Chapter 1: Luthadale
”Dah’Marra!,” Nora Bergen shouted into the forest, pushing another low-hanging tree branch aside, ”Dah’Marra!”. The Zedlei forest was cold. Unseasonably so, for a day in spring. It was quiet, too. While travelling with her companions, Nora had heard of the songbirds of the Zedlei forest. She could count the birds she had heard during the week they had been trekking north through the Zedlei on the fingers of one hand. Nora had been walking in the front of their little party along with their ranger Dah’Marra when the miqo’tes keen hearing had picked up on something that must have passed by Noras ears. “If something happens, call my name,” She had said, then raced away before Nora could protest. The ranger had barely made a sound as she raced away through the forest brush. She had been on the road alongside the rest of them for a few months now, so Nora was somewhat used to Dah’Marras spontaneous logic. But the absence of surprise did not equate to the absence of worry. Many creatures lived in the Zedlei forest, and not all of them were friendly. She would prefer not to get gored by a boar before they even reached the lighthouse. ”Dah’Marra!’” Nora spun on her heel to face a rustling behind her, both hands clasped firmly around Ainfasal.
A pair of ginger-haired ears poked out of the top of a dense bush. ”Nora called?” Dah’Marras furred ears perked up as Nora sighed, then the miqo’te rose fully from the bush. Despite her romp through the forest, Dah’Marras travel-leathers were still remarkably clean and she had no branches nor leaves stuck anywhere on her person. Noras travel robe was filthy compared to that. While Dah’Marras green eyes looked quizzingly at Nora, the miqo’tes ears scanned around, probably keeping track of the forest around them.
Nora brushed a leaf from the shoulder of her robe. “What did you find?”
The miqo’te ranger nodded, the usual playfulness in her eyes replaced by a hint of a serious demeanour. ”The forest proper ends about half an hour from here. Opens into some farmland around a village close to the coast.”
”Anything to be cautious about?” Dah’Marra shook her head in response then bounded off again, disappearing into the woods before Nora could say another word. She did not like being alone in an unknown forest, but if the ranger said it was safe, Nora trusted her.
True enough, about half an hours walk later, Nora emerged from the forest onto the edge of some farmland, a village sitting on the coast in the distance. Small houses clustered together inside a pass between 2 large cliffs, the farmland covering most of the land between the forest border and the village. Curiously, Nora saw no lighthouse anywhere within the village or the visible coast-area. Now that she was out from under the trees of the Zedlei, the unseasonable cold was receding, replaced by the pleasant heat of the spring sun. The others had been a little ways behind her, so she decided to find a place to sit and wait for them.
Erroix Kalurard emerged first, frantically brushing away various leaves that had stuck to his dark travelling robe. Bodvar emerged next as he chuckled at the elezens discomfort. Of the knight Deormund she saw no sign.
Nora waved at them as they emerged. ”Where’s Wright?”
“Dah’Marra doubled back to us, said she wanted to scout further ahead. Wright went along that they’d check further down the coast for that lighthouse.” Bodvar replied, looking out towards the village.
Erroix brushed the last leaves from his robe and joined them, likewise examining the village and surrounding area. “The rest of us should inquire in the village, see if the inhabitants know anything. They live here after all.”
Nora grabbed a waterskin from her pack. “The village isn’t that far away, let’s wait a bit. The sun is much warmer outside the forest.”
Erroix remained on his feet, but did not otherwise protest the suggestion. “Indeed it is. Curiously so,” The elezen mage paused for a moment, “Why do you suppose that is?”
Nora stoppered the waterskin and put it back down. “The Morabellan mountains are just south of the forest and are full of snow.”
Erroix crossed his arms. “The snows of Morabella are a by-product of magicks and the Mist of the mountains, rather than a natural phenomena. They should not affect the surrounding environs.”
Nora pondered that over another mouthful of water. “So the cold isn’t natural to the Zedlei?”
“In truth this is the first time I have been to this part of the world, so I wouldn’t know. Dah’Marra has been here before, supposedly. Let us ask her when we meet her and Deormund in the village.”
Bodvar turned back to them, a big grin on his face. ”Aye, let’s see what this place has to offer,” He briefly looked back at the forest, ”The forest wasn’t bad but it is largely devoid of creature comforts.”
The wind carried the salt-water smell of the ocean as the 3 walked along the paths that ran beside the fields. The few farmers working the fields regarded them with wary expressions as they passed.
”It must be a rare occurrence for the village to be receiving guests, being so far away from any major city.” Erroix mused as they walked.
