The Mark of the Wraith
The gnome had told him that the Mark had come to them all in different ways. Their dreams had been as different as they were, yet they shared certain similarites. Each of them had dreamed of an unpleasant end, and what came after, and when they had awoken each had borne the Mark somewhere on their body.
"The Mark of the Wraith". That's what the gnome had referred to it as. Not because he held some special knowledge of the Mark, but just because it was a fitting description. Draszith didn't really know what a wraith was, but the word sounded appropriate. It conjured up images of death, torment, and a hazy fate. Whatever it was, it bound him to his new allies. It tied them together in ways much stronger than those that bound family or friends. They were bound by their shared fates.
The Feir'Dal coughed harshly and rubbed his throat, his fingers absently tracing the long thick weal of the scar that wrapped around his throat. He took a sip of the warm milk, letting the liquid soothe the pain of the old wound, temporarily at least. Since he had escaped from the Pits several people had offered to try and heal the scar, or offered to speak to the priests at the temples on his behalf, but Draszith would hear none of it. The wound was more to him than just an old scar. It was a constant reminder of what he had been forced to do. It was like a badge of honour that he could never be parted from.
He sensed the barmaid approach and looked up from his table in the corner of the alehouse. "You want another drink darlin'?" she asked him.
Draszith resisted the urge to sneer and looked up at her. His eyes, flitted nervously as they always did, looking for a way of escape, a way to avoid dealing with another person. He was still uneasy around others, still unbalanced by the fact he was free at last. He responded in the terse, but polite manner that had served him so well in the Pits. He had learned the hard way never give too much of yourself away, always keep something back for yourself, or you would be left with nothing.
"Not right now, thankyou" he said in his cracked voice.
It was getting late, and the wood elf knew he should head upstairs to his room soon to retire for the night. He was still pleasantly surprised that the city had given him a room to stay in. They also seemed happy to let Teir'Dal wander the streets as well however, so he was not yet ready to trust his new benefactors. Still, the room was quite large and warm and comfortable. The first thing Draszith had done on taking ownership however was to move his bed roll underneath the large elm table that stood next to the windows. He still could not sleep well unless he was in a small, cramped space. Years of sleeping on hard rock floors, pressed into the corner to avoid exposing his form, was still a habit he found hard to break. His defensive instinct was still the strongest one he possessed.
Lately however, he was finding it hard to sleep even under cover of the table in a locked room. He was, quite frankly, terrified the dream would return. He could still see every image clearly now, over a week after he had suffered the nightmare. Each terrible picture was etched in front of his eyes whenever he closed them. It was after the dream that he had first noticed the Mark at the top of his left shoulder, like some ungodly tattoo. Even through the dark green swirls of the shroud that most Feir'Dal possessed it could be seen, the hideous visage (if indeed it was a face, it was hard to tell) seemingly taunting his ignorance.
He shivered slightly, despite the warm Busheldown evening air, and drained the last of the milk from the frosted glass.
In the dream he had been lost, wandering some grey hill covered in a pall of smoke and fog. There had been something burnt and unpleasant in the air, shadowy figures moving just beyond the walls of mist, too indistinct to make out. Then there had been the pain, and looking down to see the knife sticking out of his chest, his own lifesblood spilling out over his hands as he tried to stem the flow. That knife! He would never forget it. He had known it before the dream, for it was the same black, curved blade that had slit his own throat many years ago in the darkest of the Pits. Why had it come back to haunt him now?
Then there had been that terrible chuckling. More sinister for its familiarity. When he had looked up from the blade in his sternum, the face of his killer was revealed through the mists... Draszithuss.
Then he had fallen to the ground, almost dead, all his blood poured out of him, leaving him an empty vessel. A vessel that was filled moments later with something terrible, something that caused his rictus limbs to force himself back up. He stood swaying, trapped in his own dead body, the knife still in his chest, whilst some ghoul had possession of his corpse. And Draszithuss just laughed at him.
The mists had enclosed him once more, and when they parted, after how long he knew not, he was at the waterfall. The gnome sat beneath it, smiling serenely, and beckoning to him. And then, finally, he had awoken with a scream.
The sailors on the Far Journey had wanted to throw the Feir'Dal overboard, suspicious as they were. The Captain had not let them however, and so Draszith had eventually made his way to the Isle of Refuge.
His journey from there had been a blur. So quickly he had moved, and been trained, and finally delivered in the welcoming village of Willow Wood. He had found work easily enough, earning a few silver here and there, and starting his training as an alchemist. He had always been fascinated by the alchemists trade. One of his earliest memories was of the Veldriss mixing her potions, turning green into pink, liquid into smoke, life into death.
Draszith drummed his fingers on the wooden table. The bar was closing for the night, and his excuses for not retiring were becomming few. "A few more minutes," he thought, "then I'll head up". He let his mind wander again, staving off the moment of sleep.
In Willow Wood he had met his allies, the charming Feir'Dal, the haughty high elf, the bossy Ayr'Dal, and all the others. All similarly afflicted with the portentious Mark, all haunted by their dreams. It was as a result of those meetings that he had at last arrived at the waterfall, and seen the gnome beckoning to him. Only that time it had not been a dream, only a confirmation of all they had feared.
"The Mark of the Wraith". That's what Phyneas had called it.
Draszith sighed, gathered his packs from the floor, and with a thin smile at the barmaid he made his way upstairs to his room, coughing and rubbing his throat as he did so.
He knew he would not sleep.
Merecraft and Udrath
Note: These stories follow on from those in the Everquest section and are set some five hundred years later. Udrath is now an old dwarf, and Merecraft has been missing since the Shattering. Finally, the two old friends meet again.
Reunion? (written by Udrath, posted with permission)
Scratching absently at the rust spots on his round conical helm and elaborate nose guard, the old rugged, untidy looking Dwarf sat lost in thought. Sighing and grunting dramatically, he eased his way up back on to his feet, gritting his teeth against the cracks in his knee joints as he rose, using the shaft of his huge double headed axe as a prop to help him stand. Stretching his shoulders similar noises came from his upper back and neck, and again he grunted getting angrier at the pain the movement caused. Now in a thoroughly bad mood Udrath Stormheart jammed the helm back on to his head and grumbling made his way to speak to old Irontoe about some sort of job that Uddy knew would pay well. Old Irontoes tasks always did.
As he strolled across the tree cities ancient wooden platforms, his mind drifted back to happier times. Well, times that were perhaps not happy, but nostalgia always seemed to make them so. Smiling to himself Uddy thought, ‘At least these old bones used to work back then!’. Stopping briefly to let a group of screaming, playing, dancing and spinning Fae children cross his path, Udrath couldn’t help but give them a deep scowl and growl as several of them glanced his way, causing screams of happiness and play to turn to those of distress. The older Fae leading the group, quite obviously a teacher or nursery attendant to the children, turned to Udrath and provided her own scowl in return, “Stop bothering my students you big Grump” she chided as the group moved on and a young Fae female at the back of the group stuck her tongue out at him. In common foul humour, Udrath again grunted and stomped away in the direction of Irontoe.
