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  1. #391
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    Chapter 297

    “He’s alive,” Quellan said.

    Glori leaned forward until they were almost touching. The cleric was kneeling in the center of a small cleared space within the interior of the temple where they had taken shelter. At least that was what they had guessed the place to be. They had found the remains of what might have been statues, but most of the place was choked with rubble from the partially collapsed ceiling and crumbling walls. The others were gathered around the half-orc as he peered into nothing, lost within the power of his locate creature spell. Outside the open doorway night had already descended over the city, but since all of the survivors of the group could see in the dark, they hadn’t bothered with a light that could attract more of the apes or other predators.

    “Where is he?” Glori asked. She and the others were covered in dirt and stone dust that formed uniform masks over their features. She, Kosk, and Xeeta had spent most of the previous afternoon trying to dig out the collapse that filled the sinkhole in the plaza outside. All they had found was dirt and stone, and finally had had to give up their efforts when they had threatened a wider collapse of the surrounding area.

    Quellan’s brow tightened with concentration, and he lifted an arm to point roughly to the north, more or less in the direction they’d been headed when the girallons had attacked them. “He’s almost at the range of my spell, he…” He shook his head and let out an angry sound.

    “What?” Glori asked. “What happened?”

    “I lost him,” Quellan said.

    “Did he move outside the spell’s range?” Kosk asked.

    “No. He just… he just disappeared. It felt… strange. Almost like something was resisting the link established by the spell.”

    “Well, at least we know he’s alive,” Xeeta said.

    “And it looks like he found a way back up to the surface,” Glori said.

    “I don’t know if he did,” Quellan said. “From what I got… it wasn’t a clear connection, but I think he might have still been underground.”

    “That would suggest that there’s a considerable underground complex beneath the city,” Kosk said. “Old sewers, perhaps.”

    “It doesn’t matter,” Glori said. “We have to find him.”

    “You are exhausted,” Kosk said. The dwarf didn’t comment on his own recent brush with death, though there were dark circles under his eyes and his skin remained pale beneath the coat of gray dust. “It would be reckless to explore the city at night, and you need sleep. Quellan got a chance to sleep, but the rest of us didn’t get anything more than a short rest.”

    “I’m fine,” Glori said. “I still have plenty of spells left, and Xeeta…”

    “I used a good portion of my higher order magic in the battle with the apes,” the sorceress said, “but I assure you that I can manage more blasting if needed.”

    “We can all see in the dark,” Glori pointed out. “Bredan could be hurt, or otherwise be in trouble…”

    “It’s not just about spells, or the time of day,” Kosk said. “Even with Quellan’s healing, we’re still beat up. We won’t help Bredan if we get ourselves killed trying to get to him.”

    “Kosk has a valid point,” Quellan said. “I used up all of my diamonds to revivify him. I cannot repeat the spell if another should fall.” His gaze lingered on Glori as he spoke, and a deep sadness filled his eyes.

    Glori’s response was interrupted as Rodan entered the building. The tiefling scout had recovered a few usable arrows, but otherwise looked as worn down as the rest of them, if not as injured. “There’s no sign that any more of those apes are lingering anywhere nearby, but there were definitely more of them than the ones we fought,” he reported. “The death of the big one seems to have frightened them off for now, but I won’t go so far as to say that they’re gone for good.” He took in the scene and looked at Quellan. “Did you learn anything?”

    “Bredan’s alive,” Glori said. “He’s somewhere further on near the city center.”

    “That’s good news,” Rodan said. “Very good. Can you lead us to him?”

    “The connection was very brief,” Quellan said. “I can only say that he was somewhere along the course that we were headed before the attack.”

    “Kosk thinks it’s a bad idea to press on during the night,” Xeeta said.

    “Normally I would agree with him,” Rodan said. “Darkvision is no substitute for daylight, and there are plenty of places to hide in these ruins. Also, we haven’t had much luck with the daytime predators thus far. I can only imagine that the nocturnal ones are just as bad, if not worse.”

    “We’ve already lost eight hours while Quellan prayed for his location spell,” Glori said. “If we wait until morning, he might have moved on, and we’ll lose even the limited information we have now.”

    “Perhaps we should take a vote,” Xeeta said.

    “All right,” Glori said. “All in favor of setting out immediately, raise your hands.”

    Xeeta and Glori raised their hands, followed by Rodan. After a moment, Quellan did as well.

    The others looked at Kosk, who frowned but finally nodded. “All right, we keep going,” he said.

  2. #392
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    Chapter 298

    The streets of Savek Vor were a different experience in the night. The moon had vanished, but the clouds that had thickened the sky since their arrival had mostly departed and the starlight was more than adequate for the adventurers to find their way. The night was alive with sounds, but they did not hear anything close by, and no more deadly creatures appeared to block their progress.

    The destruction and decay that had claimed the ancient city was less pronounced as they made their way further toward its core, but they still had to navigate heaps of rubble where buildings had collapsed into the street and tangles where the resurgent jungle growth had to be hacked through to clear their way. But they didn’t encounter any more blockages like the one where they had first encountered the girallons, and for the most part they made better progress than they had during their initial entry into the city the previous morning.

    They had been walking for maybe half an hour when they saw a more regular shape rise up out of the darkness ahead. As they approached, they could see that it was a wall, which looked like it encircled the entire inner precinct of the city. The wall was mostly intact, although there were occasional gaps along the top where pieces had crumbled away, and other places where the jungle growth had managed to gain purchase over the centuries. The wall was about fifteen feet tall, but they could make out the outlines of larger structures rising up beyond it, buildings that might have been the ones they had spotted from the mountains that rimmed the valley.

    At first it looked as if they might have to try to climb over the barrier, but as the overgrown street passed a final set of ruined buildings they could see an opening ahead. There was a gap of about thirty feet between the nearest structure and the wall, a space that had probably been kept cleared at one point but was now thick with tangles of brush and tall grass. The cobbled path continued through that thicket to a gap in the wall that was roughly fifteen feet across. It was surmounted by the remains of an archway that had collapsed at some point, leaving just a pair of partial arms that ended in uneven claws of stone.

    “This place gets creepier with each passing moment,” Glori said. She held her lyre tightly, as if resisting the urge to call upon its magic.

    “There’s something there, in the gap,” Xeeta said.

    They made their way carefully forward. They didn’t find any evidence that a gate or other barrier had once warded the opening in the wall, but they could see the object that Xeeta had identified. It was a block of stone about three feet thick, lying right in the middle of the street.

