Forgotten Lore (Updated M-W-F)


Chapter 149

Loremaster Caslek’s office was itself a small library, with bookshelves lining every wall and various loose volumes arranged on reading stands in the corners. A large desk covered with neatly-organized piles of paperwork stood under a large window framed with decorative scrollwork showing intricate flowing designs. The Loremaster himself was a thin man in his sixties who looked tiny in contrast to Quellan. He rose as they were escorted in and gestured for them to be seated on the comfortable padded chairs arranged in front of the desk.

“Brother Emberlane,” Caslek said. “I read your report on the events in the north. Quite impressive, I must say. The god has favored you in your quest for knowledge.”

“Thank you for making the time to meet with us, Loremaster,” Quellan said as they sat down. He barely fit in the chair, which creaked slightly as he settled into it.

“Past due,” Caslek said. “It should not be that the church dedicated to the accumulation of knowledge is the last to know of recent events. No, I’m not blaming you,” he quickly added with a wave of his hand. “The mechanism of your arrival here put you into the direct custody of the wizards, and your written report was quite timely.”

“We might have been here sooner, if we’d been able to get an appointment,” Xeeta said.

Quellan coughed a warning, but Caslek did not look offended as he shifted his attention to the sorceress. “Fascinating,” he said. He reached into one of the drawers of his desk and drew out a large handheld lens, nearly a hand’s span across. He held it up to his left eye and regarded her through it. “Really quite remarkable how there is no predictable pattern to how the dominant genetic influence expresses itself physically.” He put the lens down quickly. “Apologies, I did some work on the tiefling phenomenon in my youth, and it’s a field that remains of interest to me. There is no need to mask your true form here, my dear. The philosophy of our order is one of tolerance, and the wards would have reacted if you had come here with ill intent.”

“I’m fine,” Xeeta said stonily.

“Loremaster,” Quellan said. “I included my recommendations in the report, but I wanted to stress the importance of what we found in the Silverpeak Valley. I brought Xeeta because of her own potential connections to the threat posed by Murgoth’s minions, these ‘Blooded.’”

“Yes, it’s quite troubling,” Caslek said.

“That’s all?” Xeeta said. “That hobgoblin warlock got away. From what I’ve heard, he wasn’t the only one who escaped into the mountains. If anything, Murgoth might have been their tool, rather than the other way around.”

“If nothing else, the King should be made aware of the danger,” Quellan said. “We’ve told the wizards, but I do not know what they plan on doing with the information.”

“They will do what they feel best advances their own interests, of course,” Caslek said. “But the King already knows about the Blooded, and we’ve been following the activities of groups like the cult in Li Syval for some time.”

“What?” Xeeta said.

“The accumulation of knowledge is one of the core precepts of our faith, my dear,” Caslek said. “You aren’t the first tiefling to come to Arresh, of course. As I noted, it is one of my own areas of research.”

“But between the cult, and then these goblinoids in the north,” Quellan said. “I had always thought that tieflings were just the products of individual encounters between the people of our world and the entities of the farther realms. But if there was some coordination, some plan…”

“Those ‘entities’ you refer to are intelligent and powerful,” Caslek said. “Seductive, with what they can offer mortal men—and women. We reinforce the popular conception of fiends as mindless brutes because it reassures the common people. But we of the church do not fool ourselves, Brother Emberlane. The barriers that separate our realms are not as strong as people would like to think.”

“So you knew about these groups, and did what?” Xeeta asked. “Wrote papers?”

“Xeeta,” Quellan said.

Caslek held up a hand. “The young lady is entitled to her ire,” he said. “We understand the responsibilities of power,” he said to her. “We do our share to fight against the darkness. I understand that you were wronged, but the worship of Hosrenu is not sanctioned in Li Syval. We have some influence here, which we try to use to guide the king in confronting this and other threats that we all face.”

“Politics,” Xeeta said. “I understand, but that’s small solace to the children who suffered through their schemes.”

“The cult in Li Syval might have been defeated,” Quellan said. “And Murgoth’s armies have been sundered. But we don’t know who or what else might be out there working with these otherworldly entities. We do know that they’re looking to accumulate power. That warlock came specifically to the Silverpeak Valley to find that shrine.”

“Yes, the shrine,” Caslek said. “The power left behind by the Mai’i, perhaps.”

“What else could it be?” Quellan asked. “This isn’t our first run-in with this kind of magic, I included it all in my report…”

“Yes, it was quite thorough. And we have accumulated a considerable amount of lore about the Eth’barat in recent years. But there are other things happening as well.”

“Like what?” Xeeta said.

“I’m not at liberty to go into details at the moment,” Caslek said.

“Now you sound like the wizards,” Xeeta said.

“You have seen enough of the world to know that knowledge is power,” Caslek said. “And like any kind of power, it can be dangerous in the wrong hands.”

“You don’t trust us,” Xeeta said. “Even though he’s one of you,” she added, jerking a thumb toward Quellan.

“It’s not a question of trust,” Caslek said. “It’s a question of putting together a puzzle when you cannot see all of the pieces, or even know how many there are. I have assembled a small panel, I hope you can spare some time to speak with them today. Both of you. We’d like to learn more about the events in the north, of course, but we would also greatly appreciate any details you could provide about your experiences in Li Syval, Xeeta. I know it will be extremely difficult to revisit that period, but anything you could share with us could help us prevent such a thing from happening again.”

Xeeta looked over at Quellan. “There is a lot going on at the moment,” she said.

“We would appreciate any time you could spare,” Caslek said. He held Xeeta’s eyes until she nodded slightly.

“Excellent,” Caslek said. He rose up from his chair, suggesting that the meeting was at an end. “The acolyte will show you to the interview room. Brother Emberlane, a moment?”

Xeeta waited until Quellan nodded. “I’ll wait for you outside,” she said.

Caslek waited until the door had swung shut. “I would very much like to interview your friend, Bredan Karras, as well.”

“Do you know what’s happening to him?” Quellan asked.

“I am not certain. We have seen cases like this in the past, where a non-practitioner can gain access to power through contact through an eldritch source. The Mai’i shrines certainly could qualify as such. Or it could just be that he has a latent arcane connection in his bloodline of which he is not aware, and his gifts are natural.”

