Before he could even think of drawing Olctire, there were suddenly several men stepping out of the surrounding trees, all of which looked to be well armed. There were six of them. They all had their weapons out, swords held at their sides and bows with arrows nocked but not drawn. “Declare yourselves,” said one of the men. He had better armor than the others, plate instead of chain, and his sword looked well forged.
Gale took care to make no sudden movements and replied, “We are in the employ of Lord Eric Indaren, sent to find a knight, Derrack Grisholm, and the dragon.”
“If that’s the truth, I reckon you have a letter from Lord Indaren?”
“Yes, we do.” Gale nodded to Barry, who reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a letter. Eric had written the quick note, signed and sealed it, then given it to them before they left the castle. Gale had only been able to read a few of the words. Reading was a dangerous tool in the hands of a slave, so the enlightened elves had made sure that it wasn’t taught.
The men with bows drew their arrows and aimed at Barry. The leader pointed his sword at him and said, “You drop that right now and back up.”
Barry let go of the letter, which fell down to the ground. He pulled on the reigns of his horse, which whinnied and nervously shuffled backwards.
What’s got them so worked up? It’s just a letter… Gale moved his horse away from the letter as well. The leader of the men strode forward, snatched up the letter, then retreated back to his former position. The man examined the seal closely, broke it, and perused the letter. At last he said, “Stand down. They ring true.”
The men lowered their bows and sheathed their swords. Their leader strode forward again and bowed towards Gale. “I apologize for the… less than welcoming greeting.” He straightened and peered into the surrounding woods. “I’m inclined to be overly cautious… We ran into some rogue mages yesterday. I worried you might be accomplices of theirs… When your friend pulled out Lord Indaren’s letter, I had to consider that it might be a spellscroll.”
Gale shifted awkwardly in his saddle. “Ah… Well if there are ah… rogue mages about, I can see why you are so wary. Apology accepted, good sir.”
The man bowed again, this time towards the whole group, “Sir Derrack Grisholm at your service. So… the letter said you are friends of Lord Drosund?”
As they told Sir Grisholm about how they had saved Mathius from a pack of worgs, he led them a short distance through the forest, to where a few crude cooking fires were set up. It looked like Sir Grisholm and his soldiers had been preparing to leave when they had been interrupted by the arrival of Gale and company. The other soldiers now resumed their packing up while Sir Grisholm continued to speak.
“Ah worgs,” said Derrack, “Dangerous beasts. I fought some in the Veldt on a trip down to Suramol. The Dark Tribe, I believe, is what your kind calls them, yes?” He looked to Blind Seer, who nodded. Sir Grisholm continued, “Would have died if not for the Keeneyes.”
Barry joined in, “Keeneyes?”
“A prominent wolfos tribe that ranges all over the Veldt,” said Blind Seer.
“Ah,” said Barry. The conversation grew silent for a moment.
“So,” said Gale, “The dragon?”
“Indeed,” Derrack said, “We found it, but unfortunately so did those rogue mages. When we tried to approach, they attacked us. We had to retreat. Are any of you skilled in the arcane arts?”
“Ku and I have psionics,” said Blind Seer, “Barry knows some magecraft, and Gale… uh…”
“And I also have some knowledge of magic,” said Gale. “What of the dragon?”
“From what we could tell, it was injured and unconscious,” replied Derrack. “I cannot say if it was the mages that had injured it. In any case, we should probably secure the dragon… There’s no telling what those rogue sorcerers might do… Could anger it or wrest control of it… I think with your aid, we would be able to overwhelm them.”
Gale nodded. “Let’s go.”
He crept through the woods a few paces behind Ku, every sense alert. They had left their horses at where Derrack had camped, for they were somewhat unwieldy in the dense forest. The air was filled with smells… Earth and wood… animal… the stench of human… Derrack and his soldiers… too many to sort out. Light filtered down through the thick branches overhead, casting shadows on the bed of needles and leaves. The wind danced atop the canopy above and birds sang amongst the trees.
What was that? He stopped and lifted his ears, listening again for the sound… There it is again… The tweeting song of a bird reached him. He recognized it as belonging to a species that was also found back near his tribe’s home. But that is a spring mating call… They shouldn’t be singing that in early autumn. Again, the birdsong reached his ears, this time from the opposite direction of the first. It sounded somehow hollow. Something’s not right!
“Ku,” he whispered, “I think we’re being watched!”
Ku glanced back at him. Blind Seer had the uncomfortable sensation of someone else edging into his mind.
Excuse the intrusion, but if we are being watched, I recommend silence. Blind Seer shook himself a bit, disturbed by the foreign thought in his mind.
Blind Seer whispered again, “Is that you, Ku?”
“Yes,” Ku replied, Telepathy… Not typically used in polite conversation, but useful when one has need of stealth. You think we are being watched? Why? Focus your thoughts towards me and I will hear them… and stay close, distance has an adverse effect on it.
Blind Seer took a few deep breaths, still adjusting to the feeling of being connected to Ku’s mind. He focused his will on Ku… Like this?
Yes, replied Ku. A light breeze rustled through the trees overhead as they conversed silently, warily watching their surroundings.
There is a bird call I keep hearing. It is not the right season for it and it sounds hollow. I think it may be being produced magically, thought Blind Seer.
Could be those rogue wizards that human male knight Sir Derrack Grisholm spoke of, thought Ku.
Let’s warn the others, Blind Seer thought, turning around and heading back towards the rest of the group, Is that how you always think about people?
When I first meet them, yes. It aids in keeping track of who is who, Ku replied.
They made their way back to the main group quickly and quietly. “Possibility of mages ahead,” Ku reported, “Might be employing illusions.”
Derrack nodded. “We’re nearing the dragon… It’s in a clearing up ahead. Stay alert. If those mages decide to attack, it will be soon.”
They headed onwards into the forest. The soldiers had their swords and bows out, ready for action. Derrack scanned the trees as he advanced. Ku led the way, greatsword at the ready. Gale and Barry walked along at the back of the group, weapons also ready.