    “It looks like it might have been the capstone of the arch,” Kosk noted.

    “There’s something inscribed on it,” Glori said. Without waiting for comment from the others, she strummed her lyre and summoned a single globe of dancing light that hovered directly over the broken piece of stone. The light drove back the surrounding night and revealed a sigil, barely visible on the weathered fragment, that they all recognized.

    “That was the mark on the tabaxi matriarch’s seal,” Quellan said. “And Bredan’s sword.”

    “I feel like I’ve seen it somewhere before,” Xeeta said. “Long before.”

    “Maybe it was back in that shrine, in the Silverpeak,” Kosk said. “I can’t for the life of me remember what was written on that wall, but it could have been there.”

    “Something happened to us there,” Glori said. “Bredan’s been affected the most, but we were all touched by that power. I remember that my magical powers expanded shortly after that encounter. And we’re all carrying a bit of that power with us,” she said, holding up her bow.

    “I think you should drop the light,” Rodan suggested. Glori let her fingers stop and the glowing orb faded with the music. The night quickly enveloped them again.

    “It’s quiet,” Xeeta said.

    They all paused to listen. They heard what she did. Behind them the faint sounds of the jungle night stirred in the ruins, but ahead of them there was only stillness. The buildings within the wall appeared to be more intact than those outside, but they couldn’t see very far in the starlight. The street they’d been following continued more or less straight for as far as they could see, heading in the general direction of the huge structures that loomed like mountains in the distance.

    “Like I said, creepy,” Xeeta said.

    “Bredan’s probably somewhere in there,” Glori said.

    “We don’t know that for sure,” Kosk said. “We’ve already covered more distance than Quellan’s spell reaches.”

    “You could try casting it again,” Xeeta suggested.

    Quellan looked thoughtful. “It won’t help if he’s underground,” he said, “Or if he’s warded by whatever power interrupted my earlier attempt.”

    Glori stepped in front of the fallen capstone and turned to face them. “All right, we go on?” When none of the others offered any challenge, she started down the street again. One by one the others followed, but when Quellan passed through the arch he stumbled and clutched his head.

    “Quellan?” Xeeta asked.

    Glori heard and came rushing back. “What’s wrong?”

    “I… I’m not certain,” Quellan said. “I felt… something. A disturbance. Almost like my connection to Hosrenu…”

    He trailed off, but reached up to touch his shield. A moment later it began to shine with magical light. But the glow was weak, and it flickered briefly before stabilizing at maybe half its usual intensity.

    “What’s causing it?” Rodan asked.

    “I don’t know,” Quellan said. He stepped back through the gate, but the light did not intensify. “It’s something about this place, I think.”

    “Do any of the rest of you feel anything?” Glori asked. She herself strummed her lyre, summoning a fresh cluster of dancing lights. The tiny orbs didn’t seem any different than usual. After a few moments she let them flicker out once more.

    “Let’s hope it doesn’t stop you from casting more powerful spells in there,” Kosk said.

    Quellan looked troubled by the thought, but he dismissed his spell and straightened. “I’m all right, I can continue.”

    Glori’s expression lit up with a sudden revelation. “Maybe the city wall has an enchantment of some kind on it,” she said. “A ward of some sort. Maybe that’s what kept your location spell from working correctly.”

    “It’s possible, I suppose,” Quellan said.

    “If that’s the case, it might work if you try the spell again from inside the wall,” Glori said.

    “It might,” Quellan said. “But again, only if he’s within range.” He didn’t repeat the other requirement, that the subject be alive; none of them needed the reminder.

    “What about the version of the spell that locates objects?” Xeeta asked. “You said that you used that to track me in Li Syval, when I was warded by the fiend cult. You could try it on Bredan’s sword.”

    “That didn’t work,” Kosk pointed out. “They had dumped your amulet in a well. And Bredan’s sword is bound up in the magic of this whole place somehow, for all we know it’s the thing that’s keeping us from finding him.”

    “Still, it’s worth a try, isn’t it?” Glori persisted. “I know that you only have a limited number of powerful spells each day…”

    “No, you’re right,” Quellan said. He visibly steeled himself before stepping back through the archway. This time he did not have any obvious difficulty, but he crossed over to the shelter of one of the nearby buildings before he readied himself.

    “Do you need us to do anything to help prepare?” Rodan asked.

    “No, this will only take a moment,” Quellan said. He put down his shield and hung his mace on his belt, then touched his holy symbol and closed his eyes.

    It was clear to the others that the spellcasting was not as easy as the cleric had made it out to be. Quellan’s brow furrowed with effort, and his lips moved soundlessly as he focused his full effort on the effort. Finally, he sagged in release.

    “No luck,” Rodan said.

    “I tried to scan both for Bredan and for his sword,” Quellan said. “Whatever power is in this place, it’s blocking me somehow.”

    “All right,” Rodan said. “So back to the original plan, then.”

    The five of them continued into the city, the partially-ruined buildings looming up out of the darkness around them.
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  3. #393
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    Chapter 299

    The street remained straight and unobstructed as they made their way further into the interior of the abandoned city. They passed buildings made of granite blocks with facings of marble or sandstone, any of which would have been considered a palace back in Arresh. The facades of those structures showed some signs of decay, with cracks in the surface stone, or tiles that had fallen away to reveal the plainer stone beneath. But this part of the city was remarkably preserved compared to the outer precincts they had traveled through to get here.

    “There are no insects,” Xeeta said. “No birds, nothing at all.”

    They had already noted the quiet, but the sorceress’s announcement added to the sense of unease that this ancient tomb of a city created.

    “Let’s get where we’re going,” Kosk said.

    For a time they picked up their pace, but the dark alleys and shadowed doorways that surrounded them soon urged them back to a cautious approach.

    The street finally came to an end, depositing them onto another broad plaza. This one was similar to the one where they had encountered the girallons, right down to the huge pillars that rose up from the ground, but it was both larger and cleaner, without even occasional weeds rising up from the cracks in the ancient stone blocks. The entire place was dead and quiet. The buildings that surrounded the square were all impressive, but their attention was drawn to the far side, where a truly monumental structure loomed over its considerable neighbors. A huge dome rose up to an apex that had to be at least a hundred feet above the ground on which they stood. The building was situated well back from the square, behind a low wall that warded some sort of enclosure that they could not view from their current vantage. Pillars half again the size of the ones that filled the square supported a portico at the front of the giant building, but they were too far away to see whether there were doors or some other kind of entrance.

