Part 28 of The Adventures of The Split Falchion
The door to the next room had been all but obliterated by the spell. Urged on by Jorduna’s strange countenance, all rushed through the new opening. The doorway led into a relatively small room, but what it held was by no means unimportant.
Through the door was simply an exposed rock face, scrawlings carved into the stone in a language Marwyn didn’t recognize.
“It’s just more carvings, Jor,” Vargard says, unimpressed by the sight.
Perin, however, was astounded. “That’s… by Siberys,” he cries, “I never imagined…”
“Var,” Lesani says, equally in awe, “These writings aren’t in goblin. They’re in high draconic.”
“Why would the hobgoblins write something in draconic?” Vargard asks the warlock.
“They wouldn’t,” Langhorn answers for her, the professor taking out his reading glasses, “Mr. Garodin… I honestly can’t believe I’m saying this, but this is an original fragment of the draconic prophecy. A prophecy mark. Such sites are… almost unheard of. I never thought I would see one for myself.”
“What does it say?” Shakris asks, pulling out her journal.
“I… deciphering this will be a challenge, no doubt,” Langhorn answers, “A mark of this size… days, if not weeks.”
“How’d you know what it was, Jor?” Marwyn asks Jorduna, aside.
“Story for another time, kid,” she answers, staring at the prophecy mark, “But the last one I saw wasn’t this big.”
“Needless to say… this expedition was worth every sacrifice thus far,” Perin comments, unable to tear himself away from the prophecy wall, “The ritual chamber in and of itself is a notable find but this… this will make history!”
“What now?” Vargard asks, begrudgingly admiring the importance of what he saw before him.
“Now? Now? I probably spend the night here just getting a handle on… this,” he gestures broadly, “No doubt you’ve done fine work so far, Mr. Garodin. I have no doubt the university will shower us all in gold and respect for such a find. Take the day off, hell, tomorrow too. There’s still half of this section left to explore, but I’m not too picky about when you get to it.”
“Not worried about any of the wights?”
“Sir, you would need a battalion to take this room from me,” Perin reassures.
“We’ll take our leave then,” Vargard says. Lesani gives him a look, and he adds, “Though would you mind if I leave Les behind just in case?”
“No, no, not at all!” the professor cries, “The more the merrier! What about you, Langhorn?”
“How could I leave something like this? I imagine you’ll need my and Shakris’ help in deciphering this,” he answers.
“Of course, who knows what it could say?” Perin asks rhetorically, “What insight into the future it may give. It’s all very exciting, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Marwyn agrees, enjoying the general air of exuberance.
“We’ll be back at camp, Les,” Vargard says, “Send if something happens.”
“Will do, Var,” Lesani says, while running a gentle hand across one of the symbols.
Nightfall, Split Falchion Camp
Vargard, sensing that it would be better to be close in case of emergency, had set their camp in the empty room adjacent to the banquet hall. From there, they could reach the prophecy mark room in a minute at running pace, as opposed to 10 from the worker camp. Unfortunately, the enclosed space prevented them from lighting a fire, and they ate their dinner cold.
“So, how did you know about the marks, Jor. Prophecy marks?” Marwyn clarifies, feeling his back itch slightly as he does so.
“Back when I was… in Darguun,” Jorduna answers, in between bites of a chicken leg, “There’s a famous one in the Seven Caves, near where I grew up.”
“Seven Caves?” Marwyn asks.
“Yeah, seven huge caverns, they extend all the way down into the bowels of Khyber,” Jorduna explains, “They served as a shelter for my people in ages past, back around when the daelkyr invaded.”
“Da…” Marwyn starts to ask.
“Demons. Not exactly, but there is little distinction when you get down to it,” Jorduna cuts him off, sensing the question.
“Haven’t bothered us in ages though,” Vargard contributes, “Pretty much got driven off by the Dhakaani.”
“As well as others,” Jorduna agreed, “But our empire was pretty much wrecked by it. Civil wars, other races taking the chance to get the jump on us. Those who didn’t want to fight sought shelter in those caves. Legend is, right as the inhabitants were being overrun by soldiers who had found them, the rocks sang. The prophecy was carved in front of all across the walls of the caverns. In awe of this, the soldiers laid down their arms, and swore to protect the sanctity of the Seven Caves. Those who gathered there formed what would be the first goblin clan to come into existence after the fall of the empire, the Kech Volaar,” she finishes, distant look in her eyes.
“I didn’t know you were so eloquent, Jor,” Vargard says, “You’ve never told me that story before.”
“Never came up,” the rogue shrugs.
“What did that prophecy say?” Marwyn asks.
“Hell if I know,” Jorduna answers simply, “I can just recognize the script, not like I can read it. Probably said a lot of things.”
“Why’d you leave Darguun? It sounds like you liked it there.”
“Not something I’m willing to say, kid,” Jorduna says, with less force than her usual rebuke. Marwyn got the sense that she was… sad. He looks to Vargard, and the warrior simply shakes his head.
The bard lets the matter drop, and silence falls over the camp.
“Hey, Jor,” Marwyn says, after finishing his food, “I… I learned the rest of that song. Do you want me to…”
“Fine,” she answers woodenly, hiding all emotion. Marwyn hesitantly pulls out his lute, unsure if she was sarcastic or serious.
The tune was simple, almost sweetly so, and as he plays it, the bard tries not to think of how he had acquired it. There may be more fighting tomorrow, but for now, he wanted to feel safe. The song was a good choice, its melody seemed to almost soften the stone around them. It must have been his imagination, but Marwyn could swear the torches lighting the room almost danced with music, flickering side to side along with the beat. Jorduna leaned back against the wall, eyes closed, letting the music wash over her.
