“A stone of power is a relic from a bygone era. Well known in lore, but existing as myth. The wise Mage would do well to let them remain unfound.” Lord Creswell, Assassins Guild.
“But do not despise the lore that has come down from distant years; for oft it may chance that old wives keep in memory word of things that once were needful for the wise to know.”Celeborn, J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
“You can not hide, I see you. There is no life after me. Only death.”Sauron, J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
This is another short story for this months
Dragon Stone: High Elf
Long and long did the Amanuensis remain locked in his prison of ice. His upper chamber and library ripped from the Keep and hurled out of time in a conjurors bubble. Enough to drive any normal man mad. During his interment he wrote many Letters. Notes, should escape be possible, lest his memory of events in the tower atrophy. Knowledge he might need to rectify the time flaw responsible for events that placed him in exile.
His one line of hope was an ability taught by an elf. How to link minds. To use the flickering of flames to divine a path to seek out others. Offering brief exchanges to glean anything that might unlock his gaol or shed light on why he was there.
As days passed, if days they were, his parchment pile grew ever larger. They were discovered millennia later, depending on your chronomantic reference frame, deep in the Vault by a scholar and pieced together into one mighty tome entitled “Letters of the Amanuensis.”
This represented a book demonstrating how to unlock worlds. One reason access to it was restricted. It also spoke of power stones. Entries relating to these had been redacted. As Scribe I am one of the very few to know it’s contents in entirety. To expose the words in full would jeopardise existence as we know it.
I can, however, reveal pieces, vetted by the Key Masters, in order that generations to come remain mindful that history often repeats through neglecting its lessons.
“The Council erred. We betrayed one species and should have waged war on man swiftly. Fresh from victory to strike them from the world too. History would then have no record but ours to hide the shame which leaves us skulking like moles in the under earth.”
Closing statement of Xalordyn Landirthir to the Dökkálfar War Council.
The wizard divined the end of days for his company several days earlier. It had come to him while seated on a log studying the flames of a campfire in the midst of night. In them he saw the Elite fall. The fate of these warriors did not concern him.
It had been agreed at the Council of Kings that rite of passage would be bought with living flesh. The mage could escape whilst blood flowed and, if the Gods willed it, leave him on the border of forest and Badlands. Sorcery would not be needed and he could pass out of the Barrow Woods unseen.
Thereafter was beyond the control of Men and others would need to take up the burden. Shadows were falling and this world was all but lost.
It had almost worked. As he neared the line between tree and grass, four wraiths grew from the decayed undergrowth blocking his path. They stood in formation, sword hilts clutched in front of them with blades pointing upwards.
Shards of cloak trembled in the breeze drawn off the plains. So near and yet so far. Confrontation was unavoidable this time. Drawing himself up his mind filled with fire. The shades issued hollow screeches and raised their swords as the wizard transferred the conflagration inside into two fireballs that fled from the fingertips of each hand striking the front two square on.
Unlike the Elite’s steel the sorcerers flames caught, engulfing the lead revenants. Such was the heat that incineration was brief and complete. Two blades fell into the earth and turned to dust.
The remaining undead separated, but failed to consider assault from the rear. Arrows tipped with flame hit them from behind. Both wraiths dropped their swords and sped off into the deeper forest before the fire consumed them.
Cautious, the wizard edged forwards. He knew the unseen archers had marked him out and suspected the Dökkálfar. It was their border. At least it was below the wastelands in subterranean caverns and citadels hiding from the sun.
From a leather pouch beneath his cloak the wizard drew out a pendant. Black polished obsidian within a band of pure silver and inset with a stone of emerald seamlessly conjoined, a Dragons Eye.
It felt ice-cold and throbbed in his palm. Fingers closed around the stone and he looped the silver chain around his wrist. He could feel skin freezing to the surface. Always the same pain of frostbite until his grip weakened whereupon the warm glow of life returned leaving his flesh unscathed.
Nothing stirred ahead, but this, he knew, meant they were awaiting him just beyond the tree line. Dark shadows of the under earth living in eternal shame at their role in the desolation of the surface world above.
Extract from “Letters of The Amanuensis – Elven Lore”
“The Dökkálfar live in dark places beneath the plains or, like dwarves, in mountain tunnels and citadels. Rarely do they venture above ground unless the storm of war is gathering. They are secretive and long-lived. Few know they exist and many ascribe them to myth and fantasy. This is a mistake.”
Ynshael Faeroris, Elven High Caucus.
How many times had his mind scrolled these words? It was a name he knew from deep in time, acting as a distraction to take him off course. The mention of it hurt. Why he was uncertain, but it made him forget the present and dwell in self pity. He drew a deep breath.
It required a change of tack. Something in the pages of parchments had drawn attention. Another Dragon Stone existed, this one emerald. What is it this Wizard seeks? Oracle if he remembered correctly. The dream girl lost under a spell cast by the abomination himself.
A Sorcerer that rode the Barrow Woods, survived the wights and lived beyond the realm of Dökkálfar to walk, but why? What was he searching for?
If The Black lived on with it’s stone intact, then were there more? Was The Emerald still there? Were others hiding in the shadows?
Distracted again. Something was interfering with his concentration. He suspected an elf. It was always the same when her name entered his thinking. He forced his gaze to focus on another.
