May 24 2008

Chapter 34

Jeremy @ 10:48 pm

6050.3.46

The College’s portal was still attuned to Wuliris, Nitire had his own reasons for wanting the players and the prince there originally, though possibly he was simply vindictive. Wuliris was one of the most inhospitable places in Jaiman. Largely empty, covered in snow and ruled by the DragonLord from his mighty fortress.

Biryn stepped away from the portal and pulled his greatcoat tighter around his neck. Inside this narrow cleft in the surrounding hills the wind was not so bad but as he climbed to the closest ridge, he felt the real wind like a scythe, even through the clothing Zaris had provided them. The others joined him.

“It’s early morning now, if the snow stays this light, we should reach the trading post within the hour.”

*****************

Four hours later and they were tracking the women of the trading post and their Lugroki escort across the tundra toward the mountains. The frontier village had been destroyed, the menfolk and children butchered. One child had survived and Biryn had kindly escorted him back to the portal. Their basic survival skills had provided them with a crude shelter dug from the snow and they could see that the Lugroki carried simple tents and shelters for their prisoners.

Ulrich voted to storm them during the night but Keir had countered that they might lead them the pass through the mountains and into the citadel. Discussions had continued through the night, it was too cold to sleep, and many plans were proposed, discussed and rejected. Eventually though, they agreed to follow the path they were already on. To the fortress and beyond.

Info on Ja’Miil Targ

A dramatic contrast to Wuliris, the inland Ja’Miil Targ is a smouldering plain of ash and flowing lava. (The islands which extend outwards are also a part of Ja’Miil Targ, and are volcanic in origin, but have cooled and have frigid climes.) Almost constantly cloaked in a ceiling of ashy soot, the land is the home of Sulthon Ni’shaang, Dragonlord.

The land is a natural defence for the Dragonlord, but it also acts to inhibit his movements across the lands to the south. There are rumours of great tunnels extending under the Black Fork Mountains, but the Loremasters will not confirm this.

The lands near the coast are less inhospitable, and it is there that the Dragonlord’s armies of Lugroki farm their brown crops and graze cattle, but the plains of southern Lu-nak call to them and little stands in the Dragon’s way.

The Dragonlord commands a large force of Lugroki and evil human warriors, and also a group of Skyriders: cruel, foul men who ride winged, reptilian Gartyl. These are his chief servants. It is also rumoured that the Dragonlord is a master of demonic control.

The Citadel of the Dragonlord

Uronthis Kalthul, the Claw of the Dragon, lies in the far north of Jaiman, sheltered in a deeply-cloven vale. This sprawling citadel complex is the home of Sulthon Ni’shaang, one of the six Dragonlords of Kulthea.

The citadel was carved out of a vein of adamantine slag in a mountain of ash. Above and behind the hold is an active volcano, constantly belching forth soot, ash and boiling rock. Sulthon has caused two of the rivers of fire to pour down the cliff-sides and rejoin in front of his fortress, forming a moat of molten rock. Two iron bridges span the rivers.

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The Lost Days

Looking at his hand which is all back to normal, Sira is amazed by what the old man did for him, and a complete stranger at that. His prayer to the God of the Sea had been answered, and very quickly too. Sira was eternally grateful and wondered if it was really just a nice man or some other form of Shaal’s divine influence. He felt the urge to pick himself up and do something really good in order to repay for his gift. Throughout the rest of the day, Sira is as calm and pleasant as they come in a mad world, later boarding a boat to go to the isle that houses the great Nomikos Library.

Arriving at the island, Sira can see Nomikos and it is an awesome structure. Looking around, he spots a mosque on the side of the cliffs and instantly remembers the changramai monks. He looks back in the direction toward the party but feels he needs to follow this up now for himself. Knowing the party is going to the library, he decides he has a chance of catching up with them again at the island so he heads up some stairs and follows a path up. Upon arrival at the mosque, looking around it is empty. The sound of a breeze making its way around the walls provides a pleasant feeling as he tries to recognise the unfamiliar architecture. His focus is drawn to the ground where he notices a few disturbances as if a group of men had been there recently. From what he can make out, looks like some sort of training has been under way in the courtyard from the shifted, yet synchronised sand pattens.