Vargard, for his part, enjoyed the tune as well, but wasn’t as enthralled by it as the other two. When the stone on his hip chimes softly, he steps out of the room carefully, trying not to disturb the bard and the rogue.
“What is it Les?” he asks, a suitable distance away from the camp.
“Var, what are you doing right now?” Lesani asks hurriedly.
“Talking to you?”
“Is anyone else doing anything?”
“Les, what is going on?”
“The words, Var, they are shifting!” Lesani yells, urgency in her voice, “We cannot figure out why.”
“We’re just at camp, Les. Marwyn’s even playing a campfire song. Not that we have a campfire,” he adds regrettably.
“What is Jor doing? Are you sure she is there?”
“Yeah, Les, everything is fine over here. She’s just listening to the music.”
“Jor? Listen to Marwyn?” Lesani asks skeptically.
“Yeah, Les, seems he learned the rest of that song Jorduna knew. She was a bit troubled by all this,” he says, looking out at his surroundings, “We both know how painful mention of Darguun can be for her. I think it’s a good think, closest I’ve ever seen the two.”
“He’s playing the song that rapier taught him?”
“That could be it! Keep him playing, that song could be the key to the mark!”
“Les… what?” Vargard says, confused, “It’s just a song.”
“If you were here, you would not think that. Music is a magic of its own, Var. Keep him playing!” she repeats, cutting the connection.
Marwyn had just finished the song when Vargard returned. “Marwyn, keep playing that song.”
“You like it?” Marwyn asks, pleased. “I wasn’t sure if I would be able to play it perfectly, but this rapier…”
“Marwyn, keep playing the song,” Vargard repeats, “I don’t exactly understand, but Les says it’s doing something to the prophecy mark.”
Both Marwyn and Jorduna look to him with surprise and confusion, but Marwyn obliges the warrior. “What’s it doing?” Jorduna asks.
“I won’t pretend to know,” Vargard answers over Marwyn’s playing, “But she was adamant I keep Marwyn playing. Come on.”
“Where to?” Jorduna asks.
“Prophecy room. I want to see this for myself,” Vargard explains. “You too Marwyn.”
“O…k…,” he says, while standing and continuing the music at the same time. He was just as confused as everyone else, but felt it best to just follow Vargard’s orders without question.
The three arrive to find the others enthralled by the prophecy mark. The twisting marks on the wall were shifting slowly, seemingly without rhyme or reason.
“Woah,” Vargard says, seeing this, “Les, you weren’t kidding.”
“My song’s doing this?” Jorduna asks, awestruck.
“Perhaps,” Lesani replies, “Where exactly did you first hear it.”
“My… my mother,” Jorduna responds hesitantly, “It’s something than ran in our family. Dunno where it came from.”
“It’s curious,” Perin remarks, “But as the symbols shift I… almost get the sense this is how they are supposed to be read. It’s completely nonsensical, but I can almost make out… How long can your man keep playing?”
“Marwyn?” Vargard asks, looking to the bard.
“An hour?” the bard guesses, never having to sustain a melody for so long before, “How long do you need me to?”
“As long as possible,” Perin answers, “We’re on the verge of something here. Knowledge hidden behind a song, of all things. This is unheard of!”
“Dying!” Shakris suddenly says.
“What?” her mentor turns to her, concentration broken.
“Here,” she says, pointing out several glyphs which had momentarily joined together in their travels across the rock face, “Just… look at it. It’s almost as if I have to strain both physical and arcane senses, but there’s a phrase that’s just…”
“I see it too,” Lesani confirms, “The glyphs are spelling out something. The song is the key!”
“It makes me wonder if other melodies will elicit other prophecies. Perhaps this is true of all prophecy marks. This is astounding! But we should focus on the task at hand,” Perin wonders aloud, as everyone besides Marwyn gathers around Shakris.
More glyphs joined what was becoming a stationary mass amount the floating runes. Together, they formed one large pattern, a swirl of lines that somehow projected words into the mind of those who read them.
“’With the dying’, there it is,” Shakris reads off the forming phrase, “’Dying of the light,’”
“’Good intention brings… great calamity,” Perin continues, eyes drawn to another portion of the pattern.
“The Sea of Siberys shall be brought by force to new harbor,” Lesani says, inspiration leading her to speak next.
“The Broken endangered by once pure hands,” Langhorn picks up, the majority of the pattern having been formed.
“Salvation… salvation found only in mournful reflection,” Jorduna states, startled to find the words coming to her as well.
“Winter’s Bow to bring to an end,” Marwyn finishes, to the surprise of all.
“Is that it?” Perin asks the group in general, “Anyone else see anything?”
“No,” was the general response, and the pattern of symbols on the wall seemed to support this. It glowed, faintly, amid the background of sliding glyphs. No others seemed to gain purchase on its body.
“Should I keep playing?” Marwyn asks, holding the lute up.
“For a few minutes, perhaps, just in case we do not miss anything,” Lesani replies.
After a few more repetitions of the song, it became clear that the prophecy mark had said all it meant to. Marwyn sets the lute down, fingers slightly sore.
“Let me see if I got this right,” Shakris says, referencing her journal,
“’With the dying of the light,
Good intention brings great calamity.
The Sea of Siberys will be brought by force to new harbor,
The Broken endangered by once pure hands.
Salvation will be found only in mournful reflection,
Winter’s Bow to bring about an end.’”