“You don’t sound convinced of either theory.”

“I think that the wizards of the Apernium know more than they are saying,” Caslek said. “I am glad that you have established a friendship with the young man, I believe that he will have an important role in future events.”

“So you do think that the defeat of Murgoth is not the end of this.”

“History does not end, Brother Emberlane. It continues in an endless cycle.”

“I will talk to Bredan,” Quellan said. “He has been involved in his own quest for knowledge, but I will pass on your request.” He started to turn toward the door but paused.

“Was there something else, Brother?” Caslek asked.

“I imagine that you’ve read my file,” Quellan said.

“Yes.” Caslek turned back to the desk. “It’s a difficult case.”

“It’s more than that,” Quellan said. “At least for me.”

“There is not a great deal that I can do in this instance,” Caslek said. “I may not agree with the decision that was made, but what’s done is done, and there will not be many who are willing to reopen old wounds. Tradition is to defer to local authorities in such cases, especially when it seems to align with the wishes of the parties involved.”

“You’re saying it was her wish to keep the truth hidden.”

Caslek sighed. “I’m saying, it doesn’t matter, Brother. You are who you are, regardless.”

“I should have been told the truth. I should have known who she was.”

“There will be records. Not enough to tell the full story of a person’s life, but I can get them for you.”

“Thank you, Loremaster.”

“Quellan. I hope you can understand… and forgive. We’re not perfect, you know that better than most. But there is a place for you here, a place where you belong. Even before I read your report I had a feeling about you. The god has marked you out for great things.”

“I’m not interested in accomplishments, Loremaster.”

“Nevertheless, sometimes they are thrust upon us. Go in peace, brother.”

Caslek waited until Quellan had left and the door had clicked shut, then he went back to his desk. He leaned against the edge, his brow furrowed in thought.

A few moments later there was another soft click behind him. One of the bookshelves swung aside, revealing a dark slit behind. A slightly younger man came into the room.

“What do you think, Korrion?” Caslek asked.

“I think that the wizards are playing with fire,” Korrion said.

“The boy could be key. Do you really think that the Libram is stirring again? After all this time?”

“I think we need to be ready if it is,” Korrion said. “What about Emberlane? Do you think he’s up to the task?”

“The god is with him,” Caslek said. “His faith has been shaken, but he is the tool we have in place. It will have to be enough.”

“If you’re wrong, things could get out of control very quickly.”

“They’re already out of control,” Caslek said. He smiled wryly. “All we can hope to do is keep us from going over the cliff.”

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Chapter 150

The tavern was a real dive, but Kosk had been in worse places. The impressions upon his senses were familiar enough, from the soft clink of bottles and cups to the stink of the bar and its patrons. The place was less than half full, but it was still early.


Kosk lifted his eyes to see the bartender standing in front of him. He nodded. The big human didn’t bother getting a new cup, just poured a splash of amber liquid into his empty one.

The bar hadn’t been built for dwarves, and his chin barely cleared it. It made it awkward to reach up and grab the cup, but he wasn’t drunk enough yet for it to be an issue. But before he could swallow the fiery liquor there was another interruption.

“Are you Kosk Stonefist?”

Kosk slowly lowered the cup back to the surface of the bar before he turned toward the man who’d asked the question.

He didn’t look like he fit in this place, or that he was even old enough to drink, for that matter. But the manner of his clothes, the way he looked, and even the way he spoke was instantly familiar. The long robe with its ample sleeves was similar to the garb that Kosk had worn until recently. The burned fragments of that garment were probably rotting in a heap back in the Silverpeak Valley, he thought.

The young monk was trying not to look around at his surroundings while he waited for Kosk to respond. Probably his first time in a place like this, the dwarf thought. “What do you want?” he asked.

“I am to give you this,” the monk said, producing a small, tightly-wound scroll from the sleeve of his robe. When Kosk failed to take it, he placed it on the bar, selecting a spot that was not damp with sweat and spilled liquor. There was more of the former than the latter; drink cost money. “Abbot Anaeus would like to you to call upon him at the Monastery of the Quiet Path. It’s not far from the city, there are instructions within.” He nodded toward the scroll.

“Quiet Path,” Kosk said with a snort of amusement.

The monk didn’t respond, he just stood there looking uncomfortable. Finally, Kosk said, “You’ve delivered your message and done your duty, boy.”

The monk offered a curt bow and turned to leave. But as he stepped away from the bar he nearly collided with a big hulk of a man who’d been making his way there. From the unsteady way he walked the brute had been drinking longer than Kosk had, but he reacted quickly to the inconvenience even as the monk slid smoothly out of his way.

“Watch where you goin’, boy!” he growled.

“Excuse me, sir,” the monk said, offering a nod that wasn’t deep enough to offer any real courtesy.

Either the drunk sensed some of the insult in the young man’s conduct, or he was just looking for a fight. “I’ll teach you some manners,” he said, lunging at the monk with a bare-armed sweep.

The monk barely moved, just shifted slightly to the side, but it caused the wild swing to miss him entirely. “I will be leaving now, sir,” he said, stepping to the other side to avoid his off-balanced stagger.

But the brute wasn’t as drunk as he seemed, or his anger had allowed him to burn through it, for he quickly recovered and came at the monk again, trying to block his escape and pin him against the bar. For a moment it looked as though he had his quarry trapped, and his lips twisted into a feral grin as he delivered an overhanded strike that might have knocked loose a few teeth if it had connected. But again the monk shifted, dropping into a smooth tuck that took him out of the path of the attack moments before the big man’s fist slammed into the bar with enough force to knock over several of the cups and bottles resting on its surface. The bartender spat out a curse as he darted to catch a mostly-full bottle before it could roll of the edge of the bar and shatter on the floor. A few steps closer to the fight, Kosk watched as his cup fell over onto its side, spilling its contents.

“Bloody hell,” the dwarf said.

“I’ll get you!” the drunk roared. The hand he’d slammed into the bar was twisted at an unnatural angle, but he hardly seemed to notice it in his rage. The monk had achieved the center of the room and had fallen into a more obviously defensive stance, his eyes flicking toward the exit as if gauging his chances of reaching it before the brute could launch another assault.