As he walked, Udrath took in the familiar surroundings and as he did many times a day he reminisced about Kaladim and how he wished desperately to be together with his own people again. Yes, he would see the odd Dwarf or two hanging around the city, but it just wasn’t the same. The Elves and Fae that occupied the platforms of the tree city were nice enough he mused, but the vaulted Halls and tunnels of Kaladim tore at his soul daily as did the feeling that his destiny was to someday take back the Dwarvern stronghold. Laughing inwardly at his thoughts, he asked himself what he would and could do about his dreams and how an ancient Dwarf almost crippled with arthritis could achieve getting out of bed in a morning, let alone taking back his home city. But Udrath simply could not come to terms with the fact that his dreams would never come to fruition. He needed to believe it. He needed that ray of hope to get him through the day. Udrath was terribly lonely. Sighing deeply once more he stirred his thoughts back the present as he approached Old Irontoe and smiled at the thought of speaking to his kind. Even such a short interaction with another Dwarf would stop the loneliness for a time, he knew.
As he walked the last few hundred yards and came close enough to make out with his failing eyesight two figures, he saw Irontoe was talking quietly with a tall Human who had his back to the approaching Dwarf. Grumbling to himself about the wait he would have until Irontoe and the Human finished their business, Uddy stopped a respectful distance away and waited for them to conclude their dealings. They seemed deep in discussion about something and ever curious and aware his hearing was only one of his physical attributes not to be failing miserably with age, Uddy edged forward to eavesdrop. The familiarity of the sound of Irontoes deep timber in his voice warmed Uddies heart and again he began to think of Kaladim and his dreams of returning. It was then that he realised he recognised the second voice from the Human also, and although he could not place it, something deep within Udrath began to stir, something else that stirred happy memories of his longhall in Kaladim, and perhaps most hurtfully, memories of his now deceased wife Megan. His bad humour returned swiftly and doubled due to the unwarranted an unwanted memories of his wonderful woman and not prepared to wait any longer Uddy moved up directly behind the Human and issued his loudest most offensive grunt, “You ladies finished talking about ye frocks yet? I have business here Old ‘toes, hurry it up you old goat”.
Old Irontoes smiled at the gruff Dwarf and winked knowing Uddys bark was much worse than his bite nowadays, and the tall Human slowly turned towards him, staring. Udrath ignored the rude Human and kept eye contact with Irontoes, putting on his deepest scowl, but words spoken in perfect Old Dwarvern came from the Human, and stopped Udrath dead in the middle of his scowl. Taking a deep breath at the flood of memories that surfaced and unusually the feeling of tears forming, Udrath slowly turned to face the Human, reminding himself he was a proud Dwarf and swallowing the lump forming in his throat.
“Laddy! You... Is it really.... you?” he stammered.
The room 500 years wide
Merecraft and Udrath sat in silence, staring at the meal of stuffed peppers and mushrooms that lay on the highly polished surface of the maple table. They were in Joleena's Restaurant in Kelethin, having agreed to catch up following their surprise meeting. It was Merecraft that broke the silence first.
"I know I owe you an explanation and an apology old friend. I just hope that you can accept the only one I have," he said, staring at the dwarf.
Merecraft couldn't quite believe that Udrath had found him again after all these years. The Gods must have an odd sense of humour indeed he thought. The dwarf looked older, old even for one of the Butcherblock folk, and there was a haunted look in his eyes that had never used to be there. The same glint was in his eyes as ever though, and the playful smirk Merecraft remembered so well still danced across his lips.
"An explanation? After nearly five hundred years with no word? I should say so laddie! We thought you'd perished in the Shattering."
Udrath smiled. "Brell, it's good to see you though, even if you have... changed."
Merecraft smiled back and absently rubbed the top of one ear, where once the flesh had been pointed but was now round and smooth.
"It's the least I owe you old timer. Well, especially after that last card game we played," he laughed before his face fell serious.
"I'll explain Uddy, just bear with me. It takes a lot of believing.". He sighed and sipped from a glass of fayberry wine before continuing.
"Well, it may have been five hundred years to you, but to me it almost seems like last week. I'd left the Knights behind, as I'm sure you remember, certain that I could only find and face my enemy without the responsibility of command."
The warden gazed down at the table again, a far off look in is eyes. "After your confrontation our enemy disappeared for a while. But I found him and knew what I had to do. It will take a while, but I'll tell you what happened"...
Merecraft waited. The cold stone room was bare, without adornment except for the single high window shaped like the moon. The bright light of Luclin fell through the window, painting a distorted crescent on the floor. There were no sounds that even his half-elven senses could detect, so he decided to meditate. He sat on the cold floor, crossed his legs and closed his eyes, letting his mind fall empty.
Some time later he became aware that he was not alone. He opened his eyes to see the Erudite standing before him again, pondering the druid.
"What you ask has never been done before," he said to Merecraft, his tone condescending. "Yet I have spoken to the elders and they agree it is possible. It will require a new kind of magic, a Chronomancy, but it can be done."
Merecraft looked up impassively, though he was cheering inside. It was possible!
"There will be a price however," the Erudite continued. "You came here to ask for our help, and we will do so, but this new Chronomancy will require something from you. The magics of the portal will not allow the magical side of your nature to pass through. It will be stripped from you, and the process will not be painless.".
Merecraft frowned briefly. "You mean I will lose my powers? How will I be able to stop him if I lose them?".
The Erudite shook his head slowly, as if bemused by a child's lack of understanding. "No druid, your powers come from Tunare. They will remain with you assuming your goddess is still present where you journey. No, the magical side of your nature that I refer to is the elven side of your heritage. Your elven blood will be boiled from your veins when you cross the threshold. You will become pure human."
Merecraft rocked backwards, stunned. His elvish blood could not pass through the portal! Yet it was a part of him that he had spent years tracing before finally finding his half-brother Kaide. If he lost that then who would he be when he passed through and arrived at his destination?
"I don't know if I can bear to lose that..." he said quietly.
"You have no choice," the Erudite replied. "The ritual has already begun and the price must be paid. You cannot hope to travel half a millennium into the future and remain unchanged. Surely you must have realised that?"
A short time later Merecraft awoke. He felt as though he'd been on the wrong end of an ogre's beating. The last thing he could remember was stepping into the portal, the chanters of the Chronomancers in his ears. Then came the burning light and the pain.
He forced himself to his knees and looked around the room, his eyes straining to see in the darkness as they had never had to before. He lifted his head and looked up at the window.
"Tunare... Mother of All... I did it..."
Above him, where a few moments ago the shining globe of Luclin had hung heavy in the sky there was a new string of shattered rock, glowing like coals forged in a monstrous explosion.
The laugh dies on Udrath's lips as he caught Merecraft's look.
"What? Yer serious laddie? You actually travelled five hundred years forward in time, and in doing so stripped away your elven blood?"
The warden just smiled back at him. "Where do you think the Chronomancers sprang from?"
"Brell's beard lad! But why?"
Merecraft's face grew serious. "You have to ask old friend? There is only one reason I'd try such a thing. Only one person that must be stopped whatever the cost."
Their eyes met and they spoke at the same time.
Merecraft smiled at the loud snoring that came from the sleeping dwarf. They had retired to the warden's camp just outside of Kelethin once they had finished their meal. Their conversation had turned to happier memories and it had almost been like old times once again, though he was no longer part elf, and the dwarf was many, many decades older.
They had not discussed what Carinus was up to. The old dwarf had had enough surprises for one day. Merecraft would tell him in the morning he decided. He would tell Udrath that he had uncovered what the shadowknight's plan had been all along.
Carinus had been so determined to break up the Knights Templar just so he could get hold of an obscure book of prophecy that lay forgotten in the library of the Eastern Commandery in Freeport. That book had contained a single line that predicted a time when the moon itself would be torn asunder and in the ensuing chaos the avatars of the Gods themselves would leave their Planes and return to Norrath to offer succour to their followers.