”Maybe last time wasn’t such a pleasant experience, judging by the looks they’re giving us.” Bodvar replied. Nora did not respond. People working in the fields and the style of the village nestled along the coast reminded her of her own village. As memories of home rose unwanted to the front of her mind, homesickness lessened the joy of the spring weather. The only villager they saw in the fields to not return their looks with cautious expressions did not return their looks at all, but instead dropped his tools and ran ahead of them, presumably to inform someone of their coming. And sure enough, as they reached the end of the fields, 2 burly humes and a seeq stood in the road, looking decidedly uncomfortable in suits of hunting leather. The 2 humes both carried hunting bows and looked to the axe-armed seeq when the party stopped to give them questioning looks.
Noticing the attention, the burly seeq sighed and took a short step forward. ”Name’s Berkholt. What do 3 strangers want in Luthadale?”
”Just passing through.” Bodvar replied. Nora could tell from his tone that he was grinning.
”Then you can pass around.” Berkholt was not returning the good humour.
Erroix held a hand up in a placating gesture and stepped in front of the highlander. ”In truth, we are looking for a lighthouse that should be somewhere on this stretch of coastline, yet we have seen no sign of it,” The villagers seemed to grow even more uncomfortable at the mention of a lighthouse, ”And we were hoping talking to some of your fine townsfolk might provide some helpful clues.”
Berkholt scoffed at the elezen. ”Ain’t no lighthouse around here. You can stay at the town hall, but it won’t be free.”
”Worry not, we shall not impose without some form of payment. Which one is the town hall, if we might ask?”
”Tallest building without a sail, can’t miss it.”
They thanked the impromptu guards and continued into the village. As they got out of earshot of the militiamen, Bodvar turned towards Erroix. ”Without a sail?”
”He was talking about the town windmill. Its probably taller than the town hall, but the hall obviously won’t have a sail.” Nora replied before the elezen could reply.
Children played in the streets but they did not stray far from the houses, and their parents would occasionally shoo them inside as the party passed. Luthadale was larger than Nora’s home-town but not by much, so it did not take them long to reach the ‘largest building without a sail’. The town hall stood out in the village as the only structure with 2 floors and no sail slowly rotating in the spring ocean breeze. A small crane was suspended beneath a thatched saddle roof, its wooden mechanisms hidden in the shade. The large wooden double-doors stood open, villagers entering and leaving all the while. As the party walked past them and into the hall proper, the work rate slowed while villagers stopped to stare at the visitors to their little village. Inside was a large meeting hall with a series of tables and benches arranged throughout the room and small raised podium with a counter situated next to it. Same as outside, villagers came and went through the room carrying boxes, barrels and sacks. A scraggly youth sat behind the bar, carving away at a length of wood.
Bodvar sat down at one of the tables, trying to be as subtle as a 6-foot-something Highlander could be, while Erroix and Nora went to the bar. As they approached, the boy gave a small start and stopped his carving, hurriedly stashing the carving away. His right hand came up from beneath the counter with a bead of blood at the tip of his thumb. “Uh, anything I can help you two with?”
The words came out so quickly that they had to consider them for a moment before replying. “We are looking for a lighthouse that is supposed to be on this coastline, but we did not see it when we walked in,” Nora sat down on one of the stools by the bar, “So we thought it would be advisable to ask around town.”
The youths eyes flicked back and forth between Nora, Erroix and Bodvar, who was still taller than the boy even when sitting down. “Wh-what do you want to k-know?”
Erroix put his hat on the counter-top and sat down as well. “Do not worry about our big friend, he is friendlier than his appearance suggests.”
“Ask him about the lighthouse!” Bolvars voice carried easily through the empty hall.
Erroix swivelled on the stool to look back at the warrior. “Oh yes, thanks for the reminder of the entire reason we came here in the first-“
“Don’t bother the lad!” The voice that had interrupted Erroix belonged to a matronly-looking woman standing on the stairs descending from the second floor. She was dressed in a simple dress, and her flax-blond hair was done up in a single long braid that was quite long even after being carried over her shoulder. Everything about her seemed to radiate a sense of slight-but-constant annoyance.
Just like outside, Nora could practically hear Bodvars grin. “We meant no bother, miss. We’re simply here to find a lighthouse.”
The woman gave them all a scrutinising look before walking behind the counter-top. “Noah, go and see if Bunther needs anything, I’ll talk to these visitors.”
The youth walked away so quickly it could be called running, and the woman turned back to them. “He’s a good lad, but nervous as he is, he might say something he should not.”
“What shouldn’t Noah say?” Nora replied, unsure if she should lower her voice.
“He certainly should not talk about the lighthouse,” The woman held a hand out towards them, “My name’s Ailred. I do odd jobs around the village.”
