay close, and moved between the two gnomes. She knelt as she turned towards Roono and stared into his eyes for a moment. She could see a deep pain and sadness etched across his face, but she also saw betrayal and anger as well. “Roono, what is it? What has happened?” She placed one hand on his little shoulder and the other on the hand holding his sword.
The tension and anger melted a bit, replaced by fear and a deep sadness. Roono began to sob, his body trembling uncontrollably.
“Geldwheel…” Barely a whisper, it escaped his lips. If Merwenna hadn’t been kneeling by him she never would have heard it.
“Geldwheel…” Again it was a whisper, but this time slightly louder and mixed with an aching groan. Lebus was whimpering behind Adoril. The High Magus had risen then and went to comfort the young gnome.
The knights were confused at the site of the gnomes. Sir Gavland stepped over to Roono and Lady Merwenna as he spoke just above a whisper, “My lady, what is going on?”
Merwenna shook her head, “I am not sure, Roono keeps repeating the word, ‘Geldwheel,’ other than that he has said nothing.”
It finally clicked for Sir Gavland after listening to their conversation he understood what had happened. He couldn’t believe it, but it was the only thing that made sense.
“The Addaris Crystal?” He half said to himself as he asked out loud.
Adoril nodded solemnly, “The Addaris Crystal…” he fell to his knees beside Lebus as the full weight of the tragedy came crashing down on his shoulders.
Barbossa was shocked and outraged, “You fools! First you captured the creature that destroyed Kholdorum instead of killing it,” he shook his fist at Adoril, “and then you bring it back to the capital city of the Gnomes.”
Merwenna spun around, “No…” her eyes wide with shock and threatening to flood with tears, “No, it can’t be.”
“If the creature is her in the cave then Geldwheel is most likely lost.” Barbossa couldn’t believe the audacity, the stupidity of the gnomes. “If it was indeed the Addaris Crystal then that means the stone powering the capital at the center of the city was its prison.”
“Yes…” Adoril said barely above a whisper. Barbossa could see now that the gnome was broken; his spirit destroyed by what they had brought on themselves. As much as he was angry with what they had done, he also knew that they may very well have lost everything they hold dear. He regained his composure and walked up to the gnome. Adoril recoiled in fear against Lebus’ chest, raising his arm for the inevitable attack.
But it never came.
Instead, Adoril looked up into the eyes of a man who understood what he may very well have lost. Barbossa put out a hand to help the gnome up. Adoril took it reluctantly and was immediately pulled to his feet. He could see that Merwenna, Cristiana, and Sir Gavland stood behind Barbossa. They were just as surprised as he was at Barbossa’s change in attitude.
“High Magus Adoril Millstone,” the commander said sternly, “A grave mistake has been made.”
Adoril winced and drew back but not far, for Barbossa held his hand firmly, “Geldwheel may or may not be lost, and the rest of the Reach could be at stake.”
The commander’s grip lessened a bit, “Right now it seems that we are at an impasse, because Serovax stands in our way.” Barbossa let go and stood tall in front of the gnome, “I ask you now, can it be defeated? Or do we tuck tail and run all the way back to Helmcross? If we make it that far…”
The humans from Helmcross smiled at the change in their commander, and Lebus seemed his old self again. He began to hop around and then went up to Adoril making signs and smiling.
“I have a wrong I need to make right, Commander Barbossa,” Adoril fixed his robes and brushed some dust off, “and I aim to see it to the end.”
Pleased with the gnome he turned to the Helmcross knights, “Get yourselves ready men, we have a beast to slay.” The men nodded and cheered before turning back to the camp to prepare themselves. Barbossa turned back to the gnome, “So how do we kill the beast?”
Adoril though for a moment, and then his eyes lit up, “For the last 2 centuries Geldwheel has lived on the power of Serovax. The city was literally sucking the life out of the creature. It would eventually have died a slow death; one that we would have gladly given it.”
Merwenna stepped forward, “What are you saying Adoril?”
“The beast should be weak,” he had a large smile across his face, “200 years of being drained of its life force should have significantly hindered its power.”
Barbossa stroked his goatee as he though about that for a moment, “Then if the creature is weak, it should not have done too much damage to Geldwheel.”
“I truly hope so for the sake of my people, none the less, it is weak enough to be killed.” He looked around at the camp and its inhabitants for a moment.
I don’t know if we can achieve victory without more magi, he thought to himself.
