Merecraft and Udrath
Friends, family and broken promises part 1
To a casual adventurer the night may have sounded quiet, but to the druid camped under the lee of a small hill the still air was alive with the songs of Tunare’s children. Crickets chirped softly at odd intervals, a badger scurried out of its set searching for food, and the dark shape of a bat flitted overhead. Merecraft smiled contentedly to himself and leaned back on the grassy slope, pulling his cloak tighter to keep out the chill. Before him the last few embers of a small cooking fire glowed briefly before fading into darkness. The half-elf liked this time of night, a few brief hours before dawn brought the clamour of civilisation to the farmers’ fields. The clean air and the soft murmur of the night’s creatures brought a calm peace to his mind.
After a while, his meditations complete, Merecraft stood up and stretched. He took a few moments to gather his packs together and cover up the remains of his camp, then headed north at a steady lope. His destination was not that much further away, in fact he hoped to arrive in Surefall Glade by the next evening. Of course he could have prayed to the Mother, beseeching her to bestow a miracle on him to cut the journey down by a day or so, but Merecraft often liked to take the time to make his journeys on foot. It allowed him to feel in touch with the earth, and the hours spent jogging along gave him time to think things through. On this journey however there was another reason for not teleporting. He had a slight detour to make.
The bright winter sun was almost directly overhead by the time Merecraft arrived at a small pool of water, surrounded on all sides by low cliffs. He had skirted the bandit camp and the ogre shrine to reach this place unnoticed. He doubted that even Caninel and his gnoll bodyguards visited this remote place. Bending to fill his flask with the cool clear water he stared at his reflection, distorted by the ripples he made. There were definitely a few more grey hairs in the beard, a few more creased lines around the steely grey eyes. The druid sighed heavily. Some unknown sense told him that there was a great change coming that would affect all of the Knights Templar. He did not know whether it would be a change for good or evil, but he knew things would not stay as they were for much longer.
Merecraft tried to think back to what could be causing this nagging at his thoughts, but nothing specific sprang to mind. Sighing again he stood up and strode over to a small clump of swaying giant cowslips. After a few moments contemplation he picked up a large stone and reached into the hole that was hidden behind it.His arm withdrew from the hole and in his hand was a small scroll of bound vellum. Someone had left him a message, one of his closest friends obviously as few knew of this dead letter box he used for the transfer of important information. He did not trust the public message boards found in the inns of Qeynos and Freeport. Replacing the stone carefully, Merecraft sat down and unrolled the vellum scroll.
“Dearest Brother,” the letter began. Merecraft winced slightly at the words. He could imagine the slightly sarcastic tone his half-brother Kaide would have used had the message been spoken. Shaking his head slightly Merecraft was lost in thought for a moment, his mind drifting back to the last time he had seen his half-brother.
It had been raining that day as he arrived at the gates of Kaladim...
Friends, family and broken promises part 2
As Merecraft read the letter from Kaide his thoughts drifted back to the last time they had seen each other. It had been raining that day several months back, when he had arrived at the gates of Kaladim…
No matter how often he visited this place Merecraft always felt uncomfortable. The narrow tunnels, hewn and shaped out of the rock by years of loving labour by the dwarves, felt claustrophobic and threatening. It did not matter that this area of Kaladim had been excavated and formed to allow large races to walk upright, or that there was plenty of light from the ornate torches which were positioned to refract their warm glow through the myriad crystals. The half-elf still disliked the feeling of huge weight which seemed to press down from the mountain above. He much preferred the open sky.
The feelings of discomfort were even more pronounced on this visit however. It was the first time Merecraft had visited his old friend Udrath at his home since the schism that had grown between them. There was another reason for feeling uneasy too. Merecraft’s half-brother Kaide had been mortally wounded in battle against the goblins of Butcherblock and was being tended by Udrath’s wife, Megan. So, it was with worry and trepidation that the half-elf knocked on the low wooden door of Udrath’s house.
After a few moments the door was opened from the inside to reveal a dwarf woman dressed in neat leather clothing. She smiled up at Merecraft. “Welcome old friend,” she said in a soft voice. Merecraft stood there a moment, tears beginning to well in his eyes. In his early days as an adventurer, when he travelled the lands with Udrath
Without saying a word Merecraft bent down on one knee and hugged Megan closely to his chest. After a short while Megan pushed him away and grinned. “Look at you Merecraft, all dressed up in that wonderful armour!” she said smiling, “I see you wear the buckle of a Knight now!”
“Aye, and there is a tale,” the half-elf answered, “but lets go indoors shall we? I find doorsteps a most uncomfortable place for the telling of tales,” the druid grinned back.
The easy part was over. Seeing Megan had taken some of the worry from Merecraft’s heart. Now he had to face Udrath.
