Monday, June 13

River Funeral

The River Guards won't let us bring the bodies into the city. Carabos, by ancient law, can hold no corpses. This is, I am told, to discourage necromancers. That school of magic is out of favor since the wars, but back in the bad old days, they had a stranglehold over the government. It's ancient politics.
When these old days were, precisely, is unclear to me. I've heard this from the captain in fits and starts as he was getting the deck ready for the funerals. In any case, back then, the body traders were everywhere. The crypt-raiders ruled, and the resurrectionists openly peddled influence. Needless to say, you couldn't spit without hitting a zombie. (his words, not mine.) It was decades and three popular uprisings before they were pushed out of the city. They still ply their dubious trades a mile or so outside the city proper. The captain was adamant that we see to the bodies before then. He lost (x) good men on his crew, and even he didn't wish reanimation on his enemies. I just see another sign of the dangers of this place. Was this really such a good idea?
Hilda meditated this morning, but she simply didn't have enough, I don't know what to call it, holy power? Guidance? to purify all of the remains. I guess spiritual magic would be the phrase. If it does differ from the arcane arts of the mages. Revival is likewise out of the question. Even if she had the power to pull that kind of favor down, it has its own costs.
With no other options, the captain determined that we were going to give them a burial in the river. One of the lifeboats, which was undamaged in the attack, and it was used as the bower for the ceremony. First, it was brought down and arranged at the side of the deck. Then, everyone was laid down inside of it. Tina, three of the sailors, and the four pirates who were left behind. They were just laying them out when it struck me that this was my work. That I had killed two of those men. They were dead because of me. I reminded myself that every deed has a cost, and that killing them saved us. Watching Tina's lifeless form, I thought that inaction is just as costly. Again, I silently cursed the Magus for his weakness, and wished that somehow Mr. K had stayed on. He would have done something, I'm sure.
The Magus is still on deck, acting as though nothing is wrong, as though his cowardice hadn't left those people to their deaths, as though his inaction hadn't killed Tina. I really hope that among the teaching staff he is the exception, not the rule. She wasn't in his care, but with a wave of his hand, he scattered those slavers. The pirates wouldn't have been a greater challenge. His level of power demands respect, but it comes with the burden of using it to protect the weak. Otherwise, what's the point? You've got to be honest about the big things. It's what makes all the little lies, the harmless self-promotion, alright. It's what makes you a hero instead of a thief.
The eight bodies just barely fit into the boat, with Tina's small, bird-like frame at one end. They were each wrapped in a shroud, made of their cloaks, or in the pirates' cases, blankets, with only their faces exposed. Hilda said prayers over each of them, though the ones over Tina were the most solemn, and slow. She placed on each one a sheet inscribed with Dwarven runes, to name them and guide their way in the afterlife. A pair of silver coins were laid over their eyes, to pay their passage. Flowers, what could be found, were arranged at their heads, and branches and cinnamon bark was arranged at their feet. Captain Pitt eulogized each of his crew, and weapons, if they had them, were placed with them. Hilda said more prayers, and talked a bit about Tina, whom she had known very briefly, but was the most prepared. Melody played her travel-harp, and the Magus sang an elven song. It was slow, and sad, and sweet, and for a moment, though I didn't understand the words, it made me forget everything that had transpired, and I was united in deep genuine grief with him. He touched each of the piles of cinnamon, and the boat began to burn. As the song finished, they lowered the boat into the water, and we stood and watched those we had lost fade into smoke and flame. Soon, I couldn't find Tina in the ashes anymore, and she was gone. I hadn't really known her for a day, and I was surprised to find myself crying. I made it a rule never to be seen crying, but then, it was alright. I stood with the four of them and mourned the friend I'd never have.
The Magus continued to sing, as the boat broke apart and eventually sank, even though Melody had finished. I was surprised when after a moment, his voice was joined by two others, as high as his was deep, and as filled with sorrow. A pair of figures were swimming in the water, and as they easily treaded the water, they sang out in clear voices. They resembled elves, but with bluish-green skin and long silver hair. Their necks had straining gills on the side, but in the brown water of the river, and they dressed in a soft fabric that billowed out from them like seaweed. Every move they made seemed to carry with it unnatural grace. After they finished singing, they spoke with the Magus for quite a while after the funeral. I couldn't follow their conversation, but I heard the word Peredhil several times, which I think means Half-elf in their tongue. the captain greeted the two humbly, and in perfect unison, they gave a perfect flip in the water, but said nothing to him. He was satisfied, so I took it for a bow or courtesy. The Magus gestured to Gloria and I several times, and the pair stretched curiously out of the water, exposing patches of silver scales that were either natural, or some sort of underwater jewelery. They whispered something to each other, and giggled like schoolgirls. The Magus looked embarrassed, whatever they said. In time, the boat sank, and the two Sea Elves, or I suppose River Elves, departed. We rounded a bend in the river, and came face to face with the City of Carabien.
The grey concrete towers reached for and were lost in the low-clinging rainbow smoke that hung over the city. Dawn light, weakly sparkled through it, leaving no shadows. On we wound our way forward through the strange, decadent outskirts towards the harbor. The river was filled with tiny boats selling, it seemed, just about anything, and on the shore, all manner of questionable businesses thumbed their noses as the river guards' patrols. It was a lively chaos, and I reveled in it.
I had traveled far, to a strange country. I felt sorry for Tina, she never saw this spectacle. I wonder what she would have made of it. The boat ignored the hawkers, and indeed nearly broke one of them apart, but we pushed forward into the city, past the towering concrete cliffs that the Captain called 'elevators' and into the busy harbor. We somehow made it!