The druid had followed Carinus' path to a place he dare not follow - the entrance to the Plane of Hate. There he discovered the Teir Dal intended to wait out the centuries for the predicted time to come, learning, feeding, and growing in power.
The shadowknight intended to return to Norrath in the far future, after the Shattering when the avatars of the Gods would leave the safe sanctity of their Planes, and confront the Avatar of Hate himself.
That was why Merecrat had sought out the secretive coven of exiled Erudites and travelled to this time.
To stop his old enemy from becoming a new God.
Time waits for no dwarf (written by Udrath, posted with permission)
Udrath was troubled. He paused his toil chopping fire wood and wiped sweat from his brow. Looking down over his beard at his bare chest, the hairs grey and sparse with age and lifting his arms he observed his muscles, now wiry and taught where they were once bulging and strong. Shaking his head he resumed the task and finished chopping the pile of wood he had gathered. Merecraft had headed out to hunt a few minutes earlier leaving Udrath to tend the fire and to prepare the spit. They had both decided to share camp together until they could decide what to do about the serious matters at hand.
Udrath chuckled and shook his head at the ridiculous situation as he placed two study sticks, upright on either side of the fire pit he'd dug to hold the spit. Sitting back down on the tree stump with a loud "oomph" he warmed his hands and waited for Meres return. Digesting the information had been hard enough, but all the things Udrath had seen in his many centuries had convinced him to never discount a thing. He didn't know if what Mere suggested was possible or not, but he knew he trusted his old friend and lets face it, he thought, he had nothing better to do. He knew his time was near, and where better to spend his last few months than at Merecraft Oakenheart's side fighting for a good cause. It was where they both excelled, he knew. Aye, a happier more apt way to see out his end of days on this world he couldn't think of. Udrath had already made up his mind. No matter the futility of the venture, he would stay by Merecraft's side.
When Merecraft returned, a brace of pheasants slung over his shoulder, Udraths thoughts had already turned to more serious and grave matters, his rumbling stomach. Smiling at Mere he stood and took the offered birds and sat back down setting to plucking the largest of the pheasants. As Merecraft unshouldered his pack he looked at the bare chested Dwarf pulling furiously at the feathers. He couldn't believe how old his friend looked, his shoulders once tall and proud now hunched forward his once rotund and healthy gut now tight and wiry. Uddys complexion was greyer too, as was his thinning hair and beard. Having been transported so many years in to the future, he had not even considered the fact a lot of his old acquaintances and friends would be dead or ancient. But even so, regardless, here was Udrath, his wit as sharp as ever, albeit with a body less willing.
"So," Udrath said, looking up from the near ready bird. Resuming his plucking but still looking at Merecraft, he continued, "I'll be going with ye lad. The Gods know why though, I've little strength left in me old bones for adventure my friend." his eyes turned down back to the bird, and his tone became more solemn, respectful. "She's gone ye know lad. I lost her. Damn near seventy seasons ago now." Looking back up at Merecraft the human saw that the Dwarves eyes were cold but red rimmed, and he saw the haunted look return. "Life's been hollow since then" He said, the rumble in his voice returning to cover the lump in his throat, "It's nice to have a reason to live again lad. Regardless of this folly, I'm grateful for that true enough".
Merecraft said nothing and simply nodding a warm smile on his lips and standing he walked passed the Dwarf, words not necessary as he placed a brief hand on Uddys shoulder, then gathered more wood for the fire from the pile Udrath had left. Megan, Uddy's wife had been as good a friend to him as Udrath. Taking him in, giving him solace whenever he required and never enquiring or judging about his business, save to ask if he was well. A more kindly and long suffering Dwarf he had never met, he would miss her greatly. His stomach knotted briefly at her memory and whispering a brief prayer to Tunare, he turned back to the camp.
Udrath spoke again as Merecraft sat back down. "You do know we're not going to win don't you lad? We didn't beat that motherless whoreson last time and we were in our prime away back then, " he paused, "and you were Half Elven too." Laughing he added, "a once Elven and a geriatric Dwarf taking on a Shadowknight who has the power to move through time. Should be a riot laddy, but I suppose a couple of heroes like ourselves will cope admirably'".
Sharing in his friends rare good humour Merecraft smiled, "I guess you are right good friend, I guess you are right. Only time will tell for sure though," Nodding towards the pheasant still in Udrath's hand he added, "Are you going to cook that bird or play with it old timer?" he chided.
"Keep ye goatee on Laddy, she's a comin'", Udrath said as he cleaned his boot knife then started gutting the bird. As he set to with the small knife, Udrath wondered silently what he would do about the knowledge he had of his death. If he would tell Merecraft he already knew his own time was short. Ironically enough, as predicted by Carinus Dhrak himself, hundreds of years ago during a meeting in Neriak. "Bah", he muttered to himself, it would not matter. Their chances of surviving even that long was slim. If the time was right, he'd tell his old friend, and if not, well, then he'd just fulfil his destiny with proud stoicism. He was a Stormheart after all.
Recruitment (written by Udrath, posted with permission)
He just couldn’t get the problems they would have out of his head. Udrath knew he was always blinded where Merecraft was concerned. As far as Udrath saw it, it really wouldn’t matter if Mere told him they were going to go slay Nagafen himself, knowing what the ghastly result would be would not stop Udrath strolling up to the ancient Red Dragon and giving the little puppy a smack on the nose! He knew he wasn’t invincible, far far from it, especially now. Death was not a consideration for Uddy either. Death only brought him back closer to his beloved Megan and would be an embrace, not something to fear and knowing his time was near was actually o some comfort to the aged Dwarf. But regardless, Uddy did fear death. He feared it with a passion for his oldest friend.
Merecraft was barely older than when Udrath had last seen him. Being transported half a millennium in to the future had a distinctly less harsh effect on ones age than actually having to live those years. Merecraft was still relatively young and Udrath was painfully aware he was not. No. For Udrath to guarantee his oldest friends safety in Merecraft's sometimes blind quest for honour and valour against Carinus Dhrak, he would need help and he thought he knew just the person. The problem would be convincing Mere that this particular individual would be of help and even that they needed help at all. Known for his brashness, Udrath knew that was no match for Merecraft's confidence in his own abilities, and doubtless that confidence was very well founded indeed. But sometimes the Dwarf knew, a little extra was required.
The rain fell steadily on the cobbled streets of South Qeynos, the light from recently lit lamp posts reflecting from the stones in what seemed like a complicated orange tainted mosaic. Strolling between the tall timber framed buildings, his hood pulled high Udrath moved slowly towards his destination. Never having been one to rush and now with his aging knees protesting from the long walk in the cold rain his progress was slow. Crowds were making their way to their homes and a warm hearth and shuttered windows or indeed to the Lions Mane Tavern, just as Udrath was now. He had no idea if he would find him there, but looking back on their last meeting he couldn’t believe that his old friend from The Fellowship of the Dragon would be anywhere else. Laughing inwardly, Udrath smiled. Where else would you find an insufferable drunk?
As Udrath approached the Tavern he was greeted by the warm but muffled sounds of a drinking hall. Comforting sounds that purveyed friendship, camaraderie and general jolly fun became louder as he pushed open the door and at the same time swept back his hood of his now sodden cloak. Scanning the crowds of folks already ensconced in their flagons he looked for his old acquaintance and spotting him, already his head slumped in his arms, a half empty flagon of ale in front of him, Udrath walked across. Shaking off his cloak, the water droplets spraying across the slumped figure, Udrath sat down opposite him with a loud ‘oomph’.