His caution seemed well founded as the big drunkard spun and launched himself again, but he barely managed two steps before Kosk hopped down off his barstool and met him from the side. The drunk sensed his approach and launched a reflexive attack with his good hand, but the blow never landed. In a blur of motion the dwarf caught his arm and used his momentum to flip him end-over-end, a rotation that ended with him slamming hard onto the floor. The drunk clearly felt that impact, but even so he still tried to get up. Or at least he tried until Kosk stepped forward and delivered an open-palm strike to his face that snapped his head back into the floor. That time he stayed there, blood seeping through the sides of his shattered nose.

Kosk smacked his hands together and looked up to see the monk staring at him with a stunned look on his face. “My path isn’t a quiet one,” he said.

The monk’s expression changed briefly before he snapped his head down in another bow. The look had been there for only a moment, but it was enough to cut through both the drunken haze Kosk had been working on and the edges of his anger that the encounter had stirred. The dwarf watched as the young man turned and left the tavern. When he turned back to the bar he mostly just felt empty.

“I think you’ve done enough drinking here,” the bartender said.

“Yeah,” Kosk said as he tossed a few coins up on the bar. He reached up and grabbed the scroll that the monk had left for him, then followed him out.


Chapter 151

Kosk paused to catch his breath as the steep trail reached another switchback, curving back in on itself as part of the long ascent up the mountainside. It looked like he still had quite a way left to go. He should have been able to make the climb easily, but he’d let himself go somewhat since their arrival here in Severon, and now he was paying the price.

He adjusted his bracers, reflexively checking the knives tucked into them. So be it. He was no stranger to paying the price for mistakes he’d made.

As he turned back to the next stage of the trail he paused to glance back at the city. He’d already climbed high enough to give him an exceptional view. Severon was sprawled out across the landscape before him. The distinctive buildings of the ruling district were instantly obvious. Kosk could see the Apernium, the Royal Palace, the Great Library, and the other monumental structures that served as testament to the ingenuity and ambition of man. For a moment the dwarf’s thoughts flashed back to Underhold, but he quickly squashed that impulse and resumed his trek up the path.

He soon came to yet another set of stone steps. They were ancient, worn smooth by weather and the tread of countless feet. They were sized for humans, and Kosk found himself annoyed as each one extracted a bit more exertion than was necessary. He wondered how they got supplies up here; he hadn’t seen any markings or droppings that would suggest the use of mules or other draft animals. The monks probably had their acolytes lug packs laden with ten stone of grain up the hill as a way of building their bodies and focusing their ki. There had been plenty of that kind of business back at the monastery in Crosspath. He had not been an easy student, and for a moment a smile crept across his face at the memory.

He was pulled from his reveries as he reached the top of the steps and a gust of chill wind swept over him. He looked up and realized that his destination had come into view. The Monastery of the Quiet Path was not quite at the crest of the peak, instead nestled into a broad gap that would shelter it from the worst of the wind. A stone wall warded the mouth of that opening, but he could see the peaked wooden roofs of the interior buildings rising behind it. The largest of those had to be the Great Hall, the curving eaves supporting a tall roof that culminated in a small turret. That pinnacle likely held the bell that would chime the periods of the day and call the monks to service.

Warring impulses passed through the dwarf for a moment, but finally he lowered his head and resumed his journey. Another three sets of stairs connected by long stretches of path stood between him and his destination, but now that he’d made his decision the twinges in his legs and the angry tugs of the wind no longer troubled him.

As he drew close to the wall he could see that the front gate, a considerable construction of heavy wooden boards banded in iron, stood open. It was flanked by banners that were securely attached with iron rods at both top and bottom to the surrounding wall. They fluttered wildly in the wind, but Kosk could still recognize the standards of the orders they represented. Despite the sentiment offered by the name of the place, he saw his own order, the Open Hand, included in the tally.

There were no guards visible, and no one appeared to challenge him as he made his way through the open gates. The main yard was empty, but there was plenty of activity. The buildings were familiar, in type if not in their architecture, and he quickly identified the living quarters for the acolytes and full initiates, the dining hall, and the workshop. There were covered gardens and even a greenhouse, though they would still likely have to bring supplies along that long trek up the mountain. Over it all loomed the mass of the Great Hall, more imposing now that he could see it in its full majesty. The top of the bell tower had to be at least fifty feet above the packed earth of the yard. Broad stone steps led up to a pair of entrances that also stood open, letting in the air and light of the day.

Kosk headed in that direction. A few of the monks noticed him but offered only a brief look and a nod before returning to their labors. He passed a courtyard where a dozen monks were practicing a kata. The familiar movements were reassuring.

As he started up the steps that led up to the Great Hall a slender figure emerged from within to greet him. At first Kosk thought it was the young monk who had delivered the message to him back in the city, but as she stepped forward into the light he saw it was a woman, the first he’d seen at the monastery thus far. Her hair was trimmed close like the other monks, but she was still beautiful, her features soft and slightly exotic. As he reached her he was surprised to see that she was an elf, which explained her unusual appearance but not her presence here. A small emblem of a blooming rose was stitched into the fabric of her robe, a feature that evoked some vague memory that Kosk could not immediately place.

“Thank you for coming, Brother Stonefist,” she said. “I am Embrae. Abbot Anaeus is waiting for you in the Chamber of Contemplation.” She gestured for him to enter, and after a moment he did.

The interior of the hall was dominated by a tall central space that was only sparsely decorated. Thick wooden pillars rose to support the braces of the ceiling above. The floors were bare wood polished to a bright shine. A few iron braziers that were currently unlit flanked a shrine built into one wall. The sigils of the six orders were present there as well, surrounding an icon that Kosk knew represented the primal energy of life, of ki.

“Rather more humble than what you had in Crosspath, I believe,” Embrae said.

“You seem to know a lot about me,” Kosk replied.

“The Abbot has taken an interest in you,” Embrae said. “He has been engaged in a correspondence with the Abbess Laurine for a number of decades now. They are good friends, in fact.”

“One doesn’t see many elves in the orders,” Kosk said. “Must be a story behind that.”

“The same could be said for dwarves,” she said. “Perhaps we can exchange tales sometime.”