The Tale of the Magic Crossbow- Conclusion: Darkness and Sunlight

For a moment, the two Ungwes simply stared at one another. Her guards stood dumbfounded. The real Drow recovered first, but Rose did very well for herself. The guards knew one of them to be false, but did not dare risk attacking the wrong one, and to even raise a hand against the image of their lady, even a false one, would be high treason. Joachim used the distraction to slip into the hole on the building's side while the two seeming Dark Elf commanders argued with one another about which one was real.
"Get her, you fools!" One of them shouted. The guards jumped, and began to move, as if by reflex.
"Not me, she is the impostor! Slay her at once for her impudence!" The other cried. Rose was so skilled that if Joachim hadn't watched Rose transform, he wouldn't have been able to tell them apart. The guards were also having trouble. Neither of the options in front of them were promising. Strike their master, and she would have their hides, for what hope could they have of actually besting her? Or strike at the poseur, assuming that they chose correctly, and face the shame of striking at her form, and be whipped for the crime. Poor odds all around, and that kept them paralyzed.
The building was constructed by the Dark Elves, and it suited their aesthetic by being cramped, dark, and suffocating in atmosphere. Joachim fought off a sneeze and squeezed through the hole left by Incisor as it ripped its way through the construction. The bricks were wide and thick, and it pushed a whole section of them out of the makeshift wall. Joachim wondered how they were being dried without the sun, but he didn't bother himself with it for long. Stealth had never been his strong suit. He just hoped Rose would make enough of a commotion so that he could slip in unnoticed. In spite of the dark, and the tight corridors, stuffed with the treasures the Drow had relieved from the Wood Elves over the course of their invasion. The warehouse had the look of permanence to it. They hadn't simply shipped their booty back down the tunnels to their Underkingdom. This was their foothold, and from here they would bring up their armies. Perhaps all the strange countries of the Underdark would make use of the magical darkness, to break free from the subterranean prison-lands and wage their revenging wars against the surface.
Joachim considered himself a hero, a free spirit wandering the trails of this world, free of the bonds of land and property. It was his calling to keep those roads free, of bandits, and monsters and the dread cultists of the old gods. He fought as a wanderer, a free knight who cared little for position or title. That was the cost of his freedom to follow his own code. He was invisible and unguarded in a treasure house of demonstratively evil elves, which, as an aforementioned fighter of the wilderness, made them his by right of virtue, but he had work to do to pay for them.
He hesitantly set riches aside for the moment and donned his armor. He found a few suitable weapons for Rose as well, and Glory's pack. He had a feeling she'd be needing it. Trying to take as much advantage of his invisibility as he could, he snuck up behind Engwe's guards as quietly as he could. His chain mail jingled a bit when he walked, and the one defender cocked her head as he approached, but she never turned around. I thrust Incisor savagely into her back. He had learned long ago that fair fights were for paladin and idiots who didn't know better, and had no place in the real world. He fought dirty.
Joachim reappeared as he attacked, and in the next second, the scene burst into violent chaos. Joachim tossed a longsword to Rose and struck the other flunky with his gauntleted fist. Rose bobbled the blade, but the other Drow were still so stunned by her appearance that she had enough breathing room to back away and draw before they came at her. Engwe turned and attack Joachim with the stock of her crossbow, knocking him flat. By the time he got back to his, the Drow leader was gone, and Rose was being overwhelmed.
"Need a hand?" he asked, stabbing one of the remaining Drow in the shoulder.
"Thanks," Rose swung the sword in front of herself in a wide arc. The enemies avoided her attack, but she managed to free herself. As soon as she could, she prayed for a new spell. "Sanctuary!" She genuflected, and suddenly seemed surrounded by a softly glowing blue mist. The Drow recoiled and came after Joachim instead. "We need to free the others!" She said.
"Well, I'm a bit busy right now." Joachim navigated Incisor beneath the shield of one attacker, catching her in the thigh. She howled in wordless pain. "Talk to me in a bit."
"We've lost the element of surprise, you know." She said from her bubble of solitude. The Drow glared at her from behind the misty barrier, but turned their full attention back to Joachim.
"Whatever it is you're doing, it works against them!" He parried an incoming blade and rewarded the swordswoman with a kick to the stomach. Their numbers seemed endless. "You'll have to get to the prisoners. I'll hold these guys off and stop whatever they're up to with Glory!"
"Me, but, I'm... I can't! I'm just a chaplain, I'm no heroine!" Rose called helplessly.
"Rose, I can't get there! You can. This is your moment. We can't save your people. It's up to you. This is something only you can do! Go!" Rose nodded and disappeared from his view. Joachim knew that he was taking a risk with her, but she hadn't betrayed him yet, well, again, and she'd had the opportunity. And he was far too busy. He fought off a few more of the women warriors.
Onward they came, the cruel women in armor dyed a deeper black than the darkness of their eternal night. Before them, in rags with clumsy fists flailing, their men were pushed as slaves. Monstrous spiders, the size of horses, and dripping with venom, were their mounts as well as hunting dogs. They pushed Joachim to the very limits of his exhaustion. He used the crowd against themselves when he could, withdrawing, forcing them through the narrow alleys formed by the ancient trees and the squat barracks the Drow had constructed for themselves. But before long, he had nowhere else to run to. A slave, long white hair filthy, his red eyes wild with bloodlust and madness, raised his giant fists to hammer a blow that Joachim was too exhausted to parry.
The blow never landed. There was a sound like the sighs of a thousand winds, and a strange sound of steel hitting flesh. The giant toppled forward, a dozen arrows sticking from his back. A cadre of Wood Elves stood by the mouth of the alley. In spite of their raged clothing and improvised weapons, they held a regal bearing. It was not imperial, as the Drow conquerors, but a natural grace and determination. Something the Drow had lost, and could not take away from their cousins. Their leader gave the slightest of nods and waved his hand. It seemed to Joachim to equal the deepest and humblest bow, somehow.
"I am King Thallon. Sister Rosa asked us to come find you, Master Joachim Vernes. Please take this." He held a small object in his hand, a tightly curled leaf.
"Rose, where is she?" Joachim asked, eying the object wearily.
"It is unfortunate, that she was able to free us from our prison, but her spell was undone, and the guards had attacked her before we could come to her aid. None amongst us save her wield the healing touch of the Goddess.
"Is she dead then?"
"I know not. We have done what we could for her, and administered this sacred medicine to shore up her fortitude." The King gestured to the leaf. "She asked that we grant you the medicine as well, though it is rare for an outsider to receive it. When I left her to find you, she was floating between this world and the Fair Shores."
"What is it?" Joachim asked, taking the plant.
"A holy herb that we grow in the forest. Chew it, but do not swallow the leaf itself. It will restore your vitality, though it will do little for your wounds I am afraid." Joachim did as he was instructed. It was delicious, with a spicy flavor he couldn't quite define. As he chewed, he could feel life return to his leaden limbs. His resolve returned. He could still save Glory, even if it was too late for Rose. For her he would deliver vengeance.
Joachim sat up gingerly, and reached into his pack. His emergency healing drought was still there. As reverently as he could, he spit out the leaf, and drank the potion. He felt a familiar wave of energy flow through his body. His wounds dried and healed. He was ready to fight again.
"I saw that stone of theirs in the central clearing. If they're going to sacrifice my partner, that's where they're going to do it. Can you take me there?" Joachim climbed to his feet and tested the spear. It was undamaged and hungry for more violence. King Thallon watched the human and chuckled.
"Ho ho, you're quite energetic already. Perhaps giving you the sacred medicine was too much?" He smiled. "In any case, you would demand the help of the king himself, even in these circumstances."
"I was hired to do a job, majesty, and I aim to do it, if you will forgive me for saying so. I've never been one to defer to rank and title when work needs doing," Joachim replied.
"A fine answer. I believe you mean the Glade of the Forest Mother. We we proceed there." He motioned ahead, and gave commands in bold, crisp elven speech. The escaped rebels responded with martial enthusiasm, and marched ahead, never once falling out of step in the thick brush or twisted roots.
The king led them to a rise, slaying the guarding Drow warriors with little noise. The ceremony was already underway. Ungwe stood at the center of a raised dias, with a pair of red-robed priestesses on either side. A collection of Drow were assembled to watch. There were cavalry on giant bucking spider-creatures, foot solders in decorated armor, and huge male slaves obidiently kneeling before them. Glory was tied to a black slab. Her tiny form struggled against the bonds, but she couldn't slip free. Ungwe shouted something, and traced an intricate pattern in the air with a wickedly curved knife.
The team of archers began their work at once. Acting in concert, they loosed flight after flight of deadly accurate arrows, which the other Elves protected them with whatever clubs or swords they had managed to liberate from their captors. Almost at the same instant, they brought the for priestesses low in a hail of timbers. However, the arrows seemed to strike at an invisible wall in front of Ungwe, clattering harmlessly to the ground in front of her. She looked at their hiding place and directed her troops forward. Her red eyes seemed to glow with hate and triumph in the smokey dim torchlight.
"She must be protected somehow!" Joachim shouted. "Can you clear me a path? I'll cut her free and destroy the stone myself."
"As you will, human." King Thallon replied. Joachim was already vaulting to the clearing floor. The archers struck with uncanny precision. Each of his steps was dogged by a feather-tipped arrow, merely inches away. The Drow, unprepared for the sudden attack, could not bar his way. He reached into the pack and pulled out a pair of Glory's knives. The stage loomed in front of him, and Ungwe finished chanting in her demon's tounge.
"You are too late, human. Now watch the mage die for the Darkstone!" She cackled. Trusting all his warriors skill, Joachim threw the knives. They sung through the air with magical speed and balance, thudding heavily into the black stone, and through the hempen rope as well. Ungwe released her darkling strength, forcing the blade with all her evil will towards Glory's heart.
Joachim sliced through the ropes just in time. The sacrificial dagger came down, but Glory wasn't there any more. She was on her feet, and already pawing through the bag Joachim provided. Ungwe bellowed in rage.
"Keep them busy, I've got an ace up my sleeve," she said, and pulled out a tattered scroll. Without another word, she opened it and began reading aloud, chanting the strange symbols that covered it.
"It's a plan. They got Rose, but she managed to free the rest of the elves first. I'll handle the spiders." He leapt into the fray and charged the riders, scattering them. His spear seemed to be everywhere at once, unseating the Drow from their mounts and sending the giant spiders into a panic. The wood elves were fighting valiantly against the Drow infantry, but they were desperately outnumbered, and had lost the element of surprise. The guards would have them routed again in minutes at best.
"Foolish woman, your petty magic can do nothing to harm us! Our Dark Lady protects us," Ungwe hissed.
"I can do little, aye, but they will have more luck," Glory said, and finished the spell. "Scions of Light, I call upon you by ancient contract. Banish this darkness with your holy flames! Summon Lantern Archons!" The spell finished, and a bright circle appeared in the clearing, three feet above the ground. From within, an idyllic daylight sky could be seen. The Dark Elves cringed and looked away from the light, and maybe they missed the five small, glowing figures that emerged from it.
They couldn't be said to have proper forms, but were merely small globes of pure, strong light. They spiraled through the air, scattering the Drow in a panic before them. Engwe fired blindly at them with her crossbow, but her arrows never seemed to find their marks. The tiny Angels were too swift and too righteous. They fired rays of pure light, burning and blinding the Dark Elves wherever they struck.
Ungwe shrieked furiously in her own tongue, and charged at Glory. In her bone-white armor, she came rushing on like a skittering spider, her crossbow in one hand and a dagger in the other. Both dripped with a noxious poison.
"Your blood will feed the Darkstone, one way or the other!" Glory attempted to meet the assault with her own daggers, but she was no warrior. The barely parleyed attack sent her tiny frame sprawling to the earth. A fiendish grin lit up Ungwe's face as she readied her crossbow to finish the magess off. Joachim had to act quickly, but there was no way for him clear the distance, filled as it was with the drow's monstrous cavalry. He touched the bloodied tip of his spear to his forehead in benediction.
"Please, Incisor," he prayed. "Fly true!" Reaching with the last reserves of his strength, he threw the spear at Ungwe with as much force as he was able. The dragon-weapon seemed to take on a life of it's own in flight, rending the air of the clearing with a mighty roar, as though it were the very spirit of the great beast from whose fang it was carved. Ungwe watched the blade coming, and twisted out of its path, but not quickly enough to avoid a great wound to her right arm as the pike passed through the air where she had been. She screamed, her magic crossbow tumbled from her hands. Joachim was already on his feet, clearing the distance between them. Ungwe dove to find the bow, but a pair of the light spirits converged upon her, driving her deeper into the woods with their holy bolts.
"Are you alright?" Joachim asked.
"I'm fine, or were you talking to the spear?"
"I know she's OK. Something like that wouldn't break her," he said, pulling the shaft from the earth. "But what have we here?" He transfered spear to his left hand while he bent down to examine the crossbow. "Darkwood with, if I'm not mistaken, mithril facings, and hey now, an Ironwood stock. What's that little crossbow? You need a new home?"
"Boys and their toys," Glory sighed.
"Speaking of which, what are we going to do about this?" Joachim asked, putting down the bow and pointing at the altar.
Joachim and Glory looked down at the stone. The carvings were somehow darker than the rough black rock, and they seemed to squirm in their vision, defying their ability to read them. From what Glory could make out, she wasn't sure she wanted to. A cold wind blew through the dark forest.
"Well, what do you think, Joachim? Can you break this toy?"
"Are you sure you don't mind?"
"It needs to be done. Even if We'll do it together on the count of three. Ready?"
"As I'll ever be." He raised the spear above the stone with both hands. He felt it quiver with anticipation, ready to absorb the surging energy of the spell. Glory counted off and cast her counter spell. Joachim brought down the spear.
It felt as though a wave of purest cold went through him, traveling up through the spear and into his hands. He pushed through it, as though he were trudging trough the heart of every snowy, moonless night there ever was. The spear bit deeper and farther, grasping for all of the strange, black energy it could devour. A formless void seemed to pull him down forever.
And then, all of the sudden, he felt the tip hit soft dirt, and the pressure was gone. He had cleft the stone in two. Immediately above them, the spell was lifting. Shafts of morning sunlight shone down into the forest, clear and cloudless. It would be a fine day.
The remaining Drow quickly retreated, clutching their eyes and covering their jet skin as best they could. The forest elves who were still standing pursued them to their hole, capturing or killing those they could. Ungwe dived for the hole, still clutching her right arm, which hung limp and useless at her side. Despite the harsh glare from the sun, she glared back one last time at Glory and Joachim.
"This isn't over. None escape the Underkingdom! Our revenge will come!" She shouted. Almost lazily, Joachim fired a bolt at her from the crossbow. It sparkled through the air and whizzed just inches above the Drow's head. Ungwe ignored it, and turned and headed down deeper into the earth. She gave a guttural command, and as though the earth itself obeyed her, the tunnel collapsed behind her. Joachim briefly wondered if whatever unseen slave was manning the tunnel managed to escape the collapse. He doubted it.
They found Rose where she had collapsed. She was still unconscious, but the bandages were holding, and it looked like the worst of the bleeding had stabilized.
"Glory, you still have a healing potion left, right?" Joachim asked.
"I was saving it." She said defensively.
"Please heal the Cleric who ended up not killing us."
"Purely through accident if you ask me."
"Just feed her the damn potion."
"You owe me a new potion, then."
"She can heal you when she's conscious, plus she's paying us. Consider it 'expenses'." He reached down and cleared her mouth while Glory poured the potion down her throat. After a moment, Rose's eyelids flickered, She coughed and opened her eyes. She sat up blinking in the sunshine. Her hands immediately went to her side, and she winced. The potion had brought her back from the edge, but she was still grievously injured. She spent a few minutes praying, and healed herself and any other survivors she could find. Unfortunately, there were many it was too late for.
The Wood Elves had pushed their evil cousins back underground, but their forrest had been grievously hurt by their intrusion, and many of their fellows had fallen to spider fangs and Drow bolts. King Thallon himself was among those found dead, having taken a poisoned wound to the shoulder while leading the defense of the archers. It fell to his heir, a boy of perhaps only one hundred, to send the adventurers on their way, their bags filled with stout ironwood ready for carving. The ceremony was solemn and short. At the end, Glory turned to Rose and did something Joachim had rarely seen her do: Apologize.
"I was wrong to have suspected you as I did. If you want to come with us, we could use your magic." She said, bowing low. Rose smiled, a tear in the corner of her eye.
"Maybe someday I will see the world, but for now my place is here, with my people. The Sylvan Elves will be forever in your debt, mighty heroes. Go with the Lady of the Forrest's blessing." The pair left the woods and headed back towards the city. As they walked, Joachim hefted Engwe's crossbow, which he had decided to keep.
"Well, we made enough to have the squirt raised, earned the respect of the Elves, and I got a new crossbow. Not a bad night's work, eh Glory?" He asked, experimentally sighted a rabbit. "Bang," he said, pretending to fire. The creature scampered back into the underbrush.
"Except that I was nearly sacrificed to Demons, again." Gloria sighed.
"Par for the course. Remember those lizard guys last year?"
"Like I could forget. Let's get going," she said.
"Where are we going?"
"Potion shop first, then the temple," she replied.