“Yeah, that’s what I remembered,” Jorduna confirms, watching the symbols on the wall fall apart, dissolving into the enigmatic soup that it once was.
“I think… I think I need to sleep on this,” Perin comments, exhaustion suddenly in his voice.
“We set up camp a few rooms back. Plenty of room for everyone,” Vargard mentions. He wasn’t sure how to feel about what just happened, or that he was the only one that a part of the prophecy didn’t come to.
“Thanks,” Perin says, “I… wasn’t sure what I expected, but this prophecy seems a bit…”
“Dire,” Lesani says, supplying the words when Perin falters, “Draconic prophecy is always duplicitous in nature. I would not pretend to fully understand it after a first reading. Let us do as Professor Perin suggests, and sleep on it.”
There was general agreement, and the seven started walking out of the room, back to the tents that had been set up earlier.
“It’s gone! It’s gone!” cried a voice in the middle of the night, rousing Marwyn from his sleep. His rest had been troubled, though he couldn’t exactly say why. That, combined with the stress of yesterday, makes his exit from the tent last among his peers.
A very agitated Professor Perin was facing the rest of the weary inhabitants of the goblin ruins. “What’s gone?” Vargard asks, rubbing his eyes.
“The mark! The prophecy mark!” Perin exclaims, “I had arisen from my trance, and wanted another look, and the wall is barren!”
“Calm down,” Vargard cautions, noting the man was near raving.
“Calm down!? Calm down!? One of the biggest discoveries of my life just disappeared to Khyber knows where! What am I supposed to do?”
“Let us rest,” the warrior answers, “We’ll explore the rest of this place in the morning, see if there’s anything that’s suppressing the mark.”
“Var,” Lesani sighs, “That is not how prophecy marks work. They do not just… disappear.”
“Yes!” Perin exclaims, “And now no one will believe I’ve found. This is a disaster!”
“We still have the ritual chamber to explore, Perin,” Langhorn reminds, “That alone is worthy of research.”
“Yes, yes, but a prophecy mark! A new, unheard of prophecy mark, that reacts to music of all things! To just slip through my fingers…”
“I’ve got the translation,” Shakris reminds, from beside Langhorn, “Even if the mark’s gone. We could compare it to literature on the prophecy, see if it matches other known prophecies.”
“Perin, look,” Vargard cuts in, “My team needs to rest. Can you take this to another room?”
“I can accompany you to the prophecy room, to check for any lingering auras,” Lesani reasons, having had completed her trance just before Perin interrupted her compatriots’ rest.
“I… I suppose…” Perin says, calming down slightly, “The workers will be coming back at under-dawn in two hours, I doubt you’ll be able to sleep through that.”
“We’ll be ready,” Vargard replies, already halfway back to his tent.
Bereft of the sun, those who work in the Cogs for days on end often find themselves regulated by an artificial sun, whose movements across the skies are dictated not by nature, but by their overseer. Under-dawn, as was the common word for it, marked the beginning of such a work day. For those above ground, however, it would still be some time before the sun would rise.
This mattered little to Marwyn, as he was woken by the tramping of feet outside of his tent. When they had set up their camp, they had left the center aisle free in anticipation of such travel. Unfortunately, they could do nothing about the noise. Vargard was talking to the foreman when he exited his tent, and Jorduna was strapping on her armor.
“Your name is Marcus, right?” Vargard asks, having pulled the foreman to the side.
“Yeah, ‘s right,” he nods, “Look, I’ve gotta…”
“I’ll be brief,” Vargard replies, “We’ll be looking down that way over there,” he says, gesturing towards the hallway that had been left unsearched yesterday. Jorduna had placed a few tripwires along the passage, just in case something had tried to sneak up on them through the unsecured doorway. “My warlock accompanied Perin to the room you uncovered yesterday. Can you tell her to rejoin us?”
“Yeah, sure,” the foreman agrees, “Just keep a lookout for traps, ok? I could’ve been in that explosion if I hadn’t checked on you.”
“We will,” Vargard reassures, and the man rejoins the throng of Cogs workers moving to resecure the fountain room.
“So Les, any idea what’s going on?” Vargard asks, when Lesani rejoins them.
“No, Var,” Lesani replies, shaking her head, “Langhorn, Perin and I combined couldn’t figure it out. The mark seems to have just… gone.”
“Is that not normal?” Marwyn asks. “I mean, the one in Jor’s story just appeared…”
“Jor’s story?” Lesani says, an eyebrow raised.
“Tell you about it later,” Vargard answers, carefully monitoring Jor out of the corner of his eye for any signs of protest. He doubted she’d mind, but it never pays to insult the rogue.
“These marks… no, they do not just disappear,” Lesani explains, “Though they also do not just react to any random song that floats on the breeze. It…” she pauses, unsure of what she was about to say, “It almost seems as if there is a force at work that is manipulating the prophecy.”
“What could do that?”
“Nothing! Well, unless you consider the source of the prophecy…”
“Siberys?” Marwyn questions, “But I thought it was dead.”
“No one truly knows what Siberys is, and whether it can really be dead,” Lesani says, “It is an uneasy mystery, especially given the content of the prophecy.”
“What does it mean, anyways?” Jorduna cuts in, “’Dying of the light’? ‘Winter’s Bow’?”
“The prophecy is well-known for being ambiguous in nature. If Professor Langhorn is to be believed, then we are perhaps already facing the first of the prophecy’s predictions,” Lesani explains, “Though it may also simply refer to the coming of winter. Yesterday was the shortest day of the year, after all.”