Nora shook the proffered hand. “I am Nora, of Karradale.” Erroix too returned the gesture. “Why shouldn’t the boy talk about the lighthouse?” Erroix asked.
Ailred lowered her voice enough so only the 3 around the bartop would her. Behind them, Nora could hear the faint sound of Bodvar sharpening his axe. The sight of a Highlander sharpening a battleaxe would probably deter the villagers from their own hall for long enough so they could speak to this Ailred in relative privacy.
“His father’s not the happiest sort, and what with our previous visitor and the trouble in the Zedlei, the village as a whole is a little jumpy.”
Nora was not overly surprised at mention of trouble in the forest they had just travelled through. “So I take it the unseasonable cold is not a common occurence.”
Ailred shook her head slightly. “A little under a fortnight ago a hume male arrived, much like you, from the Zedlei forest. His manner and garb were strange, and he was armed,” She retrieved a small bottle of golden liquid and poured a measure into a small glass, “Scared the animals and children too. He was entirely alone, and just like you, asked around the village about the lighthouse.”
Erroix made a show of putting a few gil on the bartop and loudly asking, “A drink, please!” Ailred gave a small sigh and poured another glass out. Raising the glass to his lips, he lowered his voice again. “Armoured, dark hair worn long?”
Ailred nodded as Erroix downed the drink. “We know him,” Nora ran a hand through her hair, trying to sound calm despite the unsettling news, “Volkmarr beat us through the Zedlei on his own.” An uncomfortable tension settled on the group at the mention of their quarry’s name.
The uneasy silence was quickly broken when Erroix abruptly coughed, quickly putting the now-empty glass back on the counter. “By Thaliak, this spirit is strong.”
Ailred put the bottle of spirit back beneath the counter. “Luthadale Whiskey is not to be scoffed at, stranger with the ears of a Gria.”
“Erroix Kalurard, an elezen of Ul’Dah trained in thaumaturgy. I am no Gria.” The elezen replied, his coughing subsided.
Ailred did a slight curtsy that the matronly woman somehow made slightly disdainful. “Apologies, ser Kalurard, no disrespect was meant. We have not seen one of your kind around these parts before.”
Nora rested her arms on the counter. “Luthadale does not get many travelers, I take it?”
“Before your friend a fortnight ago, the village have not met any strangers for over 11 years. Morabella in the mountains attracts all the attention, good or otherwise.” Ailred replied.
Bodvar joined them at the counter. “Dah’Marra is sure to get a lot of attention here, then,” He pointed towards Erroix’s empty glass, “Any more of that?”
“Probably not the kind of attention she prefers.” Nora said while Ailred poured a glass for the Highlander.
Ailred placed the bottle back under the counter again. “So is this Dah’Marra one of you elezen as well?”
“Miqo’te.” Bodvar said before raising the whiskey glass.
This only seemed to confuse the woman, so Nora raised her hands, placing her fingers on the top left and top right of her head, mimicking cat ears. “A miqo’te has cat-like ears here and here, as well as a tail, again like a cat. Dah’Marra is one of us, she and our knight said they would explore the coastline while we should inquire here in the village.”
Ailred looked at them like they were madmen, but only sighed and poured another glass of spirit for herself. “I’ll tell Noah to tell his dad to look out for a cat-eared lady and a knight wandering the coast.” Again the whiskey bottle was put away beneath the bar.
A creaking from the stairs in the other side of the hall announced Noahs return from the second floor. “Bunther says he would like to talk to the visitors as soon as possible.”
“You should go do that straight away then, maybe he can give you some answers,” Ailred said, putting the various glasses on the counter aside, “I’ll make sure your friends are at least somewhat expected.”
Noah led them upstairs to Bunther’s office, then ran off to find his father per Ailreds instruction.
Bunther was a dark-haired hume dressed slightly more finely than the other villagers, sitting in a fine chair behind a wide wooden desk. While he looked pleased enough to meet them, he did not seem a sympathetic sort.
Nora hurriedly smoothed her robe and sat down in the single chair in front of the table. Bunther leaned forward, folding his hands in front of him.
“So, Miss Bergen, why have you and yours visited our quiet village?”
Nora eased into the chair, conscious that her travelling robes still carried the dust of the road. “I travelled here with Ser Deormund of House Wright in search of a lighthouse that should be on this stretch of coastline,” She casually motioned towards Erroix standing behind her, “Kalurard here uncovered some evidence that suggests a relic of our clan might be found within.”