Nomikos Library from Ormian

Sira thinks they will be back so he decides to spend the night there and wait, as he finds a comfortable spot to watch the sunset, he meditates for a few hours then watches a small ship sailing away in the moon light before falling asleep.

Waking the next day to the sounds of chants, he sits up and takes in a deep breath. He pulls himself to his feet and looks around the corner where the chanting is coming from and sees a group of about 12 young Changramai’s. He moves around the wall and drops down to the same level as them. They are taken by surprise, having being there the last 30 minutes and not noticed Sira at all, the changramai strike a defensive pose. They all look very young, maybe in their lower teenage years and they definitely show it with their attitudes.

Sira walks towards them and speaks of his wish to join. He is met with laughter, already his feeling of interest is dwindling as the Changramais don t look or sound anything like the warriors and professionals he had heard them to be. “Is there a master here?” A young man steps forward taking the alpha role “you’re not welcome here with us, you’re too old” he speaks. Sira confirms they are the Changramai which they all nod, “I have been invited to train with you by Master Santori “. The Changramai look at each other as if to confirm they know of the master but still give no invitation and looks like there is no master present with the group.

Sira faces off one of the Nomikos Changramai

The young man in front says you will have to prove yourself if you want to join us, nodding to one of the trainees to take on Sira. One man moves forward and faces Sira. “This is not how it should be” Sira says but just as he finishes the line, the leader interrupts with “begin”. The young warrior strafes around a relaxed Sira, Sira looks at him “I will not fight you”, “you got no choice” the warrior answers then swings a fist at an unready Sira hitting him in the face. Not a hard hit but the young warrior is building confidence quickly; Sira refrains from going into a fighting stance and retains his calm composure. The young warrior hits again, this time harder and across Sira’s jaw making him lose a bit of balance for a split second. His lip is now bleeding but Sira still stands straight and doesn’t show any effect of pain or fear. The young warrior is starting to get angry, and starts cursing at Sira. The group begins to laugh loudly.

“You think you’re pretty tough huh” the leader states, then nods to another to join in. Both warriors begin circling Sira who is now in a stance for defence. “I already said I didn’t want to fight, I have nothing to prove to you here in such pointless circumstances”. He hears “Then we will kick the shit out of you” and the group all starts to chant as they all move in on Sira.

One quickly runs in and tries a quick strike, but Sira can move much quicker and dodges his advance while grabbing his arm and throwing him into a few of the others. Another two advance trying to hit Sira but he is able to defend their strikes with relative ease, he figures they must have recently joined as their skills are no where near what he expected to encounter. Realising this, he figures its best not to really hurt any of them but knows he wont be able to keep up for long against 12 opponents, what ever their level of skill. In the corner of his eye, he catches the warrior who originally hit him come in for a grab from his side and succeeds in getting on Sira’s back. Instantly, Sira casts a leaping spell and launches straight up and over to a higher platform 20 feet away. The warrior shocked and not expecting such a fast manoeuvre lets go half way in the air and falls back down onto the group. Bruises all round to their bodies and egos. Sira lands and looks down at them, “no more charades, your not changramai”. At that moment, he hears multiple clapping sounds coming from…? He looks around, he sees no one from the sounds origin. He hops off the wall and stands in front of where the sounds are coming from while hearing the group of youths running away behind him.

“The kid is right, you are too old but I did like your style” a voice says. An unnatural wind starts blowing kicking up some leaves then a man in sleek combat armour just materialises from the air three feet in front of Sira. Then two more appear on either side of him followed by four more standing behind them. Sira gives a small smirk as he hears “We are the Changramai Monks “.