Blind Seer put a paw down. His stomach lurched as he felt no resistance. The ground shimmered beneath him. He tried to scramble backwards, but it was too late. He fell into the crude pit trap that had been hidden by an illusion. It wasn’t much of a fall, but there were rough wooden stakes at the bottom. A few of them pierced his leg and he yelped in pain.
He heard Sir Grisholm yell, “Spread out and get down!”
A gust of hot air blasted him as he rolled forward, coming up into a crouch. The forest behind him was ablaze. Some of the soldiers had caught fire and were now rolling around, trying frantically to put it out. Firemage… Priority target. One of the soldiers had mostly escaped the blast and now fired an arrow. Ku traced the arrow’s trajectory and spotted a man retreating further into the woods. Ku burst forward, giving chase, and focusing his mental energy on his leg muscles. He felt them surge in response.
He crashed through the underbrush, closing on the man. The mage glanced back and hurriedly raised a hand. A fiery bolt flew past Ku’s head, missing him by inches. Ku continued the pursuit.
The underbrush and trees gave way to a large clearing. The man leapt forward over a flat spot of ground, then turned and began chanting and gesturing. Ku, recalling that Blind Seer had fell through some sort of illusion, guessed that this might be a similar pit trap and jumped over the same spot the man had. As he jumped, Ku registered a large mound of glistening blue ice across the clearing. The dragon… He landed near the man.
The mage finished his spell just as Ku swung his greatsword. The mage held out his arm to shield himself from the blow. Ku’s sword nearly reached the man’s arm, but struck some sort of invisible barrier. The mage stumbled backwards from the strength of Ku’s blow, but was relatively unharmed.
They circled each other. Ku swung his greatsword again. The mage blocked it and hopped back, quickly tracing patterns with his other hand. The air around the mage wavered and Ku felt a wave of heat roll off the man.
An arrow appeared in the mage’s shoulder. A few of Derrack’s soldiers had caught up to the fight. The arrow burst into flame. Ku moved in to swing again, but the heat rolling off the mage forced him to abort the attack as his skin began to sizzle. He hissed and puffed up the skin around his frills in frustration.
The mage’s hand burst into flame and he threw a bubbling mass of fire. Ku rolled left, but he had not been the mage’s target. The fire hurtled towards the soldier that had hit the mage with an arrow. As Ku came up from his roll, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a huge mass of pale blue ice charging at him.
He followed one of Derrack’s soldiers into a clearing. The soldier fired an arrow and hit the mage that Ku had been chasing. The mage threw a handful of fire in their direction. Barry tackled the soldier to the ground as fire exploded around them. He and the soldier rolled to escape the inferno. The nearby trees creaked and popped as the fire clung to them.
Barry looked up from the ground to see the monstrous dragon bearing down on Ku. Well, we’re dead. The dragon stopped and roared. Ku turned towards it and guarded himself with his greatsword. The firemage launched a thin orange ray at Ku, striking him in the side. Ku winced, but kept his eyes locked on the dragon, which loomed over him.
As Barry got to his feet, he noticed that on the other side of the clearing was a mound of pale blue ice, laying still. A second dragon?! He looked back to the dragon threatening Ku and his vision blurred, flickering between the world and the ‘other side’. He saw the River flowing beneath them. Tendrils of energy reached up from the River to the dragon looming over Ku, following its movements. Like strings on a marionette… Wait. Barry spotted another energy tendril, this one reaching up into the underbrush on the left side of the clearing. Peering closely, he saw a man crouched amongst the bushes, gaze locked onto the moving dragon.
Barry’s vision resolidified into normalcy. It’s an illusion! The firemage hit Ku with another orange bolt. Ku aimed a wild swipe at the mage, which missed. The dragon slashed an icy claw. Ku hopped back and brought his sword up again, focusing on the dragon. Barry opened his mouth to tell Ku that it was fake, but no sound came out. Damnit, we’ve been magically silenced! That firemage is going to kill Ku if he keeps trying to guard himself against the illusory dragon.
The soldier had clambered to his feet and was nocking another arrow. Barry grabbed his shoulder and pointed to where the illusionist crouched in the brush. The soldier nodded as he spotted the mage and fired. The arrow hit the illusionist’s thigh. He cried out, though the sound didn’t reach Barry, and grabbed the arrow. The dragon wavered and went unnaturally still, frozen with mouth gaping open, preparing for another roar. Barry saw realization dawn on Ku’s face. Ku turned to face the firemage.
He ran into the clearing. Sir Grisholm was close behind him. Gale saw Ku turning to fight the firemage as a large image of a dragon faded from the clearing. He spotted the illusionist with an arrow in him and Barry near one of the soldiers. Barry was opening and closing his mouth, pointing across the clearing. Can’t hear him… Must be silenced… Wish I knew that spell, heh. Gale looked to where he was pointing and saw the real dragon, curled up. Nearby it was a third mage, surveying the fight as he reached out a glowing hand towards the dragon. The dragon flinched away as he touched it.
Gale didn’t have a clue what the third mage was doing, but he guessed that it was nothing good. “Stop him!” Gale charged across the field, sword in hand. The soldier near Barry shot an arrow at the third mage, but it was deflected by some sort of magical protection. Derrack veered off from his charge, moving to assist Ku, who had been hit by another bolt of fire.
The mage touched the dragon again with glowing hand. It flinched again and began to stir. Gale was almost across the clearing when the mage struck the dragon again. The dragon opened its eyes and lashed its tail, which glistened in the sun. The mage danced and dodged. The dragon tried to stumble to its feet, but Gale could see that one of its legs had a large chunk missing from it.
Gale swung his sword, but the mage’s magic barrier deflected his blow. “Its power is mine,” the mage spat as he moved in for another blow on the dragon. Gale also darted in as the dragon stumbled, trying to heal its wounds, hoping to counteract whatever the mage was doing. He felt the power rise up in him and surge down his arm into the dragon. The cold, icy skin remained unchanged. It didn’t work. The leg was still missing a large chunk.