Nora reached forward and placed their Hearth of Home badge on the table. It was strictly not a members badge, but they were gambling that a small-village mayor would not know that little detail. “The Crest of Elias. It belonged to the son of previous clan-leader who took on a quest somewhere north of the Zedlei. He never returned and the Crest was lost several hundred years ago.” A straight lie. Hearth of Home as a clan was not even 30 years old, as Gremi von Nalbina was both founder and leader. To Noras knowledge, the matronly woman did not have any children.
Bunther sighed softly, then leaned back in his chair. “Then I must dissapoint you, sadly. I do not know of any lighthouse in or near Luthadale. We do have tall cliffs where we occasionally light bonfires, but no lighthouses. I would have told as much to your friend.”
“Our friend?” Nora asked, suspecting the answer.
Bunther ran a hand through his thin beard. “Passed through here some 10 days ago. He did not give his name and did not pay in any way for the advice he was given. Long dark hair and impressive armour. Just about everyone in the village considered him downright rude, and he was scaring the children. Leed and Berkholt suggested we should drive him out, but before any plans could be made,” The mayor swept his hands upwards in an almost theatrical motion, “He had just vanished from Luthadale.”
“Volkmarr is no friend of ours.” Bodvar growled.
The mayor paled at the outburst from the highlander. “My apologies, we rarely have visitors and then we have 2 groups within 2 weeks, so I assumed-“
Nora cleared her throat. “No need for apologies ser Bunther, it is an understandable conclusion to reach but, not to repeat my friend, this man is not a friend of ours. He is a very dangerous man, and it would be best for all of Ivalice if he is stopped.”
Bunther paled even further. “He’s dangerous?”
“Very much so. You might not have heard of this, but about a year back the city of Sprohm to the southwest was struck by a devastating earthquake,” Nora replied, nodding, “We believe him to be linked to the cause.”
Bunther chuckled suddenly. “A man who causes earthquakes?” His voice was thick with disbelief. “And how did he perform such a feat?”
“We do not know how,” Erroix said from behind her, “but it would seem like he travelled here immediately after the events in Sprohm. No matter how one looks at that, it cannot be a good sign.”
“But there is no lighthouse around these parts.” Bodvar echoed the mayors words from earlier. It did not sound to Nora like the highlander believed the mayor on that topic.
Bunther nodded, colour slowly returning to his face. “Just so.”
“Volkmarr is very dangerous, and while we have come to retrieve the relic, we will be very grateful for any assistance in tracking down either the relic or Volkmarr.” Nora said.
With that, Bunther had thanked them for their time, assured them he would tell the hunters and showed them the door. Descending the stairs back to the open hall, they found the young Noah back behind the bar. He told them that Ailred had some things to see too before the days end and that he was to provide them what they needed, within reason. Bodvars request for more whiskey was refused outright, although Noah did not look pleased to refuse the tall highlander. Ailred had some things to see too before the days end and that he was to provide them what they needed, within reason. Bodvars request for more whiskey was refused outright, although Noah did not look pleased to refuse the tall highlander.
Nora coughed politely from her seat a few positions over. The hunter stiffened ever so briefly then looked over. “Excuse me, but I believe these ‘weird folk’ are our friends.”
“No disrespect meant, miss, we’re not used to visitors around these parts.”
“We were told as much by your mayor earlier, so no need to worry about that,” Nora did not quite like the man’s tone, but did not see the point in any conflict. “Where exactly did you see them?”
The man scratched at his short beard. “Somewhere down on the coast. We’ll take them here.”
“We would prefer to go to meet them, rather than sit and wait here.”
Before he could respond, Noah put the waterskin back on the counter. “It was Ailred who told me to tell you, dad.”
At the mention of the matronly lady’s name, Noah’s father sighed. “Alright then, I don’t want any trouble with Ailred of all people. Follow me, I’ll lead you out.”
As they all rose from their seats, Bodvar raised a hand. “I’ll stick around here, see if I can squeeze anything useful from the other villagers.”
“I don’t suppose the hope of more whiskey is part of that idea?” Erroix responded while grabbing the cane he had leant against the counter. The highlander simply grinned in response.
As they left the hall, Nora noticed that Noah leaving from the other end, but did not mention it. The smell of salt in the air grew stronger as they approached the coast. It did not take long before they spotted the familiar frames of Dah’Marra and Deormund talking to the large seeq they had met earlier. Both the ranger and the knight looked ready to draw their weapons, but they did not seem intent on using them. The militia, on the other hand, looked less relaxed.
“Berkholt, they’re friendly. Ailred vouches for them.” Noah’s father shouted as they approached.