Spending the previous day and some time the following morning with the Changramai Leader, Master Tigon and his monks, Sira has learned already a wealth of knowledge of the Changramai, they even showed him some new techniques for combat. Sira was very impressed. As they sit in a circle to discuss the events for the day, Master Tigon looks at Sira and invites him to join them on a mission. Master Tigon says although we cannot pay you, I think it will be good for you and will make sure you take something back with you. “How long will the mission take”, Tigon looks at him and asks “why, do you need to be somewhere else?” Sira tells him of his party and a brief about their adventure. Master Tigon seems taken aback after hearing some of Sira’s adventure so far, he thinks for a moment then looks deep into Sira’s eyes and strikes a serious tone “listen to me very carefully Sira, I have heard about your party and adventure and you may not realise of what great importance it holds for us all. Firstly, remember Shaal. He has been guiding you on this path. You know it from your time as assistant GM (Tigon looks at himself wondering WTF he just said) and you know it through your faith. Although Shaal has a foul temper he is one of the great, good Gods. It’s not often the gods take such a direct interest in the lives of their followers, you MUST have an important role to play… Come on this mission with us and I will teach you something to help you with your quest but know you must return to your friends as they need your help as you need theirs.”

Sira learns the mission is to watch a man that maybe coming to the island within the next couple of days. They are unsure of his motives and reasons but to them, it is just another job. They have been hired to watch and report this person’s movement to their contact but have been made aware that said person they are watching is smart and will easily be able to pick up if he is being watched. This is why the changramai have been hired. The person of interest is named Drey Laachek “.

Setting out, the monks spread out hiding around the island, Sira follows Tigon as he finds a central point where he can signal or receive signals if Drey is spotted anywhere. As they wait, Tigon gives Sira more information on their plan. He stresses “Always be aware, you fail to plan, then you plan to fail simply put. Although we don’t know why we need to watch this man, we suspect he is a dangerous entity, we are unsure of his motives and that’s what we need to try and establish”. “Who hired you for this job?” Sira asks, Master Tigon answers “we don’t usually look into who hires us, as they have their reasons and they make the payments”. Sira says “what if someone wants someone dead for their own immoral reasons?” “Sira, we all do things we are not proud of, I’m not denying that has happened before either but we do what we are hired for, that is our way. I admit it’s not always the right thing to do, but it all balances out in the end”. Tigon notices Sira is now showing a bit of reluctance to the Changramai, “I understand how you feel Sira, believe me I was the same one day too. You can overcome it”. Sira feels this is not something he can ever do as he sees it as selling to evil. He plays along with it and remains silent for most of the day and just watches and learns from the Changramai. No Drey today though.

This goes on for a week and Sira is beginning to wonder about the party. He hasn’t seen them for a while. He lets Master Tigon know that he is just going to check and make sure they are still there, plus let them know his doings but just as he starts heading for the library, he sees Ulrich. He then hears Master Tigon receive a message about Drey. Knowing the party is still around, he is interested in finding out more about Drey so heads back to the monks. They have been advised he has been spotted near Ormian but have lost his trail, they believe he still might be heading this way. Then and there, Sira notices a man talking with Master Tigon in a cloak and what looks like a messenger with him. Sira is sure of the messenger as he will never forget what a messenger looks like, that said, Sira steps back as to not allow himself to be seen just in case.

A few more days pass and the man they are looking out for never shows, and Sira hasn’t seen the party either. He stays another night with the Changramai, spending most of the night talking with Master Tigon and lets him know he will be leaving tomorrow to rejoin his party. Although staying up late in the evening talking with Master Tigon was very inspirational, both Master Tigon and Sira came to the conclusion that Sira’s path was not with the Changramai, at least not yet. Master Tigon felt Master Santori had made an outstanding choice for a potential student but Sira’s destiny was for something greater than becoming a Changramai. Sira felt the same and was in absolute agreement. Though before the night is over, Master Tigon pulls Sira aside and gives him some important information. “You are in a lot of danger; I believe you and your party are tied in with this man Drey. I now understand why you asked me about who does the paying for our missions, I admire your intuition. I believe the man I spoke with is trying to find Drey, so they can extract information on your party’s whereabouts from him. I am siding with you here and have not given him any information about you or your party, I didn’t realise till now that it all pieces together. Leave tomorrow and regroup with your party, which is most important.”