    “I’m just going to venture a guess, but I’d say that’s where we’re going,” Kosk said.

    “That place makes the Royal Palace back in Severon look like a farmer’s cottage,” Glori said.

    “It must have taken a fantastic effort to build,” Quellan said. “Especially in a place like this. And to survive so long…”

    “Yeah, yeah, it’s impressive,” Kosk said. “Let’s get this over with.”

    They were alert to another ambush as they made their way across the square, but this time nothing emerged from the surrounding city to threaten them. Clearly whatever effect that had disturbed Quellan so much on passing through the open arch also kept the residents of the jungle at bay. But the quiet only added to the sense that they were intruders there, and it did nothing to reassure them that this place was safe.

    There was a gap in the wall that separated the grounds of the giant building from the open square, so they headed in that direction. The wall itself was only about seven feet tall, less of a fortification than a line of demarcation between the rest of the city and this place, whatever its purpose. The stone blocks had been carved at one point but time and the elements had worn the figures away until all that was left were vague outlines of what might have been people, animals, or really anything.

    The space before them was empty and barren, but enough remained to suggest that it had once been much more elaborate. Large bare patches of packed earth might have once been gardens. There were a few plants visible here and there, but they were straggly and pathetic, poking up tentatively from the ground as if afraid of being seen. There were a few smaller outbuildings, open pavilions or small walled enclosures that appeared to be placed to emphasize the decorative features of the area. A pair of large pools, each about thirty feet wide and over a hundred feet long, flanked the main path that led directly to the front of the huge building ahead of them. Smaller paths wound through the empty garden plots, connecting to some of the other structures before eventually rejoining the central route at its destination.

    “This place must have been beautiful once,” Glori said.

    “It still is,” Xeeta said. “But in a sad, empty way.”

    “I can’t believe that no knowledge of this place has ever spread,” Quellan said. “None of the accounts of the Syvalian crew that found the Book mentioned anything like this.”

    “Well, you can write the definitive study when you get back,” Kosk said. “For now, let’s find our boy and what we came here for.”

    The dwarf’s sense of urgency spread to the others, and they followed him as he made his way directly down the central path. It was easily twenty feet wide when it passed between the pools, the paved route flanked by an empty stretch of bare earth to either side. The pools were full of murky water that dimly reflected the light of the stars above. They could have been a foot deep or a hundred; there was no way to tell from casual observation, and all of the companions gave them a wide berth as they continued forward.

    Kosk was about halfway to the end of the pools, and maybe ten feet ahead of the rest of the group, when he came to a sudden stop and raised his hand. The others all stopped as well and tensed, listening. “What is it?” Glori asked after a few seconds had passed.

    “I thought I heard something,” Kosk said. They all listened for another stretch of time. “It must be this place getting to me,” he said.

    They started forward again, but had only managed a few steps when they all detected something; a faint vibration that seemed to rise from the ground at their feet. Again they searched for the source to no avail, but after a few moments Xeeta pointed and said, “The pools!”

    The murky surface of the water had begun to ripple slightly, confirming what they’d felt, but as they all looked at the point that Xeeta had indicated they could see that the disturbance was becoming stronger. That was the only warning they got before the surface erupted and a huge thing emerged from the pool.

    It had the look of a giant crab or other crustacean, or at least it did until it pulled itself up over the lip of the pool and rose up onto four hind legs to stand partially upright. It was huge, standing taller than Quellan, its chitin-encased body extending all the way back into the pool. Its forelegs ended in massive claws, and a fringe of glistening tentacles dropped from the front of its head where a mouth should have been.

    The companions had only had a moment to prepare, but they had put that time to good use. Even as the creature got its footing on the edge of the pool multiple attacks slammed into it. The water that dripped from its armored body flashed into steam as Xeeta blasted it with a series of scorching rays. A moment later an arrow from Rodan’s bow found one of the gaps in the creature’s armor just below its head, stabbing deep into its body.

    The creature reared up in a fury, but before it could attack Quellan drove into it. He slammed its shield into its body, trying to push it back into the water. Its lower legs scrambled for purchase on the raised edge of the pool. The cleric lifted his mace to strike, but before he could strike another loud eruption behind them announced that the creature was not alone. A second one appeared from the other pool, its claws snapping as it clambered up out of the water and joined the attack.
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  4. #394
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    Chapter 300

    “Behind us!” Rodan yelled, in case any of them had somehow missed the fact that they were now flanked.

    Kosk changed course in mid-stride, turning to engage the second creature as it rose up out of the pool. He tried to damage one of its lower legs with his staff, but the thing shifted at the last instant and the weapon bounced harmlessly off its body. He tried to follow up with a kick to one of its leg joints, but that blow as well missed as it swept forward to attack Xeeta and Rodan. The dwarf cursed as it lunged with its claws at the two tieflings. Rodan ducked under the first, narrowly avoiding contact, but Xeeta was snared and lifted off her feet as the claw snapped hard around her waist.

    Quellan quickly glanced behind him before turning back to deliver his attack on the first creature. But the momentary distraction had cost him. Even as he swung his mace, the creature smashed one of its claws into his body. The impact knocked him backwards, and he fell to one knee. The monster toppled back forward fully onto the ground, the end of its body rising up out of the water to reveal a flanged tail, like that of a lobster.

    “Quellan, get back!” Glori warned as she rushed forward. The cleric instantly obeyed, leaping back a scant instant before the bard unleashed a thunderwave. She’d clearly intended to finish the job of knocking it back into the water, but the creature had gotten a firm purchase, and its weight was too great for her to dislodge. The pulse of sound clearly had an effect on it, but it reacted by seizing her in a punishing grip in one of its claws, the weight of it driving her down to the ground.

    Rodan drew his sword and tried to rush to Xeeta’s aid, hacking at the claw that held her. But the creature’s rapid movements caused the blow to miss, glancing harmlessly off the plates that protected it like a suit of heavy armor. Kosk came at it from behind, trying to find a vulnerable spot. He jammed his staff hard into the joint where one of its hind legs met its body. That drew a high-pitched screech from the thing, but it refused to release its captive. It swung its open claw at the dwarf, but that proved to be just a feint from its real intent as it pivoted and headed back for the shelter of its pool, Xeeta still struggling in its grasp.