The dragon flinched at the mage’s blow, this time letting loose a roar of pain. Gale’s eardrums throbbed as he hastily backed away from the flailing dragon. The power began to rise in him again. Yes… that might do it… He pointed a finger at the dragon’s leg, willing the air to grow chill, much as he had done when fighting the worgs. A new layer of ice began to form over the wound. The dragon managed to get to its feet, though it still looked shaky. The mage backed up slowly. Gale cast another sheet of ice at the wound. The dragon regarded him and Gale nervously brought up his sword to guard himself. Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea.
The dragon turned its head, almost casually, and locked its eyes on the mage that had been harassing it. The mage backpedaled more quickly now and stumbled over a root. Gale felt like the surrounding air was getting colder. The dragon arched its neck and bobbed its head from side to side, eyes still locked on the mage. Its mouth opened and a blast of chill air burst forth. Ice instantly began to form on the grass and brush in the sudden blizzard conditions. The mage tried to shield his face with his hands as his eyes froze shut. When the dragon stopped, the mage remained unmoving.
Gale glanced back and saw Ku bring his greatsword down on the firemage’s head. The slice was abnormally clean… no blood sprayed from the blow. The firemage smirked and vanished. Ku’s head darted back and forth, looking for his target. “Damnit,” said Ku, “That illusionist must have…” He trailed off as he spotted the dragon. Gale returned his gaze to the dragon, which was now looming over him, wings spread, with head bobbing back and forth.
He scrabbled out of the pit trap, wincing as he freed his leg from the crude wooden spike. Blind Seer saw Ku run off into the woods, quickly followed by everyone that had survived the fiery blast. The nearby undergrowth was still smoldering, as well as a couple of Sir Grisholm’s soldiers that hadn’t taken cover fast enough. Blind Seer hurried forward as fast as possible.
When he reached the clearing, he saw a massive, icy dragon looming over Gale, who was halfheartedly preparing to defend himself. If it attacks, he won’t stand a chance! Blind Seer hobbled forward and said, “Wait! Everyone, lower your weapons!”
He moved in front of Gale and bowed deeply. The dragon locked its eyes on him and took a step forward, arching its neck out towards him. Every muscle in his body screamed at him to run, but Blind Seer held his bow, hoping that his gamble would pay off.
The air grew cold around him as the dragon neared. Blind Seer shivered as he felt its icy head brush against him. He reeled as he felt a sudden rush of knowledge enter his mind. The dragon stepped back and began bobbing its head again… and twitching its tail… and subtly moving its wings… Blind Seer found that the movements now had meaning to them. The dragon was signing a question, Can you understand me?
Blind Seer felt the correct body movements bubble to the surface of his mind. Yes, he signed back.
Gale nervously shuffled forward. “Are you ok, Blind Seer? What did it do to you?”
“It… it taught me how to communicate with it.”
“Oh? What is it saying?” Gale stooped to examine Blind Seer’s injured leg.
Blind Seer watched the dragon. It turned slightly to the side, shifted a wing, tapped a claw against the ground… A subtle dance. Thank you for deterring those wielders. I know not what would have become of me if they had continued unchecked.
“It is thanking us for driving off the mages,” Blind Seer said to Gale. Gale glanced around and saw that Sir Grisholm and his soldiers were preoccupied with watching the dragon. He layed a hand on Blind Seer’s leg and Blind Seer felt a refreshing rush of relief as his wound partially sealed up. “Thanks,” he said to Gale quietly.
The dragon was watching them patiently. Blind Seer gathered his thoughts and began his own subtle dance. What is it that you plan to do next?
The dragon replied, It is my plan to rest and recover from the wounds that have been dealt to me. Know you of a place in which I may do this and be safe if the wielders return?
I know not of such a place. I will ask it of my friends. Blind Seer turned to the group and said, “The dragon is looking for a defensible place to recover from its wounds. Do you know of any?”
Derrack replied, “There is a ruin to the west of here… Used to be an enieto temple, I think. Warriors heading south to Brandon’s Watch often use it as a camp location.”
Blind Seer turned back to the dragon and began to relay the reply, but the dragon interrupted him by tapping its tail against the ground. It signed, I am able to comprehend the speech of mortals. I simply lack the ability to produce the correct sounds. Shall we head west to this temple of which he speaks?
Yes, let us go forth. “It says that the temple sounds like a good place to rest. Shall we escort it there in case those mages come back?” Blind Seer looked to Sir Grisholm.
“Yes,” said Derrack, “Let’s make sure it gets there safe… And ask what it is doing here…”
Derrack sent his soldiers to collect the bodies of the men that had died from the first fiery blast, then they made their way west through the trees.
He kept a close eye on the dragon as they made their way through the forest. He had considered trying to communicate telepathically with it, but decided that it was too dangerous. Ku had no idea what a dragon’s mind might hold or if the dragon would find the mental intrusion rude.
In any case, Blind Seer was able to communicate with it effectively. He and the dragon were continuing to bob their heads at each other, pausing occasionally to tap a claw on the ground.
“So,” Ku said, “What have you found out? Why is it here?”
Blind Seer turned his head around to look at them, a worried expression on his face. “I feel a tingling of dread rising within me. Stay on your guard… I haven’t yet asked about why it… he, actually… is here. We’ve been speaking about him. He says we may call him Frostfang… an easy reference for our mortal tongues. Let me speak with him some more.”
Blind Seer turned his head back to the dragon and resumed the subtle dance of communication. Derrack was leading the way through the forest.
Blind Seer spoke again, “He says… that he does not wish to speak of what injured him… He says that… he does not wish to cause undue worry for us mortals if he is wrong.” He was silent again for a time, bobbing and weaving with the dragon.
Ku asked, “If he is wrong about what?”
Blind Seer replied, “He… he says that he is not sure yet… and hopes that he is wrong… but… He fears that the foretold time is upon us… A time of great darkness…” Blind Seer visibly shivered.