“So Beast. Still a drunkard eh?” he asked. The huge red skinned Troll lifted its head slightly enough to mutter a guttural and unintelligible response. Nodding his head in acceptance, Udrath slowly pushed himself up from the table and walked back outside in to the pouring rain. Strolling to the side of the Tavern the rain drumming on his scalp, Udrath gathered a bucket from beside the watering trough and scooped up a full load. Never one to be classed as subtle, he promptly walked back in to the Lions Mane tavern and dumped the full bucket of cold water over the head of the Troll.
Killzum Brakkarg reacted in an instant. Bursting upright to his full seven feet tall he knocked the table over as he did so and engulfed Udrath with a roar to shake the Gods in their boots. His rows of sharpened teeth, clearly visible as his lips curled back and he leant down toward the relatively minuscule Dwarf and bellowed again. The crown in the Tavern had gone silent, watching the spectacle, the bouncers slowly edging their way through the crowd.
Udrath looked up at Killzum and waved his hand in front of his face as if to waft away an unwelcome smell. “By Brell Laddy, your breath is a match for Freeports sewers”. Patting the furious monster on the cheek Udrath finished, “Sit down Beast and I’ll buy you another ale. I need to speak with you. Ask you a favour Lad”. Killzum grunted loudly, forcing his rage back down at the promise of a free drink, and righting his chair he sat back down unsteadily. Udrath nodding towards the bouncers in a silent message that all was now calm, righted the table and again sat opposite the huge creature.
“Drinkz furst. Den talkz,” the Troll slurred at Udrath, and Uddy simply nodded in agreement, he really could do with an ale himself after the long jaunt to Qeynos. After a few minutes of silence between the two with Killzum staring malevolently across the table top, still wet from Uddys cloak and the bucket of water, the maid placed two brimming flagons in front of each. Udrath lifted his and took a deep swill then placed it back on the table, never taking his eyes from the Troll. It appeared the Troll wished to drink but he was still trying to figure out how to raise the flagon to his drunken lips without spilling any. Eventually getting his swig and despite his attempts, spilling a goodly amount down his already stained tunic, Killzum placed his flagon back down.
“Okayz. Yuuz wunts wot?”he asked of the Dwarf.
“Well Beast. It’s like this ye see Lad. I need your help. A favour as I have said. A close friend of mine is heading out on a quest. By friendship and as a comrade I am tied to this quest with him. But we need help. That’s where you come in”, he finished.
A strange noise emanated from the Troll and as its shoulders shook, Udrath recognised it as laughter. “No. Meez sits ‘ere und drinkz. Yuuz goz unda qust.” Came the short answer and one that Udrath had been expecting. He knew sobriety was an elusive creature when one liked the ale, as a Dwarf even with his once mighty constitution, Udrath knew this. It would take something more to drag Killzum Brakkarg from his drinking chair.
“Alright Laddy. Alright. So what if I was to tell you that my quest links with one of yours and that by helping me with my quarry, you’d be a hurtin’ yours? What’d you be sayin’ then Lad?” Udrath asked and he saw the Trolls face twist as he tried to slog through the drunken haze to understand what he had said.
“Yuuz knowz meez unlee huz wun qust uld Dorf. Undatz nuvur huppeningz. Meez duntz gnoz wurr shiz iz”. Struggling to understand the Troll at the best of times, let alone through the Beasts induced haze, Udrath paused before he answered, checking he had understood correctly. “That’s the thing right there Lad you see? My quest is likely to find her for you. The one my brethren and I seek would surely know of one like that evil cow Shahlai. If she’s about, my quarry will know of her whereabouts, I’m sure of it”. The reaction of the Troll was instantaneous. His eyes cleared as he shook his head furiously digesting the information the Dwarf had given him and standing he looked down at the Dwarf then stomped off up the stairs of the Tavern without a word. Udrath leant back in his chair and smiled and he took another long draft from his brew and smacked his lips in appreciation. Watching the Troll disappear in to one of the Inn rooms upstairs off the balcony, now only slightly unsteady on its feet, he waited. And he did not have to wait long. A scant ten minutes passed, then he saw the door upstairs open again and where he had seen a dishevelled Troll disappear within, he now saw something quite quite different.
Ducking as he exited the room and walked back down to the main Tavern floor, Killzum Brakkarg, Warg-Wrestler stood in front of Udrath. The ‘Beast’ as Udrath had called him was quite clearly back and even one so experienced and hard skinned as Uddy couldn’t help but shiver at the figure in front of him and as he looked up at Killzum from his chair he took in the spectacle. Fully armoured in inch thick armour, spikes protruding from almost every joint, the seven foot tall Troll was exactly as Udrath had described him, a Beast. The six foot long serrated blade strapped to his shoulders was just as terrifying as the figure itself but the thing most terrifying of all was the look on Killzums face. Row upon row of sharp teeth exposed a snarl as he spoke, “Nuwz weez goz muukz dats bitchuz bleed”. Smiling, Udrath slowly finished his ale, collected his cloak from the back of his chair and leading the Beast out into the rain, he said over his shoulder, “All in good time Laddy. All in good time. We have a couple o’ more stops to make. Then we begin”.
The Unknown Truth (written by Udrath, posted with permission)
Udrath sat patiently, the huge red skinned Troll snoring loudly at his side. It marvelled Uddy how Killzum could sleep whenever and wherever he wished. No stranger to hardship, Udrath still required a comfy bed to sleep with such fitfulness. Turning his attention back to the room in which he waited, he took in the richness of the place. Expensive tapestries, colourful inch thick carpets, exquisite vases and chandeliers. His old tutor had certainly done well for herself. So, he sat and waited. The butler had told him it would perhaps be a few hours before she would return and despite the heat of the Maj'Dul afternoon, even here in one of the many cooler ante chamber’s of the Palace it was still extremely uncomfortable sat waiting in armour.
It so happened that Udrath and Killzum didn’t have to wait long. A scant five minutes later the butler returned with a curt nod and indicated that they follow him. Udrath looked at the still sleeping Troll. “We best leave him here Laddy. Unless you want to wake him?” he offered to the butler. Smiling in acknowledgement to Udraths point, the butler shook his head. One would have to be quite deranged to disturb a Troll. Especially one so terrifying to behold as Killzum Brakkarg. As they strolled through the courtyards and past the fountains and open gardens at the centre of the Palace, the Butler looked over his shoulder at the short Dwarf and spoke. “I recognise him you know. I saw him at the Arena some years ago. That’s The Warg Wrestler isn’t it?”. Simply nodding in agreement, seemingly off in his own world, Udrath brushed the question aside and returned to his thoughts. It could be damn tough convincing the Lady Bovich to leave behind these trappings of wealth and success to engage on a crazy harebrained quest with her old student, but Udrath knew he had the bargaining to get her to agree. Getting her to see things his way may be a little bit of a challenge though. Even more so considering that Udrath had been an extremely poor student in magicks. It wasn’t as if he needed to know the stuff. It was simply that as a consummate Warrior, he understood that there were many types of adversary and it really wouldn’t hurt to study magicks a little so he could better know his foes in battle. Foes of all kinds. Of course, this was not the only reason he had chosen to be tutored by the Lady Bovich. Duty had been his main reason. A duty of care.
But being a typical Dwarf, beyond a small amount of knowledge in healing powers mostly gained from long talks with Merecraft, Udrath's expertise was entirely martial. Hence he was an extremely poor student. He would be relying on the good relationship he had forged with the Lady and the apparent liking she had taken to his cheeky demeanour to get him through this meeting and of course the last truth hidden up his sleeve. His thoughts were cut short as the butler hammered his staff on the marble floor, stating imperiously, “Lady Bovich, I present Udrath Storm..”. The butler never got to finish his statement as Udrath pushed past him with a gruff “The Lass knows who I am sunshine”, and then as he approached the beautiful pale skinned Half Elf, the Lady Bovich sitting on an ornate chair at the head of the long hall, Udrath bowed his head, “Viota. It’s nice to see you lass. Still beautiful as ever I see”.