“And what does the mayor say?” The seeq replied, scoffing at the hunter, “Bah, lower your weapons everyone,” Berkholt waved at the other militia, “Ailred’s alright and Bunter probably won’t mind.” With that, the militia stomped off. Berkholt jabbed a finger at Noah’s father. “Leed, you’re in charge o’ them, make sure they don’t cause any trouble,” then left, leaving the party and Leed on the coastal outskirts of the village.
As soon as the militia had disappeared from view, Dah’Marra and Deormund relaxed and stowed their weapons away. Both of them gave curious looks to the lone hunter remaining amongst them.
Leed bowed slightly towards Deormund. “Apologies for Berkholt, ser knight, that seeq was never any good at showing respect.”
“Volkmarr arrived in the village before us, so it would be understandable for them to be on edge.” Erroix commented.
Deormund visibly tensed, but Dah’Marra spoke before the knight could respond. “He found the way before us? How did he get through the Zedlei faster than us on his own?” She seemed somewhat frustrated.
“None of us hunters saw him before he was at the village border,” Leed replied. He still seemed cowed by Deormunds presence, “He asked around before he went on his way. Vanished from our tracking somewhere out on the coast.”
Deormund sat down on a row of fence lining the little road they were standing by. “We should track him down as soon as we can.”
Erroix slowly shook his head. “No need. If he came here for the lighthouse, then finding that will solve the issue of Volkmarr as well.”
Deormund glared at the elezen. “We don’t know what he hopes to find there.”
“And if ser Hanjer had not told us of his discoveries, we would still be completely in the dark as to his whereabouts or destinations,” Erroix replied while ignoring the knights stare and brushing specks away from at his robe, “No slight meant to your village, Leed, but Luthadale does not exist on most maps, and very little of historical note has ever happened here. At most, history books concerning the for northern regions of Jylland might off-handedly mention Luthadale as a village trading in whiskey and lumber from the Zedlei.”
Leed snorted before replying. “To you high and mighties we might just be a backwater, but Luthadale has its own history. We’ve not just been sitting on our asses for decades.”
“I come from a village much like Luthadale, Leed,” Nora replied, trying to keep her tone friendly, “And we wish to help where we can. But we need to find this lighthouse.”
Leed did not reply immediately, but instead turned to look at the village under the setting afternoon sun, only to draw attention to a stocky woman walking towards them with hurried steps. “Ailred?”
Ailred ignored him at first. “What do you 5 intend to do if you find the lighthouse?”
Before the party could reply, Leed stepped in front of her and spoke up. “You can’t tell them, Ailred. Bunther won’t allow it.” He seemed paler than a moment before.
“You know how I feel about Bunther’s little orders, Leed.” She was still looking past the hunter.
“And Berkholt?” Leed had looked over his shoulder at the seeqs distant figure before responding.
“Berkholt knows not to mess with me.” Ailreds tone suggested that the woman had every confidence in the face of whoever she might face.
“You want to know about the lighthouse? I’ll tell you what I know,” Ailred said, glaring at Nora and her friends in turn, “If you help us out first.”
“And what form would this help take?” Deormund replied warily.
The woman turned and pointed at the forest that dominated the horizon at the other end of the village. “Since our previous guest passed through, the Zedlei has been growing colder and colder, and the unseasonable temperature has begun leaking unto our fields during the night. If I didn’t know better, I would say that, while it is spring out here, inside the Zedlei winter is fast returning, and too early. It is hurting our crops and our hunting, hurting the village in turn,” Ailred turned to regard Leed this time, “Isn’t that right, Leed?”
The hunter cowered ever so slightly under Ailreds gaze. “Well, the forest has been awfully cold for this time of year, and yeah, the creatures are exceptionally skittish.” Leed relaxed visibly as he spoke.
Ailred simply nodded and turned back to the group. “I noticed this about a week ago , and I think his passage somehow disturbed the spirits of the forest,” The womans expression only seemed to grow more frustrated, “But that is as far as I got. I cannot think of anything to do on my own,” She turned towards Nora and Erroix specifically, “But you two are mages, are you not?” The two simply nodded in response, “Then surely you can do something?”
“We’ll see what we can do, miss Ailred,” Nora replied after a moment of silence among the group, “but if Volkmarr is around, we cannot just leave him be.”
Ailred looked about the group. “You all look like capable folk, why are you so afraid of one person?”
“This ‘single person’ destroyed a city which was far greater than Luthadale,” Deormund replied matter-of-factly, “So we cannot just leave him to his devices while we search a forest for some petulant spirit.”
The woman paled slightly at Deormunds tone but her own remained resolute. “If he truly is as dangerous as you say, then surely you also cannot ignore the traces of his passing.”
The knight held up a hand in front of him in a placating gesture. “We already said we would help, miss Ailred, we just need to find out what form our help will take. Mages do not just pull solutions out of their petticoats.”