Ku paused from scanning the surrounding trees and looked at Blind Seer with concern. “Are you alright?”
Blind Seer took a few deep breaths. “Yes, I think… I… Perhaps I am just standing too close.” He moved a little further away from Frostfang, who was radiating cold that Ku could feel even from this distance.
Cold? Or did he have one of his surges of dread? Ku quickly scanned the trees again for foes. Why try to conceal it as cold, though? Ku watched Blind Seer, then glanced at the dragon. Unless… perhaps his premonition was triggered by something the dragon said?
Gale spoke up, “What is this foretold time that he speaks of?”
Blind Seer shook himself and signed back and forth with the dragon some more. “Frostfang says that it is a time foretold by his kin. He doesn’t know the details of the prophecy, but apparently it is recorded in a place far to the north, in the Bittercold.”
They all silently reflected on this until Derrack called out, “There it is! The old Void Temple.”
He could feel the cold radiating from the dragon as they passed through the ruined stone archway. A cracked and crumbling wall surrounded a weather-worn dome that had moss growing atop it. A once graceful archway allowed passage through the wall and a rusty iron door hung crookedly in an opening in the dome. The dragon eased into a corner of the walls and curled up. Blind Seer signed with it for a moment then said, “Frostfang thanks us for bringing him to this defensible location.”
“What’s the plan now,” asked Gale.
“I think you should head back to Lord Indaren to report while my soldiers and I stay here to keep an eye on the dragon,” Derrack replied.
“I may stay as well to continue communicating with him,” said Blind Seer.
Barry checked the sky. Nostiarna was maybe a third of the way towards covering up the sun. Mid-afternoon… “I think we should wait until morning to head back,” he said, “otherwise we’ll be in the dark for part of the journey… Something I’d like to avoid with those two mages still out there.”
Ku nodded. “Waiting until morning seems a sound plan to me. I would not mind checking out this old Void Temple here. Derrack Grisholm, have any soldiers ever been inside?”
“Yes,” said Derrack, “The soldiers who use this place as a campsite on their way south have poked around inside a bit. None have gone very far. From what I’ve heard, one passageway has collapsed and the other is barred. Go on and look for yourself if you’d like. We’ll get camp set up.”
Barry sighed. “Let’s go check out the old, crumbling ruin… because that worked out so well for us last time.” He thought back to the ruined guard tower with the creepy stacked stone shrine and the small fey creatures that had nearly stabbed them all to death.
“Come on,” said Blind Seer, “Where’s your sense of adventure? Let’s go have a look… it sounds like plenty of soldiers have been down there… how dangerous could it be?”
They opened the rusted iron door of the dome, revealing stairs that led down into darkness. Gale’s eyes adjusted, allowing him to see smooth stone at the bottom of the stairs. They made their way down. Barry lit a torch.
The stairs spilled out into a corridor that led off to the left and right, both directions curving gently away from the entrance. The air down here was a cool break from the late summer heat. Gale hear Ku breath a sigh of relief, as well as the dripping of water somewhere deeper in the old Void Temple.
Gale glanced back up the stairs, then forward. They headed down the corridor to the right. “So,” he said, “The dragon… It looked-”
“He,” said Blind Seer.
“Right. He… He looked like he was injured… Like chunks had been taken out of his legs.”
They were all silent for a moment before Barry said, “The one we found before… The one on the road… The dead one… It was injured similarly.”
Gale had overheard Ku and Blind Seer talking earlier, and felt he had to ask, “And what’s this business about the ‘foretold time’ that he… that Frostfang mentioned?”
The edge of the light revealed a doorway on the outside of the curve up ahead. They went into the room, torch flickering slightly. Rows of beds greeted them, old and warped by time. Most were missing their mattresses. The remaining ones had been rotted by moisture and time.
Blind Seer spoke quietly in the moldy gloom, “The foretold time… A time of great darkness, Frostfang said. He said his kin knew more details… That they had recorded a foretelling in the house of Fynhonelhud far to the north… out in the Bittercold.”
“His kin,” said Barry, making his way among the old beds, “How many of them do you suppose there are?”
None had an answer to that, so Gale asked, “House of Fynhonelhud? What is that?”
“I don’t know,” said Blind Seer, “The syllables for ‘Fynhonelhud’ slid into my head as the dragon signed it to me. I’m not sure what it means. I assume it is a name of some sort.”
“The name of a dragon? One of his kin?” Gale peered around the room.
Blind Seer pawed at one the mattresses. A puff of dust rose from it, making Blind Seer cough several times. When he could breath again, he said, “I’m not sure, Gale. I’m inclined to say no. The dragon said his own name was too difficult for mortals to pronounce, so he told me to call him Frostfang. The words ‘frost’ and ‘fang’ were clear in my mind from his signing. Fynhonelhud, though… I feel like it is something different.”
The conversation was interrupted by Barry finding a few chests at the ends of beds. The group excitedly opened them, wondering what old treasures they might hold, but found only more mold and cobwebs.
“Guess the soldiers passing through here have cleaned this place out,” said Barry.
“Or the enieto took their possessions with them when they left,” said Ku as they headed back into the main corridor.
“That would also make sense,” replied Barry. “I wonder why this place was abandoned…”
Further along the corridor, they were stopped by jumble of rocks and dirt. Blind Seer was glad at least to be out of the moldy old dormitory. They made their way back to the entry stairs and went the other way on the main corridor. Blind Seer had the impression that the main corridor formed a circle.
“Well in any case,” Barry said as they walked along, “I’m glad the dragon didn’t just kill us all. Honestly, I was a little surprised to find it was civilized and intelligent enough to speak… or communicate anyways. In the stories I’ve heard, dragons are typically portrayed as mindless, rampaging beasts.”
“My people,” said Gale, instinctively glancing back towards the entrance to make sure none of Sir Grisholm’s soldiers had wandered down, “Have a story about dragons. My mom told it to me when I was young. Forest Serpents, they were called… These dragons were also intelligent and ended up helping some highland elves in the story.”