As many of Merecraft’s closest friends in the Knights knew, Udrath had been one of the druid’s closest friends. They had been like brothers, hunting goblins and orcs together for many seasons. It was during their time with the Mithril Empire that the schism between them had appeared, when Udrath had joined the Dark Ritual, entranced by promises of power and wealth.
What the Knights did not know was how close the old friends had come to blows at that time. Merecraft had felt betrayed by Udrath’s turn to dark powers, and the dwarf had mocked his “blind devotion to the light”. For a long time they had not spoken to each other at all.
They had met occasionally during those dark days, but Merecraft had joined the Knights Templar and was too involved with his new friends to spend much time thinking of his blood-brother. The few times that they did meet passed with bitter, acrimonious words spoken. Only now did the half-elf realise how wrong he had been to ignore and leave his friend as he turned to darkness. His duty should have been to stay with Udrath and show him the error of his ways, to help him see the light again. It was an unpleasant thing to realise that in actual fact he had been scared by the ease with which Udrath had turned, and was fearful of how he himself would have reacted had he been in the dwarf’s place.
Recently Merecraft had heard the tales of how the Dark Ritual had dissolved. He had heard of how Udrath had left them to their dark plots and struck out again, renewed in mind and soul. Merecraft had done nothing however, had not contacted his old friend, and the guilt weighed heavily on his heart.
Then he had received a message from Lord Moraden and Lady Greystorm. They had hunted with Udrath in the Rathe Mountains, not knowing of who he was at the time, and Udrath had asked them to pass on a message. Merecraft’s half-brother Kaide had been badly wounded and his recovery was not a certainty. He was being tended by Megan, Udrath’s wife. It was this news that had caused Merecraft to return to this place once more and face the ghosts of his past.
So it was that Merecraft strode into the hearth-room of Udrath’s home, ducking under the low wooden lintel, his head lost in these thoughts of past tales. As his eyes adjusted to the lower light his saw Udrath sitting comfortably in a deep red armchair, sucking on a long wooden pipe.
The dwarf and half-elf stood quietly for a moment, staring at each other, not knowing what to say. “I-I-,” Merecraft stuttered, but Udrath interrupted him. “I know lad, I know,” he sighed. “Go see to your brother then we can talk. He’s in the next room.”
Merecraft nodded once then ducked under a curtain that led to the adjoining chamber. The walls of the raw stone room had been covered in long weaved pieces of cloth bearing leaf and tree motifs. They were undoubtedly of elven origin. Across from the curtained doorway was a low bed, illuminated by a single scented candle that sputtered on a small table nearby. Lying on the bed was a young wood-elf, Kaide.
As Merecraft went in and sat down cross-legged on the stone floor and began to talk to the wood elf in low quiet tones, Udrath stood in the doorway and watched them, a smile on his face.
Later the two old friends sat chatting in the hearth-room. Merecraft has spent some time with his half-brother, and the dwarf could tell that there was still some unease between them. He guessed it was to do with their shared heritage. They had only met relatively recently, whilst Merecraft had been searching for his missing mother whom the two brothers shared. Their fathers had been as different as could be however. Merecraft’s father had been human, whereas Kaide’s had been another wood elf, a “pure breed” as Kaide himself had put it.
Still, that mattered little to the dwarf now. He was only glad that his old friend was here after the recent years of silence and accusation that had been between them. They spoke long into the night, reliving old adventures and shared jokes, and the candles had burned down to mere stumps by the time they made ready for bed.
Smiling to himself at these thoughts Merecraft continued to read the letter from Kaide that he had found in the secret letter box. It had been good to see Udrath again, the darkness really did appear to have left the dwarf, and he seemed more balanced, more at ease somehow. He hoped that their friendship could now begin to grow back to what it once had been. What’s more his half-brother Kaide had made a full, if slow recovery from his wounds, aided by Merecraft’s prayers.
Merecraft’s thoughts were shattered as he continued to read the letter.
Friends, family and broken promises part 3
Merecraft looked up to watch a brilliant green dragonfly dart across the surface of the small pond. He sat there, staring blankly as the insect hovered and buzzed over the lilypads. The half-elf was still in a state of shock, the letter from Kaide held loosely in his hand.
After a while Merecraft looked down and read the letter once again, absorbing its message more carefully. He still could not quite believe it.
According to the letter, Kaide had recovered from his wound, no doubt aided by Merecraft’s prayers and ministrations. After staying with Udrath and Megan for a few weeks he had left for Kelethin. It was there that he had stumbled onto the information that had lead him to write the letter.
Whilst browsing the stalls of Kelethin’s many merchants in search of components for fletching, he had spotted a familiar looking golden pendant for sale. Examining it more closely Kaide had realised that the pendant bore his family crest, and on the back, inscribed with elvish runes, was the name Marissa. This pendant had belonged to Marissa, the mother that Kaide and Merecraft shared, who had disappeared without trace many years ago.
