Minoru stood motionless, her cloak wrapped tightly around her, shielding her from the swirling winds circling the mountain even now as the sun’s rays peeked over the distant hills. She looked tiny against the slopes of Starport Mountain, clad in black, stark against the white snow that had stopped in the night. She was tired, her nights had been long of late – but she would not be swayed from finishing what they had started. Deep in another cavern on the mountain, she found and dispatched another few parasites who had found the dark hole to hide in.
Was she doing the right thing? Would she ever be certain she had cleansed the mountain? Had her messages even been received since the tower?
She gripped the hilt of her blade reflexively… wasn’t this a sign? Surely it wasn’t a coincidence. Minoru thought now of the sound she heard in the cave on the north side. Or she thought she heard? She thought back to the scene – the cave strewn with animal bones, clearly a den for some time, but abandoned for such a time that webs fell like curtains. And still… why would she have ventured there if not for the sound? No – she did hear it. So long in solitude on the mountain could not explain the sound. The blade though… leaning against the rock… untouched by time it seemed like it was polished yesterday. And the sound – the moment she touched it… dissipated.
No – she was where she should be. She was The Occultist, and fate itself was her guide.
“Are we close?”
“How would I know? Who can tell what a mile is in this underbrush!?”
“You weren’t counting? We’re going to be out here all day!”
“Shhhh… there’s supposed to be patrols out here, remember?”
“Yeah yeah… I got it.”
Ereveron sighed. Amateurs.
From his perch, Ereveron watched the bungling messengers pass him more than once, unwittingly doubling back on themselves instead of moving in one direction.
“What do you want?” Ereveron called down to the forest floor below. Stopping in their tracks like deer altered to a predator, both men scanned around them, looking for the source of the voice.
“Is that you? Sir – we have a message if that’s you.”
“It is. What is the message?” The men still looked panicked as they scanned the forest around them.
“With respect sir, the message is sensitive…”
Fine. Ereveron sighed. Dropping down from his perch high above the forest floor, sliding down a vine like a spider on its web, the men both jumped as Ereveron revealed himself. It had been weeks, but there was no shortage of orc fodder for Ereveron to spend his days in the forest. Gone for days at a time, the small outpost he used for supplies anchored him for now, but it would soon be time to move on – the broken Orcish Ereveron understood suggested something was going on in the east.
The messengers stood now at awkward attention.
“Sir, there is a band of orcs coming up from the south – we got word an hour ago. They are near to the village and they need you.” The messenger’s eyes dropped when he finished.
“Thank you.” Ereveron turned and darted off into the forest.
“Where’d he go?”
“He was just there – that’s spooky.”
“You know Darina back at the outpost?”
“You know she’s good with languages, right? She said orcs don’t speak so good, but they have a name for him. She said it’s Uruk-Vras’ee. She said it means “The Orc Killer”. They’re scared of him.”
His wine had breathed plenty – this was getting ridiculous. Gallydyn absent-mindedly turned the goblet around and around, his eyes on the door, waiting. It had been days of riding and longer since hearing word that he might be here. If there was a chance he could find another, then it would be worth it. Would Gallydyn recognize him? Would he recognize Gallydyn? It had been such a long time… and while Gallydyn understood better now how to use the symbol, there were still so many questions.
Then the door opened. Was this him? The figure was cloaked and hooded, the garb of a man on the road. Pulling back his hood, Gallydyn sighed. He had never seen this man before. But just as Gallydyn‘s hopes collapsed, the man started across the room towards him.
“Are you him?” The stranger asked gruffly. Gallydyn wasn’t about to volunteer much, but he didn’t have to. Sitting down across from him the man grabbed Gallydyn‘s mug and drank, his eyes never wavering from Gallydyn‘s.
“If you’re him, then I’ve got a message for you.”
Gallydyn relented, only willing to nod.
“The man you are looking for is not coming.” He paused, perhaps waiting for a reaction, but Gallydyn was a statue; realizing now he expected as much. “The man you sent is dead. Stop looking for them. Trust me, you’re better off.”
Just as Gallydyn was about to speak, the man sprang up and moved quickly back to the door.
“Wait.” Gallydyn said but the man did not hesitate. Trying not to attract attention with magic, Gallydyn pushed back his chair and moved to follow the man outside, Gallydyn couldn’t help but wonder: Why send someone at all?
Grabbing the swinging door and pulling it back open, Gallydyn moved out into the night to continue the conversation, but this guy was fast. Perplexed, Gallydyn instinctively blinked to the other side of the building. And again, and again.
The streets were empty.
Rainier turned his hands back and forth, noticing again they were different now… older. He immersed them in the bowl and wrung them together, trying to rinse off the blood. Satisfied enough, he grabbed the small towel on his shoulder and dried them, sighing in relief now that the boy was sleeping soundly. Rainier was glad the boy was enthralled by his healing magic – it helped to distract from the pain of his wound.