Another doorway appeared ahead on the outer side of the curve. They made their way into the room. Blech! Blind Seer reeled from the stench. Food long gone bad and the overwhelming presence of mold filled his nostrils. His companions wrinkled their noses a bit, but continued further into the room. How can they stand it?
The small room had stacks of crates throughout. Some had been toppled over and pried open, presumably picked clean by the many Fadafir Kingdom soldiers that had used the site as a camp over the years. Barry moved toward an intact crate as he spoke, “In any case, I don’t think anyone has ever heard of a dragon made out of ice. How does it move without cracking? I wonder what it eats…”
Barry reached the crate and pried the lid off. A huge cloud of dust puffed out of the crate, enveloping Barry’s head. He opened his mouth to speak again, but instead gasped in pain, inhaling more of the dust. Barry began to cough and splutter, eyes squeezed shut, flailing his arms about.
Blind Seer moved to assist Barry and got a whiff of the dust cloud. That’s not dust! “Stingspore! Everybody out!” He scrunched his eyes shut, clamped his mouth, and stopped his breathing. He went to where he last saw Barry and felt a flailing limb hit him. Barry grabbed onto his fur, holding tightly. Blind Seer made his way out of the room, exhaling very slowly to keep any more stingspore from getting in his nose.
He opened his eyes in the main corridor and saw Gale and Ku. They had escaped without harm, but Barry was still gasping like a fish out of water, eyes shut, with the skin around them an alarming red. Blind Seer turned to his companions, “He needs water!”
He was about to dash off, back up the entry stairs, when Gale raised a hand to stop him. Gale reached into a belt pouch and pulled out a bowl. Blind Seer was amazed, though not altogether surprised, to see the bowl rapidly fill itself with water. Gale turned to Blind Seer and asked, “What do I do?”
“Have him drink it. Barry, this is going to feel pretty bad… really bad, actually… like being burnt alive, I’m told. Keep drinking though, it’ll get better after a while.”
Gale lost the first bowl of water as Barry thrashed. The second time, Ku held down Barry’s arms. The third bowl went down easier. Gale continued to make the bowl refill with water. After the fourth bowl, Barry breathed easier. He sat up, eyes still squeezed shut, and said, “Damned souls of the Three! That was fucking agony!”
“Well uh…” Blind Seer pawed nervously at the ground, “It’s not over yet… Got to flush your eyes now.”
Barry flopped back onto the ground. “Talam’s tits! I’d almost prefer to just stab them out. Get on with it then before I lose my nerve.”
They pinned him down and poured more water over his eyes. Barry kept up a constant string of curses now that he could breath again. Once Barry could open his eyes again, they all sat on the floor breathing heavily for several minutes.
That was unpleasant. He sat, leaning against the wall of the main corridor, regarding Barry. He sighed and looked further down the corridor. His visibility extended a little ways beyond the light of the torch that Gale had scooped up after Barry’s flailing. The enieto could see a little ways in full darkness conditions. Ku had heard that it was currently a topic of study in Laushurno on how exactly they could do this. The leading theory involved psionic energy projections and special organs in their eyes. This visibility in the darkness appeared in monotone colors to the enieto eye.
Ku sighed and scanned the corridor in the other direction. He had been slightly annoyed at his traveling companions as they explored this old Void Temple. His companions had chatted constantly, meandering incautiously through the ruins, disregarding the potential dangers. I guess they let their guard down since the place has been explored several times by the Fadafir soldiers passing through… Obviously there are still dangers here. He glanced at Barry, who was rubbing his throat. Unknown environments should always be approached carefully…
He checked the straps on the hilt of his greatsword that he had lain by his side. I guess I should have said something… Discussing the dragon is definitely of use, but they should have waited until the area was secured… I should have told them to wait… Maybe I should say something now…
“Hey,” Ku began. The others all looked at him. “I realize that this place has been explored before… and that we want to discuss the ice dragon… but obviously there are dangers here. If we are to continue, I recommend proceeding with caution.”
Barry sighed, “Yea, I suppose I shouldn’t have just ripped the lid off that crate and stuck my face in it. Let’s focus on the task at hand here.”
They all nodded their agreement and clambered to their feet. Ku led the way. Barry walked behind him, still breathing a bit rougher than normal. Gale and Blind Seer walked to either side. Gale carried the torch now. Barry was still having some trouble with his breathing. They continued around the curve of the main corridor, silently scanning up ahead.
The light of the torch soon fell on iron bars. It looked like they may have once blocked the main corridor, but now they were a tangled, twisted mess.
Blind Seer touched one of the warped bars, “It… it looks like something broke out… from further inside.”
Ku agreed. All the bars were bent towards the entrance, meaning the most likely scenario would have been something pushing on them from the other side until they bent and broke… Something strong. “The question is,” Ku said, “Is it still here?”
By silent agreement, they all drew their weapons. Ku kept his eyes wide open as they moved forward in formation, further around the curve of the main corridor. He spotted a large double wooden door up ahead on the outside of the curve, askew and hanging off its hinges. Ku estimated that the Void Temple was laid out in a circle and that the door was directly opposite from the entry stairs.
Door ahead. Broken. Possible danger. Excuse the intrusion. This is Ku. He pushed the thought outwards towards his companions. Gale and Barry looked slightly startled, but then nodded and focused their attention ahead. Blind Seer seemed unfazed by the telepathy and also focused ahead, turning his ears in that direction.
Ku eased himself along the wall until the broken doors were at his side. He checked that his companions were ready, then spun around into the doorway, sword at the ready. His eyes scanned the darkness. Detecting no movement, he advanced cautiously. The others followed behind.
The room beyond the broken doors was small and circular. Ku looked down at the floor and saw a stone pit, about five feet deep. Larva pool. The room appeared to be devoid of life. Ku lowered his sword.
“What is this place,” Blind Seer asked.
