I was first directed to the site of the fatal manifestation of Mordremoth’s earthly grasp at Fort Salma in Kessex Hills. It was here that I had glimpsed the visage of Belinda Delaqua in her eerily grey-hued, ghastly form. She stood atop the parapets of the southwestern gate, unmoving and unmoved – the slightest disturbance would cause her substance to vanish into a transparent mist. She would eventually reappear, usually during the midnight hours when the gazes of the living were least apt to be upon her.
On this particular mission I approached from the northeast in order to investigate the interior of the fort before proceeding to the southwest. I was met at the gate by a pair of battle-hardened Seraph who were visibly hostile to me; however, the pair did not attack until I neared to within twenty or so paces. I did not want to have to engage them, but it was clear from the pained anguish on their faces that the energy from my body incited jealous agony within them. My phantasms and I laid them to rest for the second time; there would be nothing left of them to honor in a proper burial within the earth as is our custom.
I did not want to have to repeat this, so I opted to garb myself in the cloak of invisibility and sprint my way through the wrecked, wretched quondam living space to the southwestern entrance. There was nothing to investigate inside, anyways. The dragon’s tendrils had robbed every living thing of life with a brutal, primal ruthlessness that could not possibly possess the faculty of comprehension in my estimation. There was no reason, no answer to the question, “Why?” And this was perhaps the most distressing thing of all in my mind.
I arrived at the other end of the fort to find Belinda Delaqua in a rage at the sight of Explorer Campbell, a young servant of the Durmand Priory tasked by Magister Ela Makkay with investigating the strange goings on here. I saw nothing strange other than the fact that this young explorer was exploring the prospect of her own undoing at the hands of ghostly soldiers who were infuriated by the sudden presence of a living, breathing being who lay cowering on the ground rather than retreating and seeking more experienced assistance before returning.
It was fortunate that I arrived when I did, then, and it was doubly serendipitous that Marjory and Kasmeer also happened to arrive at the same time with Belinda’s greatsword in hand – I breathed an audible sigh of relief at the sight of it. This weapon would be used for peace, at least. I thought I saw Kasmeer glance at me as I imagined her perceiving this thought in my mind. I secretly admired her affinity for scrying into the inner worlds of others. I found it somewhat comforting; I might even say it filled me with an amorous warmth.
In seeing the tension fade from Belinda’s contorted, pale face, I could see that she, too, found comfort in the presence of her greatsword in the hands of her sister. Marjory moved to present it to her, whereupon Belinda infused the blade with the essence of her soul, creating an ancestral weapon to be used against her enemies and putting her spirit at rest. Her final words as she left Marjory with her strength: “When darkness overwhelms you, I’ll rend your enemies before they can harm you. Until the day you die, I’ll be with you. My love for you is everlasting.”
Later that night while traveling to Vandal’s Claim on the next leg of my journey, I remembered Belinda’s words. I stopped beneath a rocky outcropping and stared up at the night sky, weeping softly. Such emotion may appear to be rather uncharacteristic of a peripatetic battle veteran – and there have been many battles in recent times – but I, too, am human, and in this case it was the poetic beauty of Belinda’s promise that endeared her oath to me.
Reunion with the Pact
My silent reflection was brief. I came upon my stealthed Seraph contact shortly who made a clumsy attempt at humor before directing me to proceed to Camp Resolve where Trahearne was spearheading a thrust into the newly discovered territory of the Silverwastes, a desert environment inhabited by some of the more foul creatures unleashed in the wake of Mordremoth’s rumblings. I made my way north to the camp where all manner of men and machines were being prepared, repaired, and maintained in the recently launched offensive against the seemingly unending waves of hideous deformities wrought of something that must have once resembled plant life. In the back of my mind I could sense a tangled mélange of whispered references to the undead, the Nightmare Court, and Scarlet Briar. I’ve never been one to dwell on the details of events, so I let it rest. Here I would find the information I needed and no more; I am a fighter, not a librarian.
Making my way through the camp I decided on a whim to forgive the young Seraph who had directed me to this place for his fumbling play at wit. When faced with the prospect of your own demise on a daily basis, you could do worse than to laugh in the face of a seemingly malevolent Elder Dragon. I kept this in mind as I walked past an Asuran camp assistant who relayed regards from none other than Phlunt, an elder member of the Arcane Council – I smiled politely and kept walking. After many years of experience in the field, there were few things that unhinged me, and none did so faster than unchecked, haughty arrogance.
