Thrain and company: Chapter 4
Cautiously Thrain and the others stepped through the dark veil covering the tower entrance. Beyond lay a massive round room, empty as far as they could see. The room was dim but lit with a strange natural light that seemed to emit from the walls and ceiling. When they saw, there was no one or nothing else around they moved forward, keeping talk to an absolute minimum while glancing around now and again for signs of anything.
After hours of walking, they came to the end, where there was a set of four wide staircases, each of them ascending higher. "So do we just pick one at random?" Garren asked no one in particular.
Thrain turned to Veera and asked, "Can you tell if any of them have some hidden magical properties to them?"
Veera stepped forward and let her magical senses flow forward to probe out the stairwells. It wasn't long until she gave up and said, "I can feel magic from all around in here, it's messing with my detection abilities. But as far as I can tell these stairs are all the same."
Thrain mulled his thoughts over in silence until turning to Garren and saying, "Alright then we shall have to just 'pick one at random,' you call it."
Garren shrugged then pointed out to the third stairs on the right and said, "Then let us go there."
They climbed the stairs in silence; the dim natural light gradually became brighter as they climbed. The staircase slowly curved around after the first bend; it took them hours just to reach the next floor.
On the next floor, the floor was soft and a little padded; like stepping on ground made of sponges (almost). Spaced around the room (several feet apart each) were tall, slender violet trees that had vines reaching down from the tops almost touching the ground. At the end of these vines were dark purple melon sized fruits of some sort; each tree carrying over a dozen each.
The sight of the mysterious fruit caused everyone's stomach to grumble, realizing they hadn't eaten in hours that mysterious fruit seemed rather tempting; assuming it was edible. But they continued forward for a time until Thrain, seeing there was no one or nothing else around, stopped them for a small break to eat.
They each carried their own bag of specially enchanted food that would stay preserved for years and could be eaten anytime. They made sure to bring foods that didn't need cooking, and ate in silence. Looking around them vigilantly for anything; for a time.
After their meal, they continued, eventually finding another stairwell in the center of the floor. It was massive and pitch black inside, but it spiraled upwards, so they climbed it. Veera and Iris used their magic to conjure orbs of light to guide them up as they climbed.
Time eluded them while they climbed; they only knew they were going for hours when their stomachs were feeling empty. Most of the floors they went up were rather simplistic to find the stairs as they would usually be directly across from the first stairs that led them up to that floor. But now and again the group would reach an end wall and have to split up to search for the next set of stairs.
The first few days climbing, the tower was eerie for everyone, as they continued in silence still keeping a vigilant watch for any 'demons' around, but when they found none they grew bored, and started talking to help pass the time. Conversing the most when they stopped to eat. That was when they were the most bored and needed some fun stories; everyone traded their own stories around except Thrain.
They kept asking for him to tell his story, the one of how he became the lord commander he was today at such a young age. But he kept telling them they all knew about his story and there was little more to add. Eventually, they wore him down though.
"Alright, alright," Thrain said irritated. "You guys wanna know the real story about Aladorn's invasion and the battle of the three great bridges?"
They were all sitting around in a circle eating but somehow, even with their mouths stuffed, they all managed to answer at once, "Yes."
"Well, for me it all started after I finished my apprenticeship with my father. He taught me so much about fighting that I was years ahead of my time; I was barley fourteen back then. But because of my excellent skills in combat and, my family name, I was immediately put into a lieutenant position in the royal army, two weeks later Aladorn began their invasion.
"They moved fast in their initial march and managed to keep the new silent long enough to cut down our response time. Forcing us to fight them on the bridges instead of past them like we would have preferred; still we had ample time to set up our defenses.
And when they came into full view they charged at us full force. Targeting all three bridges simultaneously, their forces were much greater than our own and it took them less than two days to start pushing us back.
"I was stationed in the back on the middle bridge with the lord commander Leon at the time. He was a great man in his prime but he was old and his age showed when it came time to fight. Even so he was a master commander, better than I, and he kept us from being overrun that first day. He tried teaching me how to be a good commander then and there, but I didn't care about that. All I wanted was to crack skulls and turn the great river Meza red with the slain soldiers of Aladorn.
"So of course I foolishly and eagerly rushed ahead straight into the vanguard. My twin adamantite blades cut through the enemy's armor like it was leather. I must have slaughtered over thirty men that first day before they took down the men fighting with me and had me surrounded."
Rugal and Garren leaned in closer to Thrain, eager to hear more. They never knew about this side of their mentor before.
"Well, I would have been dead had Commander Leon not charged in with his best knights and pulled my ass out of there on his horse. I'm sad to say that I realized the truth about why Leon was leading our men from behind and not charging in with them. I thought it was because he was too old to fight anymore, but when he was spotted the enemies all shouted, 'Commander Leon is open, fire now everyone!'" Thrain did his best to mimic the enemy's voices as he remembered in his head all these years.