“This is where the enieto would have kept their young,” Ku replied, “Normally this pit would be filled with water for the larva to swim in… Hm.” Ku paused his explanation and looked closer at the dry pool. He spotted a pile of something, but was having trouble distinguishing what it was with his monochrome sight in the dark. “Gale, can you shed some light down there?”
Gale moved to edge of the dry pool and held the torch over it. “Those… look like bones,” he said.
Ku nodded in agreement, then hopped down into the pit to get a closer look. “Definitely bones,” he reported, “Cannot make out what they were in life, though. There are several animal skeletons here, jumbled together.” He spotted one skull as large as his fist. He wasn’t knowledgeable enough in such matters to identify it.
A memory bubbled to the surface of his mind… Another pile of bones, this one in a cave… amongst which was the bones of an ancestor of a wolfos seeking to earn a name. I’ve heard no news of any Void Temples being abandoned in this region in recent times. That hebeni was quite large. Could be that it was abandoned long ago. His past words echoed in his mind.
“I think that hebeni… or at least a hebeni… was born here,” Ku said as he lifted himself back out of the dry pool.
Blind Seer sniffed over the edge, “And it was feeding on animals here when it was small?”
“That is my current theory,” said Ku.
Barry looked up at the ceiling, checking for holes that might lead to the surface, “Where did the animals come from? I don’t see any entrances in here.”
Ku also checked the ceiling and saw that Barry was right. “I’m not sure. Perhaps there is another way in. Or perhaps the entrance closed and that is what drove the hebeni to break out of here. Shall we continue?”
They made their way back to the main corridor and continued down it. They soon reached the other side of the cave in that blocked the corridor on one side of the circle.
“Well, I suppose that’s that,” said Ku. They turned around and headed back around the circle to reach the entry stairs.
They had nearly reached the bottom of the entry stairs when he spotted it. An odd crack running down the wall across from the entrance. “Hey,” Barry called to the others, “Does this look odd to you?”
They crowded around the spot he pointed out on the wall. Ku tapped at the area with the hilt of his sword. Blind Seer sniffed at it.
After some more investigating, they turned to each other. Blind Seer looked up at them, “Do you think there’s something behind here?”
“The circular layout of the main corridor would leave a large amount of space in the middle,” said Ku.
There was a moment’s pause, then they were all scrabbling at the crack in the wall, seeing if there was a hidden door here that they could pry open. Their efforts were rewarded with a clunking sound and a slight give in the wall. They pulled backwards and a section of the wall scraped along the floor. A narrow passageway led straight forward beyond.
Ku led the way with Gale following close behind. Barry stepped in next and Blind Seer brought up the rear. The rock crowded Barry from all sides. His heart beat a little faster and his throat itched. Damn… that stingspore really worked me over.
The passageway widened gradually. Barry could see that it opened into a chamber up ahead. Ku stopped ahead and gestured to the ground. There were shards of broken wood, warped and broken boards, scattered to either side of the corridor. Some pieces near the middle were charred black.
The group carefully stepped around the sharp splinters, entering a roughly circular chamber. There were several doorways branching off at different points around the walls. In the center of the chamber stood a plinth, atop which was a large crystal mass, perhaps as big as two fists held together. Spikes of crystal reached out from a central chunk. Some of the spikes were broken off, scattered across the top of the plinth. A few had fallen to the floor.
An outstretched skeletal hand lay on the floor as well, arm protruding from behind the plinth. They stepped slowly around the room, eyes fixed on the skeleton.
Barry heard a hiss escape from Ku. A humanoid skeleton lay slumped against the plinth, skull leaning against it as if the owner had decided to lay down here and take a nap. More likely he had fallen backwards and cracked his head on the hard marble. Barry spotted a faint stain on the side of the plinth that looked suspiciously like long dried blood. Fallen? Or pushed…
“These are enieto bones,” said Ku.
The skeleton resembled a human’s, which Barry had seen replicas of during one year’s Night of the Three in River’s Crossing when he was younger. This skeleton’s fingers were longer, though, and the feet only had four toes. The eye sockets were larger. Most notably, the jaws were wider, protruded further from the head, and were lined with sharp teeth.
“There’s another one here,” said Blind Seer. He was standing by one of the doorways. A skeleton was sprawled out just inside.
Barry coughed and rubbed his watering eyes. He jammed a thumb into his ear, which seemed to be thrumming. “Damn! Blind Seer… does stingspore have any effect on ears?”
Blind Seer turned from the skeleton in the doorway to look at Barry. “Ears? Not that I know of… Wait, can you hear that?”
Barry stopped digging in his ear with his thumb. “Oh, you can hear that too?”
“Yea… sounds like… wings?”
The sound grew suddenly louder and a swarm of dark shapes began pouring out of another one of the doorways. “Look out,” Barry heard Gale yell. He caught a glimpse of one of the dark shapes. A bat? Not a normal bat, though. He saw long whiskers on their face and large, sharp claws protruding from the joint in their wings. A few of the bats were alarmingly big, with fist-sized heads.
One of the big ones was flying straight towards him. I should get out of the way. His head buzzed. He tried to move, but found his muscles wouldn’t respond. Move! Panic ripped through his body just before the bat slammed into him, claws flailing.
“Look out,” he yelled as the swarm burst into the chamber. He saw Blind Seer and Ku duck into different doorways, followed closely by several bats.
The beat of their wings filled Gale’s ears. He saw a large bat knock Barry to the ground and begin slashing with its claws.
He surged forward, ignoring the smaller ones that were scratching at his armor. He swung Olctire at the large bat, hoping to knock it away from Barry. The blow connected, but on the flat of the blade. The small bats were everywhere, making it hard for Gale to swing his sword properly. The large bat, unfazed, continued to claw at Barry and was now leaning in to bite.
