The Road to Sundsvall
An inn was located and Teldon spoke with the owner. He reported that a viewing area could be found at the town's eastern end where the public could mount the town walls to admire the giant sculptures. The effigies represented the greatest wizards and wizardesses of Haven's past. The central carving was of Aasla herself. The ageing wizardess Mylertendal was the only one to have had a carving made in her own lifetime - "folks don't really think she's ever going to die."
Taking to the air the next day, Teldon was in a foul mood and complained about having dreamed of being surrounded by beholders, rendered powerless while they closed in around him. The carpet followed the main route marked on the wizards' map - a wide trail running north along the cliff bottom. It became apparent that large crowds of people were gathering along the city wall near the stone faces or peering expectantly out the windows of tall buildings nearby. A hush fell as the faces began to move. Huge stone eyes scanned the crowds. The faces pushed out from the rock and looked at one another. Then one (a young man) came to the fore and loomed above the town wall whilst the others receded. In a voice like thunder the gigantic head addressed the crowd:-
"Good people of Lesir. I am Rhyndarion, the greatest explorer Haven has ever known. Seventeen centuries have passed since my lifetime. I am still known for my travels throughout the kingdom. From the Sea of Dawn to The Haven Wall; from the heights of the Aasla Spur to the depths of the Aaslan Gulf - there was no other wizard could claim to know the land of Haven - its hills, forests and mighty rivers - so well. Nor could any other have been said to love its people so much. I explored and catalogued my findings and presented them to the kingdom's libraries so that all of Haven's people might benefit from my knowledge. And wherever I went I found new sites where those people could settle. If those places were not already safe I made them so. I enchanted, banished or slew all monstrous creatures that might threaten the populace and so it became known that wheresoever Rhyndarion had been, so others might follow in safety. To live in peace and security has always been the greatest desire of all Haven's people - it is a desire shared by noble and commoner alike. Sadly, these are not safe times for you and I am long dead and gone but there are many great wizards living among you. Look to them, trust in them and they will keep you safe."
The head fell silent, allowing the crowd to clap and cheer. But it seemed the head was not done. Its gaze turned to the Karameikans hovering on their carpet and spoke in a voice that was more than its former boom - a voice that seemed to emanate from the deepest, darkest, coldest cave imaginable as it said in the Thyatian tongue, "Traitor. I am watching you."
The crowd was still cheering.
The other heads on the mountain emerged again and spoke in a deafening chorus: "Traitor. We are watching you."
The crowd began to disperse, seeming oblivious to the heads' final comments. The heads shrank back into the rock face to become inanimate carvings once more. The Karameikans were left feeling as cold as death, instinctively knowing that the final remarks had been directed at them... perhaps only one of them? Lana's hand strayed to her Wand of Enemy Detection though she refrained from expending a charge. Trying his best to appear unfazed, Karnus recommended that the wizards leave town without further ado and his companions were only too happy to comply. As she directed the carpet's flight, Lana thought she saw a tiny bead of sweat glistening on Karnus' forehead.
The mountain pass and the green-robed traveller
The trail led northwards, veering towards the looming rock face then away again as if attempting to muster the will to climb. A few miles from town, the sheer cliff became a rocky slope and the trail veered to climb the hill before heading directly for the mountains proper. By early afternoon the trail had led to a pass through the Aasla Spur - a high, rocky range of great natural beauty.
Ahead on the trail was a green-robed figure walking in the opposite direction to which the carpet was flying. The figure seemed to be in some trouble and was leaning heavily on a staff. Moments later the traveller stumbled and fell, tumbling a short way down the slope and colliding with a large rock. As the carpet closed the distance, it could be seen that the fallen figure was a man - copper-skinned, with brown hair and beard. His robes were torn and bore many bloody stains.
When Teldon called to him there came no response.
Cautiously Lana lowered the carpet to where the man had fallen. He was lying on his back, a battered pack trapped beneath him and his eyes were open, but rolled up in his head. He was moaning faintly. His staff had fallen from his grasp during the fall and lay a few yards up the slope. It appeared sturdy but rather ornate to be a simple walking aid.