For all his purportedly vast intelligence, the councilman did not deign to trust Taimi with the implementation of her own designs. Given the proper guidance, she could have done so. The Seraph handled my upbringing the right way – letting me take charge of my own abilities and following through on them to the brink of annihilation before rescuing me and letting me experience the consequences of my actions in a very personal and visceral way. For someone like me who tended to be rather panicky and mule-headed in stressful situations, this was one of the few ways that I could be taught. The fact that my instructors were able to discern this aspect of my personality so quickly is a testament to the high level of experience and compassion that they possessed – something lacking in the haughty entitlement and smug bravado that emanated from Councilor Phlunt. I suspect that arcane-headed apparatchik wanted nothing more than to –
Enough of this. I made my way to the top of the improvised steel scaffolding where Trahearne was fielding progress reports and issuing ad hoc dicta. Anything that sounded good might as well have been the truth in this forsaken place. I still sensed that Trahearne was adjusting to the role of large-scale leadership tasked to him by the Pale Tree after having roamed Orr alone for so long. He did not show it outwardly, but perhaps I was just seeing things in his personal interactions with me. (I would later learn that it was simply his polite acknowledgement of my role as second-in-command. I had underestimated Trahearne’s wisdom and experience, having misread his actions entirely in the context of my own, comparatively shorter lifetime.)
I was informed that a squad of ours had gone out on a dangerous reconnaissance mission and was in need of assistance. I readily agreed to take part and bid him an expedient farewell, not wanting to bother the Firstborn with unnecessary words given the circumstances. I returned to ground level where I now found Braham Eirsson near the base of the scaffolding, patiently waiting for Taimi to return from repairing her golem’s plating at the camp’s improvised armory. I smiled inwardly as I saw in him the mother he never had. A Norn who cares less for legends than for his companions is a welcome friend and kindred spirit in my eyes. As it had been the case many times before, the pleasantry of greetings was not always necessary with Braham. I was not surprised when he declined my invitation to join me in tracking down the reconnaissance squad. He was entirely consumed with the task of protecting Taimi who was in the process of dressing down a trio of Aspect Masters via interrogation. This could be perhaps a bit irritating if you didn’t know her, but it was simply her aggressive curiosity as a function of her relentless thirst for knowledge and joy in discovery that drove her to interact with people in this unusually direct way. I suppose one could also point out that she was still vulnerable given that she was a child, but I would counter that she’d earned the right to be treated like any other adult, given her usefulness both in battle and in society at large. Hence my irritation with the dismissive presumptuousness of that self-righteous councilman…
The Aspect Masters were reasonably patient with Braham’s young charge; they were less reasonably thankful when they learned that it was not the Master of Peace who had been responsible for Aerin’s death in Spurgorge Canyon. Not that this bothered me much – I was accustomed to operating behind the scenes and removing evils of whose existence others would perhaps never know. The Aspect Masters took their leave, and now, having commiserated with Braham and listened to Taimi’s lecture-style queries (which is what you usually do when having a “conversation” with her), the time was nigh to make way to the reconnaissance squad’s base of operations.
Caithe’s Reconnaissance Squad
I made my way to the eastern side of one of the four forts that had been established by our forces in the area. Two Pact members stood watch not far from the entrance to a series of canyons; they pointed us to a location close to the northern wall where a Mordrem corpse had been found. My companions on this mission were to be Canach, who had recently publicly re-emerged at a social gathering of the Tyrian nobility, and Caithe, who had most notably joined us at the assault on Zhaitan. I mused to myself in true Seraph style that Canach’s mild sarcasm provided the warmth of social interaction that I’d been missing in the past few weeks. Caithe, on the other hand, comported herself with a respectable presence that bore no traces of her time as a captive of Scarlet Briar, whose insidious machinations were to have been her fellow Sylvari’s undoing had it not been for the timely defeat of her brilliantly innovative yet brutishly destructive legendary Clockheart.