Ailred glared at Deormund for a moment then relented, bowing slightly towards the knight and the rest of them. “I suppose I am not offering much as recompense, so I cannot rightly ask the heavens. Thank you all the same.”
Chapter 2 – Zedlei
Ailred and Leed left the group as the sun began setting, leaving the coastline in the orange glow of the spring evening. Everyone seemed caught in their own thoughts, so Nora turned to Erroix. “Do you think the lighthouse is actually here, or did we turn afoul somewhere along the road?”
“This is what we set out for. I am absolutely certain of that,” Dah’Marra added, “Though I cannot speak for the lighthouse.”
“I think something is here,” The elezen replied, “The flow of aether along the coast suggests something is drawing it in, though I cannot tell the exact nature of what without seeing it more directly. But it is drawing a lot of aether. I’m surprised we are not seeing a concentration of Mist.”
“I don’t suppose we are so fortunate that you can pinpoint the location of this object or entity?” Deormund asked. The knight was looking out towards the beach, a hand close to his spear. The waves lapping gently in the spring breeze were at odds with the curious tension that Nora was sensing among her companions.
Erroix chuckled slightly. “Sadly not. I am afraid that we are going to have to rely on miss Ailreds assistance for that.”
Nodding, the knight turned to Nora. “When it comes to spirits, you’re our expert. Noticed anything yet?”
Nora sat down on the wooden fencing and collected her thoughts for a moment. “There’s definitely something going on in the area. I will need more time to make sense of it, but my immediate guess is that the natural order of the local spirits was greatly disturbed recently, which has caused a great deal of unrest.”
“Unrest?” Erroix replied, looking at her with a sidelong glance.
“Some areas have ‘natural’ unrest, as the local spirits compete for space, prestige or power,” Nora wished she had a drawing board of similar, “An active volcano is a good example. The outpouring of fire-aligned spirits disturbs the already-present spirits of the land around the volcano. The spirits in Sprohm are likely experiencing something similar, as powerful earth-aligned spirits and elementals congregate on the quake sites.”
“This is different?”
Nora nodded to affirm his question. “Here in the village the spirits are calm, but now that I think about it, inside the Zedlei I felt a tension that I did not give much thought at the time.”
“Then Nora should check it out,” Dah’Marra chimed in, stretched out in the grass along the path, “But not until morning. The Zedlei is much more dangerous at night.”
“Sounds like an idea,” Nora stretched while trying in vain to stifle a sudden yawn, “We have lodging of some form in the town hall. Bodvar’s there already.”
“You left that oaf alone in an unknown village for this long? That’s brave.” Deormund replied, grinning.
Though Nora felt that time was precious, she agreed with Dah’Marras comment that the forest was too dangerous to explore at night, and to continue in the morning. In addition, searching a coastline or a forest with someone like Volkmarr walking about would be foolishness. They had also not slept in an actual bed for almost 2 weeks, which admittedly played into the decision as well. Returning to the town hall, they found it in a raucous mood, with Bodvar having seemingly challenged the entire village to a drinking match and arm-wrestling simultaneously. Even Dah’Marras exotic appearance did not draw nearly as many looks as the massive highlander hoisted pints of ale with one hand and practically slammed arms into the table with the other. When Bodvar finally registered their arrival, he pressganged Deormund into joining, and would have gotten to Erroix as well if the elezen had not managed to somehow vanish before Bodvar found him in the throng. Around midnight the drinking and the contests began to die down as most of the villagers had either left or collapsed where they sat. Looking about the hall, Nora suspected her services might be requested in the morning. There would be a lot of sore heads and throats. The party was shown to their lodgings, namely the small village infirmary which was currently left unused along the side of the hall. Saying good night, they went to sleep in the first actual bed for a long time.