As she spoke the came to another door, the first closed one Kosk had seen since his arrival. The door was covered in decorative wooden panels that had been painstakingly crafted into intricate scenes. He might have paused to examine it if the elf woman hadn’t pushed it open, gesturing for him to precede her inside.

The Chamber of Contemplation was similar to a number of such places that Kosk had visited. There were small shrines in each corner of the room dedicated to the four core elemental forces, the incense burning in the air shrine filling the room with a slight odor of spices. The back wall of the room consisted of large panels that had been pulled aside to reveal the stark beauty of the day; there must have been a gap there that allowed a view of the surrounding hills. From that angle Severon was invisible and inaudible, and it was almost possible to believe that they were far from any civilized settlement, bordered only by natural beauty and quiet.

A small wooden platform accessed by a pair of low steps led up to the edge of the overlook. Seated there was a person who Kosk almost took for a child. But it turned out to be a halfling, draped in a soft robe that enfolded his diminutive form. He was small even for that race, his features wizened with age, his scalp hairless and spotted. He looked as though a stray gust of wind could snatch him up and fling him out through the opening, but when he turned slowly to regard the approaching dwarf there was an intensity in his eyes that held the dwarf like an invisible grasp.

“Thank you, Embrae,” he said. The elf woman bowed and departed, leaving them alone.

“You wanted to see me,” Kosk said, making it a statement rather than a question.

“Yes,” the old halfling said. He rose up, slowly, the robe swirling around his withered frame. “I have been following your progress for some time, Kosk Stonefist. Word has come to me recently of your adventures in the north. Of strange discoveries, and ancient powers unlocked.”

“A series of mischances,” Kosk said.

“Really? Is that what you believe?”

“I don’t know what else to call it. I certainly wasn’t expecting anything of what happened.”

“Life rarely gives us what we expect.”

“Did you want something from me, Abbot?”

The old man walked past him into the room. He started toward the fire shrine but paused and turned back to face him. “You had a staff, did you not?”

Kosk blinked at the unexpected question. “My old one was pretty wrecked,” he said. “I haven’t gotten around to cutting a new one yet.”

“There are several fine alder trees here that could serve.”

“Abbot… do you know what it is we found, in the Silverpeak? This ancient power of which you speak?”

“I sense something… a change in you.”

“But you didn’t know me before. How can you know what’s different?”

The old man smiled. It felt odd to Kosk, looking down at someone instead of up, as he gotten used to during his time in the human-dominated lands of Arresh. “Point acknowledged,” Anaeus said. “But I can still feel a disequilibrium within you. A disturbance in your ki.”

“My ki has always been unsteady,” Kosk said. “Mine has not been a quiet path.”

“The imbalance is not in your path,” the old monk said. “It is within you, and it is building. It is tied to uncertainty, to anger, to confusion. Raw emotions. You are no longer certain of who you are, Kosk Stonefist. Searching out the answer to that is not something to be feared, but you must be wary. If you cannot control these feelings, learn to choose your own path, they will control you.”

“I’ve always chosen my own path,” Kosk said. “I’m here, am I not? You surely know what I was, before I came here. To the monastery in Crosspath, I mean. I gave up that life.”

“Have you?”

“Damn it, what do you want from me?”

The old man came up to him suddenly, quickly enough that Kosk started to take a step back in surprise. “Take my hand.”

Kosk regarded him for a moment, then did as he was bid. The halfling’s tiny hand was swallowed up in his thick, calloused mitts. “Is this a lesson about the power of ki versus physical strength?” he asked.

“Something like that,” Anaeus said, before his grip shifted and he snapped Kosk’s wrist.

“Aaarrggh!” Kosk cried as pain shot up his arm. He yanked his hand back and stared at the ancient monk with wide eyes. “What the hells…”

Anaeus held up his hand. “Assume Crane Stands In the Rushes.”


“The stance. You remember it, do you not? It is one of the primary forms of the Open Hand.”

“It’s a little hard to do with a broken wrist!” Kosk shot back.

“You’ve fought through worse,” Anaeus said.

Kosk stared at him for a moment, then assumed the stance. There wasn’t much to it, just a subtle shifting of one’s feet, a straightening of the body. He tried to move his hands into position, only to grimace as the motion exacerbated his injured wrist.

Anaeus stepped forward and adjusted his other arm, slightly shifted one foot with his. “Focus. Concentrate on your core. Ignore the pain, it is nothing.”

Kosk started to make a sharp retort, but finally he closed his eyes and took a deep breath, settling further into the stance.

“Do you feel the injury? What is out of alignment?”

“Obviously,” Kosk said. When Anaeus just stared at him he added, “Yes, I feel it.”

“Correct the misalignment.”

Kosk blinked. “I’m not a healer…”

He was cut off as Anaeus slapped him across the face. “You said before that you control your path. That you are the master of your ki. How can you be either if you are not the master of your own body? Concentrate. Focus. Correct that which is broken.”

There was something insistent, commanding in the old man’s words that Kosk could not disobey. He focused, and as his concentration pressed inward he felt something. The pain of his wound was there, of course, but now he could see it as more than just that. There was an imbalance, a barrier that felt like an obstruction blocking the flow of a river. Cautiously, not quite sure what he was doing, he reached out with his consciousness and pressed at that barrier. At first it was implacable, like a stone wall embedded in his awareness, but then it shifted and was gone. The flow of energy through his body resumed. He could feel other disruptions deeper within him, buried deep, but for the moment they were out of his reach.

Kosk realized that the pain had disappeared. Surprised, he opened his eyes and twisted his wrist. The limb moved normally, as if it had never been injured at all. “That… what did you…”

“I did nothing,” Anaeus said. “I merely showed you a new part of the path. You must still walk it. And there are difficult stretches ahead, as you seek truth. Your truth.”

“What do you mean?”

“You must seek out the elves of Tal Nadesh,” he said. “There you will find what you need.”

“Tal Nadesh? That’s a month’s journey from here. I have obligations here… What’s there? What do I need to find?”

Anaeus waved a hand, but Kosk pressed forward. “Look, I don’t like mysteries. If you know something, just tell me, please. In plain words.”

“I have no answers for you, brother.”

“How do you know I have to go to Tal Nadesh?”