This particular mission, however, would involve only the most rudimentary of mechanical innovations: mines. We were to “prime” the corpses of any remaining Mordrem such that any foul beings who attempted to interact with them would summarily explode. Beyond that, Caithe’s squad had been tasked with providing reconnaissance of the area as we went. I’m not sure exactly what the squad was expecting – anyone could have told you that there were Mordrem in the area; a detailed bestiary would only be useful insofar as a protracted battle against well-armored forces was expected. As we made our way through the passages leading to the slope of the ledge whose peak was our destination, it became clear that we would not be facing heavily protected forces, but deadly skirmishing forces in large numbers. Mordrem wolves roamed the narrow thoroughfares in packs of three; hidden in the shadowy recesses of rocky alcoves lay more wolves in wait with dimly glowing eyes.
The wolves looked more like twisted jackals that had been cruelly starved. The desiccation of their bodies revealed spindly ribcages and empty bellies. They were hungry, even in death, and their senses keen. I thought to make us invisible and swiftly pass by them, but before this thought had even completed a pack of previously unnoticed wolves had espied one of our straggling squad members and set upon him with the vicious rending of jaws and claws. I heard a stifled cry and turned to see him quickly subdued by no fewer than six of those twisted unions of plant and bone who had ambushed him from behind. Our squad converged upon them in superior numbers and downed them after a brief melee. The wolves’ anguished death cries brought the wrath of Abaddon down upon us as every other dog in the canyon crawled out from their resting place and came rushing toward us with the undying determination of beings who had no concept of life or death. Realizing that I would be overwhelmed in close-range combat, I thought to employ my staff against them, but this was not to be. In my foolish desire to clone the staff I had seen Kasmeer Meade using in previous engagements, I had forgotten the Lionguard staff I was using as a template in Divinity’s Reach. And as sardonic as I may be at times, I had left my replica of Belinda’s greatsword at home out of respect for Marjory. I had no choice, then, but to employ pistol and sword against the sickly mass of curs and stand back while my phantasms launched their attacks.
Caithe’s squad had managed to coax roughly half of the wolves’ numbers into facing off against them and had finished them off with minimal losses. When evenly matched, the wolves crumbled – it was their superior numbers and lethal flanking attacks that they relied on to take down foes. I felt a fool standing there in battle readiness yet not doing anything, and felt even more foolish when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Caithe glance at me and announce a sudden end to the violence. I thought perhaps this was some kind of attempt at regrouping against the remaining wolves, but it was for naught as the other squad members were understandably too engrossed in desperate combat to hear her command. My heart went dark as one of them fell and I lunged into combat without regard for my own life. I was immediately joined by Caithe’s squad and we made quick work of the remaining mongrels.
I looked around and counted half of our number dead. I did not have time to express regret or sorrow – those of us who remained raced up the ledge to view our destination: the valley below. What we saw was an enormous, sickly-looking plant creature dwarfing scores of Mordrem beasts. At this point counting or naming them did not matter. The Mordrem were coming from somewhere in great numbers and the crux of our future operations would have to revolve around eliminating the cause of this disease rather than wasting the lives of our men and women on its symptoms. A flare was launched to signal that our mission was complete which attracted the attention of both our copter pilot and several dozen creatures from the valley below who began sprinting toward the base of the slope we had come from with frightening, preternatural speed. We would have to make a stand, but not here on the ledge.
“We’ll go to the base of the slope,” offered Canach. Normally I would advocate for holding the high ground, but when the high ground is buttressed by nothing but a fall to the death, one has no choice. As we ran back down the slope we encountered poisonous vines in greater numbers than before, seemingly spawned at will from within the earth by whatever dark energy was present in this place. The reach of Mordremoth was truly astonishing.
We had only to wait until the copter arrived at the top of the ledge, but this proved to be problematic. So many creatures were coming at us from so many different directions that the only viable strategy was to engage in a delaying action using phantasms and the swifter members of our group who attracted the ire of the most powerful beings and attempted to run them around in circles. I employed reflective glamours on some of the tentacles which caused their poison volleys to do them in, but the defeated vines were simply replaced by more within a matter of seconds. I was beginning to feel that the situation was getting out of hand as I witnessed the arrival of dozens more shambling things lumbering their way out of the narrow passages and onto the base of the slope where we had thus far managed to hold them off without incurring any further casualties. Finally, thankfully, we heard the whirring of the copter blades as it arrived at the top of the ledge. We rushed as quickly as we could back up the tricky terrain of the slope, dodging and knocking back the single stray wolves who had decided to flank us in a defiant attempt to block our retreat. We reached the top of the ledge and boarded the copter which was just large enough to hold our remaining squad members. Caithe and Canach began discussing the implications of what we had seen and experienced in the space of those improbably long fifteen minutes when suddenly their voices faded away and I drifted off into a deep, unexpected slumber.