He shook his head of the gloomy thoughts as stared past the camp and it seemed through the rock walls.
“What is troubling you, my gnomish friend?” Barbossa folded his arms as he watched Adoril.
“I was just wishing we had more magi, that’s all. When we first faced the creature, we had six magi and 17 warriors. But now…” he spread his hands as he implied their group.
They looked around for a moment and then at each other before Merwenna stepped up. “Not true, my dear Adoril,” she looked around at the skeptical faces except for Cristiana who tried to hide her smile. “We have you, Lebus know a thing or two, and…”She hesitated a moment, “there is me as well.” She glanced at Cristiana for strength, who nodded an encouragement.
“I admit I felt an aura about you my lady, but forgive me for asking,” Adoril cautiously asked her; he didn’t want to offend her.
“What can I do?”
What can you do?” they both said at once.
“I apologize, Lady Merwenna, I mean no offense in asking,” Adoril’s face had gone cherry red.
Merwenna giggled; even Cristiana quietly chuckled at the gnome’s complexion and uneasiness.
“It’s alright Adoril. As a High Magus, you have a right to ask, and it’s good to know what assets we have to work with.” Merwenna stepped off to one side, away from everyone else.
She bowed her head and began to speak in a whispered voice, “Almighty Eschua, I ask in this time of trials for you guidance and wisdom,” a low thrum began to pulse around the campsite. “Almighty, I ask a blessing over you servants and that your will be done in the time ahead,” a light appeared from nowhere in the cavern, it started small near the roof’s apex.
Then it grew as she continued to whisper, “Eschua I gladly give myself so that others may know you and drink in your blessing.” As it grew, small crystal blue orbs began to fall like snow, floating around the cavern slowly toward the floor far below. Those that landed on the terrain around them lingered a moment before disappearing. The ones that landed on people seeped into their clothes and skin, warmth washing over them. Dark emotions and despair were replaced with light that welled up inside of them like rushing water trying to break free.
Any aches and pains from their trek through the underground world dissipated and their strength, and Adoril’s powers were renewed. Sir Gavland stretched his arms and pulled out his claymore with one hand. He swung it easily around like a boy with a stick to the amazement of those around him. He went through a few fighting routines before stopping to stare at the blade. He stared for a long moment, and then closed his eyes; his lips moving to only silence.
He opened his eyes once more, returned the blade to its home and turned to Merwenna, “My lady…” he could not think of the right words to express his gratitude.
Barbossa chuckled at his long time friend and comrade, “I think what our knightly friend is trying to say,” He stretched a bit himself, “is thank you for that blessing.” He bowed politely and then went into the camp to prepare himself.
“Yes…yes, thank you Lady Merwenna,” he stammered, then caught himself. He bowed and returned to his own preparations.
Adoril held on to his talisman once more and Merwenna could now see it plainly. It was a pendant made of the finest rubies she had ever seen. A bar of the purest gold travelled from its northern apex until it ended at its southern one. A thin bar of the diamond ran east to west piercing the bar of gold just above the center of the pendant. He followed her gaze down to it and smiled as he looked back into her eyes.
“Yes Lady Merwenna, I too follow Eschua,” he took the necklace off and handed it to her.
She took it in reverence, “this is a talisman in honor of Eschua, it is most beautiful Adoril.” She cupped it in her hands and she looked into its glittering facets.
Adoril smiled at the comment, “Yes it is. You see all power comes from Eschua; we are each given gifts from him. It just depends on how we use those gifts, whether we waste them or embrace them.” He seemed sad for a moment as a thought crossed his mind, “Though some people use their gifts for the wrong reasons. Some, like those that serve the Dark Lord Delnok, have twisted their blessings into heresy and use their powers only to serve themselves and the Dark Lord.” He shuddered as he mentioned Eschua’s greatest enemy and once, greatest servant.
Merwenna grabbed the chain on both sides and softly laid it back around Adoril’s neck. She kissed Adoril on the forehead and then placed both hands on his shoulders as she looked into his eyes, “Do not dwell on such things Adoril, Eschua guides us and is always watching over us.”
She giggled as Adoril blushed from the kiss, “Now master Millstone, shall we prepare for what awaits us?”
Adoril composed himself and placed his left hand on hers, “Yes my lady and I am proud to have someone such as you by our side.”
With that, they all returned to camp and began to work on tearing down the camp and each preparing themselves in their own way to face the beast.