Damnit! Gale smacked several small bats away with his free hand, then took Olctire in both hands. With a snarl, he drove the blade tip first into the large bat. It noticed this time and screeched at him. Gale’s head buzzed as the sound seemed to reverberate unnaturally.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw bright flashes in the room Blind Seer had taken cover in. Gale heard the crunch of steel against flesh and bone from Ku’s room. The bat in front of him screeched again and bashed its wings against Gale’s armor. The long claws found their way through cracks, cutting painful gashes into him. The swarm of small bats, smelling blood, honed in on the gaps in his defense. Barry’s blood pooled on the floor in front of him. I need to get to him now! Gale shook himself free and swung again at the large bat. The power surged up as he let out a fierce yell. The blade hit, leaving a long gash in the bat, and the yell crashed out of him, amplified such that it was as a thunderclap. All the bats stumbled in their flight, careening into each other and into walls. Their screeches turned to panic and they began scrambling to get away from the prey that had turned out to be too much to handle. The large bat fled fastest, despite its injuries, into the room from which they had sprung.
Swarms flew out of Blind Seer’s and Ku’s rooms, joining the mass exodus. Gale dropped Olctire and rushed to Barry’s side.
He made his way back towards the central chamber, winding around the scattered scrolls and carefully stepping over the bones by the doorway. He saw Gale kneeling over Barry’s prone form across the way, partially obscured by the plinth that was the central chamber’s sole defining feature.
“Is he alright?” Blind Seer made his way over to Gale.
“He should survive,” Gale replied, not looking up from his task. He moved his hands over Barry’s wounds and continued to heal them.
Ku entered the main chamber from another one of the rooms that branched outwards. He strode across the central chamber and looked through into the room where the bats had fled. “All clear,” he said, “Looks like they’ve left through a crack in the ceiling here. Is everyone alright?”
“Yes,” said Blind Seer, “Did you see any bones in that side chamber? There were several in mine… I wonder what happened here.”
“There were more where I was fighting. One in here, too.” Ku left the doorway to the room where the bats had appeared and began to circle the central chamber, scanning for any threats that might be left. He tapped the broken wood near the entrance with his sword as he passed. “From what we’ve seen, I would guess that they barricaded themselves in here.” Apparently satisfied that no more threats were lurking nearby, Ku paused and stooped to examine the bones in the doorway of the chamber Blind Seer had run into. “Makes you wonder… what were they trying to keep out?”
“Hmm. If we’ve got time,” said Blind Seer, “I could try to tap into the psionic energies here… Maybe find out what happened.”
“We’ve got time,” Gale said, “We’re going to be here awhile.” He was now wrapping Barry’s damaged arm. Barry tossed and groaned a bit.
“Bandages?” Blind Seer tilted his head sideways while looking at Gale and said, “Can’t you just fix him with magic?”
“There are,” Gale began, breathing heavily as he continued to apply the bandages, “limits to what I can do. It… the healing… takes a toll on me especially. I’ve… done as much with magic as I can. With proper attention, he should be just fine. It will take time and I will need to concentrate, so feel free to occupy yourselves with other matters.”
Blind Seer knew that Gale was best suited to get Barry recovering, but he still felt compelled to help. I’ll just be in the way if I fret over Barry… I need to let Gale handle this. “Alright… well… I suppose I will see if I can learn anything interesting about this place…”
“While you do that,” Ku said to Blind Seer, “I’m going to look around for any items that may be of use in these side chambers. Might pack that up too.” He gestured at the crystal fragments that littered the top and the base of the plinth.
“I’m not reading any psionic energies from that,” Blind Seer said as he began to let his senses expand.
“Nevertheless,” replied Ku, “Its placement implies it was at least once of importance. We should take it for study.”
Blind Seer nodded and closed his eyes. It’s good to see that Ku fully trusts Gale again… He could feel the psionic energy swirling around him. Something had definitely happened here… An event wrought with emotions strong enough to leave an imprint on the site. Someone receptive to these imprints, such as Blind Seer, could feel the emotions and even thoughts of those involved in the event. He had read the psionic energies like this before, with the wolfos they had aided in completing his First Hunt… But this… this event had happened a long time ago… and involved many more beings… Blind Seer could feel the energies just out of reach. Almost… almost…
His heart beat faster. They are coming! He looked over the wooden barricade that they had prepared. Tapping on the walls sounded throughout the chamber as the enemy sought out the hidden door. They are coming!! He repeated the thought, this time pushing it outwards, into the other enieto minds that were nearby. He strode across the chamber, past the plinth that held the- What was that? A shadow sped ahead of him, moving unnaturally. He filled his air with lungs to shout a warning as a figure rose out of the shadow on the floor. An elf, dressed in black leather, wearing a black wooden mask painted over with a bright white grin. Air escaped his lungs as the elf rammed two daggers into his chest. They are here! He fell backwards, towards the plinth…
He ran out into the central chamber and stopped in shock. His friend fell back into the plinth with a sickening crack. An elf dressed in black stood over the body, two daggers dripping with blood. A flash of fire brightened the room as it slammed into their wooden barricade. The elf in black was gone. He dashed forward and grabbed the crystal. They must not have this! He smashed it down, then turned to run to a more defensible position. He made it to the doorway. The elf in black stepped out of the shadows, bringing a knife up towards his throat…
He ran. He died. He fought. He died. The elves poured in. Bolts of fire flew through the air. He died. The elf in black slid through the shadows, under doors, around defenses. He died. He died. He died.
Blind Seer shook his head violently. His heartbeat pounded in his ears. A yelp threatened to leap out of his throat. Blind Seer fought it down, breathing deeply. After several moments, his heartbeat started to slow towards a normal pace. The enieto here… they were killed by enlightened elves… What in the Hunter’s sacred field was that elf in black?
He looked around and saw a pile of scrolls near the once barricaded entrance. A bag was by them as well. Blind Seer could see a spike of crystal sticking out of the top. He looked back at the plinth and saw that it was clear. Ku had apparently gathered up all the broken fragments as well as the main body of the crystal.