According to the letter Kaide had questioned the vendor and discovered that he had obtained the pendant off Nitpik, a gnome merchant in Ak’Anon.
The young wood elf decided there and then to go to the subterranean city of the gnomes and follow the lead that might at last reveal what had happened to their mother. First however he had taken the time to write the letter to Merecraft and pass it on via Udrath.
Merecraft sighed once more after reading the letter from Kaide. So, it was obviously Udrath who had left the letter here for him. That meant that at least a week had passed since Kaide had written the note and gone in search of their mother.Reaching a decision the druid stood up. He took a last look around. The dragonfly was still zipping around, oblivious to the half-elf. Merecraft had left the search for his mother too long, and at last there was a real clue to follow. Maybe he would finally have a chance to keep the promise he made to his dying father all those years ago.He hated to leave the Knights like this. He would try to get word to them if he could. He sighed inwardly. Worse still he hated to leave without saying goodbye to… to one who had become very dear to him recently. He hoped she, and they, would understand.
Closing his eyes Merecraft began to chant the prayer that would transport him to the Steamfont Mountains. Maybe he could catch up with Kaide, and together they might find their mother…
An unexpected visit (written by Udrath, posted with permission)
It started to rain, and Udrath Stormheart looked skyward sighing as he knew another two hours this evening would be spent cleaning his armour, instead of at his ale pot with his friends and Megan his wife in Kaladim. On top of that was the long run home from the Lesser of the Faydark forests. Udrath was hunting for signs of Goblin migration in his ever going quest to be a thorn in the side of the Evil creatures who murdered his son more than 140 years ago. He knew in his heart he would not rest until he had single-handedly brought down the creatures who polluted the face of Norrath.
It was beginning to get dark and Udrath sat down for a bite to eat before completing his journey home. He liked the forest at night, it gave him a peace that only the halls of Kaladim could rival. A rabbit hopped past him, pausing only for a moment to chew some plants at his feet. Udrath smiled and let his thoughts drift to the warm hearth of his Longhall, and the sweet smell of Megan's perfume as she sat beside him. Udrath was brought forth from his daydream by a shout for help coming from his right. He quickly shouldered his bag, placing his helm upon his head, and grabbing his axe from his side he rose moving silently in to the darkness toward the sound.
Udrath Stormheart moved through the darkness toward the sound, making no noise in the night. This was his element, battle sharpened senses heightened by an almost magical skill with a blade. At times like this he knew no fear, only a lust for the fight. A light appeared in the distance and Udrath increased his pace through the woodland, knowing now that this was the place of origin of the cries for help. Something nagged at the back of his mind, it was something about the voice that he had heard. Unsure what it was he pushed the thought from his mind, as it was at times like this a clear head needed to be kept. As he got nearer he could see a small group of tents and standing stones, and in the middle the form of a collapsed Wood Elf on the floor.
However, this was not what drew his attention. Udrath crouched behind one of the tents looking from the darkness into the camp, surveying the scene. Seven Dark Elves with weapons drawn and some blooded already stood in a circle around the slumped form on the cold earth. No words were necessary between them as they grinned at each other. Udrath knew the final kill was about to take place. Udrath grinned to himself in the darkness, as he knew what the Dark ones did not; they were all about to die. Slitting the rear of the tent with his boot knife, Udrath silently slipped inside, being careful not to make a sound as he approached the flaps. Taking a deep breath he sprang forth into the centre of the camp.
The first three Dark Elves died before they even knew he was there, his Axe swinging through air as a blur, their blood spraying their comrades. The other four raised their weapons and moved into a circle around him, smiling at him knowing they had him, like their previous victim surrounded. Udrath grinned right back as he knew this only brought his prey within his deadly fighting arc.
The first Dark one made his move screaming a battle cry and slashed at Udraths left side. But over reaching, it was his last ever move. Udrath stepped inside his reach, smashing his Axe butt into the thin face, crushing its skull instantly. Following his momentum he swept back over his left shoulder removing another's head before the first had even fallen to the floor.
The odds lessened and the two remaining Dark Elves looked less sure of their skill, but still slowly advanced on Udrath, one to his front the other to his rear. As they lunged simultaneously Udrath dropped to his knee chopping the facing opponents feet from under him, then spun standing as he did so bringing his Axe down between the neck and shoulder of the last unfortunate of Neriak's spawn.
Kicking the body off his Axe it fell next to the crumpled form of the Wood elf, and for the first time this night fear and pain ripped into Udraths soul.