“And you good Dwarf. I also see you have changed little,” she said with a smile. “Aye Lass. Older and slower, but still the same me. You should still grow a beard though. Hide those thin cheeks” Udrath stated, mischief dancing in his eyes. The Lady Bovich laughed and the sound itself was magical. “Thornton, thank you. Please leave us and bring refreshments” the Elven woman asked of her butler. Looking back to Udrath, she asked “Ale is good for you brave Stormheart?”. Udrath shook his head at the butler, and looking back to the Half Elf he added, “I’ll not be staying long." The butler nodded and quietly left. When they were alone, the Lady spoke again.
“So what brings my court the pleasure of your company good Dwarf? I can sense already that something concerns you. A friend is in need?” she asked. “Bah Lass. I’ll never get used to that” he stated in reply, tapping the side of his temple he added, “and I’d thank you kindly to stay out of here. But yes, you’re right as ever. A dear and old friend. One lost to me for many centuries, and recently reacquainted. He quests for justice and freedom. Both from his own past and for future good folks of Norrath. Problem is ye see Lassy, he’s chosen old Uddy here as his companion on this quest. I’m duty bound to help him and would walk the fires of broken Luclin to do so.” Holding out his bare arms, looking thin and wiry as they protruded from either side of his breastplate, he continued. “It pains me to admit it, but I’m not once what I was and I’m not sure I’m up to the task. Alone that is,” he finished with a wry smile as he turned his gaze toward his old tutor. “I already have one helping me. He’s waiting outside, and the harnessed power of your great magick finger wagglin’ would help us immensely. Simply, we need you, and I think you'll come.” he finished.
The Lady Bovich eyes glazed for a second, then focussed again on Udrath. “Ahh, you bring the Warg Wrester on your quest. A mighty companion indeed.” Indicating the finery around her, she continued. “So why would I give all this up to assist you,one of my worst students I might add, and your friend,“ she stated bluntly, her expression becoming a little more harsh at the presumption of her visitor.
“A fine question Lass. I’m glad you asked it.” Udrath stated back in just as gruff a manner. Pausing to make sure the next part of the information sank in. Looking her straight in the eyes, he added, “Because it’s ye very own Father who needs a helpin’! Pack ye stuff Lass. We leave within the hour”, Udrath finished and standing he left the way he had come, leaving the stunned and beautiful Half Elf behind him. The Lady Viota Bovich had never known her Father, nor knew nothing about him, assuming he was an unknown stranger to her Mother, who at best was known as promiscuous. Shaking her head and using her considerable mental ability to calm her mind, she took a deep breath and called her butler to prepare her cases.
Life and Death
Merecraft sighed and looked at the map again, biting his lip as he did so. Why did everything have to be so frustrating? Things were much easier back in the old Norrath, where his extensive network of spies and informants could be relied upon to quickly find his quarry. Now though he had no such resources to fall back on, and had to rely on his own wits and scanty knowledge of a much-changed world.
Much still seemed familiar, but so much had changed since the Shattering that the druid often felt like he was on a completely different planet. Since encountering Udrath in Kelethin he had renewed his search for Carinus Dhrak with new vigour, but with little success. In the five hundred years since the Shattering, that had passed in a matter of moments for the human, so much had changed apart from the simple geography. The druid rings were different, the power of the Gods was fainter, and his prayers and spells did not always have the expected outcome. Still, at least some things never changed; he smirked to himself as he took another sip from the crystal wine goblet.
Merecraft looked up at a knock at the door to his room. It was the house butler, Jeyves, an annoyingly sarcastic but capable Coldain dwarf.
"Visitors to see you sir," he said. "Shall I show them in or tell you are indisposed staring at old maps for the foreseeable future?"
"Show them in Jeyves," Merecraft replied.
"Of course sir." The white-skinned Coldain sighed before shuffling out of the room.
Merecraft stared down at the map once again before a loud crash from downstairs startled him. There was another bang, followed by a shout, before Udrath strode into the room.
"Where did you find him old friend," Uddy asked as he took off his mailed gloves and threw them onto a nearby chair. "Bloody Coldains. They all need to be taught some manners if you ask me..."
"I hope you haven't hurt him you old goat."
"No, he'll be fine when he wakes up. Now, do you have any ale or are you going to make me drink some of that elf's piss wine again?"
Merecraft looked up and smiled, then noticed the dwarf's companions. A huge hulking troll, covered head to toe in armour so spiked that he looked like a giant urchin, stood in the doorway, ducking his head below the lintel. Beside the troll was a half-elf lady of astounding beauty who was busy inspecting her fingernails, a bored expression on her face.
For a moment Merecraft's heart seemed to miss a beat, then he shook his head. No, it wasn't Kassandra, though for a moment he thought it somehow was. The lady looked enough like her for him to be momentarily confused, but it was a passing notion. Kassandra was dead, slain by his enemy's hand.
"Umm, yes I have ale..." he replied slowly, "though perhaps the lady would prefer some elf's piss?"
The half-elf looked up as if noticing Merecraft for the first time.
"Some wine would be most pleasant. Is something wrong?"
Merecraft was continuing to stare at her. She reminded him so much of...
"Kassandra Bovich? I've been told I look like my mother, though of course she died when I was but a child..."
"You're Kassy's daughter," Merecraft said quietly, almost as if he was talking to himself.
"Yes father," she replied simply.
"Wherz dis beer den dworf? Me izz fursty," growled the troll as the crystal goblet fell from Merecraft's hand to shatter on the floor.
Merecraft leaned fowards his elbows on his knees as he continued to stare at his daughter across the table. In the background he could hear Udrath and Killzum arguing over a game of dice they were having in the anteroom. If he was lucky his furniture might survive their game.
"I'm sorry, if I'd have known I'd have..."
"What?" Viota asked, interrupting. "Mother would not have let you anywhere near me anyway. She always said you were too dangerous to be around. It wouldn't have changed anything anyway, you would still have come here on this foolish quest of yours..."
The druid sighed and leaned back in his chair. He knew she was right. But he was right too!
"I don't expect you to forgive me Viota, I just didn't know about you. You're right though, I would still have left and come here. Carinus must be stopped, whatever the cost."
Viota nodded. "So you say. Well, perhaps I can at least help with that. Before we left Maj'Dul I did a little investigating of my own, based on what the Stormhammer told me. The Palace gives me resources not available to you. Your Teir'Dal friend has been seen. In Gorowyn."
"Gorowyn," Merecraft muttered. "We must go there."
"We? Do you really want to drag your daughter and your oldest friend on this foolish task of yours? You know the dangers, and yet you would expose your closest comrades to them in the name of justice."
Merecraft frowned, a flicker of anger crossing his brows.
"You may stay here if you like, but Udrath would follow me anyway. Besides it will be good to hunt with him again."
His daughter looked at him sadly.
"You don't even know do you?" she asked. "Udrath is dying."
Into the Noose
Merecraft reached across the table and passed the stein of ale to Udrath. The light from the sconces on the walls flickered as they swayed gently from side to side with the rolling of the ship.
"From what Killzum tells me he's definitely in there lad," the dwarf said before taking a deep drink with a smack of his lips.