“I don’t like the sound of that last part, though,” Marwyn responds, remembering that it had been he himself who had uttered the words, “An ‘end’. Maybe all this is about a weapon that can destroy the world?!”
“Maybe, but it could also be a bow, like how someone does at the end of a play,” Jorduna reasons, “So we’ve got until the end of winter to figure this out.”
“We can discuss this later,” Vargard cuts in, “We have more rooms to clear, and we need to be focused. Les, maybe we’ll find something else that’ll get us a better understanding, but right now we have a job to do.”
“Of course, Var,” Lesani agrees, brought back down to earth.
The dark stone hallway ahead grounded the awe Marwyn had felt ever since seeing the prophecy mark, feeling the ominous foreboding growing with each careful step forward. That progress is stopped suddenly when Jorduna grabs the back of Vargard’s jerkin, the unexpected pull causing both to topple backwards.
“Pressure plate,” she whispers, pinned under the warrior. He gets back up, carefully avoiding stepping on the stone Jorduna indicated.
“Good eye,” he compliments, stepping aside to allow her past.
“We have not seen any traps of this nature before,” Lesani observes, “Why here?”
“There probably were a few, age did ‘em in,” Jorduna explains, “Old goblin traps like these use compressed air to hold the stone up, when a foot applies pressure….” she flourishes a knife as she finishes disabling the plate, “Though if you wait long enough the air’ll leak out.”
“But why did this one not?”
“Dunno Les, must have used better mechanisms for this one. I should lead from here, Var.”
“Go ahead,” Vargard obliges, not enjoying the idea of being hobgoblin-handled again.
Not only were there three more pressure plates along the hall, but also two eye-level tripwires so thin, even Jorduna almost ran into the first. “Ok,” she grunts, clipping the severed ends of the last tripwire to the wall to prevent it from triggering, “Now this is getting a little ridiculous.”
“What would that have triggered?” Lesani asks, keeping her distance from the newly discovered trap.
“Another poison dart trap by the looks of it,” Jorduna answers thoughtfully, “I’d harvest the poison if I thought I could get to it without setting the trap off.”
“At least we’re getting close to another doorway,” Marwyn notes, seeing the frame of one at the edge of his vision.
“Just hope that’s the end of those damn traps,” Jorduna says, “I’m getting a little jumpy.”
“Hopefully this overabundance of traps suggests that there are no active defenders ahead,” Lesani reasons.
“That’d be nice,” Vargard replies, skeptically.
It was not to be, however. As soon as Jorduna crosses the threshold, torches spring to life inside the next room. It is a large room, the majority taken up by crumbling tables. Fading scraps of parchment lie on top of some, and on others were spiderwebs of cracks which foretold approaching collapse. There were no other exits, but this wasn’t what drew everyone’s attention. On the far wall was an enormous mural, dye still vibrant. The artistry was immaculate, and it was obvious that it was a map of Shaarn, and the immediate area. Only, the title emblazoned at the top of the map boldly proclaimed it to be Ja’shaarat, the goblin city which had first occupied the land. The city whose ruins in which they now stood.
The breathless adventurers would have studied it in more detail, but a voice rings out in the hall, in the goblin tongue.
“I am Jai’drik Khan,” Jorduna translates, needing no prompting from Vargard, “The Navigator. Long have I awaited challengers to my home. Prove your worth, in honor of the Dhakaani.”
“Jor, what is this?” Vargard asks, hurriedly pulling out his sword and shield.
“Same thing as the armory. Honor guards, but this looks like something else entirely.”
“Where are they?” Vargard says, looking out to the empty hall, “Les, they aren’t invisible are they?”
“I detect nothing of the sort,” Lesani answers, straining her arcane sight.
“Wait, he’s saying something else,” Jorduna says, mouthing the words which the booming voice spoke, translated them in her head. “Var, we didn’t walk into an ambush!”
“Then what did we walk into?” the warrior asks hurriedly, not sensing relief in the hobgoblin’s words.
Meanwhile, Ritual Chamber
Unable to bear the loss of his prize any longer, Perin had decided to return to the ritual chamber a few minutes after Lesani had left. Langhorn and Shakris had also accompanied him, having found nothing to do in the empty room. Now back at what was his defacto operations center, Perin stared mournfully at the excited notations he had made on his map from the night before.
“Perin, you should see this!” Langhorn yells, interrupting the elf’s self-pity.
“What?” Perin asks, looking up. He gasps when he sees the crystals surrounding the ritual slab glow brightly, far too brightly, suddenly containing massive power. The passage back to the surface was also blocked with crackling purple energy, foreboding doom to whoever tried to pass. “What did you do!?”
“Nothing!” Langhorn yells back, “We haven’t had the time to do anything.”
“Stay back!” Shakris cries, pulling Langhorn away from one of the crystals as pure magical energy begins arcing between them, “We’ve got to shut these down before they kill us all!”
“How!?” Perin asks hopelessly.
“Dispel magic!” Langhorn shouts, as he completed the spell he had been concentrating on. While the light coming from the crystals flickers momentarily, nothing changes. “Damnit!”
“Are you mad? You could destroy the enchantments surrounding the table!” Perin protests.
“Better than us going down with them!” Langhorn argues back, “Now help me suppress this buildup!”
“I… I can’t!” Perin admits, barely able to hear himself over the loud hum that was growing alongside the magical energy, “I don’t know the spell.”
“Good intentions…” Shakris mumbles to herself, seeing her mentor prepare another spell, “Wait!” she cries, pulling down his arm. Unable to complete the hand signs which accompany the spell, Langhorn watches it fizzle.
“What are you doing Ms. Valderis? We have to stop…” he starts to protest.