Kneeling down next to the body, wiping the tears from his face Udrath whimpered through gritted teeth "Kaide, oh my poor poor Kaide". Feeling for a pulse he immediately thought of his oldest friend Merecraft, then looked at Mere's half brother's blooded face. He could feel no pulse, and bowed his head saying a silent prayer for the young ranger.
He had not heard the movement from behind, and was blinded by a flash of light. Turning he saw the silhouette of a robed figure in the middle of a cast, and began to stand moving toward the figure. But no sooner had he done so the figure disappeared into the blinding light, and turning back to the still form of Kaide, cold struck Udraths heart, for Kaide had dissapeared also!
” I hate this bloody city” the blood smeared Dwarf muttered as one of Lucan's Guards pushed him aside. "Learn some manners human," Udrath shouted after the Guard, who glanced back at the Dwarf as though he were a bug on his boot. "You bloody well owe me for this Mere lad, bringing me to this Gods forsaken place," Udrath thought. In truth he was in bad humour, hating sea travel, yet another sad and too short farewell with Megan his long suffering wife, and on top of all that being jumped by muggers on Freeport docks had done nothing to lighten his mood. “It comes to something when I have to do the militias bloody job!” he thought, oh well at least he had shown them a quick death.
Udrath Stormheart took a deep breath before he pushed open the Guild house door, hoping that Merecraft would be present at the home of The Knights Templar. An accomplished looking halfling who Udrath recognised as Oakroot, a close friend of Mere's, approached.
"Can I help you?" he said looking distastefully at the blood smeared figure..
“Yes you can lad,” Udrath replied, “I need to speak with Merecraft. I bear the gravest of news!”.
Udrath leaned back in the chair and slowly sipped the ale from his flagon, eyeing his friend over the top of the beer’s froth. He had been able to wash and clean himself in the Knight’s washroom, and now sitting before the warm fire in the hearth he was almost feeling at home. He looked up and peered around at the tapestries that covered the stone walls of the chamber.
He could understand why Merecraft had been drawn to the Knights; the half-elf had lost the only real family he had known, and the Knights gave him something to fight for, something bigger than he could achieve on his own. Still, the dwarf felt a little uncomfortable amongst the closeness of the other Knights. He suspected that he may be a lone warrior for some time to come, a guild would just get in the way of his life’s work, the complete and utter annihilation of the goblin races.
Oakroot had made sure that the dwarf was comfortable before going and rousing Merecraft from his chamber. The half elf had known something was wrong from the tone of Oakroot’s voice, but he waited patiently as Udrath finished his story. When the old dwarf had told Merecraft the news the half elf had just sat there, staring blankly at his old friend. After a few moments tears had begun to form in the half elf’s eyes, and his head slumped down onto his arms, resting on the table. A great shudder shook his shoulders as he wept silently.
So, Udrath sat and waited, sipping his ale. His eyes met those of Oakroot, who sat patiently just behind the two friends in case he was needed. The shaking of Merecraft’s shoulders slowly subsided, then his head raised and he slowly looked at the dwarf and the halfling. There were no tears in his eyes now, but something else was there, something cold. Merecraft looked at Oakroot.
“I apologise Lord Oakroot that I have not been myself since I returned from my journey,” he said, his voice flat, almost emotionless. “It is time I explained where I have been, and what I saw”.
Then, in a dull monotone, the druid began to explain what had happened after he had read the letter from Kaide, the one that had revealed the clue to their mother’s whereabouts. He described how Kaide had travelled to Ak’Anon in search of a merchant who had found the locket of Marissa Oakenheart. Merecraft had decided to follow his half-brother to the Steamfont Mountains and aid in the search…
The bubbles of magic dissipated and Merecraft opened his eyes, the last vestiges of Tunare’s power seeping away. He had arrived at the ancient druid ring in the Steamfont Mountains. He took a brief moment to whisper a prayer of thanks to the Mother for her aid, then with a brief nod and smile to Crisyn, the druidess attending the ring, he ran off along the side of the great valley.
It had been a while since he had journeyed this far, the last time had been when he had helped Lady Ashden and Lady Nindyilied fight the necromancer Meldrath in the dark caves of the minotaurs. The half elf smiled at the memory. The battles that day had been particularly valiant.
Merecraft headed South along the old dirt track, waving briefly to the guards as he entered the underground city of the gnomes. He was not sure where to start his search. The merchants quarter would seem the obvious place, but he decided to check in with his old friend Drekon Vebnedder the merchant in Gemchoppers Hall.
Drekon was overjoyed to see the druid. “Merecraft! You still carrying round that old backpack I gave you?” he asked grinning, whilst pointing at the pack on Merecraft’s back. The half-elf smiled and patted the worn pack. “Aye my friend. How could I not? This pack was made by Bootstrutter himself, as well you know!” he chuckled.