Accidents happen, sure… but this was different. Rainier had seen potential tragedies like this too much lately as he roamed from village to village, town to town. Young people trying to take up arms to defend loved ones, or worse… trying to be heroes against the growing violence around them. Rainier thought of the mountain… of the bizarre parasites and shuddered. He was glad not to have seen them again, but he had heard things… Candlefen wasn’t the only place they’d been seen. But it was the orcs now that plagued these villages… where Rainier now found himself.
Straightening up and stretching tall, Rainier stepped out of the tent into the cold night air. No one else was in need of his gift – all was well again here. So far travelled from where he fought for The Emperor years ago, there was little news about those who had fought in The Emperor’s armies, but a merchant he met yesterday had said he knew of a former party of soldiers that had taken up as a village guard to the east.
I’ll head that way in the morning, I guess. Rainier thought to himself… there would be plenty of need to share The Priestess’ gift with on his way.
“This is the rest of it, I swear!”
“Do I need to count it?” Fastion tightened his grip slightly.
“No, I swear… please!” the man choked loudly.
Releasing his grip, the man tumbled back against the wall and rubbed his neck in pain. His pleading look was convincing – he was telling the truth. Grabbing the pouch, Fastion tossed it lightly in his hand, feeling the weight of the coins that jingled inside.
“It better be.” Fastion warned. “If I have to come back here because you held out on the winners, I’ll take more than the gold you owe these people.”
Fastion turned his back on the bookie and surveyed the room. A couple of broken chairs, a desk, and a couple of unconscious ill-reputed ‘money-lenders’ was a very reasonable expense.
I think this is the last of them. Fastion took out a small parchment with a list of names. Running down the list, he stopped. Nope – one more stop. Fastion grinned slightly – this was the most fun he’d had in weeks – better than wading knee-deep through orc blood – that felt like fighting the waves.
It was a little odd, Fastion thought, how he had gotten this job. Well, different at least. This whole ‘drop box’ type of message was a little out of the ordinary, but after he looked into it, there was an obvious issue – welching on bets and ‘collecting’ no matter what? Fastion had seen these small start-up tough-guys before, but it was easy enough to snap if caught early. Besides, ‘giving back’ felt good and who was going to miss such a tiny percentage?
Fastion couldn’t help grin – what charismatic wit! He looked at his list again and recognized the address.
Yep, I know this place – done in no time.
Fastion cracked his knuckles and slipped on his gauntlets as he headed out into the cold.
All of a sudden, you see a familiar sight in the distance. A faintly glowing orb – blue and pulsing slowly – it hovers at the edge of your sight. You’ve seen this before… in the marshes north of Candlefen… it was The Archmage.
Just as the memory comes to you, the orb starts toward you with incredible speed. Deftly ducking to avoid being struck, you right yourself to see it has stopped, feet from you, pulsing and waiting patiently. Just as before, the sphere hovers above the ground, almost as tall as you stand, and inside, just as before, an image begins to coalesce. This time, however, it is not the one who appeared to you as The Archmage before… this was someone… different.
“Greetings…” the woman begins. “I am Sephare. I come to you now at the behest of my master, and with great urgency. You have been of service to The Archmage before, and he has another task for you – someone he knows to be capable.”
The orb begins to move now, ever so slightly, and the Sephare’s image moves with it – you can tell that wherever she is, she is moving and the image is following her.
“You know of the other-worldly threat we face. You perhaps have seen the ‘comet’ that hunts the sky and rains fire. The plague that emerges can be dealt with, but we have received word that The Dwarf King has managed to capture a meteorite without it damaging anything or unleashing the parasites from within. He has made known that he is willing to ‘sell’ the meteorite to whoever is willing to meet his demands.” Sephare rolls her eyes at that, but continues: “We must have access to this meteorite; it may hold the key to meeting this growing threat.”
Pausing for effect, but without a response, Sephare continues: “He has ‘declared’ that he will hear the offers of interested parties a secluded fort on the slopes of Balor, a volcano in the north of his domain. Whatever powerful magicks he has employed to guard the secret of where the meteorite is, they are beyond my means of detection. We need you to secure us the meteorite, by whatever means will cause the least offence. Offer what you must. Should other interested parties look as though they are swaying the dwarf’s decision, you may add that my master will share the location of a sealed vault deep underground that his wards have kept protected for… well… a long time.”
As Sephare paused, so did the orb, and from over her shoulder, you could clearly see a high arched window and beyond it… clouds? Fog?
“Once you’ve secured the meteorite, send word and your task will be at an end. You will meet the others en route. It should be said that this task you are being given is of the utmost importance to the security of the realm, and it is not offered lightly. The Archmage trusts few, and now you are one of those he does. You must head there immediately, and for what you have done and will soon do, you have my thanks.”
With that, Sephare’s image fades, and the sphere, as before, falls to the ground and collapses like water in the ground.
The wind picks up, and a crow calls out in the distance.
So… I’ll meet the others en route, eh?