After a morning meditation with the group, Sira thanked them for their hospitality, for sharing and their kindness; he left the group and headed for the Library. Walking along, Sira now had a very clear and focussed mind; he walked away from the Changramai knowing he had something much more to live for. As he thought about the past night, he couldn’t help but feel so good about the Changramai, for he thought they were just highly skilled mercenaries without honour and was confused why Master Demiah would recommend him follow this up. Originally this made him feel he could never be a part of such a movement but now he understands, they have far more respect, honour and good in them than most religions do, even if they do get paid. He liked them more having spent time with them and getting a much better understanding of them.

Sira arrives at the Library in search of his friends but is unable to locate them. He doesn’t really look at anything in the library, his sole purpose was to find the others. He starts to worry that they may have already left as he can’t find them anywhere. He asks a few of the workers and comes across a librarian who remembers seeing the people of said description but said they left a couple of days ago. Sira thinks ‘fuck’ but doesn’t let that stop him; he returns to the dock and manages to just get on a ship heading back to Ormian. He thinks they might of headed back to Gryphon College .

As Sira gets off the boat and heads into the town, a man recognises him and starts heading towards him. He introduces himself as a Loremaster, Drey Laachek and explains he was sent here by the Loremaster Council to keep an eye on Prince Kier . “Your Drey and your looking for my party?” He mentions that’s how he recognised Sira and agrees but keeps talking saying how had been watching them set sail for the Watching Isle but as he was about to follow them, he run into an old foe, Korianis. Sira’s eyebrow raises “Korianis”? He asks that he finish and continues that all he had managed to do was delay him for a few days and he was able to kill one of his messengers also. Sira thinks back remembering seeing a man in a cloak (Sira thinks Korianis could have been him, maybe he was a priest) and messenger at Nomikos. He continues that now the Prince has disappeared from the Isle, Korianis returned looking very grim, so he assumes Kier escaped. He asks for Sira to aid him in his fight against the Unlife to which Sira takes a moment, wondering if he can trust this man but feels it’s the right thing to do. “Did you know the Changramai are looking out for you also?” “I didn’t but it makes sense, they go to extraordinary lengths” he tells him, he certainly knows a lot and seems passionate and good willed. “I will help you, we need to rejoin the party and I’m looking for them also” says Sira.

Sira suggests that the Prince and the party may have returned to Gryphon College . Drey has a couple of favours owed with the Navigators and soon you are meeting with Zaris again. She tells you and Drey that the Prince and friends were here – “Drey, pay attention to the amulet around Asheren’s neck and the sword Ulrich carries. The Prince has both his advisor and his champion. They left two days ago and are heading for Sulthon’s Fortress in the far north.”

Zaris explains that she has her hands full dealing with Frelik and his marauders. Though the wards that protect the College are mighty, Zaris sees the hand of Lorgalis in Frelik’s uncharacteristic claim for the throne. It’s Count Belock , I’m sure of it.” Drey agrees. “We have had our eye on him for some time, Zaris. My mission is to protect the Prince, with the Sea-Drake artefacts he is best placed to resist the Priests and Lorgalis’ armies.” Zaris offers you the use of the portal to follow them and after clothing yourself appropriately you both set off.

*****************

6050.3.47

Morning arrived and Ulrich shook Kier awake. Perhaps it was the lack of feeling in his fingers or perhaps the fact that he had spent the night in full plate-mail but Kier cried out in pain. Ulrich was annoyed and the prince had the good grace to apologise. Manners had never been Ulrich’s strong suit – diplomacy, sure – but not manners.