Merecraft’s face hardened slightly. “However, tis not to sit and talk about the finer types of luggage that I have come to see you Drekon. I need your help, or your advice at least.”
The gnome nodded and rubbed his hands together. “Well, lets have it then Mere. What can I do for you?”
The druid explained that he was looking for Kaide, his half-brother, or for the merchant who had sold his mothers locket to a visiting wood elf, but Drekon was nonplussed. “I can’t help you Mere, sorry. I would certainly have remembered your half-brother had he come here, we don’t get many wood elves in Gemchoppers Hall. All I can suggest is you try the merchants quarter,” he said, then noticing the disappointed look on the half-elf’s face he added, “but I’ll have a word with the guards and ask if they have seen him. I’ll send word if I come up with anything.”
The druid smiled, resigned to a long search. “Alright then Drekon. Take care of yourself. I’ll be in Ak’Anon a day or two if you come up with anything.” With that Merecraft made his goodbyes and headed off to the merchants quarter.
It had been another long day. Merecraft had spoken to just about every merchant in Ak’Anon now, and none of them could remember Marissa’s locket or seeing Kaide. This journey wasn’t going as well as he had hoped. Surely after all this time the simple fact that his mothers locket had turned up was a sign that she was still alive somewhere. Merecraft whispered a prayer to Tunare that it was so, for if Marissa was dead it would be impossible for him to keep the promise he had made to his dying father.
Just as he was about to give up the search for the day there was a slight tug at the back of his tunic. Merecraft turned round to see a young gnome dressed in the plate armour of a Gemchopper.
“Is you Mister Merecraft of the Templars sir?” the gnome asked. Merecraft nodded in reply and the young warrior continued. “Drekon sent me to tell you that your brother was spotted a few days ago talking to the Dark Ones in the Mines of Malfunction.”
Merecraft’s face grew stern as he thanked the young guard for the information. He was surprised that the maze of mines that the necromancers and dark clerics of Ak’Anon inhabited had not yet been cleared out by the Gemchoppers. Shrugging inwardly he decided to visit them immediately, his search had already taken longer than expected.
So it was that only an hour later Merecraft was slowly creeping down one of the dark tunnels in the Mines. His half-elven eyes could pick out the cold stone walls, despite the almost total darkness, but a flicker of heat up ahead suggested that this part of the Mines at least was inhabited. As he approached closer he could see that the heat was caused by the flicker of flames in a chamber, and the low mumble of voices could be heard. Something about the voices struck a chord with the half-elf. There was something odd about them.
It took a moment for the realisation to dawn on him. The voices were speaking Teir Dal! Then an explosion of light blinded the druid, a heavy weight pressed on the back of his skull, and the world faded into blackness.
There was a deep red point of light. The light grew and faded with a primeval rhythm, and with each pulse there was pain.
There was something else besides the red light. A sound, again rising and falling, a beat of pain with every peak.
Then there was blackness again.
“He’s awake! Thank Tunare, he’s awake. I thought you’d killed him Carinus.”
Merecraft peeled his eyes open. The dim light of the chamber hurt his eyes, his head throbbed from the blow which had knocked him unconscious. His throat was dry, his lips split and parched.
“K… Kaide?” he mumbled at the sound of the voice.
The chamber slowly came into focus. He was sitting in the middle of a cold stone room lit by a single torch. His armour and weapons were in a pile in one corner. He looked up at his captors and the colour drained from his face.
Two Teir Dal, an old gnome in the black robes of a necromancer, and his half-brother Kaide stood around him.
“Kaide?” he asked again.
“Aye brother! Tis me, you have found me at last,” the wood elf answered, his tone strangely mocking. “By the Gods Merecraft, it took you long enough to find me, I thought you were never going to fall into our trap!”
One of the Dark Elves snickered and muttered something in his foul language. Merecraft cursed himself. How could he have been so stupid?! His desire to find his mother and become closer to his half-brother had blinded him, made him careless. He should have suspected something was wrong when he had learned that Kaide had been down here in the Mines of Malfunction. He shook his head to clear it some more, and he felt the slow trickle of blood down the back of his neck.
“Kaide? What are you doing here with these servants of Shadow?” he mumbled.
Kaide laughed. “Aye Brother, they may serve the Darkness, but they are helping me! They know where our mother is! They are going to take me to her, and all they asked for in return is you, the mighty Merecraft Oakenheart of the Eastern Commandery!” It was impossible to miss the sarcasm in Kaide’s voice. Merecraft looked up at him, wincing as he saw the cold light of madness in the ranger’s eyes.
“Don’t be a fool Kaide! They will kill you as soon as they have what they want from me,” Merecraft cried in desperation. He could see it all so clearly now.
“No Brother, they would not dare to harm one of Tunare’s servants. They do not lie, they have shown me more of mother’s trinkets.”