Anaeus took the last few steps over to the fire shrine. He waved a hand over the flame burning in the bowl there, causing it to dance and take on strange shapes. “I myself see only glimpses, fragments of a larger mosaic,” he said. “Believe me, it can be quite frustrating at times.”

“Yeah, I know how that feels,” Kosk said.

“I sense that a time of crisis is fast approaching. I suspect that your own personal journey, and that of your friends, is connected to this. What I have seen suggests that you will have an important role to play, Kosk Stonefist. I do not know what will happen if you do not go to Tal Nadesh. Nor can I tell you what you will find when you go there. I can only tell you that something important awaits you there. You must choose to walk the path. In this, I am only a messenger.”

He turned and walked back to the overlook platform. Kosk just watched him. He looked down at his wrist, flexed the muscles of his hand, and considered the old man’s words.


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Chapter 152

Bredan was asleep when the rattle of the lock pulled him back into awareness.

He tried to drag himself upright as the door to his cell swung upward, but his chains had gotten tangled in his sleep and he could only manage to get to his knees. He blinked against the light that spilled in from the room beyond, trying to see who was there.

There were two shadowy forms silhouetted in the entry. In their dark robes and cowls he could not tell if either was his usual jailor, though neither had the look of Pentar. The two men came forward quickly into the cell. Bredan tried to flinch back as they reached for him, but the chains and his own weakness prevented him from making more than a feeble display of resistance before they roughly took hold of his arms and pulled him up.

“What…” he tried to say, but the word only came out as a croak from his dry throat. It felt like it had been days since he’d spilled his last ration of water, but neither of his visitors appeared to be carrying his usual meal.

“We need to move you,” one of the men whispered in his ear. “You’ll come quietly, or we’ll knock you out and carry you. You understand?”

Bredan managed a noise that sounded like assent. One of the men produced a coil of rope. “Bind his arms behind his back,” the other said.

“Can’t… these bloody shackles…” the man with the rope said. Bredan could feel the man pulling at him, and he slowly tensed his muscles so there was less give in the chains. He tried to look past them into the area outside his cell, but his eyes still hadn’t fully adjusted to the intensity of the light.

“Fine, just tie his wrists together,” the first man said. Even when he wasn’t whispering his voice sounded scratchy, as if something was wrong with his throat. “We’re going to unlink your shackles, but you give us any trouble and you’ll regret it, hear?”

“I hear you,” Bredan said. His voice was still rough, but at least the words were comprehensible.

The man with the rope pulled his hands together and fastened his wrists with the rope. Again Bredan kept his muscles as tense as he could, but it didn’t help much as his captor pulled the ropes tight enough to be painful. He knew that it would cut off his circulation and could be dangerous with time, but he held his tongue for the moment. He didn’t know what was going on, but he could read the tension that radiated from his two jailors. Something was wrong, and it might present an opportunity.

Once his wrists were bound the man with the rope pulled out a heavy key, but before he could start to work the locks on Bredan’s manacles the other man yanked a heavy sack down over Bredan’s head. The canvas was rough and filled his nostrils with an unpleasant and earthy stink.

With his senses muffled by the sack he knew what was happening only by feel. His shackles were barely off before his captors seized him again and dragged him toward the door of his cell. His back scraped the wall as they twisted him aside so they could all fit through the narrow doorway.

He could feel it when they left the cell; a presence that he hadn’t realized was lacking suddenly returned, almost like the rediscovery of an old memory. He knew at once what it portended, but he resisted the urge to do something reckless. Instead he tilted his head to the side in an attempt to peer down through the open mouth of the sack. His efforts weren’t all that successful, but he could just make out his own bare feet and the boots of his captors peeking out from under their robes.

But the motion had also drawn the attention of his escorts. “I warned you,” the one with the scratchy voice said. One of his hands dropped off of Bredan’s arm, and he could almost imagine him reaching for a weapon. The other one’s grip grew taut, perhaps expecting the incoming blow.

Bredan didn’t wait for it to come. He drew himself forward, leaning into the one who’d spoken, knocking him off balance. At the same time, he lashed out with his left foot. He had to guess where the other man was based on the grip and the last glimpse he’d gotten of his feet, but he was rewarded with a cry of pain as the heel of his foot connected with the man’s knee. The other one snarled something unpleasant, but before he could attack Bredan summoned his magic.

The power, kept away by the wardings that Pentar had mentioned before, came freely now at his call. He felt a surge of energy fill his body, course into his legs as he thrust his shoulder into his captor’s torso and leapt forward. The force of the jump spell carried both him and his enemy across the room. Even as they started to drop they slammed hard into a solid wall. Bredan was stunned by the impact, but the robed man, caught between the unyielding stone and the mass of his prisoner, let out a grunt and collapsed in a heap on the floor.

Bredan fell too, but even as his head swam he reached up and yanked the sack off his head.

His first sight of his prison was less than impressive. The place was a stone vault, spacious only in contrast to his cell. The ceiling was heavily buttressed and low enough that Bredan realized he had been lucky that he hadn’t bashed his own head in on his magically-enhanced leap. The light he’d seen earlier came from an oil lamp stuck in a niche along one wall. There were two other exits that he could see, a narrow opening in the far wall and a larger, circular passage that extended off to the right. The sight of it, along with the stale odors that hung thick in the air, offered a clue to where he was.

“Sewers,” he said. “I must be underneath Severon.”

His attention was drawn back to the man he’d knocked down. He had struggled back to his feet, favoring his injured leg but clearly not out of the fight. As he saw Bredan his lips twisted into a snarl, and he drew a dagger with a long, curving blade out from under his robe. He lurched forward, moving awkwardly on his damaged knee.

Bredan lifted his hands, still bound tightly with rope. As the robed man came within reach a silvery gleam of light took form in the warrior’s hand, intersecting with his foe’s body as he slashed down. With only a one-handed grip and his hands numb from the constricting ropes the sword was knocked from his hand by the force of the collision, but the robed man was flung to the floor, blood pouring out form the deep tear in his garments to spread upon the dirty stone blocks.

The curved dagger bounced and landed almost at Bredan’s feet. He snatched it up and used it to cut at his bonds. It was awkward and he managed to slash his wrists a few times in the process, but the wounds weren’t severe and could be ignored in the face of everything else he’d experienced.