Lady Viota Bovich leaned back in her chair and steepled her fingers. "Are we sure we can trust that thing?" she asked, raising an eyebrow and nodding at the troll who stood guard, lurking in the shadows by the cabin door.
"If Uddy vouches for Killzum that's good enough for me Viota," Merecraft said, forcing a smile he didn't feel.
Relations between the four adventurers had been strained on the long voyage to Gorowyn. Udrath had refused to talk about his illness, and Merecraft still didn't feel comfortable with Lady Bovich, whom he'd only recently found out was his daughter. Instead the warden had decided to keep the topics of their conversations focused on their quarry and leave the personal stuff until after Carinus Dhrak had been dealt with.
"Aye, if Killzum says that the shadowknight is in the mansion then that's where he is. It wouldn't hurt to look anyway," agreed Udrath.
"Heez der," growled the troll. "Meez seen hi go inside."
They'd been moored in Gorowyn Harbour for several days, venturing out from the boat in disguise to search for signs of their enemy. Killzum had been able to travel around the city most easily; no-one paid any attention to another heavily armed troll wandering the streets of Gorowyn.
Their luck had changed on the third day when Lady Bovich had heard some merchants in the Dragon's Anchor tavern discussing a new Teir Dal tenant of the Gorowyn Heights manor house. Killzum had been dispatched to spy on the property and had reported back earlier that evening.
"So, what's the plan?" Viota asked.
"We goz in and killz him," muttered Killzum in response.
Merecraft smiled despite himself. "For once our large friend may be right," he agreed. "Carinus won't be expecting us and the sooner we act the less chance of him slipping away again."
Udrath nodded slowly and picked up his axe. "Aye lad, it's time we ended this for once and all. We move tonight."
"Something's not right," whispered Viota. She could only just make out the shadowy form of Merecraft in front of her as they crouched in the corridor of the darkened manor house.
The party had dealt with the guards outside quickly and quietly, leaving Killzum by the manor house doors to watch their rear.
"Yer just nervous lass. We all are," muttered Udrath. "Let's just finish this."
His dwarven eyes could pick up the heat leaking from behind the study doors ahead. "He's in there I reckon.".
Merecraft silently moved forwards to the door and signalled to Udrath and Viota. He opened the door swiftly and they raced inside, weapons at the ready.
Carinus Dhrak, Shadowknight of Neriak, leaned casually back in his chair, a glass of Thexian Red in one hand. He smiled at them.
"Oakenheart! Stormhammer! Welcome! What took you so long?"
Merecraft closed the door behind them, glanced at Udrath and strode across the study to the desk that stood between the shadowknight and the others.
"Aye, five hundred years is long enough Dhrak. Time to end this," he said quietly.
Udrath came up behind him and touched his arm. "Careful lad. He knew we were coming. He was expecting us."
Comprehension dawned. "No..." muttered the warden.
"By the Gods
Oakenheart! You manage to travel all this way through time and space, gather your allies, and then step into my trap like a newly trained acolyte! I have to say I'm disappointed!"
Lady Bovich strode forwards. "Let's get this over with," she whispered almost to herself.
Merecraft slammed his fist down on the desk. "Aye, time to make your peace with your God, Dhrak," he sneered.
Carinus continued to laugh.
"I don't think so fool. I'm leaving, but you'll stay and have time to talk to your daughter about why she has betrayed you. You'll have time to talk to the dwarf about why he's dying. But not too much time..."
He laughed again and then suddenly, without warning, dissolved into smoke like a cloud dissipated by a strong wind. The desk dissolved away too, the carpets, the bookcases on the walls, the light from the sconces... all dissolved away.
The adventurers were left alone in an unlit cell of bare brown walls. Even the door behind them had disappeared.
"Illusions," muttered Udrath angrily.
"Yes," answered Viota calmly. "The walls of this room are made from Luclinite, the ore of the shattered moon. It is the same material that the wizard spires are made from. It is impervious to physical damage and magic will not work within this cell. Nothing can penetrate it, not even the air we are breathing."
Merecraft stared at her in shock as she continued.
"I'd say we have a few hours to talk before we pass out from lack of oxygen. So, what shall we discuss father?"
The Power Within Comes Without (written by Udrath, posted with permission)
Udrath was skirting the edges of the dull box they were stuck in closely examining the luclinite stonework for flaws. His expert mining skills searching for tiniest imperfection or minute hairline crack. After all, he was a Dwarf and if there was one thing he knew well is was stone. In the centre of the ‘cell’ it took Merecraft a brief moment to regain his composure and as he did so he raised his eyes to stare in to the blank uncaring stare of his daughters gaze and he felt sorrow. With almost a whisper he spoke, “Why? Why would you do this Viota? I trusted you, Udrath trusted you”.
“That’s what made it so easy you fool. I’ve always thought that those who are generally of a good nature always err on the side of trust. It’s quite poetic really if you think about it father. The daughter you knew nothing about suddenly comes in to your extraordinary life and instead of joy, she brings pain and suffering. Much like you abandoned and ruined my mother’s life. Irony, it’s interesting. Perhaps your decisions in life are coming back to haunt you.”
“That’s not how it was Viota, and you know it.” Merecraft shot back, his mind a maelstrom of thoughts about his daughter, her mother and unsurprisingly of their current predicament. Turning away from the Lady Bovich he walked across to Udrath.
“Anything?” he asked of the Dwarf. Udrath stood, his knees creaking with age and turned to his oldest friend, his solemn look saying all that needed to be said. Merecraft placed his hand on Uddys shoulder and closed his eyes trying to force some semblance of calm. He would not be defeated by Dhrak. Not now, not after all this time, after all the borne hardships. Mostly though, he would not allow his closest friend to be drawn in to this fight and have such an ending. His thoughts turned to Udrath and almost immediately the illness that Udrath had that would soon see his end of days. Dammit he thought, if only he had not trusted the poisonous Viota. Now his friend would at least have a painless death and not the searing agony Udrath had been expecting. No! I will not let this be, his thoughts continued. Not like this. You got him in to this Merecraft Oakenheart. You’ll find a way out. He wasn’t sure who he was convincing, but there was nothing else to do. Merecraft moved to the corner of the cell and sat down his back against the wall. Closing his eyes, he let his mind wander free in search of an answer.
Killzum Brakkarg, Warg Wrestler stood sentry. Not the sharpest tool in the box several hours had passed since he had seen the Dwarf, the skinny Human and the Magicker before he started to realise something was wrong. They had not yet come out of the mansion. They had said they would not be long. Several more minutes passed before Killzum came to the conclusion he should do something. But what? Looking at the ornate doorway in to the building and in absence of anything else to do or an imagination to come up with a different plan, Killzum moved to the door and raised his huge plate clad boot and in one motion obliterated the portal into kindling. Drawing his two long serrated hip knives in place of his usual weapon, the massive two handed broad sword strapped to his back he moved in to the dim foyer, stepping over the disintegrated door. All was silent within. Not that this mattered to Killzum. He was not a creature of stealth. In fact Killzum Brakkarg was quite the opposite.