“For the Mother’s sake Kaide! You don’t understand what you are doing!” Merecraft muttered. His reply was a swift kick in the belly from the gnome. “Shut it scum!” the necromancer threatened, “you’ll be talking more than you want soon enough.”
Kaide moved forwards to look down on the beaten druid. His voice dropped to a low whisper, and his eyes sparkled. “No brother, it is you that does not understand. I will find our mother and return with her in glory to Kelethin. I will be a hero! You, you arrogant half-breed think you are better than I, just because mother loved your father, whilst she hated mine! She married yours for love, and mine for politics. Even after that bastard human’s death she still loved him! Well no longer! She will love me more than you when I have rescued her. I will be her son, her only son!”
Merecraft could see that his half-brother was quite insane. “Kaide… what have they done to you?” he asked.
The wood elf just snickered. “Enough! I am off to Lesser Faydark to find mother, whilst you rot here like the bastard half-breed you are.” He turned to face one of the Teir Dal. “Let’s go Carinus. I’ve given you the Templar, now take me to my mother.”
The Dark Elf bowed before the ranger. “As you wish”.
“For Tunare’s sake Kaide!” Merecraft screamed in frustration. “Don’t trust them!”
“I said SHUT IT SCUM!” shouted the gnome. He brought down his staff hard on the back of Merecraft’s head and things went dark once more.
Merecraft raced out into the cold night air. His mind was ablaze with dark thoughts. He had to return to the Knights Halls in Freeport, he was not sure how long he had been held captive, and Kaide’s misguided treachery had put them all in danger. He was lucky to be alive, he knew that, and he prayed that his half-brother would find the same luck. His face and armour was shredded, long scars bled from his arms.
He had awoken later in the same cell to the sound of the necromancer’s droning incantations. Carefully opening his eyes he realised that his captor still thought him unconscious. He scanned the room slowly, and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that his armour and weapons were still lying in the corner.
The gnome was hunched over a large cauldron from which green steam rose, fleetingly forming dark twisted shapes. His attention seemed wholly on the spell he was weaving and Merecraft acted quickly. He crawled slowly across the floor to his equipment.
Just as the druid was about to gather his belongings and make a run for it a horrifying voice spoke behind him, “Masssterrr… masssterrr… it lives masssterrr…”
Turning slowly Merecraft saw the diabolical skeletal pet of the necromancer advancing on him, its sick frame held together by sinews of dark magic. He drew his falchion slowly, and whispering a prayer to Tunare saluted his foe.
The hours that had followed were dark and best forgotten. Desperate fights in low dank corridors against hordes of undead, swift flight down unknown tunnels, pensive moments spent hiding in dark shadows as patrols of dark gnomes raced by looking for him. Eventually he had escaped by diving into a deep stream and following it to the lakes in the city above.
The half-elf looked at Udrath and Oakroot, his tale now told.
“Mere, I had no idea, I’m so sorry Brother!” the halfling said, concern in his voice.
Udrath just sat and stared at his friend, his beer long untouched on the table. Things were going to get worse before they got better he thought. Merecraft had not only lost his mother again, but now he had lost his half-brother too, to either darkness or death. He hoped the half-elf had enough strength to cope.
The dwarf glanced round the chamber again, spying the shields and tapestries of the Knights. “Well,” he thought, “at least he has another family now. He won’t be alone in the battles ahead.”
Decisions in the aftermath (written by Udrath, posted with permission)
Udrath sat on his favourite chair silently watching Megan as she stitched her Tapestry, adding the latest chronicles from their family history.
“I can feel your thoughts from here my sweet” Megan said without looking up,”Why don’t you tell me what is bothering you?”
Udrath smiled at his wife who had always been able to read his thoughts like they were her own. Taking a swig from his home brew, he wiped the froth from his beard and told Megan of all that had happened to Merecraft in these recent times, and of Kaide.
Megan sighed for she knew that her beloved would be at this very moment hatching some plot to help his and indeed her very close friend.”You must do what you can my love” was all she said, now looking up at him and smiling.
“And whatever it is, I know that you shall do right by us” meaning her and Merecraft both. “I shall be going away for a while my dear” Udrath explained, “And you will not be able to contact me or see me for quite some time I fear”.
Hurting again as she had so many times before at the thought of long winters without her true love beside her Megan stood, walking over to Udrath and kissed him softly upon the lips, stroking his beard and said “I will ready your armour” and with that she left the room.
Udrath sat still watching the flames dance in the hearth, lost for a moment in his thoughts. He knew he was about to tread a deadly path into the dark as he had once before in his past, from which he had by the Gods chance returned unscathed by the blackness of evil. But he also knew that there was none more suited to the task at hand, and he knew he was strong of spirit and resolve.