“The prophecy!” Shakris yells, realization dawning on her, “The light of the prophecy mark died! Now we’re on the next part, you can’t dispel the ritual crystals!”
“This is lunacy!” Perin shouts, “Utter lunacy!”
Langhorn, however, was looking at Shakris with surprise. Seeing what he could only describe as calm assurance in her eyes, he stops resisting her iron grip on his arm. “I believe her, Perin! We need to get out of here!”
“To where?” Perin says, looking again at the barrier guarding the way out.
“The mercenaries must have triggered something,” Langhorn reasons, “We have to stop whatever they’ve started!”
“Fine, stay here then,” Shakris yells, “We’re going off to save everyone!” She leads Langhorn by the arm she still clutched, leaving Perin alone.
He jumps as a bolt of power cracks off from one of the crystals, hitting a pillar near him. “Wait for me!” he shouts, grabbing his map and running after them.
Meanwhile, Mural Hall
“What do you mean a trap?!” Vargard asks Jorduna.
“’Find me before your end.’ Those were his last words,” Jorduna explains, “I think we triggered something when we entered.”
“There does not appear to be anywhere to hide in this room,” Lesani notes, seeing no recesses in the walls or other obvious hiding places.
“He wouldn’t be hiding, Les,” Jorduna counters, “My bet is that this guy’s back in that sparring room.”
“Why not just fight here? There’s plenty of room,” Vargard argues.
“This isn’t a place for fighting. I told you, it’s about honor, a fight on even battle ground,” the rogue explains, “A sparring room, for example.”
“Uh…” Marwyn coughs, trying to get everyone’s attention.
“Or it could be another trick,” Lesani counters, “Though I defer to your judgement, Jor.”
“What have you done!?” a voice yells from the hallway. Langhorn and Shakris were running towards them, Perin not far behind. The latter yells, “Stop, whatever you’re doing, stop it now?”
“Professor Langhorn, what is it?” Lesani asks, noting the urgency in the aged elf.
“The ritual table, something is happening to the crystals,” he answers, his tone far more calm than Perin’s, though still worried, “We’re cut off from the surface, and magic is building up within. Whatever you have done, if it isn’t stopped…”
“Jor said that the master of this place is challenging us for it,” Marwyn tries to explain, “We have to hurry!”
“Yes! Hurry! Do it now!” Perin yells.
“Not here,” Vargard tells him, not liking the look of the professor’s panic, “There’s a room on the other side of the complex we have to get to. Stay here, this room isn’t dangerous.”
“But…” Perin tries to protest, as the mercenaries rush past him, “Langhorn, what… what is that?” he asks, momentarily distracted by the mural he sees across the hall.
“Something we will have to study later, Perin. I am going to help the mercenaries,” Langhorn replies.
“Professor, you can’t be serious,” Shakris complains.
“I am not just some ivory tower study bore. A warrior’s arms grow weaker with age, a wizard’s mind grows stronger. Stay here, Shakris, you are not skilled enough in combative magic to risk.”
“But…” she tries to protest.
“Stay. Here,” Langhorn replies firmly, “Make sure Perin doesn’t get hysterical. Can I trust you with that?”
“Yes, Professor,” Shakris nods, yielding to his authority.
Sparring Room, A Few Minutes Later
The four of The Split Falchion make it to the sparring room with haste. An ominous purple glow was coming from the ritual chamber as they passed it, spurring them on. There was no sign on the workers, and Marwyn reasons that they were unaware of the impending danger.
Running through the long hallway, and around the bend within, it became clear that torches were lighting the room ahead. They’d never gotten around to installing some yesterday, this was a good sign that they were on the right track.
When they finally entered the sparring room, there was a lone figure in the center. It was practically featureless, cloaked as it was in a faded hood. For a moment, Marwyn flashes back to the Blue Cloak, but it soon became clear that this was a different entity.
“Your… tongue is strange,” a voice from within the cloak says slowly. It turns to reveal a decayed face, flesh sunken in in some places, and missing entirely in others. The eyes, though, were pristine, and intelligence burned behind them. In the undead hobgoblin’s left hand was a book, and in the right was a wand. “Though learning it is but a trifle. I greet you, in the ways of my people. May only the strongest survive.”
Lesani tries to speak, but it raises a wand and casts a quick spell before she is able to. Dark energy flows out, and fills the bodies of the wights they had defeated early. The damage they had taken seemed healed, but only to a degree. Vargard instantly regrets not having stripped them of their gear yesterday.
Langhorn arrives at this moment, seeing the tableau from behind the rest of his allies. “I’m with you, Mr. Garodin.”
“Langhorn, get back,” Vargard growls, posturing to take the front, “We can’t protect you and fight at the same time.”
“I require no protection,” the professor responds confidentially, building up a great magical force throughout his body, “For I am Langhorn Sunbringer, battlemage of Aundair!” he yells, bringing the spell to completion. Stone from the chamber floor seems to flow to him, covering the mage’s exterior with a rocky shell. Despite Vargard’s attempts to stop him, he charges at the throng of freshly-reanimated wights, yelling, “Let their swords break on me, let their spirits fall! The sons of Aundair conquer all!”
“Les, did you know…” Vargard tries to ask.
“I am as… shocked as you,” the warlock says breathlessly, completely unaware that Langhorn was capable of such power, “We need to help him!”
“Right,” Vargard says, snapping back into action. Jorduna had already flew at one of the two archers that had revived, trying to shut down the enemy’s range. Vargard runs next to Langhorn, who was shooting off spells with impunity in the center of the undead throng. Their swords were useless, clattering off the stone armor that the wizard bore.