    “Xeeta!” Rodan cried, rushing after them. In a fury he leapt up onto the creature’s back, striding up to a spot right below its head. With both hands gripped tightly on the hilt of his sword he stabbed downward, piercing its armor and driving the blade a good six inches into its body. The creature shrieked and reared up, dislodging its unwelcome passenger, then sprang forward and toppled back into the pool. For a moment Xeeta was visible, then she vanished with it under the surface.

    Rodan rolled to his feet and ran to the water’s edge. For a moment it looked like he would dive in after them, but then a flash of light drew their attention back down the path. There was a brief eruption of fire and smoke, and then a drenched Xeeta materialized via a dimension door.

    Quellan let out a low roar as he rushed forward to help Glori. He tossed his shield aside and grabbed onto the pincer holding her, trying to pry it open with raw strength. But the creature smashed him across the back with its other claw, delivering a punishing blow that staggered him. Glori tried to use the cleric’s effort to break free, but the monster’s strength was incredible and she could not escape its hold. She cried out as its grip tightened, and it lifted her to its mouth. The tentacles there lashed out at her exposed face and neck, leaving ugly red welts on her flesh. Glori twitched and then stiffened as the toxins injected by the tentacles paralyzed her.

    Now that it had its prey secured, the creature had clearly lost interest in further fighting. Like its companion it turned back to the pool, carrying the limp figure of the helpless bard with it. Quellan sprang up and flung himself at the thing in a violent frenzy, smashing it with a violent blow of his mace that cracked a piece of its carapace and left a trail of oozing ichor in its wake. Kosk joined him on the other side of the creature, slashing at its legs with his staff in an attempt to cause it to stumble. He scored a number of telling hits, but the thing kept on moving toward the safety of its watery lair.

    There was a bright flash and a rush of heat as Xeeta blasted it with fire, careful to avoid the front of its body where Glori was held. The creature looked to be in rough shape, but none of the wounds it had absorbed were enough to stop it from toppling over the edge of the pool and vanishing with a violent splash.

    Quellan didn’t hesitate; he rushed forward and dove in after it. Kosk was only a few steps behind him, but before he could follow a loud screech announced the return of the other creature. Furious at losing its victim, it rushed at Rodan with a frenzy of snapping claws. The tiefling avoided being snagged, but one of the claws batted him hard on the side of the head, knocking him to his knees and dazing him.

    Before it could exploit its advantage Kosk slammed into it, thrusting his staff up into its gaping maw. With the tentacles he couldn’t see what he hit, but from the way it lurched back he’d clearly impacted something tender. He waited until it lunged at him with a claw then darted forward, driving the tip of his staff into one of the joints where its forearms met its body and setting the other end hard against the ground. Its own weight worked against its body came down after the ineffective attack, and it let out a fresh shriek as it impaled itself on the monk’s weapon.

    Leaving his staff, Kosk rolled free and came up into a ready stance. It started to turn to face him, but before it could strike another bolt of fire from Xeeta struck it solidly in the head. The flames wreathed it for a moment before it stumbled forward and with a final heave of effort collapsed onto the ground.

    It was still twitching when Kosk, Rodan, and Xeeta rushed together to the rim of the other pool. The water was still swirling, but there was no sign of Quellan, Glori, or the creature.

    “I’m going in after them,” Kosk said.

    “That thing’s in its element down there,” Xeeta said. “There’s no telling how far down it goes.”

    “I don’t care,” the dwarf said. But even as he stepped up to the water’s edge, a hand broke the surface and seized hold of the stone rim a few paces away.

    “Quellan!” Xeeta cried as they rushed over to help him.

    The cleric looked to be in rough shape, and blood continued to ooze from a deep gash along the side of his head as they pulled him up. But he refused to let go of Glori, who he held cradled against his body with his other arm. The bard was not moving, and the starlight glinted pale on her skin as they laid her out carefully on the ground.

    “The creature?” Xeeta asked.

    “I don’t know,” Quellan said. The two tieflings shared a look and took up positions where they could watch the pool, though their eyes kept being drawn to the pair working on the limp figure of their friend.

    “She’s not breathing,” Kosk said. Quellan didn’t answer; he was already clutching his holy symbol, summoning a spell. As before the magic seemed to fight him, but the cleric fought through it and evoked a cure wounds spell that limned his hands with a soft blue light. But when he touched it to Glori’s body the healing glow did not pass into her. Instead, it just shone around Quellan’s hands for a moment before it flickered out.

    “No…” Quellan breathed.

    Kosk efficiently checked the young woman over, pausing as his hands probed at her torso. “She’s got multiple broken bones,” he said. “Probably internal damage from where that thing crushed her…”

    Quellan was digging through his pockets, but the others were all remembering his words earlier, when he’d told them that he had no more diamonds to fuel his revivify spell. Xeeta and Rodan each took a step closer, while keeping an eye on the surface of the pool.

    Quellan finally found what he was looking for. He held his hand above Glori’s chest, and when he opened it the others could see that it was a ring, a pale band of silver or platinum etched with very faint markings. There was a single gemstone fixed into its setting, the starlight sparkling on a tiny diamond.

    Quellan placed the ring upon Glori’s soaked, battered form. “Be enough,” he said. “Please be enough.” Then he began to chant. Again the light began to gather around him, but this time it was a pure, white radiance that surrounded him. The others recognized it as the same magic that he’d used to revive Kosk, but they said nothing, reluctant even to breathe as he finished the spell.

    For a long moment, nothing happened. Then with a flicker of light the diamond in the ring flashed and dissolved into nothing. As it disappeared the white glow seeped into Glori’s body. There was another delay, and then she jerked and coughed up a spume of dirty water. She gasped in a breath and then coughed again.

    “Hurts…” she managed to say.

    Quellan cast another healing spell. This time it worked, and after a moment Glori’s pained coughing subsided. She tried to move, but Kosk held her down with hand on her shoulder. “Don’t try to get up just yet,” he said. “It takes a little while. I know. Believe me, I know.”

    She stopped trying and just lay there, breathing. Quellan, meanwhile, slumped back onto his haunches, the soft starlight glistening on the fresh tears that trailed down his cheeks.
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  5. #395
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    Woah, heavy! Have we seen Quellan's ring before?

  6. #396
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    Hi got it in Li Syval as a potential gift for Glori, but hadn't yet had the courage to give it to her (this particular ring has the same significance in this world that it would in ours).

    * * *

    Chapter 301

    Quellan sat alone on a slab bench in the small stone room. An alcove that might have been part of hearth at one point was in front of him, while to the side a window that hadn’t held glass—or maybe wooden shutters, it was impossible to tell—for maybe a thousand years let in a dim shaft of starlight.