Just as the ropes were beginning to part he heard something, a series of noises that came from the open doorway in the far wall. They weren’t that loud, but whatever it was sounded like a significant disturbance. With a grunt of effort he pulled his abused wrists apart, grimacing as blood rushed back into his hands. He bent to reach for his sword but was interrupted as a figure ducked through the doorway and stepped into the room.

It was Pentar. The old man was still wearing his robe, but his cowl was back and the front was open enough for Bredan to recognize the sheen of a mail coat underneath. He started as he saw Bredan, but his expression darkened as he took in the rest of the scene in the room before his eyes settled upon the sword an arm’s length from Bredan’s outstretched hand. “Don’t do it,” Pentar warned. “You have to come with us. We’re the only ones who can give you the truth you seek.”

“I don’t like your brand of truth,” Bredan said. He flicked his hands and the sword magically appeared in his grasp, the bare steel blazing in the light from the lamp.

“So be it,” Pentar said. He did not appear to be armed, but as his right hand came up a weapon materialized in his grasp, a great mace equipped with broad iron flanges. A faint sound like the vibration of metal being struck in the forge reverberated from the head of the weapon as the old man lifted it into a ready position.


Chapter 153

Bredan knew from the first clash of weapons that he was outmatched.

Pentar was old, and he yielded several stone to his foe. But Bredan had been weakened from his captivity, and he lacked the protection of the armor that his captor wore.

But even beyond that, the man was fast.

Bredan had the longer weapon, but Pentar got within his reach before he could get his sword up to block him. He did manage to meet the first swing of the mace with a reflexive parry, but as the two weapons collided there was a pulse of energy that drove Bredan back several steps. He might have fallen if he hadn’t hit the back wall of the room. Pentar was already following up with another powerful swing, but Bredan slid to the side. The head of the mace struck the wall with enough force to shatter the stone, driving a webwork of cracks through the slab.

Bredan tried to counter before he could recover, but Pentar shifted quickly and deflected the weak stroke with the shaft of his weapon. Bredan had no choice but to retreat back toward the center of the chamber, careful not to slip on blood of the jailor he’d cut down earlier.

“I regret that it had to come to this,” Pentar said. “I had hoped there was a chance that you might become one of us.”

“That hope died with Glori,” Bredan snarled. He feinted to one side and then brought his sword up in a sudden backswing. The old man was not fooled, and he easily avoided the attack. Bredan was expecting his counter, but he was caught off guard when Pentar stepped back and held his weapon upright in both hands, the flanged tip just below his face. The head of the mace seemed to shimmer and blur.

A violent clanging filled the chamber, a sound that felt like all of the bells in the world being rung at once. Bredan was caught within that pulse, and he was staggered as sonic energy ripped through his body. Blood began to seep from his nose and ears, and for a moment his vision became clouded behind a haze of red.

Instinct rather than his dazed senses warned him of the coming attack, but while he got his sword up the blow that struck him completely overwhelmed his defenses. He was knocked over onto his back, his sword flying clear to clatter halfway across the room. He looked up to see Pentar looming over him, the mace hefted in both hands like a sledgehammer.

“If you will not join us, you cannot be permitted to aid them,” he said as he lifted the mace to strike.

Bredan thrust out his hand and summoned a shield. The arcane barrier formed just as the mace struck it. Bredan had seen it hold off an ogre’s club and withstand the weight of a gigantic beetle, but against this power it cracked and shattered. But the reverberations from the collision of magics pushed Pentar back a step, giving Bredan a scant second to escape. But as he scrambled to his feet he realized that he had few options. Pentar blocked the exit through which he’d arrived, and he could easily shift to intercept Bredan if he made for the sewer pipe. He saw that recognition in his foe’s eyes as well, an awareness that this could only end one way.

With that realization came a sudden calm, and Bredan stopped his retreat. Without taking his eyes off of his enemy he held out his hand and prepared to call his father’s sword back to him.

But before he could summon his magic there was an explosion in the room behind the old man. Flames rushed out through the open doorway, briefly limning Pentar with their glow before they faded. He stepped back and to the side, giving Bredan the chance to summon his weapon but not leaving an opening for an attack. For a moment the two of them held their ground, each wary of what this new development portended.

The spell was broken when a dark form staggered through the doorway. It was a man, clad in the remnant of one of the dark robes. It was difficult to see more because he was currently on fire, the flames clinging to his ruined garments and licking at his exposed hands and face. He managed a few steps into the room before he collapsed, his struggles quickly growing feeble before they stopped altogether.

Another heartbeat passed before another form appeared in the doorway. This one was bigger than the first, so big that he had to twist sideways to make it through the gap. He was clad in heavy armor, and for an instant Bredan felt a cold feeling in his gut before he recognized the blazon on the newcomer’s shield, and the face that peered out over its edge.

“Quellan!” Bredan cried. Then, “Look out!”

Bredan lunged forward as the half-orc turned toward Pentar, but the old man’s attack was only a feint. Even as Quellan got clear of the confines of the doorway he was retreating toward the sewer pipe. Bredan ran after him, but as the old man ducked into the pipe he reached up and touched a loose brick, activating a hidden catch or trigger. A heavy iron gate slammed down from above, blocking the mouth of the pipe. Pentar turned and touched the thick bars for a moment. He met Bredan’s gaze.

“We are not done, you and I,” he said.

Bredan lunged, thrusting his sword through the bars, but Pentar was already disappearing down the pipe. He grabbed hold of the gate, tying to lift it, but it didn’t budge. He could sense the magic that the old man had infused into it, though he didn’t know the exact nature of the spell.

Quellan joined him a moment later. The half-orc’s armor was smeared with blood, but he did not look to be seriously injured. “Bredan, are you all right?”

“Yeah. Thanks for coming for me. Are Kosk and Xeeta with you?”

“We’re all here. The others are just cleaning up a few stragglers, but when I heard that blast I had a feeling you were involved. Do you need healing, are you hurt?”

Bredan started to answer, but his words faded as another figure came through the doorway into the chamber. As she turned to face him the light from the lamp behind her seemed to form a bright halo around her face. Her lips twisted into a smile, then an expression of surprise as he came forward and seized her up in a tight embrace.