Marwyn, distracted by the awe-inspiring display of the elderly elf, almost doesn’t dodge the arrow that comes hurtling towards him. The archer on the far side of the room had retrieved its bow, and had apparently remembered its last encounter with the bard.
Lesani, the most separated from the battle, notes with some concern that the mage, Jai’drik Khan, was merely observing the melee. It wasn’t building up arcane power in preparation for a spell, that she was sure off. It seemed almost that this was but a prelude, a test to prove they were worthy to truly face it.
With Langhorn’s magic, the revived undead proved almost no challenge at all. The enchanted armor that one had formerly bore seemed rendered mundane by their last encounter. Marwyn was struggling to bring down the far archer by himself, until a bolt from the professor’s fingertips culls it. The 8 undead having fallen, all turn to the emotionless mage in the center.
“Thus the first trial is complete,” it says, “I will not be as easy a prey.”
“You are no match for us all!” taunts Langhorn, the rush of battle making him glib.
“Do not be so… hasty,” the mage warns, suddenly showering itself with an amber field. The air seemed to bend around it, and the undead mage’s actions became faster. Unable to react in time, and slowed by the armor that surrounded him, Langhorn was unable to dodge a thin green beam that the mage quickly shot at him. His armor melts immediately, but even so, the majority of the force is carried over to Langhorn’s frame. The blast was so impactful that it throws the elf clear to the other side of the hall, landing with a heavy thud beside Marwyn.
“Haste into… cough disintegrate. What a… cheat,” Langhorn says, alive, but barely able to speak. He crumples into unconsciousness, the professor’s aged body betraying him. Marwyn was about to aid the downed professor, when black writhing masses spring from the ground around him and Lesani. They tug and pull at the two, preventing them from moving or helping their friends.
“Such arrogance, have you not faced a greater enemy than foot soldiers?” the mage asks, its words warped by the aura around him.
“Jor, focus on the mage!” Var orders, seeing Jorduna’s gaze shift between it and her allies. They move to flank the mage, who laughs as they do.
“Pitiful,” Jai’drik scoffs, “I had hoped you would be strong enough to deliver me rest. I see now I was mistaken.” The figure, still wreathed in the amber field of light, easily manages to dodge all attacks directed at him by the two in melee.
Marwyn and Lesani, meanwhile, were struggling to break free of the appendages which bound them. “It is toying with us!” Lesani yells, straining against her binds, “These binds could easily be crushing us.”
“Would you prefer that, elf?” Jai’drik taunts, from the center of the room, “But you are incorrect, as wrong as you were in coming here.”
“Les, we can’t put a hit on him!” Vargard yells over the mage, “Any suggestions?”
“I have a suggestion,” Jai’drik interrupts, using the binds around Lesani to prevent the elf from speaking, “Cease this, and embrace whatever awaits you beyond the pale. Or continue this… struggle, if honor compels you. It makes no difference.”
“Hrah!” Marwyn grunts, managing to force his way out of the entangling ground. Jai’drik’s spell had been centered on Lesani, which had left Marwyn less resistance to fight through. He strafes away from the grasping mass, and fires a shot at the hobgoblin mage. It deflects the arrow with ease, however.
“Some fight in you, yes! But I would prefer only having to deal with two of you,” Jai’drik says, having only just barely dodged one of Jorduna’s daggers. It was the closest one had come to injuring it, though the damage was still negligible.
Marwyn tries to nock another arrow, but he’s thrown backward by a sudden wave of pure force. The impact with the stone wall knocks the wind out of him, leaving the bard gasping for air.
“Var!” Jorduna shouts, pointing behind the warrior, “That doesn’t look good!” A purple glow had just become visible in the darkened hallway behind Vargard, foretelling approaching doom.
“Your time is running out,” Jai’drik sighs, “I hope your people send better warriors, the next time.”
“Shut up, and fight!” Vargard shouts, putting all his strength into his blows.
“Oh, but you don’t want me to do that,” Jai’drik warns, floating around each attempted strike, “Believe it or not, but I am being rather merciful. Your deaths will be painless, a far better fate than I could grant you.”
Jorduna screams with frustration as, even with its back to her, the mage nimbly dodges a stab. “Boss, if we can’t beat him…” Jorduna says, starting to see flickers of lightning in the corridor as the energy grew closer.
“We have to! There is no retreat!” Vargard replies.
“Oh, there is, of a sort,” Jai’drik corrects, “You could cower in the chambers farther ahead, like the others. It will delay your deaths somewhat, perhaps give you enough time to gain solace from your deities. I would not stop you, if that is what you wish.”
“What the hell do you want with us?” Jorduna asks, momentarily ceasing her attacks. Her arms were growing tired, and she had been entirely ineffective.
“With you? Nothing, but your bodies will be needed to replace those you… destroyed,” Jai’drik answers, gesturing to the other fallen undead, “Unfortunately my other stock rotted before I thought to make use of it. As I said, I am being merciful. Should I wish, I could bind your souls in their undead husks for all eternity, rob you of any comfort of an afterlife. A shame my once great power should be left to waste here, but I knew the costs of taking up these arts. Perhaps I shall reanimate your warlock,” it pauses, looking the still-gagged Lesani up and down, “A knowledgeable companion for the ages would be welcome.”
Vargard, turning to see the lightning about halfway through the corridor, determines it was time for a desperation play. “My men are here under my orders. I ask you to spare them.”
