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|One fateful day, an adventure of epic proportions begins . . . If you enjoy this, there are other pieces around this site. If you want to read what has ben written in order, visit Jess, who has a complete list.||
The tall, elegant, spiraling towers of the out-of-place Elgonni Keep, situated on and named after the infamous Elgonni Valley. It was a place as old as anyone could remember, and was often whispered about in the manner that people usually whisper strange and otherworldly tales.
Some said it was haunted. Others claimed it was ruled over by a demon king. If you asked the man who lived there, though, he would claim that it was simply rather dull and lonely and rained upon – not that you would ever return to tell anyone this.
The mage who called Elgonni Keep his home stood at the window, watching the storm. Even though there was no glass in the window, he was impervious to the falling rain and howling winds. He stood tall, with short gray hair and long, flowing crimson robes. His eyes, illuminated in the periodic lightning, were ice blue in every sense of the term – cold, unyielding, and harsh.
The room in which he stood was a simple but elegant study, containing a well-stocked bookshelf, a fireplace, soft velvety carpeting and a large and comfortable easy chair. Upon the wall hung a large map of the lands, outlining the various recent border skirmishes and major kingdom influences with a series of color-coded pins.
A soft knock on the door followed by the insistent hiss of “Master . . . ?” caused the elder mage to turn from the window.
“Enter, my little friend,” he called softly, just enough to be heard over the noise of the storm. The small, furry man entered the study, groveling at the mage’s feet.
“Master, everything is going exactly as planned,” he said. The mage smiles thinly.
“Excellent. Go now, and return to Tral’s replacement before he begins to suspect anything.”
“But Master – he already suspects something!” The mage chuckled.
“Go now – in a few weeks, it will not matter any more.” The small man slunk out the door, and the mage turned back to the window, gazing thoughtfully at the stormy valley.
“Soon the whole realm will feel my wrath . ..”
“Saurellyon, you are late!” boomed the voice of the Council Elder, echoing through the vast chamber.
Saurellyon faltered for a moment, running a nervous hand through his short hair. “I apologize, Your Grace. I came as quickly as I could.”
“Why did you not simply create a portal?” The Councilman’s voice as harsh and critical – he did not appreciate dallying, especially from those magi as high ranking as Saurellyon.
“Well, Your Grace, I believe I’ve stated my feelings on portal travel before, and . . .” The Elder cut him off.
“Enough of your excuses, Saurellyon! I have a task for you.” Saurellyon was startled by this – it was unheard of for the Elder to hand out assignments of his own accord. Usually such matters were discussed for hours on end in closed meetings, before a unanimous vote was reached as to who was to go, where they were to go, and when they were due back.
“Your Grace, I am honored by your . . .” He was cut off once more.
“Just keep quiet and listen, Saurellyon.” The mage shushed, wondering if there was a major catastrophe imminent. “I have received numerous reports of wrongdoing, everything from increased crime to civil wars within some of the larger nation-states. The Council and I have traced this, of our own accord, to a vastly growing sphere of influence emanating from the Elgonni Valley.”
“Elgonni? Isn’t that where . . . ?” He froze up before finishing the question. No . . . no, it couldn’t be – he’s just a legend! Isn’t he . . . ?
The Elder nodded gravely. “We fear that the Dark One has finally managed to break the shield we placed across the valley, his place of exile. If he were to break free, it would mean inevitable war within the realm.”
“What do you want me to do, Your Grace?”
“Stop him, Saurellyon – at any cost.”
“What, by myself?” Saurellyon was somewhat confused and a bit more unnerved; he was a powerful wizard by any standards, but to take on the most infamous Dark Mage of all time? This was a bit much.
“No, of course not! You didn’t let me finish!” Saurellyon bowed his head apologetically, allowing the Elder to continue. “You are to seek out Roland Sparrokinias, keeper of a powerful magically-enhanced sword. It has been passed down through his family for generations.”
“Where does this Roland Sparrokinias live?”