I awoke on a small cot tucked away in a corner of Camp Resolve. As I did, a guardsman saluted me courteously and began briefing me on recent events before I was able to rouse myself properly. His crisp, staccato report had clearly been practiced several times before being delivered, but I did not comprehend most of it as my mind had not regained its function. I took a few seconds to center myself, then politely asked the guardsman to repeat himself. I felt a bit remiss about replying to his short-essay format situation report with a burbled “What?” The young man in his well-polished armor (i.e. not field-tested) was eager to please and cheerfully repeated the news that Explorer Campbell was now wandering about in the Silverwastes apparently oblivious to the fact that there were also vicious trolls the size of village dwellings wandering about in the same area. I leapt off my cot before the guardsman could finish and ran off to what had been dubbed the “Indigo Cave” on our maps – the central area of the Silverwastes in which she had last been seen.
I arrived to find Explorer Campbell in her usual sitting posture at the base of a tall rock formation near a stone pillar examining something which was quite obviously fascinating to the eyes of an explorer but rather dull to anyone who is not. Most of the more deadly creatures had been driven from this area; we had only the occasional scorpions and snakes to contend with. I composed myself and addressed her by her title.
“Good afternoon, Explorer Campbell. Nice to see you again. How are your investigations coming along?”
“Commander!” she said with a bit of a start. She seemed to be a bit skittish, but I knew it was rather due to the fact that she typically devoted her attention entirely to whatever it was she was working on. Perhaps that’s what had gotten her into trouble at Fort Salma. “I had a feeling I’d be seeing you again after you saved me from those Seraph ghosts. What brings you here?”
“I was told you know about a certain Priory cipher.” A cipher I needed in order to access information about Mordremoth. It would be information that would be its undoing. It was clear from our last engagement that simply bashing into its minions head-on would not be a viable option. To this point, this part of my mission had been kept secret from everyone. Now, it was time for research, which I could do well enough when necessary but which I typically left to others who were more suited to analyzing and dissecting details. My penchant for being carried away by moods and sentiments was known to my compatriots, but this crucial task was too sensitive to leave to anyone but myself and my companions.
“Oh! The cipher for the storage room? I guess I am the only one besides Magister Stonehealer who knows it. We’re all so scattered these days. Far too busy. Do you have the password?”
I hesitated for a moment and thought to challenge her based on my rank, but I cared little about titles and formalities after having been exposed to the silk-swathed vicissitudes of the Tyrian nobility. This young explorer represented, to me, a formative innocence untainted by lust for power or wealth. It was a simple desire for knowledge. Trained to defend that arcane knowledge to the death, but still…
“Long live the king of Deldrimor.”
“That’s it! You got it!” She laughed with the joyful glee of a young child. I suppose if I spent enough time with her we’d become fast friends. But we were both soldiers in our own way. “Okay, you can have my written copy. I’ve memorized it: An almost king fathered a ghost. Hoofbeats drum at a trading post. And once a year upon an open stage, an eager kid comes of age. There are two more lines, but I don’t carry them with me.”
“Can I get in without the other two?”
“No, but you needn’t worry. I left the other half behind for security reasons. You’ll find it when you find the three books each of the lines of the cipher refer to. Each of the lines of the poem is a clue to a book in the Special Collections. You have to find them in order and touch them to activate their magic. Once you’ve found them all – in order – you’re in.”
“Thank you, Explorer. I’ll take you up on that meal when I see you next.”
She smiled at me and nodded curtly before returning her attention to whatever it was on the ground that was occupying her. I returned to Camp Resolve and bathed myself in the arcane glow of the single established waypoint and directed myself to Lornar’s Pass. Whenever I use these familiar creations, I instinctively recall the first time that I had indirectly triggered the portaling magic in a rush to visit the moas kept by Farmer Cassie in Queensdale. I was just a child, then, and my life was uncomplicated. Explorer Campbell reminded me of myself in those days. I knew better, though. She’s a trained fighter, even if she doesn’t look the part. Just as I was now about to become a librarian for a while.
