The priest had his long traveler’s cloak covering his reburnished Halavist armour. He stalked through the streets stopping only briefly to drop a few coins into a beggar’s bowl. He smiled from beneath his cowl as the beggar blessed him. “Blessed Halav is closer than you think my son.” he replied. He quickly moved on.
The odour of incense cut through the city air and brought back memories of the cloister. It was curious how the Abbott had shown him such deference when he’d first arrived in the church. The old man was careworn and gratefully received the tithe Maruc supplied him. He’s spent much of his time there in meditation but he’d helped in two funerals and three weddings to give the old Abbot a rest. Nicolai had been laid in the cryptorium and bound in linen and a proper bier and pony was arranged for his final journey.
As he left the Abbot took him to one side. “Brother Maruc, your journey to Threshold will wind much, but a friend will seek to pass through Highforge. This is important to him. Halav’s son Nicolai will be safe in His arms until he reaches there. May the Eyes of Halav Re-Incarnate watch over you.”
“And you too, Father Abbott.”
* * * * *
As he approached the others at the Duke’s Road Gate, Miklos fumbled with the new oilskin sleeve he’d had made up for his treasured spellbook. The weighty tome was the work of a week of diligent copying. The idea had come from his lecturer Nerissa Acrision during a treatise on ‘the Traveling Mage’. The original was kept in a vault in the guildhouse itself. Possibly one of the safest places in the Duchy. He’d also spent some time in the Great Library looking up any references in connection with the Sisters and their relationship in connection with the Dread Night and the ‘Sons’.
Something troubled him. It was the Dread Prophecy. The very first line said, “The Breach of the Lost Temple”. He had first thought that this referred to the elven Temple on Gray Mountain. However, that temple wasn’t lost—the elves new exactly where it was. Lost Tower or Temple on Ruins would have been a more accurate description. He had hoped that by preventing the Sisters from obtaining the Black Opal Eye that they had stopped this dark chain of events from occurring. With no mention of either in the prophesy, Miklos wondered if the Sisters Three were merely minor players in this ominous affair. He shuddered at the thought.
His research of the Blackstick came up empty, but he was able to learn something of the Elvenstar. Apparently, it was a powerful artifact belonging to the elves of Wendar, an isolated land beyond the mountain ranges of the far north. According to legend, it was created to defeat the forces of darkness in a great war of long ago. It now safeguards the peace between the humans and elves that live in its borders, and protects the land from invaders. Was it merely a coincidence that they were to be traveling in that direction?
Eventually, it approached the agreed-upon rendezvous time, and so Miklos tore himself away from the countless tomes of the Karameikan School of Magecraft and made his way to the city gate. The mage now sported new, more robust, traveling clothes and kept his fine set on his horse. He’d invested in a spare flint, tinder and replenished his feed, food and drinking water.
“Well met my friend!” he said as he approached the dwarf.
Feldard had been first among the group, waiting packed and ready to leave, at the city gates. This wasn’t uncommon for the dwarf, who had little patience for milling around doing nothing, but today he seemed even more agitated and impatient than usual.
The dwarf greeted Miklos with his usual brusque nod. Soon after, Hasan joined them.
Tired of waiting for the priest, Feldard informed them of his side journey. “When we reach Kelvin, we are going to take a detour over Highforge for a day or two. I have business there I must see to.” He said little more about the issue but would not be dissuaded from going.
After the great babble, confusion and dealing with the endless, braying youngling humans of the city, Hasan was glad to his time in the city was coming to an end.
“Highforge you say?” replied Miklos to Feldard’s statement. “Of course I have no issue with a side journey. Any particular reason?”
“None that’d be any concern of yours.” snapped the dwarf, but seeing he wasn’t going to get away with no explanation by the look on the humans faces he added, “I’m looking for a friend. As I said, it will not take long.”
Miklos shrugged, it didn’t bother him. but Nicolai wasn’t going anywhere fast so he guessed an extra day or two wouldn’t matter.