Alighting from the carpet, Lana knelt to examine the man. His wounds were obvious and appeared to have been inflicted by large claws or talons though they did not appear life-threatening. In fact they had clearly already been washed and tended by a skilled healer. However, the man was sweating profusely and was clearly in the grips of a fever. Suspecting the fever to be the result of something else, Lana cut apart the already tattered robe and found what she was seeking - an ugly discoloured patch on the man's leg, centred around two puncture wounds. She also noted that the fellow's garments concealed a dagger and a shortsword with an ornate hilt.
Amid his delirium the man muttered incoherently, switching from Alphatian to Thyatian and back again. Words which could be made out were "betrayed", "report", "ship", "help" and "Ilsundal".
Hearing these words and noting the man's belongings, Karnus looked to Lana with interest and cocked one eyebrow. "A Forester, do you think?" the blue-robed mage postulated. "Quite probably," his companion nodded, "though what would one be doing outside Thyatis and so far from the Vyalia Forest?"
Focusing on the task in hand, Lana cleansed the bite area then began the necessary task of sucking out and spitting as much poison as possible from the wound. She did all she felt she could, then made the stranger comfortable - involving removing the pack from his back and using it to prop up his head. She washed out her own mouth then gave the man some sips of water from her flask.
The sun remained high overhead, and many hours of daylight remained. The decision was made to travel onward on the carpet and bring along the Forester. As the carpet could only carry three passengers, Karnus transformed into a mouse and curled up for an afternoon nap. Lana directed the carpet onward through spectacular scenery. Mountain streams cascaded down the slopes into the pass, through which the trail wound its way. Eagles could be seen soaring and swooping in clear blue skies. Teldon rearranged his robes to cover Mouse-Karnus from their sight. After an hour, the green-robed man regained consciousness. Teldon urgently directed Lana to land and not a moment too soon as the injured stranger rolled over and retched violently. He took a few more sips of water and passed out again though his fever seemed to have lessened. By the time the sun was setting he had ceased his shaking and moaning and was sleeping peacefully. A high inaccessible ledge was located with a recess in the rock, and it was here that the mages decided to spend the night, Karnus using Hallucinatory Terrain to hide the wizards' resting place from prying eyes. The blue-robed mage also took the precaution of removing the Forester's weapons and allocating watches. The man's pack contained a spellbook and potions in addition to a tinderbox and other basic travelling equipment. His ornate shortsword was found to bear an inscription on its scabbard: "Presented to Gedaryl Denrothan for Valour and Loyal Service to the Treeshield Clan."
Teldon agreed to take first watch however as his companions were falling asleep there came the sound of leathery wings beating on the night air, just outside the wizards' hiding place. Lana telekinetically floated her scrying bead through Karnus illusory barrier and observed a rider atop a large dragon, their forms silhouetted against the moon. The rider's armour gleamed silver in the moonlight. Soon both passed from view and the sound did not return. Instead, throughout the night there came a strange distant music drifting on the wind. It had a deep, resonant, haunting quality to it and conjured the image of a giant playing pipes.
After a few hours' slumber Lana began the second watch, checking the Forester's condition which had improved greatly. Not long after, the patient awoke and was startled to find himself in unfamiliar surroundings. Lana explained what had happened and promised that he would come to no harm in the wizards' company. She mentioned that she had spent time among the Foresters of Thyatis and was friendly with a member of the Treeshield clan, therefore she asked him to trust her if he felt he could. Acknowledging this, the man introduced himself as Gedaryl Denrothan and confirmed his membership of the Foresters' Guild - he had been serving the Thyatians as a spy for years but had recently been betrayed to the Alphatians by a junior companion. On hearing that his life would be forfeit if he were captured by the Alphatian military, Lana expressed sympathy and stated that she would be willing to teleport Gedaryl back to his homeland.
On learning the nature of the Karameikans' mission to Sundsvall, a dark look crossed Gedaryl's face and he expressed disapproval of Duke Stefan's decision to distance their country from Thyatis in a time of need. Indeed, he said, were it not for the wizards having saved his life Gedaryl said he would have done everything in his power to keep them from reaching the Imperial Capital, or would have died trying.