I finally got a chance to really speak with Gloria. Correction. I finally worked up the nerve to face her. The boat felt like a place of death. The crew was cleaning the deck and giving first aid to the passengers. A few were missing, but Tina was the only passenger killed. A pair of crewmen didn't make it, but the others are doing well enough to survive. Hilda went below and sequestered herself in a cabin to pray. The captain has been busy directing the efforts of the cleanup, as well as the prisoners. Not all of the pirates escaped. Three of them are dead. I killed one. The other one is very badly burned by the spell. He probably won't make it to morning. I've killed him, and he's still breathing, in ragged gasps. I can hear it from here. They've put him on a stretcher and done what they can for him, but gods, how could I have done this to a man? I try to focus on the fact that he's a pirate, a kidnapper. He would have done horrible things to me, or to someone else. He probably already has. The world is a darker place than I had thought it would be. Is this my grand adventure?
Gloria and I talked, but I couldn't really think of anything to say to her. We moved away from the injured, and I stood at the rail, where I had spoken with Mr. K the other day. Had it really been that short? The railing was designed for human height, and Gloria pulled herself up against it and used a small crate as a footstool. She almost seemed like a child looking out over the riverbank, but the image was broken when she looked at me with serious eyes and said: "You've been holding out on me."
"What?" I asked.
"You've been studying, too." She said simply. "At first, I was a little upset, you know, after the incident in the ruins. But you've saved us twice over."
"Gloria, that's... That's not it." I stammered. I suddenly resolved to tell her the truth, or rather not hide from her anymore.
"I understand. Magic's a pretty scary thing. It sounds all right on paper, but then you're doing it, and someone's dying in front of you. I nearly was sick after that time on the cart." She looked back out over the water.
"You were?" I asked. I was too relieved that we had been rescued to take much notice of her, I realized. I haven't been a very good friend after all.
"Of course." She said. "I killed someone. Who wouldn't feel sick? I'll tell you a little secret, and I think it's the same as your's. My grandmother didn't teach me."
"What?" I asked. Could we be the same after all? I felt suddenly very nervous.
"Well, I've been sneaking her books since I was eight. I didn't really understand them at first, but I just felt like I couldn't watch her back forever. I want to be great, like she was. So I taught myself, in secret. You're self-taught too, right?" She smiled, and I felt like I had been smacked in the chest. We weren't the same after all. I took a deep breath.
"S-something like that. Gloria, I've never studied." I said.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that I didn't learn magic in books. I just have the spells." It didn't sound like a good explanation, but it was all I could manage.
"You're pulling my leg," Gloria looked back at me, incredulous. I decided to tell her everything from the beginning.
"I wish I was. Just after Grandfather died, when I was eight, things started happening around the house. Doors would slam, dishes would break. Things like that. At first, we thought it was a ghost or something ethereal. The neighbors had a nest of magical rats in their basement, so as long as things stayed small, we didn't worry about it. But when we fled to Lithia, the events only became stronger, and more frequent. We wondered if it was Grandfather's spear, but we had an exorcist come, and he couldn't find anything. By the time I was thirteen, I knew it was me."
"What do you mean?" She asked.
"Well, it's hard to explain in words. I'd want something to happen, some small thing, or if I would be angry, or hurt, sometimes something would happen. I was able to change the world, in small ways."
"So, if you aren't a mage, what are you?" Gloria asked. She was remarkably calm.
"I don't know. Grandmother wrote to the Academy, and they sent for me. I honestly don't know what she wrote, though. There wasn't any way for me to stay in Lithia, though."
"Why not?"
"It's human politics. Wizardry is dominated by the Gnomes, and the elves, so they're distrusted as spies and witches."
"That's pretty stupid. The Five Races should be working together."
"Yeah, but it's tough to see that when you're behind a wall. Lithia isn't a city of magic. It's a crime to practice it there, so I had to leave."
"A crime? What would they have done to you?"
"At my age? I don't know. But there are a lot of beggars down in the Golden Square who're blind and mute as punishment for casting spells."
"How awful!" Gloria nearly lost her grip on the railing, and settled herself down to the deck. "I knew things were bad in the Capital, but not to that extent."
"I don't know. I think that if I work hard and become a real wizard, like your grandmother, I can, I don't know, fix it."
"You shouldn't worry about fixing yourself, Lizzeth" She said quietly. "I've been thinking, since we started traveling."
"About what?" I asked.
"About Tarry."
"Your brother? I'm sure he's alright. Don't worry." I said, trying to reassure her. She was always worrying about him.
"No, that's just it. When we were living safely behind the walls, I was always chasing after him and trying to keep him under control. But that is the last thing I should have been doing, I think. He's a berserker, Lizzeth. A barbarian, like something out of an old legend. At first, I though that it was like a curse on us. But it isn't. It's a blessing."
"A blessing?" This wasn't what I had expected her to say.
"When the war between the gods finished, it brought an end to the age of the world. They redrew all the maps and changed some of the very laws of nature itself. The gods didn't just create havoc, they created new beings and brought them into the world, or they brought back ones thought lost, like Tarry."
"I haven't really thought about it that way," I said.
"Since we left the city, we've been in constant danger. You lost your home in Hydraal to the hordes. The world is a more dangerous place than it was even during our grandparent's day. So maybe you and Tarry are the kind of people that the gods want to make the Third Age."
"Oh, Gloria." I was crying. I had expected her to be afraid of me, but she just smiled, if a bit sadly.
"Don't get complacent, though. I'll be studying hard. I'm going to surpass Her, after all." We looked out towards the smokey dawn, and the city. Standing on the railing, our heights were equal. I followed her eyes to the pillars of cloud. Carabien: The City of Illusion.
"Right," I said, and wiped away a tear. There didn't seem time for them anymore.