This time however his following of the dark was not by being weak minded or seeking some answers in this reasonless world, but by a basic instinct, to help one whom he loved as a brother in his darkest hour.
For Udrath Stormheart was not purely of muscle, but a Dwarf of guile and cleverness, and his plan would lead him deep into the Heart of Neriak to seek out an old acquaintance. Masquerading as one still following the dark path, Uddy would surely find more answers to Kaide's disappearance, Kaide's trust that he had placed in the Dark elves that had nearly cost Merecraft his life, and the all important question…Who was the robed figure that he had seen in the Lesser Faydark forests that night, that had stolen Kaide's still form away?
“Udrath my old friend, it has been an elves age…where the devil have you been old chap?”
Udrath grinned evilly at Dyvim the Dark Elven Shadowknight, slapping him on shoulder. “ Why carving Wood Elf heads for my collection you motherless dog!” He laughed. “Now lets catch up over some ale then you can take me to hunt the hairy feet before we roast them for dinner!”
The power of deception (written by Udrath, posted with permission)
Udrath sat silently across from the shadowed figure that Dyvim had introduced him to. Carinus Dhrak, was his name and he stared now at Udrath, barely concealing his hate for the fairer race. Udrath remembered his name from Merecraft's account of his capture and Kaide's fall into the dark. After spinning a ruse to Dyvim of how Udrath's life was forfeit should he show his face to the world, having supposedly betrayed the Knights and most of all Merecraft. He had again recounted this fictitious tale to Carinus, who now sat digesting the story. Udrath hoped he had no way of telling his lies from truth, and gently fingered his axe at his side should trouble begin. Udrath knew this was futile, as Carinus could destroy him as soon as look at him. This was a great a danger as any he had faced, but the reward should he succeed…….
“Well Dwarf,” Carinus broke the silence “I feel that you now are safe, for I have magically changed Merecraft's demeanour, and as we speak he sows seeds of doubt and hate amongst the Templars. It shall not be long before they begin to splinter, for he still has his followers,” Carinus sneered, obviously pleased with himself, and happy to share his actions.
Udrath inwardly smiled as he now knew he had this egomaniac just where he wanted him, but also fear was creeping into his heart for he also knew time was now of the essence. “I thankyou Lord Carinus, for now I may walk the face of Norrath again not fearing for my life. Should you ever need me, Dyvim knows how to find me.” Udrath replied. Trying to shake the feeling of ice creeping up his neck as he left, he knew Carinus watched his departure.
Udrath Stromheart whispered a prayer to Brell for allowing him to enter Neriak and leave alive once more, as he broke into a run through the forests of Nektulos, making Freeport will all haste. He knew he had to gain an ear in The Templars, but he knew not who still trusted Merecraft. He also hoped that when he reached the Guildhall, Merecraft would not be present, for that was a test he was not yet ready to face.
He entered Freeport and went directly to the guild hall, and knocked upon the door. He took a step back as the door opened beneath his knock, and to his surprise Merecraft walked out into the day. Steeling himself for the up coming situation he knew was inevitable, Udrath was again surprised when Merecraft did not even acknowledge him and strode off down the street, puffed with his own importance. “Well,” he said to himself, “Carinus did his work well”, and entered into the hall.
A young woman approached him whom he did not recognise, and inquired as to his business…“Lady, you know not who I am, but I beg of you now….take me to Lithian for I have information that is only for his ear...”
A new path
Merecraft stood in the doorway of the Eastern Commandery and glanced round at the devastation he had left behind him. The door had been replaced, but there were still scorch marks on the walls and crumbled masonry lay on the floor, stark reminders of the fight he had had with Lady Ashden. The furniture was still temporary and there were no decorations. Those had been destroyed by the magic. Sighing softly he strode across to the table in the corner. He placed a bag of heavy coins down on its scarred surface. This would at least go some way towards making reparations for what he had done. If only all the harm he had caused could be paid off so easily.
The half-elf paused, then bent down on one knee. Slowly he unclipped the spurs from his boots that proclaimed his membership of the Knights. Silently he placed them on the table next to the bag of coins. He paused for a second, as if reconsidering what he was doing…No, there was too much history. Too much had been done and said. He, Merecraft Oakenheart, had deliberately set out to destroy the Knights Templar from the inside. He had spread gossip about the supposed treachery of Sria, he had driven Greystorm and others away from him. The Knights were weaker when those people had left and he had abandoned his duties so that they did not regain their strength. His mission had succeeded, the Knights were a shadow of their former glory.
So what if he had not been in control of himself? So what if the Teir Dal maggot had been controlling the strings? Carinus had captured Merecraft and changed him, and the half elf had carried out his instructions to the letter. Oh, he didn't have a choice of course, he was completely helpless before the shadowknight's power, and he had screamed inside his own skull as he saw himself doing the evil work.