Nora awoke, like on so many mornings, to Bodvars snoring. It happened pretty much every day, and she seemed the only one in the group to be so adversely affected. It was not uncommon for her to be up and about an hour before anyone else. Bleary-eyed, she began rummaging through her pack for the flint and tinder before remembering her surroundings. After she had splashed a little water on her face, the little infirmary looked quite crowded with half of the bed occupied by her sleeping companions. It smelled quite crowded too. Grabbing her robe and staff she left them to their slumber for now. The wider town hall still had a few villagers snoring away last night’s festivities. Nora imagined the smell would have been very unpleasant until someone had opened the large double-doors out into the village. She left the crowded hall as quietly as she could, wandering around the village as the morning sun crossed the horizon. The air in the village was nice and chill during dawn and a very pleasant breeze was passing through, so Nora paused for a moment to appreciate the weather before scouting out a place to sit for a spell. On the southern outskirts of the village she found a small hillock with a small willow tree to sit against. She had intended to begin her investigations the evening before, but shouting and drinking tends to distract the mind from spiritual matters, so she had relegated it to the following morning. Knowing that the local spirits were in unrest wouldn’t quite be enough to know what had happened or how they might go about solving the problem, so she would need to have a closer look for herself. Nora chanted a simple spell, something to alert her should anyone approach, and sat down. She took a deep breath and tried to relax against the bark of the tree. Spirit-seeing trance was not exactly meditation, but there were similarities. Nora listened to the rustling of the willow leaves in the spring breeze and smelled the dirt beneath her and the sap in the tree behind her without focussing on any specific sensation. Closing her eyes, she waited for the correct moment. As the sensations started slowly fading and changing, she mentally reached outwards and opened her eyes again. Now she could see them. The spirits in the village were small and few in number, supporting what Erroix had said about the village’s history. There was one immediately curious aspect about them; there was a noticeable age disparity amongst them, with some being easily hundreds of years older than the youngest. Nora slowly rose from her seat against the tree, making sure to remember it as vividly as she could. While she could easily move about during spirit-seeing, she would need to find her physical body again to return. The spirits in the village were all quite young, with the older spirits increasing in number the closer she got to the beach. She could also confirm another thing the elezen mage had said. While aether and spirits are not the same, nor do they act in the same manner, great changes or effects to one realm tend to affect the other as well. Many of the spirits along the coast, especially the older ones, were roaming about, searching for something that they could not find, but they knew it was there. Something drawing in both aether and spirits, like a beacon. A lighthouse might fit such a description. But while that knowledge was helpful, confirmation of the lighthouse’s existence was not why she was out here. Nora drew back from the coast and ventured inland, heading for the border of the Zedlei. The forest was a different spiritual realm than Luthadale, so her perception would be dulled during her exploration. Despite that, she felt it would be reckless to sit unguarded in the forest.
The spirits of the forest quickly showed themselves to be different from the spirits in the village and on the coast. The curious age disparity she had noticed among the Luthadale spirits was not present in the Zedlei. But the unrest in the forest was also far greater than the village. Damage had been caused in some way, disrupting the balance of power in the forest of spirits. While the smaller spirits of the Zedlei constantly vied for position, 4 spirits held the real power in the forest. One for each season, the spirits fell in and out of dormancy as the seasons shifted, changing the nature of the forest throughout the year. Now, however, the damage had disrupted this cycle, and 2 of these great spirits were awake at the same time, throwing the balance of the forest into disarray.
Judging by the cold that Nora could feel throughout the forest and the unseasonable chill Ailred had spoken off, the winter spirit had been awoken at a time it should not be. The border through to the Zedlei blurred her senses too much to really make out much more from within the village. Slowly and with exaggerated care, Nora withdrew her senses from the forest and returned back within herself.
She slowly opened her eyes to find that the sun had now risen well above the horizon, signalling that midday was not far off. Nora relaxed her stance and stretched her legs out over the grass. Spirit-seeing always tensed her up, especially without a comfortable place to sit. At least the sun was pleasantly warm, and it would seem someone else was taking advantage of the time of day. She could see a pair of miqo’te ears lazily catching the spring breeze just around the willow tree. Dah’Marra was sun-napping just outside the border of Nora’s spell. She could not see any of the others about, and the village seemed to have started whatever works they undertook during the day. Nora would have to explore the forest from the inside to discover exactly what happened and how she could solve it, but going in alone would be foolish. She would go with the others, but first she would need to find them. Thankfully the one party member in sight was their ranger, and Dah’Marra was very good at finding things. Nora wished she could stretch out in the sun for a short while like her friend, but the longer they dawdled about in the sun the more time Volkmarr had for his plans. The miqo’te yawned and stretched when Nora gently shook her by the shoulder, but was still resolutely lying down. “Did you really have to wake me? I was having such a nice nap.”
“I don’t think we really have time for naps, Dah’Marra,” Nora replied, stretching again, “Where did the others go?”
Dah’Marra slowly sat up and stretched again, yawning loudly. “Erroix said he wanted to see the beach. Deormund and Bodvar went with him. I don’t really like sand so I said I would find Nora and stick around.”
Nora nodded slowly as the miqo’te spoke. The beach was indeed interesting so Nora could see why Erroix would want to see it for himself. “We need to enter the Zedlei again, so we need the others.” Nora looked on as Dah’Marra reluctantly got to her feet. Despite having slept in the grass, her fur did not seem disturbed in the slightest, though she did look a little groggy from the nap. “You know what, I can find the others on my own. You can go back to your nap if you want, we’ll find you before we go to the forest.”