Lana roused her companions and after initial introductions, Karnus asked Lana whether she had mentioned the Staff of Lucinius to Gedaryl. On hearing that Lana bore the staff of Thyatis' first king Gedaryl remarked that he hoped Lana would do her utmost to keep the item from falling into the hands of the Alphatians, who would consider it a treasure of tremendous significance. Lana nodded to indicate her agreement.
Turning to Karnus and Teldon, Gedaryl recounted the remainder of his story.
"Thank you both for coming to my aid. I am ashamed to say my poisoning was a result of my own carelessness but I have been travelling constantly for over a week and exhaustion and my wounds dulled my senses. I am surprised to find Karameikans here in Alphatia and disappointed at your purpose. I am shocked that a wizard of Glantri is among you. I believe you are making a mistake and as I have already said to your companion were it not for the aid you have given me and her promise to teleport me back to Thyatis, I would have to do everything within my power to stop you. As it is I am indebted to you and so will make no move against you but will instead share my tale.
"I am Gedaryl Denrothan. As you can see, my blood is Alphatian but I was raised on the Thyatian side of the Isle of Dawn and it is the Thyatian Empire I serve. Three years ago I came to Alphatia with a companion. His name was Shenadar Barylomir and he was also of Alphatian parentage and a member of the Foresters. He was a promising new recruit, adopted by the Greenheight clan and assigned to assist me in gathering information useful to Thyatis. We were obviously chosen because our heritage and upbringing would allow us to blend more easily into Alphatian society but I still considered it a great honour to be made part of an operation at the heart of the Alphatian Empire.
"And so we came to Sundsvall - I in the guise of a wandering wizard and Shenadar posing as my servant, a simple warrior. It was a time when signs of the renewed Alphatian hatred for Glantri were becoming apparent. At that time this was considered as nothing more than a curiosity but one worth investigating. It had begun a few years previously, around the time of the empire's 2000th anniversary celebrations. The greatest writers and poets were reflecting upon Alphatia's history in their work and the fact that Glantri was founded by ancient ancestral enemies of the empire was brought to the forefront of the public consciousness. Since that time clerics had been making much of the way Glantrians treat holy men and women but nobody besides clerics - neither wizards, nor commoners - really cared about that. When however, the wizards started hearing that Glantri was claiming their Great School of Magic was the leading source of magical knowledge in the world, they started paying attention and when the rumours started that Glantrians had discovered a means of directly stealing Alphatian wizards' power real hatred replaced wounded pride. Thyatian agents in Sundsvall determined that it was clerics of the Immortal Alphatia who were responsible for spreading these stories and it was decided that their reasons for so doing should be determined but it was not a priority and it was not our primary mission.
"Given our experience of living among elves, Shenadar and I were ordered to journey into the depths of the dark forests of central Alphatia, to the kingdom of Shiye-Lawr. There we were to infiltrate the Shiye clans and learn more about the secretive and mysterious elves that most commoners and a number of lesser wizards seem to fear. Other Foresters had tried this over the centuries and not all had returned. The Shiye are not like the Vyalia elves. They do not embrace the wisdom of Ilsundal. They follow Eiryndul, an Immortal who seems to delight in deceit and malicious trickery. For more than two years we travelled through the forests, learning what we could of the Shiye while in the outside world General Torenal died, Aasla burned and the war began. On those occasions when we returned to Sundsvall to make our reports it was clear how angry the Alphatians were with Glantri but the Shiye were never strong supporters of the war. Some - mostly those we managed to befriend - were generally in favour of punishing Glantri but most seemed to feel it was purely a human concern and something they wished to stay out of - most Shiye are not honest, honourable warriors like the Treeshields. They deal with enemies with tricks, traps, magic and ambushes or by disappearing altogether - fleeing deeper into their forests. That is their way and while I was simply relieved that their indifference to the war meant less enemies for Thyatis to face, Shenadar came to admire their attitude. He started to say that the Shiye had the right of it; that the war was not a concern for elves - any elves. Two months ago his claims became stronger - that it was not Ilsundal's Will that we continue our mission, that the Vyalia elves and the Foresters should not continue to support 'the corrupt, treacherous, Thyatian Empire.' I told him such talk was treason and that I would have to report him to our superiors but he persisted and began claiming Ilsundal was speaking directly to him in dreams, telling him that all elves would suffer if Thyatis won the war. I thought maybe there was some magical influence at work - one that my trained mind was able to resist but which was able to affect Shenadar. I made the decision to return once more to Sundsvall where I could formally relieve Shenadar of duty and have him transported back to Thyatis. Unfortunately, we never reached Sundsvall. We were in the town of Ashar when Shenadar slipped away and betrayed me to the Alphatian authorities. I was able to escape with a polymorph spell but have been fleeing for my life ever since.