"A row of some of the best-trained archers I ever saw then stepped out into the open, hidden among all the armored knights with spears and broadswords and shields. They took aim over me and shot straight for Leon as soon as they could; he was their prime target all along, everyone back then knew of the legendary commander.
"The arrows pierced his armor just as well as my swords cut through the enemies. But still bleeding out and half dead, Leon pulled me up on his horse and rode me back safely to the other end of the bridge. He died just seconds later before he could name me in charge and the duties then went to that moron Bruce Genrul."
Thrain stopped to gather his thoughts back for a minute after that. "Wait a second, the lord commander back then was Leon Eagron?" Rugal inquired. "As in your father Leon?"
Tears had started to leak from Thrain's eyes; he wiped them up before answering. "Yup, my father, Leon Eagron. The greatest man that Evercain ever knew; dead because of my arrogance."
Everyone was silent after that, no one had anything to say and Thrain was not yet ready to continue. He finished his meal swiftly, as if eating was the only way of taking his mind off that dark moment in his past. Eventually he continued, "Anyways after that I was stuck near the wall, healing up for days while the struggle for the bridges continued. We managed to hold onto a good spot in the center bridge, but before long reports were in that the northern bridge was lost and had to be destroyed to prevent it's capture; killing hundreds of men from both sides.
"Reinforcements from the north flocked to the center bridge and our struggle continued. When I finally healed up enough to get back to the field, and return to the bridge, I heard the news that the southern bridge too had been lost. And like the northern one, it was destroyed to prevent capture.
"That was it then, this was the last bridge left, if they took it our lands would have been vulnerable to their invasion and we would have been conquered in a couple months' time. I told Commander Bruce we needed to collapse this bridge too; we were losing steadily as the Aladorn troops pushed us further back each day.
"Commander Bruce was stupid, yet also a coward, so he didn't hesitate to go along with that plan even if it meant sacrificing all our men on the bridge at that time; problem was we lacked the firepower of the magisters to pull it off with the last bridge. We had only three magisters still alive with us, and to destroy the bridge so quickly we needed at least ten.
"The next couple days we fought on, neither side gaining better footing. Until the south commander, Arnau Bollin, arrived with heavy reinforcements and we started taking the bridge back; Arnau even took over as lord commander and sent Bruce to the vanguard; he was never seen again. Victory was in our sights, only to be once more stolen from our grasp when Aladorn reinforcements arrived, but not from the south.
"Apparently king Abaron was holding back some four hundred of his men waiting until the other two bridges were collapsed; his master plan was unfolding at last and we were played like fools. He specifically made sure to overrun the other two bridges and to hold the middle one, while slowly taking out our magisters so we couldn't collapse the final bridge in desperation."
"Hold up couldn't you just have retreated behind the wall," Garren said, interrupting him before he could continue. "I mean they still would have to get through the great Iron Gate and you could have just picked them off with your few magisters and countless archers from atop the wall while they tried breaking it down?"
Thrain glared at Garren in annoyance and said, "Yes we could have done that, if king Abaron had not sent a fleet of ships, which by the way we didn't even know existed until too late, to sail around and invade from the north. We had no idea if that fleet pushed through and came into our lands because we stopped getting news about it.
"But even if they did, the real problem was we were not getting word to or from the other side of the wall, that's the real reason we didn't pull back behind the wall. We had no idea what happened to the men that were stationed around it the ones responsible for opening or closing it. Because believe me, we did send them word. But when they didn't respond we couldn't even risk it, if we turned to flee behind the wall and that gate didn't open, we would all be dead within the hour."
Garren frowned and lowered his head. "Okay, continue please."
Thrain sighed and said, "Well you all know this part pretty well, Abaron took a lineup of his best and biggest men carrying full body sized adamantite shields and slowly started walking across the bridge (literally pushing us back). The moving shield wall, they were going to take the bridge draw is unto the open and kill us all off with their superior numbers.
"You know that day when I pushed through that near perfect defense, I didn't know what the fuck I was doing. I was a stupid kid who decided if I would die then I would die the way I lived: reckless and exciting. So I hopped on my horse shouted to the men still following under me, not actually believing they would follow me this time, and charged forth recklessly.
"And wouldn't you believe it as soon as I collide with those men and their giant shields, I go flying off my horse and land right behind them, and their shields, and landed on like three other Aladorn men who fell down with me. They were all just so surprised by it they didn't see the eight other men that followed right behind me. Colliding their horses in the 'shield wall' and flying over with me.