“Your highness, the Lugroki are already on the move, they will pass us within the hour.”

Though they kept pace, it was difficult to see through the swirling snow and by late evening the Lugroki had disappeared into the hills. They reached the pass as the sun went down and only Lysar and Asheren could see clearly, though enough of Orhan’s light shone for others to not get lost. The temperature dropped rapidly and Biryn suggested they camp for the night in the shelter of the pass’ steep cliffs. They all agreed that the Lugroki would probably do the same, albeit a little way ahead. Lysar offered to scout the pass up ahead to confirm this.

*****************

In Haalkitaine, the Priest Arnak Tamalak waited nervously in a small snow-covered garden in a remote corner of the Haalkitaine Palace complex. A wet snow fell from the predawn sky as he huddled in a breezeway and considered the content of his report to his master, painfully aware that he had not learned of Kier Ianis current location. On the verge of divulging it, the thrice-cursed little Loremaster in the Prince’s chambers had suddenly gotten vague about the details, and Thraysk said they could discuss that later. Tamalak was sure that his Long Ear had not been detected, unless the Loremasters had some method he was unaware of.

At least he had learned Kier’s approximate location, narrowing things down considerably unless the Loremasters moved fast to relocate him by some magical means

Tamalak felt a shiver run up his spine as his ring alerted him that his master was approaching. He did not know the man s name or even his true appearance, only that he was a Priest Arnak of Dansart of higher rank than himself. The priest appeared then out of the swirling snow, his face hidden in a deep hood and his body covered by a full-length grey cloak. Shadows seemed to gather about him and increase the darkness to shield his identity. Even his voice to Tamalak seemed unreal and distorted somehow.

You said you have something to report. The priest intoned.

Tamalak bowed low. I do, master. A Loremaster arrived here a short time ago, apparently Teleported from Helyssa, and he reported meeting with Prince Kier within the last few days.

Interesting, though that is more the province of our brethren of the Sea-drake. Was there any mention of a missing Loremaster, assigned to the Northern Frontier?

The junior priest paused, taken aback momentarily by this sudden change of topic. Err, no, master. No other Loremasters were discussed; they talked about the elder one reporting to their council.

Very well. Continue your surveillance. I will be here through the New Year, so you may continue to report to me directly. The elder priest turned away.

Will you be informing the High Priest? Tamalak asked hopefully, eager to gain some favour with the Arnak Lord of Dansart.

The other priest stopped dead, then the hooded head turned slowly back towards Tamalak. Fear not, our master, the High Priest Osaran, will be fully appraised of your performance. Then he vanished into the snowy darkness.

For some reason Tamalak now wished that perhaps his name would not be brought to the attention of the High Priest.

*****************

He gasped frigid air into his lungs as his blood pumped, steaming, onto the snow.

His dream of uniting the realm and revenging his father were going to end here, in the Wuliris mountains, only a few miles away from the final piece of his birthright, the Sea-Drake Crown. Now Lorgalis would attack the capital, Haalkitaine, sweeping through U-Lyshak like a plague. Emperor Jerrin, attacked on three fronts would likely be defeated and with him the hopes of Jaiman.

The Lugroki above him was dodging tiny electrical charges that were whipping toward him. He shouted into the mine in his harsh guttural language and turned his back on Kier, knowing that the blow he had delivered was practically fatal. With two heavily armoured knights scything their way through his allies, both ogre and Lugroki alike, he had to be shouting for reinforcements. Kier could hear answering shouts from within. He could also hear women and children crying out in fear, Lysar was probably among them.