"I can't tell you much about the road ahead for I have not travelled by road. When Shenadar betrayed me I fled back into Shiye-Lawr to hide but soon the elves were alerted that there was a spy in their midst and not even I could stay hidden for long from elves in their own forest; I had to run or face death at their hands. I crossed the Greenwall River and made my way south and west to these mountains. I have taken care to avoid all major trails and settlements, only venturing near the occasional isolated homestead. In the foothills I came upon a number of hidden wizard's towers and stayed clear of these too. I only came upon this pass through the mountains by accident." He gestured to his wounds. "I would however advise you to watch out for hippogriffs."
A conversation followed regarding the events of the War:-
"When Thyatis declared war, I heard that the dwarves of Makrast made it clear that they would defend Thyatis with all their strength but that not one drop of dwarven blood would be spilt to protect Glantri so the dwarven attitude to the Magocracy is well known to me. If Thyatis was not involved I might believe Rockhome would give their support to Alphatia but it seems very unlikely that they would involve themselves in a war that need not concern them AND set themselves against Thyatis. But then I have never truly understood the minds of dwarves.
"Alphatia knows little of Darokin but even here news of these nomads and their Master has been heard. My fellow agents in Sundsvall were unable to determine the Alphatian government's attitude but it seems most view him as another enemy whilst a few consider him a potential pawn and there were rumours that he had a connection with Glantri but there was never any indication of what that connection might be.
"The Heldannic Knights puzzle me. They do not appear to have contributed anything other than pick a few fights with the barbarians of Ethengar but over the last year there have been clear signs that they are a great concern to the Alphatians - indeed some of our sources indicate the Empress and the Grand Council are more worried about them than they are about Thyatis. The reasons for this were a subject of ongoing investigation.
"I agree that the Northern Reaches will take advantage of the conflict to raid and pillage where they can though I hope the king of Ostland will remember Emperor Thincol has been a friend to him. (His tone suggested that perhaps Stefan Karameikos should do the same). I am not surprised to hear Minrothad remains neutral but I am worried about Ylaruam. The Ylari are warlike and aggressive - do you really think they will stay uninvolved?
"The Shires do not concern me - I don't think they have any military power to speak of do they? Surely the Halflings will just want to hide in their holes? They are not warriors.
"Are you sure Alfheim has not declared support for Glantri? I thought if Glantri had one sure ally it would be the great elven kingdom. If anything would serve to drive Shenadar's madness from my mind it would be to know Alfheim was on our side..."
He paused but Teldon said, "Sorry but no. The elves have yet even to show any signs of supporting their immediate neighbours Darokin and the Alphatian forces are a lot further away from the Canolbarth Forest than the Master."
"We stopped in Tel Akbir on our way here," Lana interjected, "and learned that the Alphatians have incurred Protius' wrath by interfering in his domain. We heard tales of monsters being conjured to render the approach by sea to West Portage impassible."
Gedaryl sighed. "The Alphatians have summoned creatures to guard Seawolf Bay? That is bad news. It was a blow to lose West Portage and its shipyards so early but that was in the autumn and though I have heard reports of many Alphatian victories since then, none, apart from Kendach of course, have been significant, but then the common Alphatian population doesn't know that. They celebrate the fall of every fishing village. As far as you know, do Redstone Castle and Newkirk still stand? If they do, Thyatis is far from defeated. The commander of Redstone, General Harantius Lycrandonion, has faced Alphatian sieges before and has not known defeat. He will be a formidable opponent. The wizard commanders of the Alphatian armies will just not understand war like he does. The Archduke of Westrourke is also an incredible warrior. He may be the Emperor's nephew but I don't think there was any sentiment in Thincol's decision to grant him the largest dominion on Dawn. The north will be very difficult for the Alphatian armies to secure and if they head south to the Shadow Coast..."