I arrived at Durmand Priory in the dead of night on the heels of a fresh snowfall. Lornar’s Pass had an abundance of two things: snow and cold. I wouldn’t be out here long, though, else I’d probably pause for a while to look up at the night sky. This place had a wintry emptiness that invariably filled me with a sense of awe; the vast openness of the snowy plains and the secrets hidden beneath them somehow transformed the known into an intoxicating mysteriousness. I saw the illusion of form in the misty powder of the nocturnal wind. I saw myself.
I entered the main chamber of the priory and proceeded to the lecture hall. Marjory and Kasmeer had arrived ahead of me as planned. We waited for the Magister to finish her lecture on the Elder Dragons before entering the classroom. We passed several somber students who had just been tasked with assuming and defending a position on the heady topic of magical entities of seemingly cosmic proportions. That was quite a daunting task to give to those who were still being referring to as “novices” and “initiates.” But this was an area where everything seemed to be of enlarged scope and significance. The walls reached to the heavens as if to demonstrate to students the insignificance of their individual existence within this universe. It was their attendance to the knowledge of the arcane that would expand their minds and confer upon them a level of consciousness that transcended any physical comforts the world had to offer.
The magister greeted us warmly and, after exchanging brief pleasantries, led us to the entrance to the Special Collections – a fireplace. More accurately, it was an illusion which concealed the entrance to the vast underbelly of the priory in which books were stacked toward the dizzying heights of the domed ceiling above as high as they would go without falling over. The chef was also a cleverly disguised ward-keeper who knew nothing of culinary applications for bloodstone dust, but a great deal about the importance of the sacred knowledge he guarded with his life and whom, therefore, was allowed to have to access to it. (In tainted hands, Ceara becomes Scarlet. In untrained hands, Taimi becomes something unimaginable. It was not entirely on principle, then, that this knowledge was guarded so vigilantly – it was also out of necessity.)
As I passed through the illusion of fire I observed my own wavy image blinking in and out of view, a familiar sight which served as a prelude to the relatively unfamiliar territory of the world of the written word. For assistance in these matters, I would be consulting Archivist Ernswort whom I found surrounded by a mass of crates piled atop one another containing presumably magical items owned by members of the nobility who would spare no expense in the safeguarding of their valuables. That these things were presumed to be on par with the massive segment of Zhaitan’s tail that had been hauled in here and suspended from the ceiling did not surprise me, nor did the snake kept in a clay jar on the floor in one corner of the room. I wondered what other surprises might lie behind the towering stacks of crates but thought it would be ill-mannered in this place – and for a Commander of the Pact, in any place – to be seen clambering up stacks of boxes and books for a glimpse at something out of sight.
At least here I couldn’t be credibly reprimanded for carrying out my duties. Some of the Norn historians forgot where they were when I interrupted their musings seeking direction; they responded to my queries in a forthright manner as is their temperament before remembering that they were in a place of reflective silence. Other seekers of knowledge among the rows of books were quick to shush any and all noises. One such figure who was plainly irritated by my questions finally relented and spoke to me as if to ward himself from further speech with words of his own: “Every interruption is a thought lost.” The only genuinely pleasant being I found in this place was a man who had brought his two cats and matching red velvet chaise lounge-style long chairs into a secluded alcove between two towering bookcases. He remarked that he could live down here because there were so many glorious books. If you only care for the comforts of the mind, then I suppose you would be in heaven.
The Archivist gave me a warmer greeting than what I had become accustomed to here, which is to say that it was lukewarm rather than frosty. I retrieved the remaining parts of the cipher with a minimum of fuss and began looking for the books using the Priory’s moderately complex classification system. This involved climbing up and down staircases, carefully making my way along elevated walkways with high guardrails, and even – in one case – literally climbing up a stack of tomes to reach one of the ciphers. I did not expect myself to actually have to do this, but the situation called for it. While I did my best to look at ease amongst the dusty covers of old, forgotten dissertations on the human gods, Elder Dragons, and Krewe selection strategies, Marjory and Kasmeer roamed around at ground level, pausing to marvel at the staggering number of texts and the giant, rough-hewn scrolls.