“Glori,” he said. “You’re alive.”

“Of course,” she said.

“How… I saw you go down…”

“Yeah, and I had quite the headache after. Would have ended up with worse, I think, except that they didn’t gag me when they took me off. I woke up in a canal boat with two guys looming over me. Fortunately, they weren’t very bright, and proved quite susceptible to suggestion. Then it was just a question of finding the others, and then finding you.”

“It wasn’t easy,” Quellan said. “We must have traveled over half the city, if not more. The wizards gave us a few suggestions of places to look, but it still took a lot of luck.”

“Quellan’s being modest,” Glori said. “His magic helped us track you… we couldn’t find any trace of you specifically, but Xeeta suggested we try to locate your sword instead, and we finally got a connection.” Bredan still hadn’t released her, and she patted his arm reassuringly. “Hey, are you okay?”

Reluctantly, he let her go. “I am now,” he said. “I am now.”

“What did they do to you?” she asked.

He shook his head. “Later. Later. What about Xeeta and Kosk?”

“They’re coming,” Glori said. “They were right behind me but paused to clean up a few of those cultists we ran into. Most of them weren’t real fighters, they didn’t give us too much trouble.”

“We should make sure they’re all right,” Quellan said. “And perhaps depart before reinforcements arrive. A gentleman who I assume is one of the group’s leaders fled right as I got here.” He looked at Bredan for elaboration, but the young warrior was still distracted.

“Do you know why they wanted you?” Glori asked. “They sure went through a lot of effort to keep you hidden.”

“I got a few answers,” Bredan said. “And as soon as I get back to the Apernium, I’m going to get more.”


I considered ending it with Bredan yelling to Quellan to look out, but figured this had a more natural flow.

I'm almost at the end of book 7. I haven't started book 8 yet, but I've been filling out my outline. Spoiler: it's time to split the party.

This week's posts will have a lot of exposition, but it's time to answer some of the questions raised earlier and to set up the main plot line for the rest of the story.

* * *

Chapter 154

Glori had known Bredan for a long time, but she had never seen him so angry before. No, not just angry. He was pissed.

Their bootsteps echoed off of the surrounding walls as they made their way down the vaulted corridor. They came to a broad set of marble stairs, and without hesitation Bredan started up. Glori and the others had to hurry to keep up with him. She felt dirty in clothes stained with sweat and blood and other nastiness from the fighting in the sewers, but Bredan had not been willing to wait even for them to wash up and enjoy a hot meal. If he hadn’t needed a fresh set of clothes she doubted he would have even agreed to stop at the inn at all.

They made quite a scene, the five of them with their filthy garb and assorted gear. They’d had to leave their weapons at the main entry, but the wizards’ guards hadn’t otherwise tried to stop them. With the way Bredan had been acting, she’d thought that maybe they’d all end up getting arrested, but so far it seemed as if the leaders at the Apernium had been expecting their visit.

She felt an echo of some of Bredan’s anger, enough to understand the reasons for it. On their way here he’d told them some more of what he’d experienced while a captive of the strange cult that had descended from the survivors of the Silver Gauntlet. She’d felt a pang when he’d revealed how this “Pentar” had told him of her death, and that Bredan had been responsible for it.

The stairs wound around and around, steadily climbing the levels of the tower. They passed landing after landing, occasionally encountering robed figures who watched their progress without trying to interfere. Glori glanced over at Bredan, and from the look she saw on his face she could understand their reticence. Even without his armor and his huge sword he looked dangerous. He seemed to radiance confidence, driven by his righteous anger. He projected an air that felt alien to Glori. Her friend had been changed of late, even before the torture he’d experienced during his recent imprisonment, and she might have feared for the boy she’d known had it not been for the warmth with which he’d embraced her earlier.

She only hoped that he knew what he was doing. Just because he had a legitimate grievance with the wizards did not mean that they would tolerate anything.

“How many bloody stairs are in this place?” Xeeta asked as they passed still another level.

“This tower is the tallest structure in Severon, so I would imagine the answer is ‘many,’” Quellan said.

“I thought senior wizards were all old,” Xeeta said. “You’d think they would prefer the ground floor.”

“Perhaps they use levitation, or even teleportation,” Quellan said. “In any case, in architecture height is a sign of status.”

“Let me guess, there’s a book somewhere entitled, The Hidden Rules of Buildings, or somesuch,” Xeeta said.

“Well, actually…”

“It doesn’t bloody matter,” Kosk said, cutting the two of them off.

“You never told us where you’d been the last few days,” Glori said over her shoulder.

“No, I didn’t,” Kosk said.

Any possible follow-up was preempted as they came to the end of the staircase. There was still another landing there, with a corridor that curved around the outer wall of the tower. But directly in front of them was a pair of tall, ornate doors decorated with what Glori judged to be an excess of gilt. Gregoros Konstantin was standing next to them, apparently awaiting their arrival.

Bredan went right up to the wizard. “You know why I’m here,” he said.

Konstantin inclined his head. “A Circle has been assembled. If you’ll come with me.”

He gestured, and the double doors swung open. Bredan barely waited until they were out of his way before he strode forward into the chamber beyond. Glori followed close behind, ready to intervene if the situation warranted. She did not know what a “Circle” was, but it sounded portentous.

After just a few steps she came to a stop, taken aback by what she saw.

From its size and the curve of the back wall, the chamber had to take up almost the entirety of this level of the tower. The peaked ceiling was at least thirty feet above them, supported by elaborate curving buttresses that looked almost architecturally impossible. Tall windows let in generous amounts of light, though there were dozens of glowing mage-lamps to augment that and ensure that not even the deepest corner was hidden in shadow. The room itself was arranged in the style of an amphitheater, with raised tiers that followed the curve of the outer wall, forming a semicircle that faced a raised dais ten paces across in the center of the chamber. The tiers were populated with an assortment of padded benches and small writing desks, along with the occasional framed wooden booths that likely were reserved for individuals of particular prominence.