“No,” Jai’drik denies heavily, “Their deaths are on your head, swordsman. And even if I wanted to, I could not. The Khyberian crystals will continue their purge of all living beings in these halls until either they have completed their work, or I have fallen. And,” it laughs, “As you have so effectively proven, it will be the former. I suppose I should release your warlock, to give her a chance to say goodby…” Jai’drik stops suddenly, the skeletal face behind the robe turning blank.
“For all that is holy, do not attack him!” Langhorn’s faltering voice calls out, in desperation. He was rising unsteadily to his feet, Marwyn helping him up. With the mage’s attention drawn elsewhere, Marwyn had helped the professor back into consciousness. The writhing mass around Lesani retreats, and she picks herself up as well.
“You…” she tries to say, finding it difficult to catch her breath after being squeezed for so logn.
“Dominated it,” Langhorn finishes, quickly continuing “But it will only hold so long as the mage remains unharmed, so I implore you to put away those weapons.”
“That magic’s still coming for us!” Jorduna notes with alarm, she the only person in position to see the encroaching lightning, now coming full force down the hall.
“It must be destroyed to stop the magic, but do not strike yet!” Langhorn warns, “It will defend itself after the first blow. We must strike at the same time, and pray we finish it.”
“So we get one shot…” Vargard says, throwing down his shield and gripping his longsword with two hands.
“Yes! And we are running out of time. Shakris, she will be closer to this, with nowhere to run. We have to do it now!” Langhorn replies, “Are we ready?”
“Yes,” was the group’s response, though Lesani still had some trouble speaking.
The five face the skeletal mage. Though outwardly it seemed passive, it inwardly raged against the enchantment that kept it mentally bound. It was helpless to stop them, however, as each prepared their most devastating attack. As the life-sucking energy from the ritual chamber just crossed the threshold, each released their strike.
Alone, none of the five could have done it. But together, two spells, an arrow, a sword, and a dagger, ripped through the frame of the mage. Released from the bonds of the domination, but dealt mortal damage, Jai’drik Khan unleashed a primal scream as its form dissolves into pure blackness. After a few seconds, nothing was left of the terror which almost brought total destruction to all assembled.
Looking behind them, they all saw the threatening arcane lightning flicker, faster and faster, before starting to recede backwards.
“We did it!” Marwyn exclaims, “We… Professor!” he cries, seeing the elf collapse.
“I’ll… I’ll be fine…” Langhorn weakly reassures, “I just… haven’t used magic of that… caliber in quite some time.”
“Battlemage of Aundair?” Lesani questions, remembering his battle cry at the start of the melee.
“A lifetime ago,” Langhorn answers, “And… don’t tell Shakris, please. I thought I’d left that part of my life behind, and I’d rather not she try and ferret out the story.”
“Secret’s safe with us,” Vargard says, gently patting the elf on the back, “We owe you at least that much.”
“What the hell did you do?” Jorduna asks, “That thing had us dead to rights.”
“Domination,” Langhorn answers, “A spell that can turn the tide of battle if used correctly. Very hit or miss, it was a miracle it worked.”
“I’ll take a miracle any day,” Vargard says, “Now let’s get back to Perin. I’m thinking he owes us a little more than standard rate for today.”
Map Room, A Few Minutes Later
“Professor!” Shakris shouts, running to embrace Langhorn as he comes into sight.
“Ms. Valderis! You are ok,” Langhorn says, returning the hug. “I must profusely apologize, Shakris, I would never have put you in mortal danger if I had…”
“You couldn’t have known about this,” she cuts him off.
“What happened to Perin?” Vargard asks, noting the other professor was unconscious and lying on one of the tables.
“He, uh… He knocked himself out,” Shakris answers awkwardly. “Well, you said to make sure he didn’t get hysterical!” she defends herself, as they look at her with skepticism.
“Marwyn, see if you can wake him up,” Vargard orders, “Though I’ve got half a mind to throw him down the mine shaft.”
“How bad was it?” Shakris asks.
“We only just defeated it,” Langhorn answers, “But that doesn’t matter now.”
“Uh… what… what happened?” Perin asks, regaining consciousness. “My head… really hurts.”
“You… fainted,” Shakris answers, trying not to look at the length of wood she had hit him over the head with.
“I… but, is it over?” the professor asks.
“Yes, but it was a near miss,” Langhorn answers, “I trust you will expect no more service from us in return for saving your life?”
“O..of course!” Perin sputters, “You have my deepest apologies that this happened. Morgrave will have my report first thing tomorrow. All things considered, I’ll take my life over… whatever happened with the prophecy mark.”
“Might as well check out that map,” Vargard comments, glancing over at the mural at the end of the hall, “Bastard was guarding it, after all.”
“Yes, and you will of course receive ample… no, generous payment for your services,” Perin reassures. He reaches for his sending stone, and talks into it briefly. “Marcus and the others are fine. Lucky man didn’t even know anything was wrong. I… think it may be best not to tell them,” Perin reports, thinking of the extra gold he would already have to pay The Split Falchion.
All assembled then walk to the mural, observing it. As the title blazoned above stated, it was a map of the goblin city that predicated Sharn, as well as the land around it. A bright blue circle was drawn around the center of the city, and goblin writing was carved near the top of it. There were other circles drawn around the city, colored in either blue, green, or red, though none were as large as that one.
“What’s it say, Jor?” Vargard asks.
“Dunno. Old script,” the rogue answers, “Can’t piece it together.”
“I can,” Perin says confidentially, “Though… it’s a little high up.”
“We can stack a few of these tables,” Vargard muses, “Some should be sturdy enough.”