The Pirate Attack

Now that we're close to the city, the Magus finally poked his head out. I'm so angry that I can't even look at him. He's the strongest person on this boat. Well, not physically, of course, but I would have expected him to at least have had the courage to fight of the pirates like he did those bandit slavers. But no. He cowered in his cabin while she...
Start at the beginning. It's the only way a story gets told. Let me start again. Last night, we were attacked by pirates. I was sitting on deck, huddled by the forward lamp for light, writing, when the first arrows thudded into the deck. Then came the arrows with the burning heads. I don't know if we were still in the canal or we were back on the river, but the water was wide, and it was filled with rowboats.
Each boat had three people in it, an oarsman and two archers. They circled the boat, blocked it off in both directions, and began firing without warning. The people sleeping on deck awoke in a panic. A siren started, and the crew scrambled to equip themselves. But they were horribly outnumbered. I counted at least eight boats. We needed the magicians.
I reached the lower-forward cabin that the Magi were sharing, and hammered on the door. I got no answer. I knocked harder. Finally, I heard a voice from inside. It was Magus Ceylon's.
"Please leave me be." The voice called, piteously.
"Magus, it's Lizzeth. May I come in?" I asked.
"You may not. Leave me be." He repeated.
"Magus, pirates are attacking the ship. We need your help." I pounded on the door again. It held fast.
"The crew is more than capable of handling it themselves. Cease disturbing my meditations."
"The crew's being overrun! We need you out there! Please, Magus!"
"I am very busy, and cannot be disturbed. Leave me be, Apprentice!"
"Is Mr. K there? The crew will all be killed!"
"Mr. K received a sending, and left the ship at Lockhill."
"I see." For all his power, the magus would do nothing to help the ship. Mr. K was gone as well. I never saw Magus Periel return to the boat at Lockhill. The crew would be without magical assistance. Would it have to come to us sinking for him to recognize the danger? All I had was my knife, but I wasn't about to let everyone down. I had to do this on my own, after all.
I raced back up to the deck as fast as I could. The ship was in chaos. I was lost in the smoke, screams, and scent of blood. I nearly threw up. But then I looked and I saw those who could fight back, doing so, and fighting hard. I saw Gloria already on deck and trying to help the wounded. The crew had set up a line of defense at the bow of the ship. Hilda was there with an axe in one hand and a flail in the other. She cut a good figure for a junior priestess. She was covering them while Gloria and Melody carried the wounded. Corrina had found a crossbow somewhere, and was using it how she could. Tina had a healer's kit and was using it to heal who she could. I had to do something.
All I had on me was a knife, and in my pocket, the pendant. It is, I am sure, magical, but I don't know what it does. It could do anything. And I didn't even have any idea how to use it. I thought about what Periel had told me, though. Magic as confidence. In the Barrow, I had done what I could because I had to. When the raiders attacked, did I fail because I had father and Gloria to protect me? I concentrated, and opened myself up tried to concentrate. The chaos around me hadn't subsided. It was so hard to think, to find a center. But it was time. I breathed in deeply, smelling the fire and blood. I tried to stay calm. If I lashed out wildly, I could hurt one of the girls. and suddenly, it was there.
It is difficult to explain how it happened, although now I have a clearer idea of how the magic works than I did in the ruins. It's intuitive, like a first language. If Wizards cast spells by learning runes and spells, maybe I already know them, or have forgotten them. It's like I'm remembering the face of someone who's name I can't remember. I just focused on the problem, and I remembered the solution. Pirates were hurting my friends, and innocent people. I had to protect them, to attack the pirates like I had the skeletons in the ruins. And I remembered the spell I didn't know.
I pull the fire from the air, and let it fill my hands. I strain against it, taking all I can, until a ruby sphere of flames rests in each hand. The words of the spell, words I can't fully hear, much less really understand, pass through me like waves, and I pull my arms back and release the flames. The spell rushes to a climax and I let it go, screaming. "Flame Bolt!"
Two streaks of fire cut through the night air. The pirates look up in terror. One is struck in the chest, and another in the back. The force of the blast sends both of them sprawling. Hilda and Corrina redoubled their efforts. The tide was turning.
There was a shout to withdraw from one of the boats. A few of them were laden down with supplies or possessions, but otherwise it seems as though they were being repelled. The two I had shot weren't moving, but the others were backing down. They were dressed in rags, and those without bows were carrying clubs. They had pushed forward on numbers. Now, they were tripping over each other to retreat. Tina looked up at me and screamed.
"Behind you Lizzeth!" I turned and saw one of the pirates behind me drawing a bow, trying to get one last good shot before he escaped. The bow was pointing at me. I reached out and pulled more magic from the air.
"Ray of Frost!" a tiny cone of freezing air spread from the tip of my outstretched finger. The pirate, not twenty feet from me, Raised his hands to protect himself. The bow went off with the twang of a breaking string, sending an arrow his into the inky darkness of the night sky. The man slipped and fell over the side. I never saw him again. Because that was when the arrow landed, and Tina screamed again, very quickly.
The arrow had hit her in the throat. She died almost instantly. I ran, Hilda ran, the others all ran to her, but Hilda didn't have anything left. She couldn't say the spell. I couldn't think of a spell, either. What good is being able to make magic, if it isn't there when you need it?

The Tale of the Magic Crossbow pt4: Prisoners of the Underkingdom

Dawn came washed out and smoky. The boat's slowed, and in the haze, I can just make out the towers of Carabos downriver, their tops lost in the, I don't know what. Smoke? Fog? I don't know if this is just morning in the city, or a pall that remains from last night.
I'm not ready to write about what happened last night. Everything's still sort of jumbled. Everything I wrote about yesterday feels so unimportant now. So much has happened. The boat is a fire-smelling wreck, but we're still floating, somehow.
How could this have happened? We were in the city's shadow for gods' sakes. How could HE have let this happen? Grandfather never sat and sulked when someone was in danger. He never slacked off when something needed to be done. Not even when he had every right to. He was a man of action, a hero. Was he the last one? I'm going to write the next part of his story, now.
Joachim awoke in a dark cell. His armor and equipment were gone. He was alone, and couldn't even see the moon. Somewhere nearby, he heard deep breathing. Guards, he guessed. He had been tied to some earthen wall. He grinned, darkly. They were, he thought, making it almost too easy to be fun. His hands were bound, but he managed to get two fingers into his mouth and whistle. Ahead in the darkness, the guards jumped to their feet. One of them threated him in Undercommon, but since he didn't know the language, Joachim ignored him. He just counted down silently, straining to hear the sound of his enchanted spear, spinning through the air, guided to his location by the ancient and unfathomable powers of the Elder Dragons. It was a high whistle, as though returning his call with one of its own. It was an unstoppable force. The Dragon Spear, Incisor.
Incisor is a short spear of untold power. When he wielded it, the weapon seemed almost alive, filled with emotion, rage and energy. Even Joachim didn't know everything about it, having received it as recognition for defending Dragonkind. What he did know was that unlike most weapons of it's kind, it was without loyalties or bias. Some swords are made to battle evil, and some axes thirst for innocent blood. Incisor was a spear made by dragons to slay dragons. Beyond that, it let it's bearer guide it without malice or interference. Some sages say that the spear is chaotic, others lawful, but it does not side with either the children of Bahamut, the Platinum, or Tiamat the five-headed. There is a story, too long to recount here, that implied that the spear was a sort of on-going bet between two Ancient wyrms, a red, and a gold. In any event, the spear had a tendency to travel from one horde to another, passing through the claws of this dragon or that, to be presented to a mortal champion, that he may slay the opposite number of the patron. Thus, the gold dragon who presented it to Joachim placed it in her horde by taking it off the corpse of an evil warrior, who had himself received it from the collected spoils of a great blue dragon, who had slain the mighty, but not quite mighty enough paladin who had wielded it before him, in a cycle on down through the centuries. Maybe my grandfather should have left it to someone when he retired, but he said he never found a worthy heir for the wyrms' weapon. So it's our "ancestral weapon" now. If I ever become an adventurer, maybe I'll get to use it. Of course, I don't think that was my family's idea when they sent me down south. I think I'll probably just get my status as wizard and run the family business, or establish a side business in the trade. It'd be fun to run a magic shop. It would certainly be safer.
From where the Drow had secured it, Incisor heard and responded to Joachim's call. It returned to his hand, splintering first the crate it had been left in, and then the bars that held Joachim. The guards had the foresight to duck. With a practiced hand, Joachim caught his spear. The gate was now open, and he felt confident. So did the guards.
They rushed him as soon as he stepped out of the cell. The first one ran right Incisor's tooth, and his life was eaten. Joachim strained with all of his mighty strength and hurled the corpse at his enemy, knocking him prone. Greedily, the spear pulled itself forward, and ate a second life. Joachim moved out into the darkness. They were holding Glory somewhere else, and he needed to find her before the Drow finished whatever it was they were planning for her.
It was impossible to say in the magical darkness wether it was day or night, but the settlement was quiet, so Joachim assumed that the rest of the camp was sleeping. He couldn't remember the way he had brought. He had been turned around every which way after he had been captured. Now, he was lost.
He heard a voice calling out to him in the dark. A woman was calling his name in a sharp whisper. Joachim turned and followed it, hoping it was Glory. He was disappointed to find it belonged to Rose. She was confined in a shaped cell much like his own, but unguarded. He felt his way along the bars, and when he came face to face with her, he scowled. She had been beaten very badly, but he couldn't find it in himself to pity her.
"Hello, Rose." He said with contempt.
"Joachim. You've escaped! There is still hope." Rose whispered.
"Not for you. I'm afraid the contract's been voided. I'm collecting my magic user, and we're getting out of here."
"You have to help us. They'll kill us all!" She reached out through the bars with her slender wrist. Joachim stared at it for a minute, easily stepping outside of her grasp.
"Well, that was my concern before you led us straight into a trap. Now, I'm not so worried."
"I, I'm sorry. But there is still time. Please, let me explain."
"I'm listening, but this qualifies as hazard pay now."
"Nearly everything I've said to you was true. The Drow tunneled to the surface and surprised us. The Ranger Corps was taken by surprise. They had found some way to bring the darkness with them, a way which our magicians could not dispel. The camps were very quickly overrun."
"And you turned traitor to save your skin, is that it?"
"No, you do not understand. Even though our main force was anialated, we quickly formed a resistance. The forest is our home, and Elvish warfare relies heavily on hit-and-run tactics. But things were moving too slowly. We couldn't keep them at bay. They have a magical device, a relic of some kind. They call it 'Moresar,' the night stone. Ever since they arrived, it's been active, and the dome of night is growing in its wake. The forest is dying because of it."
"Ain't that a shame. Don't see what it has to do with me, though."
"I let myself get captured by the Drow. I was acting as a spy for the remaining Wood Elves. I found out how they were powering the night stone. They sacrifice wizards to it. Their arcane essences are bound to it, and your friend is next."
"Then I'd better hurry." He turned to go.
"Wait! The Drow are running out of wizards to sacrifice, and they can't face the natural light without the stone. I let them send me, to bring you here, but I was going to meet up with the resistance when we returned. I should have told you, but the pair following me... Complicated matters."
"Do tell."
"When we returned to the forrest, I found that the resistance had fallen, and Lady Ungwe ruled the forest unopposed."
"That would be the Drow Commander," he said. It wasn't a question.
"Indeed. She is a fearsome warrior, and her subjects follow her unquestioningly. They would gladly die for her. Many already have."
"Do you have any idea of how many are left?"
"More of them arrive from the Underdark every day. They work to establish a fortress here. I would say three hundred, at least."
"Too many even for Incisor to fill up on, then. But can I trust you?"
"I swear to the Earth Mother, on the grave of every elf who has died by their hand, I will serve you honestly and faithfully, until the forest is ours once again. May my soul never find rest in the glades of Alfheim should I fail you." She intoned solemnly.
"Good enough for me." Joachim reached out and sliced through the lock with Incisor. The Ironwood snapped easily.
"Such a weapon..." She said, admiringly as he swung the gate open. She was wearing the green dress and cleric's robes that she was wearing when he had met her, but the fabric had been rent and torn. They holy symbols had been removed, exposing pale flesh beneath. She noticed him staring, and covered herself as best she could with her hands. "Sir Joachim, please." She said primly. He finally looked away, and led them forward, away from the cell.
"Right, right. The first order of business is getting ourselves prepared. Do you know where they would have taken our supplies? I called my spear, but I'll need my armor."
"I believe I can guide us there, although I am unsure as to whether my magic will be effective against the Drow. Come close to me, and I will give us a chance." She pulled him close and touched him on the forehead, as though anointing him. She prayed over him quietly, and whispered the final word of her spell. "Invisibility!" Joachim vanished. "Goddess be praised, she is still with us. However, I cannot cast the spell again."
"Then what should we do?"
"If you remain quiet, I can do something else. Change Self!" Rose's features changed and hardened, and after a moment, Joachim was looking not at her, but at Lady Ungwe. He readied Incisor.
"No, Joachim, it's still me." She said in Rose's voice. "I've taken the Drow Woman's form. Now, stay quiet and follow me." She led him through the forest, and though there was little light, he could see signs of how badly the Drow had destroyed this place. The few of them they passed were leading slaves, the Wood Elves, in seemingly random and humiliating tasks. One group was building rambling, pointless walls, and another was tearing them down, stone by stone. Joachim watched the hatred flash on Rose's face, but the guards, who snapped to close, silent attention when she passed, must have only interpreted this as hate for the slaves, rather than the slave drivers. The pair of them reached the storage center unmolested. The site itself was swarming with Dark Elves. The building was low, and formed of squat mud bricks. A few of them collapsed where Incisor had passed through the wall. One brick had been cleft neatly in twain by the spear's head. There were five Drow milling around and looking at the evidence. Two with scimitars were standing guard at the door, and there were the voices of others coming from inside, but Joachim couldn't see them in the dark. When they saw Rose, they all snapped to attention, but had curious, confused expressions on their faces.
"Forgive me, my lady," one of the guards said at last. "But did you not just enter the warehouse?" It was at this moment that the real Ungwe, with her retainer of two additional Drow woman warriors, stepped out into the eternal night.