He trailed off then simply said, "...they will regret it."
"The loss of the Thyatian legions' famed discipline is strange and alarming but it can be the only reason the Alphatians won their initial victories so easily. It is as if the soldiers have let themselves succumb to everything I rejected in my heritage - the chaos, the selfish hedonism, the dislike of anything that is hard work."
All four individuals were weary therefore the conversation ended soon afterwards. In the morning Lana cast Fly on Gedaryl before teleporting him to Thyatis. After a lengthy discussion as to what destination would be safest, Lana concluded that she was most familiar with the Collegium Arcanum (Gedaryl declined her offer to send him to Hadrian's tower in the Duchy of Kantridae, which she knew best of all places in the Thyatian Empire) so she resolved to send him to the top floor of the magical academy. Gedaryl bowed before vanishing from view. As the carpet rose through Karnus' illusory rock face to resume its journey toward the east, Lana withdrew her crystal ball to check whether Gedaryl had reached his destination safely. At first the ball showed only blackness, then there came a flare of light and the Forester could be seen inspecting his surroundings with the aid of light from the end of his staff. He was evidently in a sewer - he peered down in disgust at where rats swarmed over his boots and covered his nose and mouth with his sleeve. Seconds later he had to dodge the raking claws of creature that lurched from the shadows - withered skin, yellow teeth and a long tongue: a Ghoul!
Switching his staff to his left hand, he drew his short sword and slashed it across the chest of the ghoul in one swift motion. He then spun to thrust the illuminated end of his staff into the face of another ghoul coming up behind him, causing it to recoil, before finishing the move by thrusting his blade into the chest of his original attacker. He ran, splashing his way through the murky sludge. Lana watched him turn this way and that, frantically looking around but soon he grew weary and had to stop. He was obviously still suffering from his recent ordeals. Some of his wounds appeared to have opened from the exertion and his blood could be seen dripping into the sewer waters. He turned a corner and his expression registered horror at whatever lay before him, outside Lana's field of vision. Extending his hand he mouthed words and a bolt of lightning crackled from his fingertips.
The vision in the ball faded and Lana relayed what she had observed to her companions. "Hmm," said Teldon. "That is unfortunate... for Gedaryl. But it may be better for us if he never makes his report - not that I wish him an inglorious death in the sewers of Thyatis but it could be very inconvenient if those he reports to decide that they do not wish us to complete our task. The best we can hope for is that he survives but is delayed in making his report. I should have suggested you teleport him to Specularum. It would have been safer - for all of us."
Minutes later all thoughts of Gedaryl left the wizards' minds. Perhaps it was the fact the carpet had been heading directly toward the morning sun, or perhaps it was simple carelessness but none of the trio had noticed the dragon until now. It was worryingly close, flying directly toward the carpet at the same level. On its back rode a figure in armour. Blinded by the brightness of the sun the wizards strained and squinted to make out a few details. Both dragon and rider gleamed in the sunlight - the rider's armour a polished silver while the dragon's scales gleamed gold. The rider wore a white tabard with a logo on the chest and was holding aloft a longsword which appeared just as polished as the armour.
"I could be wrong," said Teldon, "but isn't that a knight's salute to an opponent he's about to engage?"
The paladin and the gold dragon
Even from forty feet away the insignia emblazoned upon the knight's tabard was unmistakeable - the five-pointed symbol of the Blue Star, the same as marked the shrine the wizards had investigated in Dovir, one and the same order which had been cast from Threshold years before for its extreme views on adherence to the ways of Law. The Order had relocated across the Sea of Dawn in an effort to re-establish itself elsewhere.
The dragon hovered a short distance from the carpet, deliberately barring the travellers' path. Cautiously, Lana drew the carpet to a halt. The rider issued a greeting, his polished armour continuing to gleam in the sunlight. Teldon responded, suggesting that they should land to have dialogue. Both sides proceeded to do so, Lana relieved that the dragon would not scorch her carpet with its fiery breath. At least not yet...