Xalordryn Landirthir, Warlord turned Councillor it seemed if the closing statements had been accurately transcribed. Seeking atonement for the death of a species in a forgotten war spent on a world few believed existed.
Absolution is more than mere apology and kind words. He fixed his gaze on the two candles flickering on his desk and his mind opened a connection.
I am no conjurer Elf.
“You come from The Keep. None leave there as mere mortals. Word spreads fast.”
The Keep is spent.
“As in fallen?”
That is an answer I am still searching for.
“Don’t think we had anything to do with it. Once fooled by a defiler that lied does not make us concubines of his purpose.”
You know more than first appears. The Wizard?
“One of yours. His passage was free.”
One of ours? Are you certain?
“He bore the sigil and carried a stone of the dragon.”
Was there a name?
The Amanuensis stood gazing across the snow field from a balcony he once shared with the arch Mage, Eldred Mortain. That was before the Keep fell.
One of ours, he pondered this gazing across the ice. A Mage travelling incognito. Risking all, traversing the barrier between what was and what is. He wields the Emerald Stone and seeks an Oracle. Shed the lives of part of the Kings Ward and The Elite to escape the wights.
No, not the actions of those from here.
He turned and leaned back on the stonework. From here in the past maybe. Now? Was it not Mortain himself that had said “Scratching through time to affect events is possible, the hard part is knowing how.”
He stared through the window and back into the Library. Now, the past is dead. Everything that was, crumbled in ruin. Orders extinct or cast across worlds trying to make good their lots. Fragmented and desperate, leaving him locked inside the highest most point of the Tower. Alone and bereft of memory.
Xalordryn, former warlord, described a defiler, a trickster. What were the odds on this being the Cloaked Man, Physician or Necromancer?
Was it coincidence his own reach travelled to places rich in tragedy? Were these events simultaneous across all time and worlds? Triggering at specific points culminating in the death of a child in an inert world ruled by science and physics.
And now the trail was leading to Elves and an unknown Wizard. He returned to the flames.
The defiler, what did he look like?
“I never saw him, nobody did. He came at night in dreams spreading death, speaking in riddles and blaming all races, but ours.”
You had a choice then. Die honourably or live as traitors.
“It was never a choice. The Witch that followed would have killed everyone. Child, baby, male, female, cripple, aged. It mattered not. Us or them.”
I know of this daemon.
“You should, the Wizard said he was one of yours too. An abomination was his exact word.”
Then all worlds are at risk.
“Given another chance. We will fight to regain our honour.”
That is something we all must do now.
Travesty across all. Their nemesis is the same across all worlds. The Necromancer. Riddles, lies and beguiling deceit. Follow or face extinction.
A vague memory surfaced. The prophecy of the crow. Her again, and the dwarf. Were not Delalande and Cresswell searching that out? It faded as fast as it formed.
But what would anyone do? Protect their loved ones or see all perish. Genocide of another, or of your own? An impossible choice and one nothing should be faced with. He had been harsh. Little wonder The Black seethed in anger.
Why Dragon kind though? What purpose does that serve?
Perhaps a feint. To turn others against each other. Create wars by seeding the reason elsewhere. Mass slaughter to distract another infiltration.
The child that died is key. Why such a small thing when slaughter abounds everywhere? Something doesn’t feel right.
Dark Elves considering alliance to a common cause, a Blacksmith interred with The Black’s Stone, a Mage seeking the Emerald and an Oracle. Transgressions through time by the Paradox Man, a Witch Queen turned, Assassins and War Monks abroad.
And I am no nearer escape or The Vault.
We are losing badly.
His staff kicked up dust and ash wherever it fell on the approach to the falls. Dusk was upon the shadow of the mountain. Beyond, the sun began to ebb leaving the clouds to brood in the onset of night. There were no stars to see here, no howl of living beast or rustle of leaf in the wind. No trout topping for an afternoon hatch or hawk hovering looking for voles or mice.
The wind blew though. Strong, cold and unforgiving. With it came sounds that belonged in the forest wall where revenants held sway that did not countenance the living to pass. In the distance something crashed in the water. Behind he felt things watching and awakening as the day became night.
“The dead and foul creatures of the underworld rise as the sun sleeps.”He remembered the words spoken by Xalordryn as his eyes locked onto the dragon stone. “Pray your wards are strong and fire breathes at the threshold of your refuge.”
As light began to fade it seemed the trees leaned ever closer, dipping their dead branches in an attempt to ensnare those that passed below. His breath began to fog as the cold crept from the lake and bled into his bones.
Moving swiftly he reached the foot of the rock face and turned toward the base of the watery cascade. Hewn in the stone was a weathered set of steps almost invisible unless eyes were looking. Lichen encrusted and spattered with moisture and spray from the descending torrent.
Easy to miss and easier to slip and tumble downwards to be sucked into the deeps at the base of the cliff. For a moment he paused wondering how many unfortunates lay hidden in the depths, how much steel and bone rested in the mud watched over by whatever vile beasts now swam beneath the foam.
Above a rock dislodged and he heard it tumbling downwards, vying against the tumult of water. Close but not destined to end his days this time. A timely reminder that reflecting on the past was not a luxury he could afford right now.
Descending, the gloom thickened as the stairs wound back and beyond the curtain of water into a cavernous chamber that looked back at him like some dark empty eye socket.