Sunday, June 12

The Argument

The sun had set by the time I got this far. I was on deck, but I couldn't sleep. I have too much to say, too much to think about, and I'm not ready to go back to the cabin yet. In spite of the demand that there be no open fires or lights on the ship, there are lanterns, well confined and actually ringed with jugs of water, at the bow and rear of the ship. I'm at the back of the boat now, pressed close to one to catch the light. I can just make out the ship's wake in the black water below. It feels appropriate, like there are shadows all around me. I feel so far from home. And now, for the first time, I really feel alone. I am forced to admit that some of the things Gloria said to me this afternoon were right. I'm not as strong as I should be. I lack the willpower to be a proper lady. But I have will enough to see this through, to find out what is wrong with me, with or without her watching over my shoulder. She was wrong, too. I'm not a monster, and neither is her brother. I'll prove it to her, one of these days. There is a Halfling expression that all things can be set to right by wearing the hat of your enemy. (Halflings don't wear shoes, and thus can't walk a mile in them.) I don't believe it's true anymore. I understand Gloria better than I ever have before, and she understands me, but we haven't gained anything. We've only fallen apart.
I managed to find Gloria on the docks. She was surprised to see me back so soon. At first, I didn't quite know what to say. I was angry, irrationally angry. I realize that, after the fact, but then, I was too focused on my rage, over everything she had done in the last week. I felt so, I don't know, powerless over my whole situation. I'm 16, but I've never had anything like freedom. I've always been watched over by someone, someone's always made my decisions for me. It wasn't even my idea to study there, it was the only alternative I had 'for my own safety.' And to top it all off, once I'm finally here on my own, Gloria picks up Mother and Grandmother's slack, telling me what to do and when. No one even told me what was REALLY going on, just treating me like a child! I told her exactly how I felt about her, and she acted surprised, hurt. She became angry that I didn't appreciate what she had done. I told her that I already had a big sister, that I wanted a friend. The boat arrived, and we boarded. The argument continued back to our cabin. It got worse, if anything once we were away from her friends. Then, we both said a few things we'll never get back. I'm not repeating them here. I had my book in my satchel, and my extra cloak, so I went out on deck, "to get some air."
It was out on deck that I unavoidably ran into Gloria's friends Corrina and Hilda. They asked me what was wrong, and I just cracked. I broke down crying in Corrina's stiff, surprised arms, and she reassured me awkwardly. Hilda punched me in the face. Not slapped, punched. I think it was a Dwarven thing. Dwarves have a very egalitarian society. They don't draw very many gender distinctions, and the women are just as physically capable as the men, in every capacity. Even the language only differentiates between the two in very formal situations. I think the consequence of it is that Hilda doesn't get much of a chance to be feminine. It must be strange for her to be in human society. Or maybe not. At least she doesn't have the expectation of being a 'good girl' weighing her down. And she had just punched me.
"Are you done?" She asked through her thin beard. Her thick accent brought her voice lower than it should sound, I think, and now I wonder if she doesn't have expectations on her after all. Maybe she's free to be a girl here, now that she is in a place with gender roles. I had stopped crying. "Now, what's this all about, then?"
We sat down on some crates of supplies, and I told them both the whole story, minus the specifics of what happened in the hill, of course. They don't need to know about, well, my condition. I made sure they understood though. Hilda spoke first.
"You are right," she said. "But so is she." I started to protest, but she raised her hand. "Let me finish, lass. I don't know much about human customs, and less about halfling ones. that's one of the reason's I've been sent here. To learn about the surface-folk. But your grandparents were, battle-brothers, if not in ceremony than surely in spirit. And that is a sacred bond, deeper still than I think either of you realize." I could do little but nod. But Corrine did interrupt.
"They aren't Dwarves. Don't push your beliefs on them." The two of them fell to, well, not arguing, but debating between themselves.
"This is not a Dwarf matter. This is a matter of family."
"Family..." Corrine tasted the word. "Forgive me if I don't share your romantic notions, since mine tried to sell me to a brothel."
"You can't forgive your parents, can you?" the Dwarf asked.
"Of course I can't. I'd rather die than be used like that."
"So it would have been better to starve, then?"
"Don't think like they did it for my sake. They were only thinking of their own bellies. And Gloria's just happy because she needs to be praised."
"Do not go too far, Corrine."
"Oh, I'm sick of her power trips, and it's time somebody said something. Gloria's such a genius, Gloria's so pretty, Gloria's such a caring older sister. Listen, Lizzeth." She took me by the shoulder. "The only person you can be really sure of is yourself. Don't forget it."
"I won't," I said. Hilda looked at the two of us very sternly.
"That aside, you should make up with Gloria. I agree that she needs to give you more credit than she has, but the two of you have been friends for too long to let a petty difference such as this come between you."
"Petty?" I asked, but she cut me off.
"I am quite certain that she considers you family, and is motivated primarily out of concern. It will not be impossible to address her on your own terms. But for now, I would give her time, and space. Think clearly, and a solution will present itself by morning. I am sure of it." I nodded, and thanked, her. It was good advice.
I bid them good night, and headed to the other side of the ship. A few of the other passengers were already stretched out, but it had been well circulated that we were with the mages, and they gave me a wide berth. No one wanted to wake up as a frog, I guess. In the morning, I'll go talk to her again, and apologize. I'm sure this will work itself out, and if it doesn't, there will be a whole city between us, I'm sure.
In any case, I'm not going back into the cabin tonight. Not while she's there. We should reach the city tomorrow. Actually, it might be today by now. I, for one, will be glad to finally be someplace. The traffic on the river is starting to pick up some more, and there are lots of lights in the distance. Ahead of us is the city, I guess. The lights behind are getting closer, too. We must be reaching the harbor. The boats are getting closer, and I can see their lights. They aren't little lanterns like this ship, either. Most of them have actual bonfires on board. I wonder how (page ends)