Those tiers all appeared to be empty at the moment, as the people waiting for them were gathered around a six-sided table situated on the edge of the central dais. There were twelve chairs around the table, three of which were occupied as they came in. Glori didn’t recognize any of them, but all had the look of what she imagined to be the archetype of a wizard. The man and woman were both old and dignified in their ornate robes and snowy white hair, but she was surprised to see that the third member of the Circle was a gnome, tiny within the oversized chair, his bushy white eyebrows and broad mustache bristling around the protruding mass of his nose. Glori could feel the collective weight of their combined stares as they fixed them upon the intruders. Even Bredan had been given pause by that intensity, she noted, but he quickly recovered and after hunching up his shoulders strode over to the dais to meet them.


Chapter 155

Konstantin quickly stepped in and began making introductions. The old man was Administrator Tamrek; the woman to his right Arcanist Javerin. Both offered only neutral stares as their names were given. By contrast, the gnome, who Konstantin introduced as Gavelmaster Ostrick, bowed his head in greeting and regarded them with a sly smirk that suggested he knew more than he let on.

Once the Circle had been introduced, Konstantin in turn presented each of them to the waiting wizards. He gave their full names except for Xeeta, who he introduced as “Xeeta of Li Syval.” Glori thought she detected some subtle reaction at that, a hint of shared significance. From what Xeeta had told her of the cult that had raised her, and the obvious connections to what had happened in the Silverpeak Valley, she could guess as those associations. But they’d already gone over all of that during the long interviews that had followed their immediate arrival in Severon.

But it was clear from Bredan’s manner that something had changed, at least for him. He stood rigid during the introductions and barely waited until the last was made before he stepped forward. But Quellan, perhaps also sensing his friend’s explosive mood, spoke first.

“Thank you for meeting with us,” the cleric said. “We thought that it was important to…”

“We want answers,” Bredan interjected. “No more bull.”

“Ware your tone,” Javerin said. But Tamrek shifted a hand in what must have been a signal, for Konstantin quickly added, “We will tell you what you want to know. But please, be seated. There is no need for shouting or rude behavior.”

The companions came forward and took the seats that faced across the table at the wizards. Konstantin came around to join them, taking the seat to Ostrick’s left.

Glori was quick to take the chair to Bredan’s right, even as Quellan seated himself at their friend’s other side. It was a gesture of support, though the need to keep the suddenly volatile young man under control was definitely also in their minds. As Glori pulled her chair back she caught a glimpse of something else; there was another person present in the room. The watcher was on the highest tier that circled the room, behind the last row of padded benches in the gallery. He stood in the shadow of one of the curving buttresses that rose to support the ceiling. He was wearing a coat that partially concealed his tunic, including the insignia stitched into his collars, but she could guess who he was from the colors he wore. The presence of a representative of the King at this meeting inserted an added significance, and she wished again that they could have taken some time to talk and consider the consequences of what had happened before pushing this meeting. On the other hand, the wizards did appear to be off-balance, at least at the moment, so maybe Bredan’s instincts were correct.

“We were relieved to learn that you had been recovered safely,” Konstantin said once they were all settled into their seats.

“You used me and my friends to take out Pentar and his organization,” Bredan said. Glori could just hear a soft sign from Quellan on the warrior’s far side, but her attention was focused on the wizards. They were good at controlling their expressions—all save for Ostrick, who continued to look mildly amused—but she could sense the intensity coming off them.

“They were terrorists,” Javerin said.

“They may very well have been,” Quellan said. “But we haven’t been given enough information to judge. There are powers at work here that we do not understand, and that is why we have come to you.”

“We did urge you to be patient,” Konstantin said, his tone conciliatory. “And not to pursue dangerous—”

“I’m done with being patient,” Bredan said over him. “I want answers about what’s going on here. It’s all connected… Pentar, what’s been happening to me… even all that business with the war and Kavel Murgoth is connected, somehow. I deserve to know what you know. And if you won’t tell me, I’ll seek those answers elsewhere.”

“We are not accustomed to being threatened in our own stronghold,” Javerin said. But her anger had already ebbed, and she and the other wizards were quick to turn their attention to Tamrek, who was obviously the senior figure present. Glori shot a quick look up at their unintroduced guest up in the gallery, and noticed that he too had shifted, betraying a suddenly increased interest in the proceedings.

Bredan seemed to pick up on that as well, for he focused an unblinking stare at the Administrator. Finally, Tamrek gave a slight nod, a signal that had Konstantin turning back to them again. The wizard folded his hands together in front of him on the table and took a deep breath, as if to gather himself.

“I told you before that I was sent to find you specifically,” Konstantin began.

“I remember,” Bredan said.

“What I didn’t tell you was who sent me.”

“I assume that the answer to that is connected somehow,” Bredan said.

Konstantin straightened, and a hint of the edge that had suffused the attitude of the other wizards appeared in his manner. “What we’re about to tell you is confidential, and not to leave this room,” he said. “This is not merely for our convenience. The secrecy is for your own safety and that of others, as you will soon learn. There are only a few individuals within the kingdom who know this information. The King and a few of his agents, and a few high officials in the leading churches, including the church of Hosrenu.”

Glori resisted the urge to look over at Quellan. Her eyes did flick briefly up to the gallery, but nothing had changed in her view of the royal observer.

“Once I continue, the five of you will be added to the circle of those who know,” Konstantin went on. “If you share any of what I am about to tell you, the consequences will be immediate and severe. Do you understand and accept these conditions?”

“You’re asking me to swear an oath without knowing what I’m swearing to,” Bredan protested.

“Nevertheless, you will swear––all of you—or this meeting is over,” Javerin said.

There was a moment of silence that stretched out between them. Glori looked over at her companions, her friends. Kosk looked distracted, and Xeeta determined. Quellan looked concerned, but Glori knew that he would not be able to resist the lure of new knowledge, or the mystery that the wizard had evoked with his words. Maybe that had been deliberate, she thought.

But her focus was on Bredan, who continued staring across the table at the wizards. “I swear that no one will learn of your secret from me,” he said. “Is my word sufficient, or do you require blood?”

Glori had an image of him summoning his huge sword and laying it on the table in front of them, but the elder wizard spoke, the first words he’d offered since the start of the meeting. “You are bound to us, now. Your fate shall be tied to ours, such as it shall be.”

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