“High Forge, then,” said Hasan. “Very well.”
Meanwhile, Maruc lead his pony up to the Duke’s Road Gate. A column of Church officials bustled down the road toward him, Church soldiery pushing commoners out of their path. A soldier shoved at Maruc as he withdrew, his hand brushing open the traveler’s cloak exposing Maruc’s shield. Recognizing the emblem a sneer crept across his face, and he turned to call to his brethren. Maruc quietly downed the man with a word of power and in the press of the crowd the soldier slipped down into unconsciousness. He quickly recovered his shield and continued on to the Gate. When the soldier eventually woke up, he’d found himself on a charge on dereliction of duty.
Maruc recognized his friends as he approached. “I’ll be glad to leave this city. Threshold via Highforge then?” he said, astounding the dwarf. “I will be glad to leave this place. Its stuffed with pompous and self righteous.”
The group waited for the last of their companions. It was no surprise that Saeth was late, but as the time ticked on, it became clear that she wasn’t coming. It was not a complete shock to the group. She had expressed unhappiness at how the conclusion of their last adventure had played out. With an independence streak a mile wide, she sought to strike out on her own once again—resuming her search for fame and glory, and, of course, epic poetry.
Unable to wait any longer, the group left the overcrowded city into the fresh air beyond the walls.
* * * * *
The riverboat made its way upstream along the Volaga. It was the fastest way to get to High Forge from Kelven—the roads in this wilderness were meandering, and not well maintained. For most of the journey, the river was flanked by rolling downs on both sides, but a few miles from Kelven the forest closed in on the southern bank. Though the river narrowed, the boat still made fine progress.
Stephan was uneasy. Reports of increased goblin activity in the Dymrak had him on edge. The incursions were bringing them closer to his family’s homestead. His family was well off, thanks to a business catching and breaking horses from the nearby moors. They just had the great fortune to capture a small herd of pure white horses. The Calaari would pay a high price for them. He hired a couple of strong hands to help him guard the horses on the journey. These two were quite young and green—good help was hard to find these days. It seemed like such a long time since he was that age.
Stephan himself was no stranger to battle—as clearly evidenced by the scars upon his arms and arms. He thumbed his neckpouch, which held two keepsakes sacred to him: a bit of soil from his family’s homestead and a tiny statue that he had found on the occasion of his Shearing. Like all Traladaran youths, Stephan left his family for a time on the occasion of his passage of adulthood. He thought about the day he discovered the small relic. Many days and nights after he had set off at the witching hour with only a hand knife and the clothes on his back, he had finally reached his goal. Stephan stood atop Mt’a Ihkhara, shivering in the wind. After two and half years and a route that took him in no way directly to the mountains, he finally could see the Grand Duchy of Karameikos from its highest point. After drinking in the saga of mountain, steam and wood laid out before him, he looked at his own boots marveling at the path they’d tread. And there next to his right boot lay a strange little statue carved out of rock. Intricately carved, it depicted a tall, slender humanoid creature with a jackal-like head dressed in robes. It appeared to be quite old—an ancient relic of some long-forgotten time, perhaps.
Stephan’s turned back to the present. He regarded the others on the boat. There was Kalanos, the old Traladaran boatman, and his crew of eight rowmen. There was Boris and Roklov, his two fledgling henchmen. And then there were the other four—a priest of Halav, another human in robes (most likely a mage), an elf who seemed fascinated by all around him and a dwarf, who seemed none too comfortable about floating on a river. Adventurers of some sort by the looks of them. They hadn’t spoken to him, and Stephan was not one to stick his nose into the business of others. Still, he supposed they must have an interesting tale to tell. A pity he would not get a chance to hear it though, for they were getting near to his stop—Misha’s ferry, the halfway point between Kelven and High Forge. His family’s homestead, Sukiskyn, was a short journey on foot from there.
Suddenly—a thud! The boat lurched to a halt, momentarily throwing everyone off balance.