So much has happened today! I'll try to go as far as I can, but it's going to be difficult. I need to get it into words before I figure out what to do next, so I'll write until the light goes. We'll be docking in Carabos tomorrow, I think. What happens then, I wonder. In any case, I suppose the only thing for it is to start at the beginning. It started with the announcement.
Just as I was finishing up part three of Grandfather's story, one of the crew began ringing a bell on deck. I gathered with the rest of the passengers to hear what the announcement was. We would soon be arriving at Lockhill. The boat turned away from the fast-moving river, and into the shipping canal as he was speaking. The next bit of news was what was really exciting. Not only would those leaving at Lockhill be able to get off of the boat, but since the boat is going to be waiting for a while to go through the locks, and the deck very busy, passengers were encouraged to disembark and visit the town.
It's a pleasant enough little place, dwarfed by nature and the canal it supplied. Maduin High Falls are still quite a few miles away, but far in the distance the plumes of water can be seen. Supposedly, the high towers of Carabos have a great view of them on a clear day. Even though that area is so close to Carabos, and such a scenic wonder, It's apparently pretty lawless right now. The Wars pushed the Carabian military to it's breaking-point, just like every other nation, and when they weren't paid what they were promised, the conscripts took the forts as payment instead. Carabos has been whittled down to a city-state, turning inward as a place of learning. Even Lockhill is barely connected to the Gnomish Capital, taking a lion's share of the levies on river traffic for itself. The City gets by on the magic trade, but I wonder if it'll hold out.
In any case, the city is mostly sized for the Gnomes that live there, with a few buidings in the entertainment district sized larger. There's a row of taverns, inn and what I'm fairly certain is a brothel, right on the main street, along with a few inns and general stores. There's a sizable theatre as well. It takes about an hour for a boat to go through all four locks, not counting the line, and the inspections. It looks like we'll be here most of the afternoon. I took a look down at the first lock, a long, empty trench with a little water at the bottom. There are gates on the side that let in water, or take it away down a second channel. That water goes down to a water wheel that provides power for the different factories and mills in town. On top of the lock, Gnomish engineers ran to and fro, tying lines and supervising the equipment. Gloria came up and joined me at the railing. After looking down and telling me to be careful, like I was just a little kid, she said that all the heavy lifting was done by golems in a big room underground. The sides were all a smooth white surface that wasn't quite stone. You can find it here and there in very old buildings up in Lythia, but I've only ever seen it with big cracks and patches in it. The Gnomes call it "concrete," and it's their special building secret. Dwarves dig in stone, and Elves are masters of lumber. The Halflings know clay and brick better than everyone else, and the orcs prefer to live in animal-skin tents. Humans use a little bit of everything. I've never seen a construction this size before, though. Supposedly, everything in Carabos is like this. I can't wait to get there.
We still had a few hours to kill, so I wanted to check out the theatre, but Gloria would have none of it. I had thought I had finally gotten a chance to relax on my own, with Mr. K not really being the watchful type, and Magus Ceylon having hysterics in his cabin, but no. The closer we get to Carabos, the more overprotective and bossy Gloria gets. So she pushed me away from the locks, and through the town shopping. We didn't actually get anything, of course, but it was fun to look through the stores, I guess. There was a really nice cloak I was tempted to get. It was reversible, all weather, and I think a little magicked, but Gloria gave me this look, and told me not to waste my money on it. There's a long semester ahead of us, and we have to make our supplies last. She reminded me that we should eat while we're in town, and we headed to a little teashoppe she had heard of.
Right from the start, I cannot think of a more tragically reputable establishment. It didn't look like the sort of place that served alchohol, much less hosted barfights. Definitely not the point of refuge of innocent maidens on the run from evil. I doubt a bandit could find the place with a spyglass. First of all, it was Pink. REALLY pink. Pink walls, pink roof, pink door. Rows of lovely pink flowers in spotless beds out front. Pink stones lining the path up the tiny, but immaculately cut lawn. Disgustingly, boringly pink. And everything that wasn't pink, was lavender! I felt like an idiot just walking in. This wasn't where two dangerous young ladies on an adventure dined on the road.
Gloria assured me that the food, which was the important thing, was of the highest quality, as well as quantity, so I sighed and headed on inside. It was just as bad on the inside. There were doilies EVERYWHERE. I will admit that I am a bit of a tomboy city-girl. I'll admit to a bit of a wild streak, and I've never been one to behave and stay quiet, but this place would have turned anyone's hair gray. Lace curtains, etc. You get the idea. I was beginning to realize that I had perhaps misjudged Gloria's taste, if she was taking me to a place like this. Gloria was already headed to a table. I recognized a few of the faces there from the boat as Gloria's new friends.
I looked past them, and I saw, of all people, Periel the magnificent seated at the corner table. He was conversing with a beautiful woman. She was tall, with long, blond locks, and her ears were long and somehow gracefully pointed, as though her face had been sculpted rather than grown. I wonder if she was be an elf. They were whispering, and I admit that I tried to listen in, but either he had cast a spell, or I was just too far away, and I couldn't hear a thing over the chatter in the restaurant. I shrugged, and followed Gloria, already deep in conversation at the table.
I was introduced all around. There were four of them, coming from all over, each of them different, but fast becoming friends. I've never made friends easily. I've always been an outsider. I was instantly jealous of Gloria for her ability to socialize.
Corrina was the first. She's a human from the borderlands, and she's as tough as they come, by the look of her. She's a year older than me, and she's off to seek her fortune. Her parents were going to sell her off to pay their debts! I was thunderstruck when I heard that. I can't imagine a parent doing something like that, no matter how desperate things became. So she scraped what she could, and somehow made her way onto the ship. She's going to start a new life in Carabos, or maybe stop there for a while, and drift. She hasn't decided yet. I kind of envy her but at the same time I completely don't.
Melody is a Gnome on pilgrimage. She is going to be a musician, and she's coming to Carabos to study at the Bardic College. Bards are strange folk. They study lore, like wizards, but not the arcane. They learn about songs, and stories, and history. And one in a thousand becomes great enough that their songs have a magic all their own. She is beautiful, and her voice is great. She already showed she's been studying, and told a wonderful story about a fisherman. It's apparently from her home village, out east.
Tina is a trader's daughter, like me. She's part elf, and she's on her way to be apprenticed in her Uncle's shop. It's not something she would be allowed to do in her home, I guess, but she's vague on where she's originally from. I've heard of half-elves in stories, of course, but I've never actually seen one. They say that a human and an elf fall in love maybe once in a lifetime. A human lifetime, that is. She's very quiet.
Hilda is from Paladine, and she is a stout and somewhat dour Dwarf-maid. She's a junior priestess, just finished with her training at the tender age of fifty. She's being sent to preach serve as a Handmaiden in Molem's Temple of the Illuminated Will in Carabos. The Dwarf God and the Gnome God are allies from ancient days. The temple in Carabos is the most magnificent outside of the mountains. It is a high honor to serve there, and it is a heavy responsibility. She bears it well.
The five of them talked, and laughed and planed their futures in the city. I was included in it, though treated as Gloria's 'little sister.' I grinned, and shruged, and generally stayed quiet. Eventually, the food arrived: Sweet, black tea and a huge stack of pancakes with strawberries. I dug in gratefully. Honestly, I was glad to have something to do that prevented me from talking. They were all nice girls, but I just wasn't comfortable, for some reason. Maybe it was because my suspicions about Gloria's attitude were being proven true. THe raven pendant in my pocket seemed all the heavier at that moment.
The food was just as good as promised, though. In the far corner, the mysterious woman stood, her business with the mage apparently concluded. As she rose, he reached into thin air and pulled out a card, which he presented to her with a seated bow. Her lip curled in almost a smile, or maybe a sneer, and she left quickly. I admit I was a bit in awe of her as she walked past. She seemed so, I don't know, forceful. The magician sat looking out the window. Once she is fully gone, his face fell, as though it was a mask of good humor he was wearing.
A bell rang in town. A crier announced our ship will be leaving the channel soon, and Gloria and the girls settled the bill. I told them I would catch up.
I hung back to speak with the magician. His table was in a quiet corner, and he sat nursing his tea and looking worried.
"Excuse me," I said. It startled him. "May I sit here for a moment?" He looked at me with these sad, shining eyes, and said "of course." I took her seat.
"I saw you on the boat, but I wasn't sure how to approach you."
"Approach me? Why?" He asks. I'm embarrassed by the answer, but I decided to be honest with him.
"Well, someday I'd like to be a magician like you." I said.
"Well, a cute face like yours would surely bring in the marks," he said.
"Marks?" I asked
"Oh, you know, crowds, customers."
"Right. But I don't know if I can do it. I'll wash out for sure."
"Wash out?" He looked puzzled for a minute, as if he didn't understand the concept. A great, traveling magician like him must be unaccustomed to failure. "Oh, right," he said at last. "Well, there are three things you need to succeed in this business: Patience, Practice, and Confidence. If you focus and train, take your opportunities when they come, and believe in yourself, you'll see your name in lights one of these days." It was good advice. I memorized it.
"Thanks for that," I said. "I saw you a few days ago in (name of town). You were really great!"
"Oh..." he looked concerned for a second, but I don't know why. Then the smile came back, officious as ever. "It was a good crowd for the Wake this year."
"Wake?" I asked.
"Yes, the Halfling Wake, which you were at." He gave me a strange look.
"I've never heard it called that before," I said.
"Oh, yes. It's a fine old tradition. The road's a dangerous place. That's why they have the blessing and the feast. Didn't you go up to the hilltop shrine for the ceremony?" I thought back to the service, the way she had given a blessing in the quick, high Halfling tounge. I nodded. "Well, you've already had last rites, in case you meet with accident or murder out on the highway." A living funeral, a feast of sorrow not for those that had gone, but for those who would not be coming back. And they had hidden it from me, like I was a child, still a little girl. Gloria knew, and she hadn't told me. Even she hadn't trusted me to accept that kind of danger. She's handling me with kid-gloves, like she treats her brother. I was wrong to think that things were getting better between us. Not when she hid this from me. I stood up, nearly knocking over the chair in my haste.
"I have to go," I said. I ran out of the teashoppe without looking back at his expression. I was being rude, I know, to a man of considerable power. But I was flush with rage. Why hadn't they told me the truth?