The knight introduced himself as Holazar, a paladin of the Order of the Blue Star, while his steed and friend went by the name of Gelrak. Teldon conversed with Holazar in Alphatian while Lana spoke with the dragon, both wizards seeking to convey that the Karameikans had no harmful intentions toward the Alphatians. They stressed that they meant only to ensure their homeland's safety, as they had vowed to their Duke that they would carry out their mission to the best of their ability. There was no way they could stand down and return home.
The dragon and its rider conversed with one another in Alphatian, before Holazar replied: "we do not doubt the sincerity of your words, yet you must appreciate that whether your intentions are well-meant or not, it has been made clear to us that the consequence of your actions whether direct or indirect will only result in the spreading of chaos and disorder." Holazar went on to allege that the Karameikans were plotting to assassinate Empress Eriadna. On questioning how the knight came to believe this, he stated that he had been told as much by the head of his Order - a Patriarch Thelnastir based in Eagret, in the Kingdom of Greenspur, to the south of Aasla across the Aaslan Gulf.
Bells rang in the wizards' minds - this bore an uncanny similarity to their experience in Helskir, where the evil Immortal Hel had posed as the fictitious Immortal Drrynden and had falsely prophecised the coming of wizards who bore malevolent intent.
Feeling spooked, the Karameikans begged leave to speak among themselves and formed a huddle. "Well," said Lana. "They're not going to stand down and we shouldn't be forced to abandon our mission. What options do we have?" Karnus appeared far from amused. "We need to take a rational approach," he stated. "We'll be no match for the dragon in combat, unless we deploy tactics of some type but even then, these are formidable foes and our chances of success are slim. I vote we convince them that we have agreed to abandon our mission, then when the coast is clear we will simply continue on our way. That, or we launch a surprise attack and pray Rad smiles upon us." Hearing this, Teldon nodded to indicate that he was happy to follow either of these options. Lana appeared unhappy, expressing her disapproval of underhanded tactics lest word should reach Sundsvall that the Karameikans were not to be believed. She also felt apprehensive attacking a gold dragon, let alone two noble individuals who were unwittingly being manipulated as pawns of Evil. Eventually Teldon took the initiative. Smiling pleasantly, he patted Holazar on the shoulder and walked with him a short way along the path, leaving Karnus and Lana in the company of the gold dragon. In hushed tones, the two wizards continued their debate of what they should do... Gelrak was looking at Lana with a quizzical expression, causing her to wonder whether he viewed her as a child who had spoken out of turn, or perhaps a tasty snack...
A short way along the path, Holazar gave a cry of alarm and bellowed his companion's name. Teldon spoke a single word of power causing Holazar's body to lift and slam against the mountainside. The man slumped, clutching his head in his hands. As Gelrak reared and inhaled sharply, Teldon cast his fellow wizards a look of disbelief, seemingly astonished that they had not yet incapacitated the dragon.
Realising time was of the essence, Lana grasped the Staff of Lucinius and radiance blazed from its tip to strike Gelrak between the eyes. The Feeblemind spell, Lana believed, was their best chance to overcome the dragon's resistance to magic. Amazingly the effect seemed to hold. Reduced to the intellect of a dumb beast, Gelrak found himself gazing around in bewilderment, his eyes glazed, however he was plainly confused and had drawn a full lungful of air. Worried that the beast might vent its breath weapon at any moment, Karnus decided a distraction was called for. He summoned an illusory blue dragon by Gelrak's side. The gold dragon stared dully at the newcomer and padded toward it, his long tail wagging. Any attack on the wizards was postponed.
For good measure and to assist the party's escape, Teldon cast Hold Person on Holazar whose movements ceased instantly. Lana did likewise with a spell of her own on Gelrak which to her surprise managed to succeed. Dropping his phantasm, Karnus relieved the frozen knight of two potions - Invisibility and Undead Control, all three wizards agreeing that the spoils of the vanquished should go to the victors - then without delay they took to their carpet and resumed travelling along the mountain trail, hoping they would have a decent head-start if their foes were to give chase. The Hold effects would wear off within a few hours, however the Feeblemind would require powerful intervention to negate and would otherwise continue indefinitely. Deprived of his steed, it was hoped Holazar would find himself unable to give chase, at least not immediately.