"We got to our feet as fast as we could, drew our swords and started to raise hell for them, I managed to take down two of the men holding those big fucking shields before the men following me were cut down and I was next. I thought it was the end, but commander Arnau, for whatever reason, followed shortly behind us too; but with the full force of our remaining soldiers. And with two of those men carrying those shield dead there was a large opening for the Calvary to ride through and just mow down Abaron's soldiers on the bridge.
"I passed out shortly after that sight due to blood loss and woke up an unknown time after that on the other side of the wall. We had managed to cause Aladorn to retreat and found out that most of the invading fleet from the north was taken out by a giant squid: dubbed the krakken. I was also named lord commander as Arnau Bollin died pushing Aladorn back."
Thrain then stood up and stretched his arms and legs, "Alright then that's enough of that, let's keep going."
Everyone had in fact finished eating by then but they stayed to hear Thrain's story. Now they continued on. "But there is more, isn't there?" Rugal asked.
Thrain didn't turn around and kept going but he said, "Yeah there is... the men that were watching the Iron Gate and were supposed to keep up constant message with us so we could tell them if we would need them to open up; they were found dead. Poisoned by an unknown assailant. Whoever did it, they didn't want us retreating behind the wall, they wanted us to die outside of it.
"For a time I thought it was a part of Abaron's grand plan too, but it didn't fit into how he did everything else; perhaps an associate of his though. Anyways it had to be someone from within our own kingdom, someone high up; I eventually caught onto the trail of a former council member named Eli Troth. But when I went to confront Eli he was already dead. Poisoned by the same substance that killed the men at the Iron Gate.
"I never did find the real culprit, even when I brought back Eli's corpse to the capitol none of our maesters or herbalist or anyone could identify the mysterious poison."
Thrain stopped his story after that, nothing more to say. "I have an question fer ya," Curth said.
Thrain glanced back to him and asked, "Yeah and what's that?"
"These men ya say were poisoned, were their eyes black as coal when yee found em dead?"
Thrain stopped and looked at Curth, "Yes, how did you know that, we didn't tell anyone about it that didn't need to know." His suspicion was evident.
"The poison was called 'black sight' it's found only in a special cavern in the Keflon mountain range," Curth said. "I been there before, traveling with some pals one day, when exposed to it. The stuff makes your eyes go black and you turn blind for a few hours; the longer your exposure the longer your blindness lasts.
"But, according to my magi pal, if you can capture the black sight essence in its pure form, and work some sorta of magic into it, it becomes a poison more lethal than anything. I dun know what magic goes into it but I do know that it's invisible when dark out and can be introduced to yer body though any means, by touching your bare skin, by you breathin it; you name it."
Thrain calmed down, his suspicion gone now. "Your magister friend who told you all this, he have a name by chance?" Thrain asked.
"Just said his name was Finuer, an odd but fun elder fella. He lives in Dorgal though so I doubt ya ever seen him." Curth said.
They continued on again after that in silence for a short time until Adelin said, "You know what I don't understand from your story Thrain?"
Thrain groaned and asked, "Okay, you too I guess, what?"
"What turned you around to being such a kind man? You said you were a trouble maker and only cared for fighting, so how did the young punk like that turn into the man who prays for his enemies after they fall?"
Thrain smirked and said, "Oh that young punk is still there, just buried deep down for when he's needed. But the one who changed me for the better, helped me become the man my father knew I could be, was my arranged wife, Jessebelle. It took time, but she was patient and relentless. And I wanted to be something more for her sake, more than just the battle crazed barbarian I was. It's for her sake I went so far and continued being the lord commander, even when I didn't think I could live up to my father's reputation. She's my reason and my life."
The higher the group climbed the harder it became to find the next stairs leading up; it was never really difficult but always tedious. Though most of the floors were the same, (the soft spongey ground and all the violet trees) they still managed to be lain out a little different than the one before; it was the only way they knew for certain they were not walking in circles. Still they had yet to encounter any other inhabitants or demons along the way which seemed to be a good sign, for now.
Slowly they began losing track of how many days they were climbing the tower. Their only indication of how long it had been was the gradual decrease of their food rations. "Who would have guessed that it would be so hard to tell the time when you can't ever see the sun, or moon," Rugal said casually as they ascended more stairs.
"Who would guess I wouldn't have gone mad after so long of being inside," Adelin added in.
"Well this place sort of doesn't feel like you're inside, or like you're outside either. Anyone else get that same feeling?"
"Aye, I be gettin that same feelin too," Curth said. "Weird, but I don't mind it."
While everyone started talking about how it felt to be inside the tower for so long and not completely miss the outside Thrain was listening keenly onto a very subtle noise he heard. It was indefinable but he knew that there was something, it wasn't until they reached the top of the stairs and stepped into the next floor he understood what he was hearing.