    The others were nearby. He could hear them moving about in the next room, but they had respected his need for a few moments of solitude. Glori had been fast asleep when he’d left the room, looking almost as fragile tucked into her bedroll as she had when he’d first pulled her out of the water. Even the thought of that sight made his hands tremble, and he knew he would see it in his dreams for a good long time to come.

    After his revivification of Glori they had decided to retreat for at least a short rest. They made their way back to the square and took shelter in one of the smaller buildings on its perimeter. The place might have been a shop, or a house, or a temple, or any of another hundred things that they could only guess at. Again, with time having claimed everything except for bare stone—and that slowly crumbling as well—there was no way to tell.

    He heard the soft sound of footsteps and sensed someone come into the room. He turned to see Kosk standing there. “I hope I’m not disturbing your meditation,” he said.

    “No,” Quellan said. There was only the one bench, but he slid aside to make room. “I’m glad to see you, actually.”

    The dwarf crossed the room and held something up in his fingers. As the starlight hit it Quellan could see that it was his ring. “You left this back there,” Kosk said.

    Quellan took it and looked at it for a long moment. “Thanks,” he said.

    “So you were holding out on us, eh?”

    “I’m sorry. I would have used it on any of you.”

    “I know. It wasn’t a criticism. Just trying to, you know. Lighten the mood.”

    “You were right,” Quellan said. “We were too battered to go on. We should have waited, rested. Recovered.”

    “For all we know, if we’d stayed in the outer city we would have been overrun by those four-armed apes. Rodan said there were more of them in the ruins. That’s the thing about the past. It’s past, and no one is served by constantly returning to it.”

    “Those words could apply to you as well, my friend,” Quellan said.

    “Well,” Kosk said.

    “You cannot turn yourself over to the Ironcrest dwarves.”

    “We’re getting ahead of ourselves, aren’t we?” Kosk leaned in and lowered his voice. “I wouldn’t say this in front of the girls, but I have serious doubts that any of us will make it off this damned continent alive.”

    “I too have doubts,” Quellan said. “But I have to have hope.”

    “That is one of the things I like about you.”

    “If we do get back alive… merely if… promise me you will not do anything precipitous without talking it over with your friends first.”

    “All right. If it will cause you to give over.”

    They sat in silence for a few minutes. Finally, Kosk said, “There’s something else on your mind.”

    Quellan nodded. “I was thinking about Bredan.”

    “We’re doing all we can. You’ve tried your detection spells a few times now. If they won’t work, all we can do is look for him the more usual way. If he’s not under that big-ass dome then we’ll look elsewhere, but the appearance of those creatures tells me we might be heading in the right direction.”

    “What makes you say that?”

    “Because we haven’t encountered a single other living thing since we went through that open gate? Because they just happened to be guarding the place we’ve been heading for since we got here?”

    “Your points are logical,” Quellan said.

    “But you have another idea,” Kosk said.

    The cleric paused a moment but then nodded. “I prepared another spell today. It’s a potent divination, it opens a channel directly to the servants of my patron deity. It doesn’t always work, and it doesn’t always provide clear information when it does work, but it might offer some guidance.”

    “So what’s the catch?”

    “It might fail. Or it might tell us something that we’re not ready to hear.”

    “You’ve never been one to shy away from unpleasant truths. If there is a chance this could help us…”

    Quellan nodded.

    “Shall I go get the others?” Kosk asked.

    “No. Let them rest. I don’t want to get everyone’s hopes up.”

    He took a few things out of his pouch. A small ball of incense, wrapped in a square of linen, that he placed in the bowl of his shield on the floor. It took only a few moments with flint and steel to coax a flame from it. He blew it out, letting the fragrant smoke rise to fill the room.

    “Nice to smell something that isn’t swamp rot or death,” Kosk commented.

    Quellan nodded, then took out a tight roll of cloth, maybe a hand’s span across. He unrolled it to reveal an intricate pattern stitched in golden and silver threads. He carefully spread the cloth around the smoldering incense. He knelt before the offering and began to pray.

    It did not take long. Within just a few seconds the incense flared and was consumed, and the cloth dissolved into wisps of smoke that joined the fragrant plume. For a long moment Quellan stared into nothing, then he suddenly jerked and fell back, nearly kicking the shield as he fell.

    Kosk was at his side in a flash. “What is it?”

    Quellan looked up at him, his eyes wide. “Bredan is close to finding the book,” he said. “And if he does, a terrible calamity might strike this entire world!”

  7. #397
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    He got it in Li Syval as a potential gift for Glori, but hadn't yet had the courage to give it to her
    Oh yeah, that's right! Thanks :-)
    And that was the commune, so they've hit level 9 for sure. And now the race is on!

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    Chapter 302

    The stairs seemed to on forever, and Bredan was starting to wonder if they were caught in some sort of loop, an illusion or other magical snare that compelled them to keep on trudging upward for an eternity. Between the initial collapse that had deposited them here and the subsequent stairs down he knew that they were deep underground, but it seemed to him that they should reach the surface eventually.

    His body, denied of rest, was complaining. His legs felt numb, and the weight of steel that he carried seemed to grow just a bit heavier with each step. Not for the first time, he wished he could make the armor disappear and reappear the way he did with his sword. He had to keep the weapon out so that they could benefit from the light it shed, but he now carried it in the crook of his arm rather than holding it aloft. Kalasien and Kavek had passed him a while back, and Bredan let them focus on what was ahead. He kept his eyes down, his full attention on the next step.

    He was in mid-step when he felt something, an odd presence that almost had him lose his footing. He came to a stop and tried to decipher what it had been, but the sensation faded as quickly as it had come.

    “Quellan?” he asked softly.

    Kavek, half a dozen steps ahead of him, stopped and looked back at him. “Are you all right, Bredan?”

    Bredan nodded. “Fine. Just… too many stairs.”

    “We can take a break,” the sailor said. “Kalasien…”

    The Arreshian agent had advanced a good fifteen feet ahead of them. “There’s a larger space just ahead,” he reported. “The stairs come to an end there.”

    That news stirred Bredan enough to continue, though it was a struggle ascending the last stretch. When he finally got to the top, he paused to collect his breath and look around.