“I suppose,” Perin hesitantly agrees, not liking the mental image of the tables collapsing below him.
There were ample tables sturdy enough to support the elf, however. When the stack was high enough, Perin carefully climbed the makeshift pile to read the small inscription. “Amazing,” he finally says, writing down something in his journal.
“Care to share?” Vargard asks.
“Not yet, not yet,” Perin waves him away. He starts looking at the other circles, flipping through the pages of his notebook as he does so. Eventually, he works his way down.
“What does this mural depict?” Lesani asks.
“My notes aren’t perfect,” Perin begins, “But I believe this to be a map of the Manifest Zones surrounding Sharn. A rather comprehensive list, I must say.”
“That’s what we nearly got killed over?” Jorduna complains, “What the hell do we care about… whatever you just said.”
“Well, perhaps it is of little interest to you,” Perin bristles, “But this knowledge is certainly worth dying over. “
“You just happened to have a list of nearby Manifest Zones on you to reference, did you Perin?” Lesani asks suspiciously.
“Y…yes,” Perin answers unconvincingly. He sees that no one is deceived, and answers truthfully, “I found reference to this place in an ancient scroll everyone had seemed to have forgotten. I minored in the ancient Dhakaani civilization, and I had perused it during my studies. It made reference to this… place,” he gestures around him, “Though I assure you it made no mention of any guardians,” he adds hurriedly.
“Or the prophecy mark?” Lesani asks.
“Or that, which is why I was so surprised,” Perin answers, “But this place, it is of immense historical value. We already knew that the Dhakaani had attempted to replicate the gatekeeper magics when the daelkyr brought war to them, but now it is clear that they extended research into connections between planes other than Xoriat as well…”
“Is that all, Perin?” Langhorn asks, interested as well, but not liking what was proving to be the beginning of a lecture.
“No! I checked three time, but this zone,” he points to a circle near the center of the King’s Forest, “This zone doesn’t currently exist. And it never has! There are zones on here that existed during the Dhaakani Empire which exist no more. But more interesting, there are zones here which did not come into existence until well after the empire fell. Those crafty goblins somehow found a way to predict where Manifest Zones would come to be, and we have a direct line on one that will come into existence!”
“So?” Vargard grunts, unimpressed.
“The color, man, the color of the zone! It is blue,” Perin explains, “Which, according to the legend, means it connects to Siberys. I wouldn’t think anything of that distinction, this map doesn’t say when the zones appear. Except, think of the prophecy that we just heard. The prophecy, which disappeared upon rediscovery of this place! I believe,” Perin says, conspiratorially lowering his tone, “That whatever the prophecy foretells, is happening now. And that this zone is part of it!”
“Professor, this is good and all, but why bother tell us?” Vargard asks.
“Well…” Perin pauses, trying to think of how best to broach the topic, “The King’s Forest is somewhat notorious for the unsavory characters that lie in wait for unwary travelers. The university can handle the rest of the excavations here, I want to investigate this zone!”
“You want to hire us, to accompany you to the King’s Forest, just after you nearly get us killed?” Vargard questions incredulously.
“Yes! You’ve certainly proven yourselves capable of handling any random highwayman.”
“Give us a moment,” Vargard sighs. He ushers his team to the other side of the hall.
“No way we’re doing this, right Var?” Jorduna asks, “This guy’s going to get us killed. It’s Royal Eyes all over again.”
“I’m pretty sure we could name our price, though,” Vargard counters, playing devil’s advocate.
“I admit some curiosity in his research, though I do not deny the clear danger,” Lesani comments.
“Is the King’s Forest really that bad? I’d think the King would take care of it,” Marwyn says.
Vargard gives him a pained look, and then clarifies, “It’s just named the King’s Forest. Ideally only Breland’s King and his entourage would be allowed, but it’s too damned big to patrol. Honestly, we can take bandits.”
“Var… if you want to do it, I’ll back you,” Jorduna says, “But do we really need the gold?”
“Thing is, Jor,” Vargard argues, “If we refuse this job, I’m concerned Perin or Morgrave might blacklist us in Shaarn. He doesn’t seem the retributive type, but the university is something else entirely.”
“So we’re doing it?”
“I’ll have to talk terms, but it seems like we’re going hunting,” Vargard affirms, grimly.
Later That Day, Morgrave University
“I’d never thought I’d miss this,” Shakris says, as she rests heavily in a chair in Langhorn’s study, “But I’ll take boring old men over deadly goblin magic.”
“Indeed,” Langhorn agrees, “And we can now focus on our primary objective.”
“Where do we even begin, professor?” Shakris asks.
“I’m not sure, Ms. Valderis,” the professor answers, “Though, given the week we’ve just had… perhaps a long night’s rest is in order.”
“I like that idea, Professor,” Shakris sighs, and continues, “But…”
“Something troubling you?” Langhorn asks, when his assistant lets the sentence hang.
“That prophecy. If it really is tied to what’s happening right now, with the sun… shouldn’t we be going with Perin and the mercenaries? What else are we going to do, besides sit in the library?”
“Would you rather go into a brigands-infested woods in search of a Manifest Zone which may or may not exist?” Langhorn asks rhetorically, “Shakris, while my faith in the prophecy may have been improved over these short few days, it is important to remember that it is never certain. Besides, even if you are correct, we will need more than ourselves. This has always been about convincing people that this winter isn’t normal, that something is manipulating the weather.”
“So we just sit here and hope that our research turns enough heads?”
“We have to,” Langhorn says grimly, “And we have to hope that we won’t be too late.”
Continued in Part 29, Hunting Heaven – A Foretold Path