“A small village some ways north of here. Take this edict,” a scroll appeared at Saurellyon’s feet, “and convince him to join you. If you can convince others to help you as well, then so be it. Good luck on your quest.” The dismissive tone warned Saurellyon from asking anymore, so he turned and left the chamber, hazel eyes deeply troubled by this turn of events.
He left at the dawning of the next day. The village, a small farming community referred to as Amber Fen, was a little less than a day’s travel from the Council building. The Council itself was situated in the center of a small forest, kept in veritable seclusion from the outside world. Saurellyon set off on foot, electing not to use his magic to fly or travel via magic portal for personal reasons – he found them flashy and an arrogant show of power. Besides that, he hated heights and portal travel made him incredibly nervous.
He arrived at Amber Fen just as the sun was beginning to set, bathing the peaceful place in a warm, golden light. Vast fields of wheat and various other crops waved gently in the wind, the bleating of livestock carried gently on the wind. Somewhere, an owl hooted. It was very much a rural community.
Saurellyon asked around for Roland Sparrokinias, but most either ignored him or feigned ignorance. Eventually giving up, frustrated and hopelessly confused, he made his way towards the local inn/tavern, figuring that perhaps he could better figure out a strategy after a hot meal and a good night’s sleep. He pushed open the door and entered the building.
The first thing he noticed was the dead and awkward silence – very few people were inside, and none of them were talkative in any manner. There was food available, it seemed, which smelled wonderful, but Saurellyon was suddenly very afraid to break the silence. He stood uneasily in the doorway before an unseen figure irritably knocked him out of the way.
“Out of me way, you. Jus’ got meself out of jail, and I need a drink!” the stranger grumbled triumphantly. Saurellyon glanced down in surprise at the short man dressed in dark green who had shoved him as he headed toward the bar.
“Barkeep! Two shots of whiskey, and keep ‘em comin’!” he demanded, hauling himself up onto a barstool. The mage, despite all inner warnings, moved towards the bar, keeping a buffer stool in between himself and the short man.
“Could I get a room for the night?” he inquired. The barkeep, a surly older woman, nodded silently and handed him a key in exchange for a small pouch of gold coins. The short man eyed him curiously.
“Stranger, eh? What brings you to our quiet little town?”
“I’m looking for someone, actually. Roland Sparrokinias?” The little man choked slightly on his drink, erupting into raucous laughter that echoed loudly in the tavern – no one seemed to care.
“You don’t say . . . Roland, eh? Well don’t that just take the biscuit?” He chuckled a bit more.
“Oh, you know him?” Saurellyon brightened – finally, a lead!
“Know him? It’s ‘cause of him that I’ve been in jail for three months! Claimed I cheated him on the materials for his house or something.” He waved a hand, grinning. “What do you need with ‘im?”
“I need him to accompany me on a quest,” Saurellyon offered cryptically.
“Figures. That oughtta appeal to ‘is bloody hero complex,” the little man grumbled. “Well, in any case, you find me here tomorrow morning and I’ll take you to see ‘im. I’ve gotta talk to ‘im, anyway. My name’s Rousseau.”
Saurellyon headed to bed after the little man had left, thinking that perhaps his luck had changed. Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.
The next morning, Saurellyon found the little man named Rousseau easily enough, as he was at the bar, whiskey in hand.
“Ah, good mornin’ to you, lad! Have yerself a good rest?” Saurellyon nodded.
“Are you here to take me to see Roland?” The little man laughed.
“Aye, aye. Not wastin’ any time, are you? All right, then, follow me.” He leaped down off the barstool and headed out the door; the mage scurried after him – for such a little fellow, he covered distance quite quickly. He followed Rousseau out of the main town square, along a winding path that eventually led over a hill to two neighboring farmsteads. One was very vast, but also quite dead – quite evidently burned away in a fire. The other was a meager crop, but healthy; a young man with dark hair was out, slicing the wheat with a scythe.