As I replaced the last book after giving it a cursory glance (I am not now nor will I ever be an expert on Duke Barradin), the central, circular shelves began to spin in place such that the previously staggered entryways to their inner rings aligned and they descended into the floor, revealing a gold-gilded staircase in the center. As I made my way to this central area I noticed, for the first time, that some of the historians had not bathed in quite some time. I was fortunate in that I did not have to stay much longer on this level of the Collections; I joked to myself darkly that the strange masks some of them wore must have served to spare others from the malodor of their breath.
For reasons I still don’t fully understand, I decided to ask the historian nearest the top of the steps if this was indeed the way down into the chamber where Ogden Stonehealer spent his days. The historian responded in a comically heavy-handed voice that this was a place of silence, and that no talking was allowed. As if on cue, he was immediately shushed by several of those around him, and to my surprise he then proceeded to shush himself in what must have been some sort of bizarre act of contrition or penance. I was so entirely fixated on this curious happening that I forgot to pay attention to where I was going and without hesitation stumbled all the way down the staircase, nearly knocking myself out of commission. Imagine that – the second-in-command of the Pact meeting her fate at the feet of a sinister staircase rather than being overcome by overwhelming odds on the battlefield. Marjory and Kasmeer raced down the steps to help me up; I vowed to be more attentive for the remainder of my stay here.
As I was to find out shortly, I would not be staying in this particular place much longer at all. Ogden Stonehealer, as surly and coarse-tempered as he was, seemed to have a glint in his eye as he revealed the existence of a mystical hourglass whose purpose neither I nor my companions could readily ascertain. I was invited to hold it in my own hands, and as soon as I did so, I was transported to a lavender-hued domain of cubist voxels connected by a plasticine meshwork that had been polished to a saccharine shine. Marjory and Kasmeer had joined me, but had entered this domain in a location whose connection to mine was not readily apparent. We agreed to look for a place that would bring us together. Marjory was calling me “boss” again, which was a habit of hers when her nerves were getting the better of her. She would never show it outwardly, as collected as she was, but Kasmeer would pick up on it rather quickly and would show it – I just hoped that we would be able to rejoin forces before she became distraught and it affected her ability to fight. The hairs on the back of my neck were standing straight up – I sensed that we would be engaging in combat with someone or something in short order.
And indeed this was the case – polygonal block beings prowled about as part of the security measures in what I learned to be the lair of Glint, the former champion of the Elder Dragon Kralkatorrik. Ogden Stonehealer was the gatekeeper to her domain, where I was expected to discover the truth of what lay inside and its ramifications for the fate of the world at large. I sighed internally at the prospect of having to become so intimately involved in the workings of things seemingly beyond the grasp of mortals, but it was high time that I stopped complaining and started acting the part of a soldier in body, mind, and spirit. I would do what must be done without complaint or hesitation.
I thus ripped into the first crystal minion I encountered with such ferocity that it crumbled within a matter of seconds. I shredded my phantasms in a fit of rage before they dissolved on their own. As I passed through a transparent, crystalline gateway I felt my strength begin to drain from me ever so slowly. Here stood another crystal being shimmering with light – visibly more powerful than the one I had just dispatched – ringed by a patch of hissing black ash that was painful to even look at. Along the diameter of the ring hovered three equidistant polygonal shapes glowing red, blue, and green. I had no time to investigate these strange, tri-colored block formations arranged around the room in triangular fashion – another crystal minion had appeared, this time cloaked in a shield that my illusionary swordsmen could not penetrate. Out of curiosity I sent a phantasm toward the monstrous thing taking refuge in the ring; my illusion was vaporized immediately upon entry. I did not know what to do at that point, so I redoubled my efforts against the smaller crystal-kin while maintaining my distance from it. Eventually, its shield faded and my phantasms and I were able to defeat it. Upon doing so, I was bathed in a green light. Without thinking, I skirted past the ash-rings the larger cube-creature was now lobbing at me and placed my hand on the green-hued stone. I felt myself surrounded by a protective shield just as the crystal-beast’s minion had been moments ago. I ran unhesitatingly into the charred circle surrounding the giant and smashed it into its constituent blocks.