Bellowing at the top of his voice, the walls shook with the thunderous sound as he called out his challenge cry. At first there was no response, then his eyes caught movement on the stairs in the room to his right. Striding directly through the rounded doorway to the room to investigate, Killzum was met by a quick moving shadow that dropped down on to him as he passed underneath the doorframe. Without breaking a stride he sheathed one of his blades and reached up over his shoulder with a gauntleted fist grabbing his assailant, a small war goblin who was promptly trying to poke a needle knife down the gap in his neck guard. Trying to disarm the slippery little creature would have been futile, so Killzum simply pulled the Goblin closer in to his armour and then with a sickening popping sound impaled the creatures face on one of his long shoulder spikes. Leaving the Goblins corpse to dangle, its life blood dribbling down his breastplate in a gruesome display of laziness, Killzum drew his sheathed blade again and continued to the shadowy stairwell. Meeting no further resistance he broached the top of the stairs and entered the room. It was empty. Shaking his head, Killzum moved on continuing his search. In a short time due to his lack of subtlety he had swiftly searched the whole mansion and disappointingly still only had one Goblin trophy to brag of. There was no sign of the comrades he had arrived with. Completely confused now, Killzum removed his helm and sat heavily on a bench in the reception hall trying to muster some sort of plan. Emitting a low grumble he began to rub his brow. This would not be easy and thinking usually made his head hurt and even worse his stomach grumble with a terrible hunger. This would not be easy at all.
Udrath sat in silence absently toying with his axe, its butterfly shaped shining blades resting on the ground of the cell . Out of the corner his eye he could see Mere meditating, obviously off somewhere trying to find an answer to their current dilemma. Across the other side of the room sat Viota, looking almost smug but lost in deep thought. He knew the lass was wild sometimes, indeed crazy even, but never in a hundred years did he think she would stoop to the low levels she had. By Brell! What is the world coming too? he thought. Maybe she’s hurting too considering the mess her life has become. He was not concerned overly about his own plight. Udrath knew he was dying and nothing could be done about that. If he were here alone he would spend his remaining time draining the cask attached to his pack and slipping in to a peaceful sleep. But Merecraft was here and that lad needed him now, not his melancholy or his illness.
He tried to put his mind to the problem at hand. Udrath knew he wasn’t considered by many as a cerebral person but the fact of the matter was, when he wasn’t out crushing skulls he spent a good deal of his time nowadays scouring old tomes, indulging in many subjects that interested him. It was a way to fill the time and not think about Megan. As usual as soon as his thoughts touched upon her his chest constricted in emotional pain and he felt unbidden tears start to form in his eyes. Damn how I miss you Megan, he mused thumping the hard floor of the cell. If only you were here now, you always knew just the right piece of advice to give my sweet, you were my rock.... then it struck him like an Ogres backhand. A conversation many hundreds of years ago. The right advice. He cast his mind back, picturing it as if it were yesterday trying to recall each and every detail, making sure he got it right.
Merecraft came out of his meditation, gently willing himself back to consciousness. Opening his eyes he saw Udrath sitting in a similar manner to himself, his eyes red and his head deeply bowed, eyes closed. Looking across to his daughter he cleared his throat and stood, approaching her.
“It really wasn’t like that you know. With your mother I mean. We were happy for a time, then...then life just happened. I planned nothing but love and care for her you know.” He paused swamping painful memories with his force of will and said in a quieter, almost whispering tone, “I need you to believe me Viota. I would never have hurt her intentionally. Nor would I hurt you, despite what you have done.”
“And what have I ‘done’ father? What exactly is it that I have done to you? Abandoned you with child? Never even checking to see if you were still alive or well or needed money? No. The things you have done to me and my mother are a constant pain and to see you righteously correcting the worlds wrongs with your stupid sidekick seems almost pathetic now. You needed teaching a lesson ‘Father’ and it’s rather delightful that your daughter is here to make you learn.”
“By killing me? By killing Uddy? What has he ever done to you? You like him, you know you do. And to throw away his life on a selfish revenge laden whim is nothing short of sick Viota and you know it. How do you plan on escaping yourself anyhow?”
“Well, that’s not something I had even considered. You have no idea the pain your emergence has caused me. The memories, the stabbing sharp painful memories it has raised from the dead. I just want them to end.” She finished and looked directly in to Merecrafts eyes this time with no blank uncaring stare but instead with a deep sadness there. “I am prepared for them to end.”
Merecraft was horrified. Not only was his brother in arms in a huge mess because of him, now his daughter wished to throw away her own life because of the unintentional pain he had caused her and her mother. This was a black day, a day to be forgotten. The sad thing was, it would be forgotten and forgotten soon if they could not work out a way to get themselves out of there.
At that moment Uddy burst upright from his sitting position and exclaimed loudly “I’ve got it Mere! I’ve bloody well got it lad!” Mere and Viota looked at the bouncing Dwarf like he was crazy sporting a huge grin just about visible beneath his huge beard that was swaying rhythmically.
Merecraft raised his eyebrows and looked quizzically at Uddy. “What exactly do you have my friend? You know how to get out of here?” he asked.
“I know how to get out of here. Yes!. But more laddy, a damn sight more. I know how to kill that damned Shadowknight!” he whooped and did a small jig grinning madly all the time.
Patiently Merecraft nodded his head then waited a few moments. “So? The answer is?” he offered to the still dancing Dwarf.
Uddy stopped his prancing and his face took on a more serious look. “OK, this is how it goes laddy.” Then he turned and looked at Viota. “Cast a spell lass” he ordered. Viota looked at him like he was insane. “I’ve already told you Udrath. Magic will not work here.” she stated.
“Aye lass, but humour an old man. Now if you please.” He said, indicating with his hand he was still expecting the spell he had asked for. Shaking her head Viota slowly went through a quick spell, she knew it would not work as soon as she started. As she said the words she felt no building of power, nothing. The spell failed. Udrath seemed delighted and smiling turned towards Merecraft. “Now you lad”. Merecraft inwardly sighed. There would be no telling the Dwarf, the easiest way to would be to show him magic would not work here. So, Merecraft chose a simple one and began his prayers. To his complete shock a loaf of bread appeared in his hands. “Wha...” he exclaimed. Viota looked completely in shock and Udrath had taken on a more serious demeanour. “Right, now use one to get us out of here lad.” Merecraft did not hesitate and summoning his prayers once more, they all disappeared to reappear in the foyer of the mansion once more and were greeted by a startling sight to behold.
Killzum was sat cross legged on the floor, surrounded by three pig carcasses and a cows head, his distended stomach straining against his tunic, his discarded breastplate laid off to the side and animal fat dribbling down his chin. As they appeared he looked up at them and watched them staring at him in disbelief. “Wut?” he responded to the stares. “Meez wuz dooun sumz finkinz!”.
A short time later the four were sat in Irontoes in North Qeynos. Killzum was again testing his amazing stamina by devouring several mugs of broth and at least four tankards of ale. Viota was sat off to the side, quiet and in thought.
Merecraft looked across to Udrath who was nursing a firewater short, having hardly touched it. “I have to ask Uddy. How did you know?” The Dwarf raised his gaze to look at his most dear companion, his face full of sorrow. “Megan told me laddy.” He said simply. Merecraft did not point out the obvious but waited. He knew Udrath would tell him in his own time.
Minutes passed then Udrath drained his glass in one and wiping his beard looked again at Mere. “A long time ago my friend we had new recruits for me to train at Stormguard Hall. One of the lads, my, he was a feisty character, had strength and girth worthy of the finest Dwarvern Warrior. But skill, he had none. During standard drills he would drop his axe, trip his units left guard and be an all round burden on everyone else. But I knew there was more. If I could just get him to train! Well, I posed the question to Megan. She always knew what to do. Ye know what she told me? Aye, ye don’t of course, but I’ll tell ye laddy. She told me to take him under my wing. To give him special training, not just normal drills with all the other lads. When I asked her why, all she said was, ‘Some have power within and use that, others have power but must gain it from without. It is you where that must come from. You must teach him that power’ and that Mere is how I knew.”