Soon the carpet cleared the mountain pass and descended into Fifeton, a town carved out of the Aaslan Spur in the same manner as Lesir. This town too had a grand edifice which overlooked the town - a massive row of hollow stone pipes, hundreds of feet tall, which emitted a haunting sound as the mountain breeze passed through them. The streets of the town were busy but not nearly as packed as Dovir had been.
The wizards were keen to outdistance the paladin and his mount, therefore they pressed onward without stopping. Drawing forth his crystal ball Karnus observed Holazar still frozen. Gelrak had come free but having been reduced to the intellect of a mindless creature was lying on his back against the mountainside, sniffing the air and doing nothing more.
The devourer of souls
Toward the end of the day a copse of trees was spotted which would provide cover for the night. Karnus took a moment to invoke Hallucinatory Terrain, thickening the woodland around the mages' camp. Watches were posted before the travellers settled back to rest.
Teldon manned the first watch then Lana taking the second watched Karnus' sleep grow disturbed. Was her companion experiencing a nightmare of some sort? It became apparent that Karnus was undergoing a premonition, sent by the Lords of Balance who had granted the blue-robed mage the ability. As the night air grew cooler, Lana watched her companion's brow crease and his fists clenched before suddenly his eyes opened and he sat upright on his bedroll, eyes wide with alarm. "It's here," he mouthed.
Lana did not need to question her friend's meaning. The chill of the night air deepened, as a glowing cloud of fog swept down from above. The companions' immediate thoughts were of the Aerial Servant they had witnessed the clerics Jerval and Alvion summon, yet this phenomenon exuded a deathly menace which permeated their cores. Acting on defensive instinct, Karnus loosed a fiery blast which seared the advancing cloud but did not stop it. Lana spread her hands and caused the forest undergrowth to rise, vines and creepers forming a protective enclosure around their camp. Moments later the cloud impacted solidly against the wall of vegetation and began pounding upon it.
"Who sent you?" Lana demanded loudly through the barrier. "What do you want with us?"
"I want your souls," came the being's response. "They will be mine."
Lana and Karnus exchanged worried looks as they hastily formed a plan of action. Karnus raised the Staff of Command he had taken from Hakrukar, the Patriarch of Alphaks, and urged the vegetation to entangle whatever was trying to penetrate the mages' defence. Lana roused Teldon from sleep then used her ring of telekinesis to float her hutaakan scrying bead through the vines to see what was attacking them. The cloud had assumed humanoid form - similar to an ogre but with glowing green eyes and massive claws which it was using to grapple the wall of plants, now animated by Karnus. Taking note of the creature's location, Lana caused the bead to return to her then fired off a lightning bolt, starting the blast outside the protective shell. The being roared as the energy tore through it however its assault continued. As a gap appeared in the vegetation, Karnus withdrew his concentration from the staff and drew forth a scroll of protection against undead. He spoke its words aloud, yet as the writing faded from the parchment the being's assault continued. The creature wrenched apart a remaining few brambles before lurching into the enclosure. Its smoky form changed as it did so, appearing serpentine one moment, demon-like the next.
"Teldon," Lana implored, realising most of her magics were depleted or were no use. "Is there anything you can do?" The ageing wizard shook his head, indicating that their quarters were too close to invoke a Fireball or similar magic. The cloud lunged, one of its claws despatching a single Mirror Image Teldon had put in place to protect himself, the other catching Lana's side and cutting her deeply. In addition to the physical pain, Lana felt cold and disconnected from the world. This feeling would stay with her until she fell asleep the following night. In desperate self-preservation Lana levelled her index finger at the creature and projected a ray of amber magic. To her surprise, her spell appeared to work. The cloud gradually shrank and solidified before taking the form of a goat with eyes which faded from glowing green to normal. The wizards held their breath; they all sensed the creature's fury, bound within a harmless physical form. To their relief the effect held, though the aura of rage could still be felt and - if anything - was increasing.
The wizards led the goat to the pasture beyond the copse, retreated to a safe distance and fireballed the creature from afar. Out of the fiery explosion rose the black cloud, easily twice its earlier size, rising high into the sky before retreating toward the west. Intrigued, Karnus scried on the creature and reported that it appeared to be heading in the direction of Aasla. Could the Inquisitors of Alphaks, newly settled in Alphatia's grand cathedral, have sent the creature to avenge their brethren, or was Hel continuing her aggressions toward the party? The wizards had no time to ponder as lights could be seen appearing in the nearby village - evidently Teldon's fireballing had drawn attention thus the trio lost no time in taking to the carpet and relocating their camp a mile or so down the road. The rest of the night passed peacefully.