Ku and Gale emerged from one of the side rooms, carrying a makeshift stretcher between them. “Ah good,” said Ku, “You are aware once again. Can you gather up those scrolls while we prepare to move Barry? Learn anything interesting?”
He headed into one of the side chambers as Blind Seer began to concentrate on reading the imprinted psionic energies. Perhaps I should have paid more attention in the lessons about such application of psionic power. It would certainly prove useful in the accumulation of knowledge… Ah well, my application has served me well so far, and knowledge can still be gathered in other ways. The room he entered was the one Blind Seer had fought the bats in. Scrolls littered the floor. Ku snatched one up at random and took it over to an old table. The wood boards were warped, dry, and split. He unfurled the scroll on it, weighing it down with one of his daggers and a gauntlet that he unstrapped.
A sea of squiggles and dots sprawled across the scroll, the written word of the enieto. Ku could read most of it, but sections of it were lost on him. Hm… Must be an older version of our language. He grabbed a few more scrolls and skimmed through them. He started selecting some of them to take to the Void Temple in Rivers’ Crossing.
Tirok and the… lifepool? Ah – Tirok and the Spark of Life… I have heard this story… This version looks a bit different, though. Should be a good study… Hm… Eight stacks of lumber, five crates of food… A supply list. Probably don’t need that one… Use guide of the… sight of the far shard? He paused at this scroll, examining it more thoroughly. This part looks almost like psionic matrix theory… But that is usually applied to… Wait, shard – no… crystal. Use Guide for… Farsight Crystal? A memory bubbled into his mind, a half dozed through history lecture… ’Farsight Crystals were developed in Laushurno and were beginning to circulate around 1270, in the middle of the First Great War. Strategists hoped to use them to gain an advantage over the enlightened elves. Initial tests were promising, but unfortunately their inventor died before he could perfect the method. Others tried to replicate it later, but to no avail. The Farsight Crystal project was eventually abandoned.’ Ku looked through the doorway to the central chamber, to the broken crystal resting on the plinth. Wow… A Farsight Crystal. Definitely better pack that up. I’m sure someone will want to study it, even if it is broken.
He skimmed a few more scrolls, then gathered them up and took them to the central chamber. Gale was still applying bandages to Barry. Ku took out a bag and gently moved the crystal into it, then carefully and meticulously collected every broken off fragment he could find, adding them to the bag.
By the time he had finished that, Gale was done as well. “There,” Gale said, “I’ve closed the largest wounds with magic. The rest are relatively shallow scratches. Those are covered with poultice and bandage. The bat seems to have pummeled his head as well, knocking him out. Not too serious, I expect he’ll wake within a few hours. Moving him up to the camp and putting him by a fire would be good. We’ll want to keep him lying flat, though.”
Ku and Gale searched the side rooms and found materials to make a stretcher. They passed Blind Seer a couple of times while gathering the needed items. Gale glanced sideways to where the wolfos stood, eyes closed, swaying slightly, and said, “Kind of unnerving.”
“A bit, I suppose,” Ku admitted, “I wonder how long he will be like that.” Blind Seer had been concentrating for nearly an hour, occasionally letting out quiet whines and growls. Gale and Ku got all their gathered materials in one place and starting tying a stretcher together.
When they came back into the central chamber, Ku saw that Blind Seer’s eyes were open and he was looking around. “Ah good,” said Ku, “You are aware once again. Can you gather up those scrolls while we prepare to move Barry? Learn anything interesting?”
As they made their way out through the narrow passage and up the stairs, Blind Seer told them of what he had seen in the psionic energies. Gale and Ku carried Barry between them and Blind Seer carried on his back the crystal and scrolls that Ku had selected.
“Interesting,” Ku said when Blind Seer had finished telling them about the elf attack, “From the scrolls I read, I would say this Void Temple was last active during the First Great War… that would be around 400 years ago. Quite a discovery.”
“We’ll have to inform Lord Indaren and the Void Temple at Rivers’ Crossing,” said Blind Seer.
Ku nodded, “Indeed. First, though, let’s get Barry by the fire.”
The wing-beats of the bats seemed to stretch on into infinity in the darkness. It was cold. In the distance, a long string of light stretched out across the horizon. The light was blurry and dim. A haze… a cold mist pressed in from all sides. The bat wings buzzed nearby. A closer, dimmer light, pulsing waves that stirred the mist.
Damn bat… had magic? No… Not that. Different… Psionics?
The thought oozed out of him into the mists… Or… It oozed out of the mists into him? Another light skimmed into view, flashing brightly for a moment. The buzzing of the bat stopped.
Am I… dreaming?
Light surged again, closer this time. A spike of warmth? Swiftly draining back into chill. The mists grew still.
Am I… dead?
Still mists, lit dimly by the glowing horizon. Absolute silence.
Fading vision. Returning light. Cold mist. Warmth.
Warmth. Light. Orange light. Nearby. He felt his eyes once more. They cracked open. Cracked and crumbling walls. A few tree branches poking overtop. Nostiarna rising towards the sun… almost nightfall. Crackling fire. Warmth. Pain… dull and steady… all over.
“Urrrrgh,” Barry groaned.
Gale’s face swam into view. “Ah he’s up,” he said. Ku and Blind Seer looked down at him too.
“You and I seem to have different versions of ‘up’,” said Barry.
“And he’s still his snarky old self,” Gale smirked, “Don’t worry, once I’ve had a chance to rest a bit, I think I can patch up the rest of your wounds… Probably won’t even have too many scars. Just try not to move much in the meantime.”
Barry, who felt like his limbs had been filled with stones, replied, “I don’t think that will be a problem.” He slumped his head to one side and saw the ice dragon, curled up in a corner of the crumbling walls, away from the fire, seemingly asleep. “Looks like we both have some recovering to do.”
Barry’s eyelids drooped as his companions filled him in on all that had happened after the fight. He dozed occasionally. Good to have friends in this line of work… Back in the bandits, they’d have left me I’m sure… would have saved my stuff, of course… Yea… good to have friends… even if one is a dirty elf.