Merecraft sat and thought for a moment, eventually his eyes widening and slamming his fist down on the table in delight. “Uddy, you’re a rare one! You knew that Viotas power being a Magicker came from within and was summoned, but mine comes from prayer, from the Blessed Tunare. A power from the outside. When I cast a spell, I don’t really cast a spell. I pray for Tunare to deliver the power for me. The spell came from Tunares magic, from outside the cage!” Shaking his head in disbelief and laughing, slowly his mirth faded and he placed his hand over Uddys, resting on the tavern table. Looking in to his friends eyes, Merecraft said softly “I miss her too my friend. There was never a finer woman”.
Merecraft stared sullenly at the untouched ale on the table in front of him, oblivious to the sound of the raucous tavern patrons. A dark mood had been on him ever since the initial delight of escaping Carinus' trap had left. He didn't even look up when Udrath sat down opposite him.
"Look lad, moping around here isn't going to achieve anything."
Merecraft continued to glower, seemingly lost in his own thoughts. The dwarf leaned forwards and whispered conspiratorially, glancing briefly over his shoulder at Viota who sat on her own a few tables away.
"Besides, I have a plan as to how we can finally put an end to Carinus Dhrak."
At that Merecraft looked up at his old friend.
"A plan?" he asked.
"Well yes lad, but... you're not going to like it one bit."
As the old dwarf continued to whisper to the warden Merecraft grew paler and his mouth opened in shock at the dwarf's audacious idea.
The air was hung heavy and humid in the sweltering heat of the Feerrott clearing. Flies the size of a fist buzzed angrily around the fire that Merecraft had set beneath the old ruined archway. The half-elf and the dwarf stood side by side, staring into the flames that burned with a sickly green hue as they consumed the wood. Killzum sat on a nearby rock, sharpening his blades with a brown whetstone, the shrieking metal the only sound other than the incessant buzz.
"You're sure this is the right place?" Merecraft asked the dwarf.
Udrath nodded. "Aye lad," he answered with a nod at the ruined arch then to the overgrown and broken walls to one side. "This is where the temple stood, back before the Shattering."
"Best get started then," the half-elf said reluctantly.
He took a pouch out from his belt, reached into it and tossed the contents onto the flames, which rose in response, taking on a violet colour.
Suddenly there was a loud thud, followed by a crash as Killzum fell forwards off his rock, stunned. A familiar taunting laugh filled the clearing.
"You two will never learn will you?" Carinus Dhrak said, smirking as he strode into the firelight. Behind him Viota Bovich lurked in the shadows.
Merecraft and Udrath looked silently at each other and drew their weapons. The shadowknight continued on regardless.
"You know, I couldn't quite believe it when your daughter told me of the plan Oakenheart".
He paused by the fire, his hands behind his back as though he had no care in the world.
"I know my own aims are quite unbelievable; to commune with and replace the Avater of Innoruuk on Norrath, but you have to aim high right? But when Viota told me what you two fools were contemplating..." he broke off into a mirthless chuckle. Merecraft and Udrath said nothing.
"The idea of a warden of Tunare and one of Brell's chosen trying to commune with Innoruuk and strike a deal... really what were you thinking? Did you really believe that would work?"
"No," muttered Merecraft, looking at his old enemy at last. "I know it will work... it has already worked."
The merest flicker of confusion passed over the Teir'Dal's face.
"The deal's already been done lad," Udrath said. "We allowed viota to learn our plan, knowing that she would bring you here to stop us. But it's too late. We communed with Innoruuk last week. She has only brought you to your doom instead."
With that the dwarf threw his axe into the flames which roared even higher, and as if in answer to the signal the winded picked up and the ground beneath them began to writhe. The earth began to break apart and skeletal figures started to rise from the ground, surrounding the fire and the adventurers in a circle.
"You see," Merecraft said quietly, "I too thought Uddy's plan was crazy. To make a deal with the enemy of my God, to strike an agreement with the Deceiver himself. We have already contacted Innoruuk through his temple in Freeport, already warned him of your plans to usurp his Avatar, and now we have brought you within his grasp."
He smiled grimly. "Using evil to defeat evil has a certain ironic sense of balance don't you think?"
"And now it is time to honour our agreement Dhrak," Udrath said, suddenly leaping forwards and pushing the shadowknight into the flames.
Whilst Merecraft and Udrath has been talking the purple glow of the fire had grown even more intense. It had begun to take on form, like a leering demonic face. Tendrils of violet flame wrapped around Carinus' torso and he screamed.
"No!" came Viota's cry as she leaped through the circle of undead, a spell of force blasting from the palm of her outstretched hand. The flames flickered and the face dissipated briefly, and in that moment Carinus Dhrak jumped free. The skeletal guardsmen reacted swiftly, surging over Viota.
"Oh no you don't laddie!" shouted Udrath, grabbing Carinus around the waist and hoisting him back into the fire.
Meanwhile Merecraft was trying to drag his daughter free from the attacks of the skeletons, his hammer swinging left and right, breaking bones like dry plaster.
Carinus tried to free himself from the dwarf's grasp, but Udrath only held on tighter, stepping into the flames himself to stop Carinus escaping.
"You idiot dwarf!" Carinus screamed as the fires took a hold of his clothing. "You'll be killed too!"
Udrath grinned back at him, his beard starting to smoulder.
"I'm dying anyway lad. I thought you knew."
The flames danced higher and hotter and began to consume them, the fiery face growing and leering over them both.
Merecraft knocked the skull from the last skeleton and bent down to his daughter, now a bloodied mess on the floor.
"I'm sorry Viota," he whispered through his tears.
He turned round to see Carinus and Udrath fighting each other in the flames, the shadowknight trying to free himself from the dwarf's iron grasp. the dark elf was screaming in agony.
"No, Uddy!" Merecraft shouted, leaping forwards to try and rescue his oldest friend. A large arm wrapped around him, halting his movement.
"Youz can't 'elp im nowz," Killzum growled. "Iz too late".
"Udrath!" Merecraft bellowed again, struggling helplessly.
Over the screams of the dying shadowknight came the strong tones of the dwarf in response, gasping at the pain but still steady.
"No lad... must do this... only way to be sure... don't cry for me... I'm going to see Megan again... here I come, my love..."
The fire suddenly expanded, exploding outwards, then went out in an instant, plunging the clearing into the darkness of night.
Merecraft and Killzum raced forwards but there was no sign of either the dwarf or the dark elf.
"IT IS DONE" a disembodied voice offered from the darkness. "THE DEAL IS HONOURED. THE PRICE IS PAID".
It was several months later and Merecraft sat under his tree, quietly humming an old song to himself. He sighed and stood up, stretching. he was still finding it hard to sleep, even after all this time. He had made a new home for himself deep in the Faydark, far from any town, hoping the solitude would bring him some peace.
He bent down to pick up the book he had been reading when a crack echoed through the trees.
"Who's there?" he asked boldly, picking up his hammer instead of the book.
From around a tree an old dwarf stepped. For a brief moment Merecraft thought it was his old friend, but now saw the newcomer was quite different. He wore the robes of a priest.
"Are you Merecraft Oakenheart?" the dwarf asked.
"Thank Brell for that," the dwarf said. "I've been searching for you for bloody weeks! My name is Father Needeep and I've a message for you".
Merecraft stood silently, waiting and wary.
"It's from Udrath Stormhammer. He is not at peace with his wife. he is trapped on the Plane of Hate, and his message is simple."
Needeep paused for a moment.
The hammer fell from Merecraft's hand.
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