None of that mattered. He had not been in control of his actions, but they had been carried out nonetheless. Merecraft had failed his own family, a family that had taken him in when he needed them most, and he had betrayed them with his failure to resist the magics of Carinus Dhrak.
His lifelong friend, Udrath Stormheart, the dwarf who he had known for years had been the only one to actively search out the truth. It had nearly killed him, but the dwarf had succeeded in uncovering the plot of the Teir Dal. Using Kaide, Merecraft’s own half-brother, as bait Carinus had captured the druid and possessed his soul, forcing him to work from the inside to weaken the Knights. When Udrath finally confronted the Neriakspawn, Carinus had merely laughed at him and cancelled the geas. The damage had already been done.
The experience had changed both the Knights and the half elf. Merecraft could see that the Knights were weak now, merely a committee who sat and discussed the threat of Darkness but who did nothing about it. It was time to take action in the only way he knew how. He would take revenge on the shadowknight that had caused him to betray his family then he would destroy utterly any source of evil he found on Norrath. He could not do what needed to be done as part of the Knights, he would need to operate outside their petty rules and regulations. He would become a dark avenger, fighting on the side of Light but not shirking away from the unsavoury deeds that would be required. He would dress only in black now, and carry claws covered in dried blood rather than the druidic totems he had used to wield. Let the servants of Innoruuk beware.
Shaking his head with a final moment of regret, Merecraft turned and left the halls of the Knights. He hoped they would understand that he had not been himself, and maybe, one day, forgive him. But if they did not life would still go on. And so would the war.
Enough is enough (written by Udrath, posted with permission)
Udrath sat silently reading the latest report from Stormguard Hall on the progress of his former weapons training pupils, newly recruited to the Stormguard. He smiled to himself in a silent pride as he read how his students only weeks in training, had destroyed a goblin camp close to Kaladim. His mind wandered, and instantly he thought of his oldest and most trusted friend Merecraft. No longer smiling, Udrath looked at Megan sitting next to him.
For a long moment the silence remained, until Megan spoke, “What is wrong Darling?”
Udrath shaken from his thoughts, said, “Ahhh, it is nothing dear”.
Megan’s expression changed to worry saying, “You must help him you know Uddy. He is your oldest companion, and you his. He has NO ONE right now; he has isolated himself from the Knights by his own deeds. This curse must stop my husband, or Mere may just about destroy everything he holds dear. It falls to you Udrath Stormheart. Go help your brother.”
Uddy looked at his wife with tears in his eyes. He knew she risked mush at showing him these truths, as helping Merecraft meant confronting Carinus Dhrak, which was akin to building your own coffin. Slowly closing his eyes forcing back his tears he held Megan's hand, both knew it may be their last Farewell.
The rain poured as was usual in the Mountains, and Udrath blinked away rain drops from his eyes. Standing at the front of the Chessboard he waited for Carinus to come. It was a simple plan, and one borne of what Udrath Stormheart knew best…Bladecraft. He had arranged to meet Carinus, on the pretence that he had urgent news on Merecraft and The Knights Templar. Carinus had immediately agreed to meet Udrath, so thick was his thirst for the destruction of the Knights. Again Udrath laughed at how people with dark power lose sight of all but power, neglecting to even consider the truths around them. As Uddy stared into the misty rain, leaning upon his axe, He saw the mists part and Carinus strode forward stopping in front of Udrath.
“Well my devious little Dwarf, what news?”
“You have tallied to long Carinus in the affairs of Merecraft Oakenheart, and I tell you now…..it ends here.” Udrath replied.
Carinus stared at Uddy for a long moment then, smiled. “You cannot stop what is already happening my little friend, for to try would be sheer folly, and I do not think that you are as stupid as that”
“Well….what you say is true Carinus Dhrak, for even I know a lost fight before it is begun.” Udrath grinned at the Shadowknight who was beginning to draw his sword slowly from it’s scabbard. As he did so, from the mist, silent as the night, twenty stout well armoured Dwarves stepped to surround Carinus.
Staring Carinus in the eye Uddy lifted his weapon in unison with the unit of Dwarves, and said “Do you?”
Slowly glancing around him Carinus knew he had no other choices remaining, “This will not change anything Stormheart. The seed has been sown, and even now the Knights grow rotten from the core,” He incanted a slow spell sending the smell of death over the ready Dwarves. “It is done. Merecraft is no longer in torment….He is just alone”.
Laughing at Udrath, Carinus incanted another spell and in a moment was gone.
Udrath stood silent in the rain….
“He will never be alone”.
Sighing inwardly, he looked about him….“Boys…nice work, lets go home”.
The story continues in Everquest 2! You can read it here.
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