It was then that I saw a vision of a being – a robed man who appeared to kneel before something. I could not tell exactly what it was, for as soon as the image came to me, it faded. I glimpsed Kasmeer and Marjory on the other side of a crystal barrier and heard them discussing Glint’s history in detail to which I attended thoughtfully before continuing on my way. Presently I found myself faced with of a new variant of crystal misery. Here I felt sapped of stamina and sluggish in combat. Before me lay waves of regularly reappearing black spheres that shattered shortly after having been summoned by forces unseen. I sent out a probing phantasm; it was able to survive without much trouble even in the midst of several of them. Spying a protective shield to the left of me, I decided to don it and immediately regretted doing so – I felt painfully vulnerable. Panicked, I rushed ahead through the ebb and flow of this unnatural minefield and felt a shocking jolt of pain as projectiles from one of the mines to the right of me grazed my upper thigh. I ran as fast as I could and hurriedly manipulated my location to a place safe from harm. What would, under normal circumstances, have been mildly discomforting had inflicted serious injury.
I decided to rest for a bit in front of a black diamond-patterned vortex that guarded the impassible crystal-gate in front me. It hummed mockingly and pulsed periodically, creating a neon white circle that contrasted garishly with the shadowy coal of its obsidian-like texture. Annoyed, I swatted at it with my sword. I was not at all expecting it to explode so dramatically and launch a fragment of crystal that shattered the gateway with frightening force.
I surmised, then, when I saw another crystal entity shrouded in misty darkness that the vortices which surrounded him would be his undoing. Indeed, immediately upon spying me he blessed me with the gift of fragility and then rushed toward me with the suddenness of a thousand nightmares. I transposed myself with the space beyond his polygonal form and swung frantically at the nearest vortex which had not yet absorbed my feebleness. My arm tired quickly and my eyes hardened as the beast rounded on me and began its sprint. With quickened breath I continued to slash at the vortex until it finally assumed my exasperated fatigue and shattered instantly, sending out a supersonic fragment crystal into what I imagined to be the creature’s face, stopping it in its tracks for long enough that I could put some distance between it and myself. I continued this tiresome dance until the rocky construct crumbled not far from where the battle had originally started.
Upon approaching next gateway I glimpsed another vision of the robed man: in kneeling, he raised his hands upward with an anticipatory look on his face, the look of one who is about to receive something of great value or import. And as quickly as it had come, it vanished.
I paid little heed to the ensuing historical recollections given voice by Kasmeer and Marjory. I mentally prepared myself and resolved that I would fight a million more of these monstrosities if that was what was needed to complete my mission. But there was to be only on more foe: a geometrical giant comprising precisely delineated crystals surrounded by a ring of unearthly death, flanked by a crystalline minion and a pulsing black vortex. I understood now, that the security mechanisms were designed to be defeated – but only by those who were both skilled in physical combat and in the use of the mind to employ the intentionally designated weaknesses of the crystal creatures against them.
When I arrived I found Marjory swinging her sister’s greatsword at the vortex in vain; Kasmeer sat off to one side far away from the battle, crippled by the emotional anguish Marjory was unleashing on the seemingly indestructible crystal. I could tell from the pain on her face that she would fight with Belinda’s spirit in her heart and hands until she fell. I moved past her and initiated combat, dancing once more between protection and vulnerability, between life and death. We prevailed eventually, each of us in our own way: my combat skills were tested and proven, Marjory’s resolve was vindicated, and Kasmeer’s affinity for the inner worlds of others was strengthened considerably.
I received one final vision before leaving the chamber – the kneeling, robed man received his blessing: he held in his hands one of Glint’s two remaining eggs. We knew, then, that at least one of them had survived, and that this might play a critical role in protecting the world from the tenebrous reach of Mordremoth’s wretched grasp. That Ogden Stonehealer had taken churlish delight in sending us to battle through demented geometry to learn of this was the least of my vexations at the moment. The question now was whether I was prepared to discard any remaining preconceived notions I had about myself and drown myself in the knowledge of arcane in order to uncover the significance of what we had experienced on this day. After today, let no one say that the ways of the scholar are without use, for in these times they may very well be our salvation.