The howling sounds of numerous wolves coming from the dark area to the right stopped everyone's conversation and turned their heads to it. None of them could see through the darkness but they could all hear the howl. This particular floor appeared much smaller than the others since the only illuminated area was a straight path to wall just 20 yards beyond the stairs.
Up higher in the wall was an illuminated tunnel of some sort. Countless of hand-sized holes burrowed into the wall below the tunnel seemed to lead a climbing trail up to it. While most everyone stared ahead at the tunnel in the wall Adelin looked over into the darkness; where the sounds of the howling wolves were coming from. "Those wolves sound, I don't know, unnatural to anyone else?" She asked.
"Aye, you be onto somethin there me thinks," Curth said. He then grabbed his massive double edged axe that was hung around his back and advanced towards the dark area from where the wolves were howling. "And good ole Curth is going to find out just why that is; be a right back."
Curth then disappeared off into the darkness despite everyone's protests for him to wait. "Curth?" Adelin called out as the howling wolves continued on. No answer, she tried again only louder, "Curth! Can you hear me?"
They waited a full minute but when he still didn't answer Thrain unsheathed his sword and stepped into the dark veil. He was walking blindly through the darkness, his sword held out in front of him in preparation, following the howl of the wolves. Their howling got louder and louder until Thrain found he should be right on top of them by now (given how close their howls were). Ever cautious he took those final steps, filled with anticipation he emerged from the darkness and into the light.
Curth stood in the bright area of yellow light, looking annoyed. Beyond him another set of stairs. "Where were ya, I been callin for all of you to be comin; aint no wolves here. Just the towa playin tricks on us." Curth said.
Thrain sighed with relief and sheathed his sword. "No, we couldn't' hear you at all, only the call of the fake wolves." He said. "Stay here I'm going to grab the others." He then rushed off back into the darkness to grab the others. Going through the dark again, without the wolves call to guide him, was a little disorienting but he made it through where the others were waiting for him with anticipation.
"Curth is on the other side of this veil just fine, there were no wolves." Thrain said. "There is also a set of stairs over there, I think that whatever is up in that path through the wall may just be a trap, or at the very least the wrong path."
"That makes sense," Adelin said. "The fake wolf howls in the dark must be part of a test on this floor, so how do we proceed through this dark veil? From how long you were gone it must be thick."
"Just follow the wolf's howling, that's what led me out in the open to Curth and the other stairs." Thrain then held his hand out. "And everyone join hands, I don't want anyone getting lost through there." Adelin took his hand and held out hers for Lessa as everyone followed in with them.
Thrain led them through the dark as he followed the howling wolves again. When Curth saw them emerge from the darkness, all holding hands in a line, he said mockingly, "Aww now look at you. Ya like the wee munchkins in a group when them all gets scared."
Everyone let go of each other's hand at Curth's mocking comment and Thrain took the lead again heading up the stairs.
Down deep in the catacombs lord Tarbeck and Grand magister Cambren met again: to speak in private. As before the only light down there was supplied by Cambrens magic. "Thrain and the others are gone, how should we proceed now?" Cambren asked.
"Not too quickly but not too slow either," Tarbeck answered. "I have gotten word from king Jeremia that Aladorn has called on them for an alliance. So long as Jeremia plays his part right we will be able to cross Aladorn off the list of troubles."
"And how do we do that?"
"Simple, by telling king Aldon the truth; that if Aladorn and Kantor were too unite against us, especially now, then they would crush us. After king Jeremia provokes Abaron then that barbarian will be more desperate then ever for better fortunes. And Aldon will then invite him here and offer him terms of an alliance and grant him entry into the tower, along with some of his strongest men."
"And you think this is a good idea, letting someone like Abaron into our walls with his best men, he could turn around and weaken our defenses greatly from the inside to finish what he started years ago." Cambren said, making no attempt to conceal his worries.
"It is a large risk I will admit but we have to take it, remember this isn't for us it's for our people."
"Our people?" Cambren asked, turning cynical in an instant. "This is for the good of my people, you have no idea what it's like to be born a magister in this world. Just because of the potential you have, they take you from your home and families and force you into the military." Cambren's light orb turned red and began heating up the crypts as his anger grew out of control.
Tarbeck held up his hands and said, "Easy there my friend, you're right I don't know what that is like, but it is not just the magister who's world we're trying to improve, it's everyone's."
Cambren took in steady deep breaths to calm himself down; his orb returning to a dim yellow as the crypts cooled down again. "You're right, I am sorry."
"These are stressful times for everyone, us most of all; you just have to hold it together for a little while longer. I know you can do it."
"How long do you think you will need to convince Aldon to let Abaron and his men into our walls?"
"Not too long, but as I said before this is a delicate process, and not one I can rush."
"Alright then, well you work on him I will begin the preparations to aid Kantor. We don't want our friends beyond the wall to fail before they can even try."