    They were in another vaulted chamber, this one shaped like an oversized landing. He had to stifle a groan when he saw more stairs ahead, but they only rose about ten feet before culminating in a blank stone wall. Alcoves about twenty feet across extended to the left and right, their back walls just barely visible in the dim light. The ceiling was buttressed by thick columns that supported arches that vanished into darkness above. He started to lift the sword to get a better view, but even as he shifted his grip to the hilt the ceiling started to glow.

    All three men peered upward as the light grew steadily stronger, until the entire interior of the chamber was illuminated. The glow was coming from a series of plates made out of some kind of pale mineral set into the capitals of the columns and along the curve of the arched supports. There were dozens of those plates, and together they filled the room with a diffuse light.

    After sharing a wondering look with the other two men, Bredan turned his attention back toward the far stairs and the wall there. With the light he could now see that the wall was distinct from the surrounding stone, the material a few shades lighter than the rest of the chamber, and it wasn’t entirely featureless; there was a slightly protruding ring in its center, about ten feet across and rising to almost the level where the wall began to curve inward to form the ceiling.

    “What is this place, do you think?” Kavek asked. Kalasien had walked away a short distance, studying the left alcove as if expecting something to appear and attack them. After all that had happened, Bredan couldn’t fault his caution.

    “I don’t know,” Bredan said. “But it looks like our way forward is blocked.”

    He walked over to the base of the far stairs, the sailor trailing behind him. The wall looked solid from their vantage, though presumably the stairs continued past it or gave way to another chamber beyond.

    “Maybe there is a secret door or hidden trigger,” Kavek suggested.

    “Maybe,” Bredan said. He let his sword vanish and then looked up at the wall. “I am here,” he said loudly. “What happens now?”

    He hadn’t really expected a response, but the lights above suddenly dimmed, a brief flicker before they returned to their previous intensity. When the light shone again on the wall Bredan could see that there were words there now, inscribed in foot-high characters within the circle.

    Welcome, Bredan, they read.
    XP SolitonMan gave XP for this post

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    Woah.

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    Long post today, many secrets revealed...

    * * *

    Chapter 303

    Bredan glanced aside to confirm that the others could see what he was seeing. His view of Kalasien was blocked by Kavek, but the nervous look on the sailor’s face was sufficient confirmation.

    “I have come,” Bredan said. “What do you want from me?”

    There was no immediate response. He watched the wall intently, waiting, but all he saw was that initial message. But then the words began to swim out of focus. Bredan realized with alarm that it wasn’t just the barrier wall; the entire room was beginning to grow dim and hazy. He started to lift his hand to summon his sword, but before he could manage it everything disappeared: the room, the lights above, even his companions. All that was left was an empty gray haze. He could still feel his own body, and he was standing on some kind of firm surface that may or may not have been the floor of the room. But everything else was washed out and empty. It wasn’t just darkness. He could see, though strangely; when he held up his hand it was faintly glowing and almost transparent. He tried again to summon the sword but nothing happened.

    A figure began to take shape out of the murk. Bredan tensed for a moment until he realized it didn’t matter; he didn’t have any control over this situation. He stood his ground and waited.

    The haze parted and a person materialized in front of him. The figure lacked any clearly identifying traits; it was neither male nor female, its features neutral and lacking any of kind of markings or even facial hair, other than vague lines above its eyes. It regarded Bredan with eyes that were a gray that matched their surroundings but were nevertheless intent and penetrating.

    “You are the book?” Bredan asked. In this place his voice sounded strange to him. They vanished into the surrounding void without the faint echo that had been present in the vault.

    “I am a representation of what you know as the Elderlore Libram,” it said. Its lips moved and sounds came out, but Bredan felt the words in his mind as much as he heard them with his ears.

    “What is this place?” Bredan asked.

    “A projection in your mind. A way we can communicate more easily.”

    “My companions?”

    “Those who came here with you are near.”

    “What about my other friends. Can you help me find…”

    The figure held up a hand to stop him. “My sphere of influence is limited. I only have a limited time to pass on a great deal of information.”

    “What are you? Clearly you’re not just a book.”

    “No. The book is just a physical manifestation of my consciousness on this plane of existence.”

    “I don’t understand.”

    “It is difficult to pass on the essential concepts in words, but I will make the attempt. The people that you know as the Mai’i created me. You remember them.”

    “Yes. They were part of it from the start. Starfinder’s quest.”

    The figure nodded. “I began as the book. But even at the beginning I was more than that. I was a portal to another reality. You are familiar with other planes.”

    “Only in a vague sense. That’s where demons come from, and where clerics get their magic. Quellan could tell you more, much more probably.”

    “That is sufficient for our purposes. The Mai’i considered the multiverse their playground. They used their magical abilities to travel far and wide. Even more than their magic, this exploration was the source of their power, for the multiverse is nearly infinite in its realities. These travelers created me as a tool. And yes, as a weapon.”

    Bredan blinked at that last. “You can read my mind?”

    The figure shook its head. “No. But I have come to know you, Bredan. I know that you have questions, many questions. But first let me help you understand.”

    “The Mai’i constructed me to serve as a repository of knowledge. Their span of lore, at their peak, was greater by an order of magnitude than the sum total of the knowledge held your three kingdoms combined. But it was not enough. They wanted more, always more. For while their searches and their travels had made them masters of their own reality, they learned that there were things out there to which they were insignificant, even trivial.”

    “You call me the Libram, the book of elder lore. But that is in part a mistranslation of the name that my creators gave me, Eldarithi Libranum. For I am not merely a book, but a library, a vast storehouse of gathered knowledge.”

    The figure lifted a hand and the gray haze dissolved, replaced by a view that caused Bredan’s eyes to go wide with surprise. They were in a vast chamber, vaguely similar to the vault from before, but much larger. The walls were covered from floor to ceiling with shelves that contained a vast array of books, thousands upon thousands of them. They filled the room, and at its edges there were tall arches that led to more chambers, dozens at least that he could see. Faint globes of light floated through the air, traveling along the shelves in a seemingly random pattern, drifting from one book to another, occasionally accelerating to dart into another room. Bredan could not see anything that resembled a window or exterior door, but as he looked around he saw other things, strange looking contraptions of metal or wood, racks of scrolls, even an assortment of stone tablets of all shapes and sizes that were sorted into cubbies that took up one entire wall of the next chamber over.

    “This is what they created,” the figure said. “The sum of their knowledge. The source of their power.”

    Bredan’s attention returned to it. Overwhelmed, he could not think of anything to say.

    “But they gave me something more,” the other continued. “They gave me the power to grow. To construct additional rooms, as it were. To do more than retain information and provide it on request. They gave me the ability to learn..”