“Aye, there it is . . . I think . . .” Rousseau grumbled, heading down the path. Saurellyon followed after, assuming that this dark-haired youth was the one he sought. However, the small sign outside the house in question read simply ‘Dira,’ the other sign being an unreadable blackened stump.
“Ach, don’t tell me . . .” muttered Rousseau. Saurellyon whirled on him.
“I thought you said you knew this man!” he snapped viciously. Rousseau glared at him.
“I did – er, I do! Maybe he moved, is all – I have been locked away for three months, and no one’s told me half of what’s gone on out here.” He diverted his attention to the dark-haired man. “You there, lad! Can you come help us for a moment?”
The man stopped his scything, actually having missed most of the stalks of wheat anyway, and looked up at them. His brow was covered with a thin sheen of sweat, as he had obviously been working very diligently at not accomplishing anything. He tossed his dark hair back and walked over to them, pulling his shirt slightly away to allow for some breathing room.
“Can I help you?” he asked simply.
“We’re looking for –” was as far as Saurellyon got before he was interrupted by a woman’s voice.
“Ga-arrett!” the figure running from the house called. “Where’s the wheat?! I think the men from the town are –” She skidded to a halt, nearly knocking the smaller man over in the process, and looked the two strangers over. “Oh . . . you’re not from the village, are you?”
“No, ma’am, simply having a chat with your husband here.” Rousseau glanced between the two, obviously assuming the worst. The girl looked positively ashen as she shot a gaze to the strapping young man.
“We’re brother and sister, sirs, and so I don’t want to ever hear that sort of commentary again.” Saurellyon paled in his obvious embarrassment, causing the smaller man to grin and chuckle.
“Many apologies, miss . . . ?” She straightened up, pushing a strand of auburn hair from her eyes.
“Laurel Dira. This is my brother, Garrett. And you are?”
“Saurellyon Tribanis, ma’am. I’m actually here after a neighbor of yours. Do you know where I might find Roland Sparrokinias?” Garrett and Laurel simply looked at each other.
“You mean you don’t know?” the man said.
“Roland Sparrokinias, curse his worthless hide, died about a month ago when his house burned down. Tried to throw himself out a window and landed on the glass.” Laurel snorted in disdain. “Good riddance, too – he was a drunk and a gambler and was always looking at me in a way I didn’t much appreciate.”
“I thought you said he was alive and well and whatnot.” Saurellyon had turned to the little man, Rousseau, and his voice was rather cold.
“Er, well, I thought he was, lad. I have been in prison for a while . . . suppose I could’ve missed a few things during that time . . .” Rousseau momentarily trailed before regaining himself. “In any case, that means that I’m out of a settlement, too, so don’t go thinking that you’re the only one who’s lost something due to this sudden turnabout!”
“Um, excuse me?” It was Garrett; Saurellyon and Rousseau looked to him expectantly, if a bit annoyed at the interruption.
“Look, maybe you’ve already answered this bit, but what exactly did you need with him?” It was, after all, a fair question.
“I needed his services as a swordsman. My smaller protégé here simply wanted some money out of him, I think.” Rousseau fumed at this.
“Oh. Well, if it’s a swordsman you need for the job, then maybe I can help.” Garrett received blank stares in response. “I’m a swordsman,” he offered hopefully.
“You’re a swordsman?” Somehow Saurellyon wasn’t surprised. This lad had all the makings of one, even if he didn’t seem to be too incredibly bright.
“Sure. I even have Roland What’s-his-name’s sword.” Garrett beamed proudly. “He decided to try his hand at gambling when he wasn’t too aware of his surroundings and I won it from him.”
“That’s quite crafty of you, boy,” admitted Rousseau, a grudging look of admiration creeping across his wizened face. “Always gamble with drunkards, that’s the first rule.”
“You have the sword of the Sparrokinias family?” Either Fate was having its way with the mage, or things weren’t looking to be so hopeless after all.
|(WQ) Chapter X||
|Shadowstalkers (Part 4)||(WQ) Chapter Y|