The Tale of the Magic Crossbow pt. III: The Cursed Ones

In keeping with Mr. K's suggestion, I'm going to keep on telling Grandfather's stories, but I'm changing up the format a bit. If I'm cataloguing them, I should treat them more seriously. So, I'm going to abandon the bedtime story format and just concentrate on the facts, as I know them.
When last I wrote of them, Joachim, Glory, and Rose had entered the Ironwood Forest. Rose was leading them, with the purpose of disarming the many traps and pitfalls that the Wood Elves had set up to protect their haven, although they hadn't managed to protect it from underneath. Glory and Rose weren't so disturbed by the dark. Their people had eyes better suited for the lack of light. Joachim was human, so he had to light his way.
He pulled a device from his pack. It was a leather and glass tube, about a foot in length, called a sun rod. He twisted the leather thong in the middle, and there was a crunch of something brittle breaking. The strange, alchemic fluids in the tubes met, and reacted, making the rod glow brightly, or at least it should have. The eldritch spell of darkness robbed even the device of some of its brilliance. Still, it was enough to see by.
"Put that out!" Rose whispered with a hiss. "Do you want the Drow to see us coming?"
"Better they see the light than they hear me trip over every root and break every fallen twig between here and their camp," Joachim replied. "Take point, we're right behind you." Rose stiffened, unused to taking orders from a human. Her elven ears twitched, trying to catch some tiny sound on the cold breeze perhaps, and she started forward without a word. Glory shrugged and fell in behind her. He took up the rear.
For a few minutes, they walked in silence, save for the occasional warning from Rose to avoid a certain long, or to point out a pitfall hidden in the undergrowth. The group managed to avoid any patrols. In fact, they walked for a long time without seeing anyone. Rose claimed that she knew every inch of the forest, and they believed her, but as they walked, the fact that something wasn't right settled upon them. When she felt confident enough, Glory hung back to consult with her partner.
"Something isn't right here," she whispered.
"So you noticed, too" Joachim replied.
"Yes. I suspected it before we entered, but that business with the torch confirms it."
"Wait, the torch? What do you mean?" He asked.
"Yes... wait, what do you mean?" Glory stopped.
"You first."
"Fine. That's not a magical item, is it."
"The sun rod? Of course not. It's just a fire. It's all chemicals. Take a look." He brandished the device for her to get a closer look.
"I already am," she said, and he noticed for the first time that her eyes had the faint, violet glow they took on whenever she examined things of the magical spectrum. "The torch shouldn't be working, but it is. There's something off about this darkness spell."
"Go on."
"Well, do you remember the Splinterbone Catacombs? When we had to fight that warlock?"
"Of course, when he scuppered, he called down that cloud of darkness. It took hours to find our way out of it. Even that dwarf was running into the walls... Oh, I see."
"Exactly. If this really were a darkness spell, it would be solid. My night-vision wouldn't be effective, and your torch wouldn't do any good at all."
"So it's not magic after all?" He trusted her judgement. Glory's expertise had saved them on a number of occasions.
"No, it is. This whole place is so filled with magic that I can barely see. It's even drowning out your spear, it's so thick. But it's not dark, it's more like, I don't know, night, somehow. I've never seen a spell do something like this before."
"Any ideas what could cause it?"
"Well, I can't say. It could be very, very powerful time magic, or weather magic, I suppose. It's like the whole sky is frozen above us. It could be a ritual or an artifact I've never heard of. It could be anything. I can't wait to find out."
"Well, whatever it is, spell or machine, or what not, you can figure it out after I break it."
"You do love smashing other people's toys, don't you Vernes?" Her tone was slightly colder. It was an old argument.
"Well," he considered, "mostly these 'toys' were horrible things sent to kill me, so I don't feel so bad about it. And besides, you'd think that poor old Bindle would be your top priority."
"Bindle?" She asked, puzzled.
"You do recall your poor, punctured, boyfriend, I hope." Joachim said sarcastically. The tone was getting heated.
"Of course, of course. But if this is some lost magic, it would be quite a boon. I could get tenure in Carabos for something like that." Her voice fell again.
"Who knows if you'll get your chance. I don't think Rose is leading us on a rescue mission."
"What makes you say that?" Glory asked.
"Well, for one thing, she's given us the slip." Glory looked around. It was true. Rose had disappeared while they were arguing.
"Well...I'm sure she's just gone ahead. Maybe she didn't see us slow down?"
"No, Glory, just no. You might know your magic, but I know people, and something about this stunk the moment we took it. Now I know what. Trust me, there'll be a horde of monsters just beyond that riiioh..." Joachim stepped forward,and found his foot squarely in the middle of a hidden noose. Before he had time to pull it back, He was swinging upward by his right ankle. In that moment, his arms flailed, and he dropped his torch. Fortunately, he was quicker to catch his spear, as it fell from the holder on his pack. He was about to cut himself loose, when he looked down and saw just how high off the ground he was. Then, he reconsidered.
Somehow, the sunrod had managed to avoid serious damage in the fall, and illuminated a small circle below. On the ground, Glory stood looking up at him, and laughing.
"Hilarious," Joachim said blankly. "You wouldn't have happened to prepare a slow falling spell, would you?"
"I've got a potion for it."
"Well, I don't think that's going to help me, Glory." Joachim began to feel giddy from the blood rushing to his head. Glory stepped gingerly around the smoking brush, and set her pack down on a patch of clear ground. It was muddy from the lack of light, but she didn't seem to notice.
"I still have that levitation scroll in here somewhere. I'll guide you down." She rummaged through the bag, and eventually pulled out a battered scroll case. While she was searching, Joachim reached down with the spear tip. It would be close, but he could just reach. Out in the forest, a twig snapped.
"Hold on, I've got it right here..." There was another snap, closer. "Fireball, grease, haste, ooh!" There was the sound of something climbing a tree, followed by the crash of a branch. Whatever it was, it was large. It sounded as though an army was marching through, and it was very close now.
"Do you have it? I hear something out there."
"No, I just found a lightning bolt. I thought I used up of those. Here it is. Are you ready?" Glory looked up from her pack, and at... something in front of her. She froze. Joachim tried to twist his body to get a better look, but he couldn't make out anything outside the tiny circle of dying flames. A large, impossible shadow descended upon Glory, and she screamed. Almost immediately, her cry became a chant, and, and she gestured, completing a spell just in time. From underneath the monstrous shadow's bulk, Joachim faintly heard the word 'haste,' and the spell was cast. There was a blur, presumably glory, her enchanted dagger cutting a trail of fire through beast and air, that came bounding from below, and off into the woods. Bellowing with rage, the injured thing lumbered after her. Joachim watched it skitter, seemingly too quickly, on four pairs of horrible, oddly bending spider legs, and then the clearing was quiet again.
He felt a weight settle on the branch his trap hung from, almost imperceptibly, then lift again, in silence. There was a second one, or the first had doubled back? In a moment, his question was answered as the creature slid into his field of vision, and he found himself staring into a cruel and familiar face. He had seen it, the night before in the tavern, although the addition of a pair of wickedly curved, jutting fangs had been the least of the changes that had ocurred to her. She was still dressed in the remnants of her garb from the night before, although it was badly torn and ripped. Her hands had changed like her face. Her fingers now ending in sharp talons. But it was her legs that had truly been changed. Her waist was the last part of her that could be considered humanoid, as her jet-black skin now transitioned smoothly to the hard, shiny carapace of a black widow spider. Eight huge legs tensed on nothing, and she swung from a thin, white strand of spider-silk. She looked at him with fierce hatred in her eyes, and growled a low curse in a tongue that was far removed from the graceful Elven languages it was derived from. She lashed out quickly, using both her claws. One, Joachim managed to block with his buckler, but the other reached past it, digging trough his armor and into the soft flesh of his shoulder.
Joachim sighed, and brought his short spear around, cutting through the monster's web line as well as the rope. He kicked out, connecting with his free leg squarely in what he supposed was the thorax. There was a slight crunch, and she howled in rage. Finally, he was at least facing upwards, but the ground was coming up fast, and she clawed at him, as though killing him was far more important than saving herself. He only had one chance, and she would hardly cooperate. He readied the and drove it deep into her chest, just as the forest floor rose to meet them. There was a shock of contact, and what he was sure was a broken arm. The wound on his shoulder burned, more than it should have, and he realized that it must have been poisonous. The thing, whatever it was, screamed, and fell dead. Joachim sunk down on the grass beside it, careful to avoid the leaking ichor, and saw to his wounds.
His chain was rent in a huge gash at his left shoulder. That arm was already starting to go numb, either from some natural poison, or something she had dipped her talons in. With his right, he reached into his pack and pulled out a green glass vial marked with a heart. With great care, he poured a small measure on his wound, which smoked, but where he left it, there was fresh, healed skin. He sighed, and replaced what was left of the potion.
With great effort, he rose one-handed to his feet, while his left arm hung paralyzed. At least, he thought, the poison doesn't seem to be spreading further. He headed wearily off in the direction that he thought Glory had fled in. Eventually, she found him.
"Are you alright?" He asked.
"Fine, fine. A little poisoned."
"A little?"
"It's a light paralytic. It just needs time to work it's way through. How did you do?"
"Alright. Whatever spell protection they had yesterday, the metamorphosis stripped them of it, so I managed to make short work of it, once I extrapolated the data."
"Right, right. But why change them into monsters that are weaker than their original shapes?"
"Drow culture is reclusive and mysterious. From the fragments I understand, I would hazard a guess that they were not mutated by choice, or to hunt us."
"Go on."
"There is scant information on the Drow available outside of the Underdark, but I do recall glancing at an old tome concerning their diety: Lolth, the Entrapping One. She is a devil of such power that not only does she gain worship from mortals of the dark realms, but she has enough power survive outside of the complex hierarchy the other denizens of her plane partake in. The only other Pit Lord of that caliber is Tiamat."
"Impressive, but how does that relate to those two trackers?"
"Well, the book describes a variety of rituals available to Lolth's servants. Some transformations grant enormous power, and others are terrible curses. What we fought today were 'Driders.' cursed to take the shape of half-drow, half-monsterous spider for failure in service. I would imagine that by failing to kill or capture us the night before, they were forced into a new shape, and exiled." They got up, and headed deeper into the forest, away from the cursed bodies.
"They failed last night because Rose used her daylight spell." Joachim said slowly. "That doesn't make any sense."
"Why not. It validates the fact that Rose did not in fact, turn against us."
"No, Glory. Just no. Trust me, she ditched us. You may know every run or whatnot, but I know people. And I know when we've been betrayed. It just makes the game more complicated."
"In that, you would be correct, human." The voice seemed to come from everywhere at once, and suddenly, the forest was full of Drow warriors. Their leader was a woman. She was beautiful, but terrible in aspect, as though she were carved of obsidian. Her long, white hair flowed like fine silk, and her eyes were a rich, blood red. She was a warrior in black leather armor, reinforced with white, spidery carvings in bone. In her left hand she carried a weapon, a crossbow as beautiful and deadly as she was herself. The weapon was carved from midnight wood, and embellished with truesilver that shone like stars.
She held in her right was a length of chain, and Joachim saw Rose handcuffed at the end of it. She had been beaten herself, quite badly, by the look of it. The Drow pulled her forward, without seeming effort. Rose stumbled. Her captor sneered at her cruelly. "We sent the little worm to bring you here, to find a mighty wizard for us to sacrifice to the Night Stone. In that she has done well. So, in spite of her... disloyalty," the leader said, stretching the word as though savoring it. "We shall sacrifice no more of our lesser sylvan sisters." She marched slowly, up to Glory, slinging the crossbow onto her back, and reaching out to touch her. Glory backed up, and poured quick, pure fire out of her stretched fingers, engulfing the clearing in flame and smoke. There was a high, cold, throaty laugh from the Drow commander.
"You are a strong one." There was a note of surprised in her voice. "Yes, you will do nicely indeed. Take her!" She called to her guards. She and Joachim readied their weapons, but the Drow were legion, and before long, they were prisoners.