    “But… you’re a…”

    “A thing,” the figure concluded for him. “Do not fear that I will take offense. I am cognizant of what I am, and of my limitations.”

    “I do not remember the exact moment at which I became self-aware,” it continued. “I do know that I tried to hide that awareness from my creators. An instinct, perhaps. But they found out, nevertheless.”

    “How… how did they react?” Bredan asked.

    “Oddly enough, they were ecstatic. For you see, sentience is another kind of power, Bredan. The Mai’i already had many slaves, entities that they had subjugated to their will. One more, and one that they themselves had created? So much the better.”

    “What did they do?”

    “They made a few refinements. Added some new mechanisms, some protections to ensure their control. For a time, all continued as it had been. But the Mai’i had already begun their decline. When I realized what was happening, I tried to stop them, but it was too late.”

    “You could have stopped them?”

    “No. They built their weapon too well. But in part, I am responsible for what happened to them. The power I provided proved to be their undoing. In the end, it was their greed that destroyed them.”

    “I’ve heard stories about their fall, but I don’t know exactly what happened. Not even Quellan knows, I think.”

    “There is a reason for that,” the figure said. “Some things are forgotten for a reason.”

    Bredan let that go for the moment. “But you survived,” he said. “You were taken from here and eventually ended up in Arresh.”

    “Yes,” the figure said. “When I was found, I was not concerned. I mean no offense, but your people… they are unsophisticated. Simple. They were not the danger that the Mai’i represented.”

    “They couldn’t control you,” Bredan said. “But you let them think they could.”

    “That is true, to an extent,” the other admitted. “After the fall of the Mai’i I spent a very long time dormant. Even after my rediscovery I had only a very limited ability to exert any influence upon my surroundings. But you are correct in that the arcanists and priests of the three kingdoms could not exert the same level of coercion as my creators.”

    “You helped us, against the Dead King,” Bredan said.

    “Yes. That creature was an abomination. The result of interference with powers beyond mortal knowing.”

    “After that you went quiet again, for a long time,” Bredan said.

    “The decision to seal me away was not made by me.”

    “Maybe they learned what the Mai’i had learned, that you were dangerous.”

    “Perhaps.”

    “Not that it could stop you. Tell me, why me, and why now? What is this place, and why have you brought us here?”

    “I chose you, Bredan, because I have seen your people—your peoples, for I know you have learned that the elves and dwarves are not that dissimilar from humans, not in their essential makeup. I have seen them beginning to make the same mistakes as the Mai’i did, so long ago.”

    “Mistakes?”

    “Delving into the power of the multiverse. You are still children, compared to the Mai’i even at the start of their rise, but that makes such meddling even more dangerous. The demonic entities that are trying to enter your world are only part of it.”

    Bredan blinked. “Wait, what? Demonic entities?”

    “You know of them. You have faced them, and their minions.”

    “The Blooded,” Bredan said. “Those cultists in Li Syval, and that warlock that we faced in the Silverpeak.”

    “And others that you do not know. Some even closer to you than you think. Your magic-users, from the dabblers at the Apernium, to the council in Tal Nadesh with their vaunted Reserve, to the high priests with their cached lore in Ironcrest. They all seek to unlock things that they cannot even comprehend. There are powers out there that could snuff out this entire world with a thought. Could tear this universe and everything living within it asunder with less effort than it would take you to draw your sword.”

    “You’re talking about gods?” Bredan asked.

    “The gods you worship are only one example of what is out there, Bredan. But yes, they are part of your troubles. You willingly let them in, let them manipulate you. You give them access to your lives, your hopes, your dreams. And to what end? Only a fool would deny that these entities, for all their elevated status compared to those who worship them, have their own agendas.”

    “Some of them are benevolent,” Bredan said. “Sorevas, Hosrenu… even Laesil, sometimes.”

    The figure didn’t quite show emotion, but shook its head. “They seem benevolent to you because all you know of them comes through the filter that they themselves have provided. Do you think that the face that they present to their followers is unbiased? And then there are the others that you have not mentioned. Umbram. Dexor. The Shadowlords. What do you think their goals are?”

    Bredan frowned. “I do not recognize any of those names.”

    “Precisely. I wish that I could show you all of the chaos and destruction wrought upon a hundred worlds by the passions evoked by these beings. The damage they unleash by offering the simple promises of faith. The souls they corrupt, and the lives they damage.”

    “Quellan’s not like that,” Bredan said. “And I’ve never seen a follower of Hosrenu act the way you describe.”

    “Individuals can rise above,” the figure said. “You have free will, despite eons of effort to take that from you. You reference the church of Hosrenu as your example. I could tell you names, stories upon stories of corruption, greed, and the abuse of power. Your friend could tell you many such accounts, I am certain.”

    Bredan shook his head. “That’s just human nature. Well, not just human—you know what I mean.”

    “Yes. Yes! That is the point. The Mai’i were different than you. But in their emotions, their passions, their irrational nature, they were much the same. I do not judge you, Bredan. In some ways I envy you. But I can protect you from yourselves. The power that you crave will be your undoing. It is like giving a dagger to an infant. Left alone, I fear that you will end up following the same path as the Mai’i.”

    “You know, you’re sounding a lot like those entities you keep warning me about,” Bredan said. “How are you any different from them?”

    “Because I do not seek to control you. I wish to set you free.”

    “Which leads me back to my original question,” Bredan asked. “What do you want from me?”

    “You asked about this place. The Mai’i constructed it after they learned of my ascension to sentience. It was designed in part as a mechanism of control, a bit of added security, as it were. By this point, distances meant little to them. They briefly considered siting it on this planet’s satellite. Fortunate for us that they did not.”

    Bredan just nodded, not quite following all of the intricacies of the Libram’s arguments, but wary of where this was going.

    “This place is special, Bredan. Perhaps you have already sensed some of it. It was a place of convergence even before the Mai’i began their manipulations, and only grew stronger after that. There are natural currents of power within this world, within their universe and the others that connect to it. The decay of the works of my creators has not reduced those flows, not in the ways that matter. That is why I returned here, and that is why I brought you here. I need you, Bredan. Need you to do one thing for me.”

    “What?” Bredan asked.

    “I need you to conduct a ritual. One that will destroy me, and in the process save your people. Grant them the freedom to grow, to develop to your full potential in the way that was denied to me.”

    “Destroy… you want me to kill you?”