If he was to survive, he had to make his move now. Only Lysar could stop this much blood and he only had a few minutes of consciousness left. Getting in before the Lugroki enforcements arrived was key. He had to find Lysar. Pulling himself to his knees, he glanced over to where Ulrich and Biryn were battling on, only to see Ulrich get hit by a stray spell from Asheren. The knight staggered back a couple of steps and the big Lugroki’s scimitar slashed in. Ulrich’s armour was covered in tiny pulses of light which sparked at the interlocking plates and Kier could smell burning hair on the wind.

“Ow! By Kuor, that stings!” said Ulrich.

Biryn’s opponent launched a wicked strike at his head but, parrying smoothly to the left, Biryn threw him off balance. Stepping toward him he slammed his elbow into the Lugroki’s face, while spinning the hilt of his sword and reversing the grip.

“Perhaps not fighting like a princess would take your mind off your discomfort, Ulrich?” he replied and opened the throat of the Lugroki warrior in front of him.

*****************

“Are we not frontier women? Then let’s act like them and quit that wailing. I understand that some of you have lost menfolk and children – fact is I’m glad the bastard is dead, he was a dark and violent man.”

The other women quietened, Lysar could see that they respected this woman. She forgot her own fear for a moment and the oppressive weight of the chains on her wrists.

“We have to be ready to make a break for it, from the looks of things this elven woman’s friends are trying to fight their way in.”

She cocked her head towards the mouth of the mine, about thirty feet away.

“It sounds like they have both magic and steel so if there’s enough of them, they might get through the guards outside.”

Lysar was about to say something but the woman started again.

“Our guards are heavily armed but there are only six of them, the other eighteen Lugroki are miners – they have only picks and shovels. Twenty frontier women should be able to even the odds.” she leaned forward and spoke quietly and all of the women hung on her words. “As soon as our guards disappear, pair up and take them two on one. Use your chains around their necks and the other around their feet. Stick together and we’ll be fine.”

Lysar looked at the girl in front of her, in human terms she was barely a woman and obviously terrified. She tried to project confidence into her voice that she did not feel.

“My friends are coming and we must help them all we can. Get a weapon as soon possible.” Lysar grabbed a handful of rock dust from the mine floor.

“By the way, my name is Lysar, what’s yours?”

The girl smiled. “It’s Miranor, it means elven-gift.”

Their guards began to move toward the entrance and Lysar tensed.

Lysar realised that escaping the cavern was not going to be simple. Her wrists were painfully manacled to a long chain of heavy metal links along with those of twenty other women. She could see that there were almost one score of Lugroki miners clutching the tools of their trade that could so easily double as deadly weapons. Behind her the cavern snaked back into darkness and in front, well she still make out the retreating backs of the six Lugroki soldiers as they marched towards the noise that she hoped were her friends and Prince Kier coming to help.

Meg’s impassioned speech had inspired the women to action, and they rapidly made their way into a 10 foot wide tunnel in the side wall, stooping to grab makeshift weapons as they went. All was going well, most of the women were inside the narrow tunnel when the chain between some of the stragglers became wedged in some mining equipment. The rattle of the chain as they tugged to free themselves seemed impossibly loud.

At the front of the chain line, Lysar peered into new tunnel, her elven sight helping her make out a badly limping Prince Kier. She grabbed for him in vain as he quickly jogged past her but straight into the wall.

Dragging him barely conscious into the short tunnel she was relieved to find he had her pack. She quickly rummaged through, searching for the Yarvethalion berries, grabbed several and pressed them into Kier’s mouth. The effect was almost instantaneous. He sprang to action and bolted back they way he came.

The screams of the women still in the mining chamber jolted Lysar into action. Dashing into the chamber she forced the dim smoky torches to increase in intensity instantly, a harsh and blinding light flashed – stopping nearly all the Lugroki in the midst of their pick-wielding slaughter. Showing guts and determination like only pioneer women can, Meg grabbed a shovel and brutally hacked of the hands of the four dead women. The remaining women gathered up the looping chain and as a group, they dashed through the tunnel into the other chamber and then out into the blinding sunshine.

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