Travelling the next day, the carpet was approaching a village when a commotion arose - a swarthy-skinned individual was spurring a horse along the trail away from the village, while angry-looking townsfolk gave chase behind. The man's horse passed by the carpet while the mages debated whether to intercept him. Clad in little more than rags bound at the waist by a length of rope into which a kitchen knife was tucked, the man glared at the wizards before riding on. Lana took the carpet slightly off-course to fly alongside the irate villagers, one of whom (a vocal, red-haired woman) informed Teldon that she had discovered the wastrel living in her inn's basement. Having escaped a life of slavery, the man had pulled a knife on the proprietress before making his escape on a stolen horse. The wizards concluded that this scenario did not require them to intervene, and continued on their way.
Farewell to Haven - Saypalt and beyond
After not long they reached the town of Saypalt and decided to stop for light refreshments. The dragon and paladin of the Blue Star might have been hot on their heels so the wizards remained keen to travel onward and out-distance their pursuers; they were prepared to camp in the wilds if they did not reach another town by the end of the day. Passing through the streets of Saypalt a number of notices were displayed on poster boards and doors of public buildings - many relating to missing persons, or seeking adventuring parties for missions into the nearby Haunted Marshes, reputed to be home to tribes of lizardmen and the undead. One particular notice grabbed the wizards' eyes - a likeness of the ex-slave who had torn past them on horseback outside the village some thirty miles ago, his name was displayed - Al-Syzar. As one the wizards groaned in displeasure - the name bore an unmistakeable resemblance to the masked stranger who had pursued them from Helskir, masquerading firstly as the merchant Sylazar, then the clerical adept Sarazyl, then under the guise of the eccentric old wizard Razalys. Had the mysterious stranger been lying in wait for them in the roadside village? There could be no telling however one thing was certain - he was still monitoring their movements.
Camp was made that night in the corner of a field, Karnus again obscuring the camp through use of Hallucinatory Terrain, then travelling onward the next day an immense structure came into view - a grey stone wall easily a hundred feet tall. It ran north to south as far as the eye could see in both directions. Twin sky-ships patrolled the skies overhead, floating lazily along the line of the wall. This could only be the Haven Wall. The wizards speculated as to why Haven's founders had erected such a barrier against the inhabitants of other kingdoms, but could draw no firm conclusion. The trail led to enormous gates which lay open, and as the carpet approached the guards casually waved the wizards through. Unhindered, the carpet passed out of Haven and into the Kingdom of Vertiloch.
The Wall on the Haven side had been daubed with brightly colourful patterns; on the Vertiloch side it depicted an array of familiar scenes, landscapes such as the gemstone towers of Hady, the Queen's palace, and scenes of Aasla in its glory days showing the University, the Great Library and Mylertendal's Tower. These scenes grew smaller as the carpet left the Wall far behind. A few miles further on, the carpet reached a town on the banks of a river which was at least half a mile wide - the Greenwall River which if followed to its source would lead the wizards to within miles of their destination - Sundsvall. The buildings of the town were made of white stone; while undeniably elegant they marked a distinct contract to the multi-coloured gaudiness which had been prevalent in Haven.
As the carpet passed through the streets of town, the wizards observed a young man with his hands bound behind his back, being marched along by guards who paused to speak with locals at regular intervals. Teldon discreetly cast an ESP spell and focused on the captive's thoughts. He confirmed his companions' hunch that this was Shenadar - the ex-Forester who claimed to have acted on Ilsundel's will in betraying Gedaryl to the Alphatian authorities. The wizards unanimously decided that it would be unwise for them to assist Shenadar, especially given the imposing presence of a sky-ship directly overhead, therefore they gave him and his guards a wide berth.
The trio decided to take a day of rest to allow them to reach Sundsvall refreshed and ready for their audience (or confrontation) with Empress Eriadna. Fatigued from so many days of travel, an inn was therefore sought for a two night stay.
Read on - The Road to Sundsvall - Part Two
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