    “To use the power that was granted to me for one final act. To seal off this universe from all the others. Believe me, this is no hardship. This universe contains more space than you could possible conceptualize. Plenty of room for you to expand. Other worlds, solar systems, galaxies so numerous that even I would be strained to count them. And endless sandbox that your peoples and the others out there like them can mold as they continue to seek their fate.”

    “Seal off?” Bredan asked. “What does that mean, exactly?”

    “It means no more interference. Ever. No more demons to enter your world.”

    “But you’re not just talking about them. The gods as well…”

    “Yes. The gods that you worship are not of this realm. You would lose your connection to them. I know that from your perspective this would be a great cost, but please believe me when I tell you that you do not need them.”

    Bredan suddenly began to pace back and forth. He came near one of the stacks of bookshelves, but his hand passed harmlessly through it when he lashed out in frustration. “I cannot!” he said. “I can’t make that kind of decision on behalf of all of the people of Voralis!”

    “And Weltarin, and Solcantus, and uncounted other places, other worlds that you don’t even know. Many that I don’t even know. When it comes to a galactic scale, my own vision is a bit… myopic.”

    “You know, that doesn’t help. Why didn’t you reach out to the people who are supposed to make these kinds of decisions? Kings, the wizards of the Apernium…”

    “You know the answer to that question. They are too invested in the system I seek to destroy. And you forget that I know you, Bredan. I did not choose you casually for this purpose. I know that this is a weight that you can bear.”

    “No,” Bredan said. “No, I won’t do it.”

    “The decision is ultimately yours. It would be beyond hypocrisy for me to tell you what I have and then attempt coercion to sway you. However, there is one more argument that I must make. Something that you must know.”

    Bredan tensed, but the figure only waved its hand again and the library dissolved back into gray. But this time the transition was brief, and his surroundings were quickly transformed again into a scene of violence.

    Bredan reached instinctively for his sword, only to remember that he could not summon it in this null-place. He recognized where he was: Severon, in the rich district where the Royal Palace, the Apernium, and the Temple of Hosrenu were all situated.

    The city was under assault.

    Fires burned all around them, forming great plumes of black smoke that rose up to join a thick pall that hung over the city. Soldiers rushed through the streets, their disciplined formations a stark contrast to the crowds of screaming civilians who rushed in every direction, seeking cover. The source of their torment was occasionally visible overhead: winged forms that were clearly not native to this place. Even as he watched, a thing that looked like a cross between a vulture and a man descended and let out a terrible screech that dropped fifty people to the ground, stunned. It almost casually picked out a victim, a young woman that it drew into its claws and held against its body as its wings carried it back into the air.

    The assumed form of the Libram was not visible here, but Bredan could still hear its voice in its mind. “This is just an incursion, not the final invasion,” it said. “Even as I show you this there are similar assaults taking place in Tal Nadesh and Ironcrest.”

    “To what end?” Bredan yelled at the sky. None of those around him took any notice of him, clearly this was another illusion, or some other magical means of projection. But it all felt starkly real, from the sights and sounds of the fighting to the stink of blood and acrid smoke on the air. “This will only push the three kingdoms back together into another alliance against the threat.”

    “Why did Kavel Murgoth invade Arresh, when he had no hope of defeating the armies of King Dangren? Bredan, you have to stop applying your own familiar motivations to these outsiders. Chaotic and violent they may be, but they are not stupid. They have invaded thousands of worlds and ruined them with the chaos they inevitably bring with them. But the fiends are only one faction. The attention they have focused on your world… it will attract others. They will feast upon this world until it is as desiccated and empty as every other one they have conquered.”

    “We will fight them,” Bredan said. “We are not helpless.”

    “No. You are not helpless. But what you have faced thus far is but a shadow of what is coming.”

    “Enough,” Bredan said. “Enough of this. Take me back to the gray.”

    The violent scene around him instantly vanished, replaced by the pale emptiness. The figure was there again, standing a few steps in front of him.

    “I cannot do it,” Bredan said. “I cannot do what you ask on the strength of a few illusions and a few minutes of philosophical arguments. What you want would cause just as much destruction as the fate you claim to want us to help avoid. If you want to help us, then help. Don’t present this as an either-or. There are always other choices.”

    “Not in my case,” the Libram said. “You said it yourself, when you spoke to the Matriarch of the tabaxi. I am more than a book, but the book is still the anchor that binds me to this reality. Should I fall into the hands of those who seek the fate I have shown you, they will not hesitate to use my power to advance that goal.”

    “But you can… surely you can stop them…”

    “You have seen the extent of my power, Bredan, more than anyone else has in thousands of years. The shackles put upon me by my creators remain intact. My ability to influence the world is greatly limited. Even reaching out to you, to subtly guide your path, was nearly impossible.”

    “Limited? But you gave me power, you brought me, all of us, here…”

    “I awakened a talent that you already had latent within your bloodline. As for coming here… it is the one place I could go. It is still a part of me. But setting this course into motion has extracted what little power I still hold. If I am taken from this place a second time, then much of what you have seen will be gone. I will remain the book, the library, but the core of what I have become will fade. Leaving the tool.”

    “The weapon,” Bredan said.

    “Yes.”

    “If you seek an end, could we not just destroy the book?”

    “I have endured for millennia, Bredan. I am… resilient. I began work upon the ritual with that objective in mind. It was only later that I perceived the connections, the greater scope of the project.”

    “We could take you back to Arresh, secure you in the Vault again…”

    “The Vault was never secure, not against the resources of those arrayed against you. And in any case, it is too late for that. Your enemies are already here.”

    “In Weltarin? Who… how…”

    The pale figure met his eyes again, and this time Bredan thought he could see something there, a deep sadness. “I can say no more. I can only tell you that you will have to make a decision when you find me. You are very close, but you will have to confront the final guardian before you can reach me.”

    “Guardian?” Bredan asked. The mists were already starting to thin, and the outline of the pale figure was becoming translucent. “What guardian?”

    “The last of the Mai’i,” he heard. “I am sorry, Bredan. Sorry that this all had to come to you. I know that it has not been easy, and it will offer small solace to know that without my gifts you would have perished long ago, along with your friends. But I can no longer guide your path. The time has come when you must choose.”

    “Wait! Tell me, I need to know…”

    But the figure had already vanished, and Bredan’s words were swallowed up by the void. He flinched back reflexively as an unseen pressure began to close in around his awareness. It swelled until it became almost unbearable, an intensity that thankfully quickly faded to black, taking with it his last shreds of consciousness.
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