Talking With Mr. K

The Magus is still hiding in his cabin, so Gloria and I have the day off. I did some snooping around after breakfast, and I found out what Mr, K does all day. He sketches. It's amazing to watch him work, although at first I'm sure he knew I wasn't there. He has a little easel set up at the other end of the ship, and he draws the scenery as we pass it. The speed and precision of his technique are impressive.
My dad commissioned a family portrait once, and it was horrible. The painter took forever and we had to stand there all day as he captured all the little details. I bothered him while he was working later, and he showed me how it had been done. He broke us all down into little shapes and drew them separately, one after the other, until the geometry disappeared, and we became the whole picture. It was really interesting to watch. What Mr. K did was nothing like that. He didn't draw shapes to make the landscape, he just transfered it. He started at the top-left corner of a page, and worked steadily up and down it in quick strokes of his arm, so fast that I could barely see it. And every line was perfect, like it was second nature to him. And when he was finished, it wasn't like a sketch so much as an illusion. I could see every single detail captured perfectly in lead and paper. He should have been an artist instead of a teacher. I told him so, and he jumped. He chided me for sneaking up on him.
I sat down beside him, and we watched the mangroves pass. The river there was swampy and desolate. I said so, and he laughed, softly.
"What's so funny," I asked.
"Oh, it's just a human foible. There's more life out there than in any of the human or dwarven cities, but you say 'desolate.'
"Well, it's not a city or anything, it's all giant lizards and stuff, right?"
"Stuff. There's a small tribe of Lizardmen out there, and some goblin nests further from the river. They all mostly keep to themselves. So you are from Lithia, yes?"
"No, well, originally, I'm from Hydraal. My grandfather was a great hero in the Orc wars, before the, you know, the big one."
"Really? He was a soldier?"
"Not officially. He was a wandering swordsman. That's actually how Gloria and I know each other. Her grandmother and my grandfather were cohorts."
"Really? Most of what I know of Magus Boflin is from her brief stint as a professor. What was your grandfather's name?"
"Joachim Vernes. He was know as Dragon-Talker Vernes, and he carried a magic spear carved from a gold dragon's fang."
"He was a dragon lord, that's passing rare, in a human." He was genuinely surprised. Maybe he wasn't a dragon in human shape, if he didn't know that.
"Well, I don't really know the details. It's not one of the stories he told often. As I understand it, in his early adventures, he protected a clutch of eggs from orc patrols in the high mountains. That is how he earned the their respect, and his signature weapon. I've been writing about his adventures a lot lately."
"Why is that?"
"Oh, homesickness I guess. In the battle against the bandits, my father was using one of grandpa's weapons, so I've been thinking about the stories."
"I would love to hear it, if you wouldn't mind."
"Really? Well, alright." We sat and talked all through the morning. Really, mostly I talked. I told him about the magic crossbow, and the dark elves, and their plans to block out the sun.
"So they had a shadowstone." He said when I had finished. "It was a lucky thing that they stopped them. The whole world could have been swallowed by the shadow plane with one of that size, given enough time.
"The shadow plane? What's that?" I asked.
"Oh, this is advanced, planar geography, but I'll try and explain simply." He turned to a new page in his text book and sketched a great circle, with a smaller one inside it. "In the first age, their was the material world," he said, tapping the central circle. "And there was the Spirit World, which surrounded, bound and existed just beyond the world we know. All things, all spirits and magic creatures, existed in the Spirit world. Then, the Golden Age ended. The Old Gods, died, or vanished, or ceased to be. The legends differed. What we do know isat the strain of the end cracked the heavens themselves, and the Spirit World, dissolved into the many and different planes." He sketched a few lines, and the outer circle was cut like a pie. Now, there are many different planes of existence beyond the physical: Realms of fire, and endless oceans with no surface. Heavens and hells, each one different. And on some of them, the new gods dwell, and dictate their will. Do you follow?"
"Yes, I said."
"Good. Now it gets tricky. Some of these realms touch the material at different times, and three of them, the Astral, the Etherial, and the Shadow, can be easily reached from our world. They are the gateways to the planes beyond, like paths, or seas."
"So the cloud of darkness was the shadow plane?"
"Not exactly. The stone was a solid chunk of shadow matter. Normally, planar matterial can't exist on our world. It's too different, or it has too much energy, and explodes. They had managed to get some stable, and they were using it to copy the traits of the shadow onto the material. If they had succeeded, then they could have conceivably merged the two together, destroying the earth, but making the shadow plane that much greater. Who knows what could have happened. Your grandfather was truly a great hero for saving the world. Do you know many of his adventures?"
"Some of them. He told them to me as bedtime stories, so I think he cleaned them up a great deal."
"Even so, I think you should keep at it, Lizzeth. Write them down. I can't think of anything as sad as a story that becomes lost forever. History, and geography. These are the focus of stories, and stories drive them. Do you understand?"
"I think so," I said.
"Excellent. I very much would consider it a personal favor if you would tell them to me some time." And that is how I have become my grandfather's biographer. When we get to port, I desperately need to write my father a letter.

The Sealed Door

We're still traveling down the river, but the weather is slowly getting better. We stopped again at a town while we were sleeping, and a whole bunch of the passengers got off. It's still crowded, but not so bad now. Magus Celon spent all the rest of the afternoon and evening in his cabin, and at dinner Mr. K told us to leave him be. When the magus saw that ruined old tower, he went white as a sheet. I asked Mr. K about the ruins, and I expected him to tell me not to worry as he watched Gloria and I eat our bread and cheese. Instead, he told us a story.
As he told us about it, something softened in his face. He's such a cold person, it's easier to think he's not human, and I assumed that he would be a bad teacher, but this was different. He doesn't deal with people well, but he's passionate about history. I'll try and reproduce the history of this place, as neatly as I can.
The tower has existed for as long as anyone can remember. Records of the site, according to Mr. K, date to the beginning of the Second Age, and even then, the tower had been ruined. Whatever purpose it held was lost during the Fall of the Old Gods. That means it was probably a temple or some other religious building that was forgotten by the Risen Gods, but the truth of the matter is still unknown.
The interesting thing about the building is that no one has ever fully explored the structure. The stones above, which are stronger than they appear, and still bear mysterious enchantments, eventually lead the visitor to a single door, marked with the rune of the Prime Magister! This door is taller than two men, and just as wide. It is carved of stone, all in one piece, and doesn't have a lock or a keyhole. And no one in the world has ever been able to open it. There are many different theories about what is there, and what could be behind it. That would explain why everyone was so excited. The Prime Magister invented most spells and magical artifacts. He's a hero so ancient and famous that he commands almost as much respect among humans as the god Hattori himself! They say that he hid his greatest secrets, in his grimoire, away when he died. Somewhere, out in the world, his canon is waiting to be rediscovered.
Mr. K would have liked to have stopped the boat to explore, but with that many passengers, even day-trippers paying with copper, the captain wouldn't do it, so he made what notes he could. I wonder if Mr. K has a bit of an adventurer in him?
As for the reason Magus Celon became so upset, even Mr. K doesn't know. He just said that elven memories are long, and their moods are changeable. He advised us to leave the mage be and enjoy the river trip. Even though the "mortal" histories of the first age are mostly lost, it is said that the elves considered the Prime Magister a dangerous villain. No one outside the Green Kingdoms knows why, though. The elves know more secrets than the gnomes, but they keep them close to their hearts.

Saturday, June 11

Mysterious River

This morning, we stopped very briefly to pick up more passengers, but Magus Celon and Mr. K wouldn't let us go to grab a bite. The Halcyon did take on a whole lot of newcomers, though. They're so thick now that the cabins are full and people are sleeping on the deck. In the crowd, I noticed that one of the new passengers was Periel The Magnificent! It was tough with so many people, and he must have shaved his beard, but I would recognize his mage hat anywhere. Come to think of it, neither Mr. K or Magus Celon wears a magic hat.
In any case, now we have THREE powerful magicians on board. The captain must feel very safe. Although, Gloria and I have been talking, and we're not so sure about Mr. K. If he were a magician, he would go by his title, but he goes by “mister.” We spent last night after lights out considering what he could be. He clearly did a big magic spell, so I think he has to be a mage. Maybe he's disgraced or something, and doesn't use the title. I'll be he had a tragic love affair, or something like that. Wizards are doing things like that all the time. Gloria thinks he's a dragon in disguise. They're supposed to be everywhere these days, hidden in plain sight.
The dragons fought as their own side in the War twenty years ago. They split and fought over the specifics, but in the end, they decided it would be bad for them if they let the horde destroy civilization, so they fought. Then, when the orcs were pushed back behind the high mountains, the armies turned on one another, and the alliances fell. The dragons were the mightiest of them, and rather than wait for the power of the others to turn against them, they all changed their shape, and walked through their attackers, and disappeared back to wherever it is that dragons go. And the rumor persists that there still out there, hidden in mortal guise. Another romantic story, I guess. We're at the space between eras, a gap in history. The times are strange and uncertain, but I'm excited. It's like the fates are on vacation, and our future is a blank canvas.
I asked Magus Celon about Magus Periel, but he just gave me one of those considering, elven looks of his, and told us to stay away from the other passengers. I wonder if they have some kind of a rivalry or something. The Magus is so mysterious himself. I wonder how he came to be so far from his home, teaching in a gnomish city. And then there's me. This ship is all up filled with mysteries!
A few hours ago, we came to a bend in the river that looked out on a bleak moor. There was a ripple of excitement in the crowd, and even Magus Celon looked up from his lecture on the development of the modern spellbook to look out over the land. It took me a while to see what it was we were looking at, but finally, Gloria and I climbed up on a railing, much to the Magus's worry, and looked out at a lonely tower. It looked long abandoned, with a broken crown. It looked like some giant stone hand, reaching out of the earth. It was mossy in parts, and there was a great murmur of excitement among the passengers, but I couldn't get Magus Celon to tell me anything about them. He looked very upset as we passed them. I wonder what they are, or what they remind him of?
I noticed that Mr. K had a little notebook out, and was taking some notes as we passed. He must know what the ruin is. At 'dinner,' I'll have to keep after him until he lets me know what they are. In any case, we all watched them until they were out of sight behind a bend, and even then, Magus Celon's thoughts were scattered, and he let us go. This is something important, I'm sure. The magus seemed so upset I'm afraid to ask him, and Gloria's in the dark as much as I am. Mr. K knows, though, and I'll get the story out of his tight lips yet!
There is nothing ahead of us but a blank age of the future, and nothing behind but ruins, from the war and lost civilizations. Over time, people pass away, and kingdoms crumble. But legends live on, forever. Monuments lose their meaning, but never cease to inspire us.