As Nora began walking towards the coastline, she was a little surprised that the resulting hug had not broken anything.
While the village itself was nestled between 2 large cliffs, the beach beyond was largely flat, with a few hills of sand and grass-clumps being the most extreme terrain differences. A number of figures wandered the long beach in small groups, but it did not take long for Nora to discern which one was her companions. None of the villagers walked the beach with a spear or axe strapped across their back.
Enjoying the beach?” Nora asked as she joined the others. Like herself, Erroix, Deormund and Bodvar had removed most of the travelling clothes from the previous day. Actual spring weather meant that Luthadale was a lot warmer than the unseasonably cold Zedlei had been.
Erroix carried his robe over his shoulder like a sack. “We have found nothing, thank you for asking. I am not sure if I should be thankful or regretful for that.”
“No tower and no Volkmarr.” Bodvar continued.
“I cannot imagine where one would hide on this beach.” Deormund said in a musing tone.
Nora could see what he meant. The coast was almost entirely flat, and aside from the 2 cliffs flanking the village, there were no notable rocks or similar pieces anywhere. Hopefully they could get more information from the villagers if they asked about caves than what little they had gleaned about the lighthouse.
Bodvar turned to her. “And how did you spend your morning? Dah’Marra said she would go find you, but she’s not with you.”
“I explored the spirits here in Luthadale, before we go into the Zedlei.” Nora looked out over the ocean as they talked. She had not noticed the salt-ocean smell before now.
And how did that go? Please tell me you had more luck than us.”
“I had some ‘luck’, I suppose,” Nora answered, trying to figure out how to present what she had found, “and upon further examination, I concur with what Erroix said yesterday; there is something along this beach that is causing odd behaviour among both aether and spirits. While the local spirits are very unusual, it is not in a fashion that should affect the forest. Something is definitely off in the Zedlei, like Ailred surmised. The seasonal spirits are out of balance, though I cannot tell exactly why without having a closer look.”
Erroix nodded in response, his expression quietly pleased. “Then I suggest we explore the forest, see what you can learn from that.”
Bodvar raised an eyebrow at that. “I thought you didn’t like the forest.”
“I do not, but it is preferable to this bothersome sand.”
They found Dah’Marra where Nora had left her, sleeping peacefully in the grass under the willow tree and midday sun. Like always, they had barely finished saying her name before the miqo’te ranger was up and ready. Dah’Marra always slept well but also never seemed to be caught off-guard. Nora wished she had some of that.
Walking away from the village alongside her friends, Nora could not help but remember a little over a year ago when she had left her own home in much similar company. She would return home after all this was over, though if she would stay for long, truthfully she did not know.
Zedlei forest was colder than she remembered, though that could just be because she was aware of it now. They had drifted into their usual pattern, with Bodvar in front and Deormund in the back, and Nora and Erroix in the middle. Dah’Marra ranged around as she pleased so the group would not be surprised by anything wandering the forest, though Nora did wonder if the perceptive woman could also detect angry spirits.
Now that she was aware of the unrest, the low tension was evident throughout the forest. The cold was not equal throughout the whole forest, and where it was less, so was the spiritual unrest. Likewise, the colder it got, the angrier the spirits seemed to be. One clearing that the ranger showed Nora was so cold that a the little lake that sat among a few small streams was covered in ice. An elemental drifted through the clearing, clearly visible to every member of the group. Even observing it from the frost-covered bushes around the edge of the clearing, it gave no hint of noticing their presence. For lack of a better way to put it, Nora felt she could understand. Even without being in a proper state for spirit-seeing, she could feel an overpowering presence from the west. The materialised spirits senses must be even further dulled than her own. Even so, they took a more circuitous route to avoid undue attention. Continuing west, they found more areas like that, slowing their progress, and the further west they went, the greater the imbalance.
Eventually, as the sky began to redden above the thick forest canopy, they found a cold clearing thankfully devoid of elementals, though it still housed a few spirits. Spirits of winter, roused like their fellows by the unseasonable awakening of the great winter spirit. A single oak had survived the harsh shift in temperatures, its leaves falling into a small pond a its base.
“Can we hold here?” Nora asked, looking at Dah’Marra. Spirit-seeing or no, the ranger still had the best sense of the forest around them. Dah’Marra simply nodded in way of reply, then disappeared into the bushes.
“Why are we resting here?,” Deormund said while looking about the little glade, “None of us need the rest currently.”
Nora walked into the clearing, trying to size up where she should sit. “Neither do I, Deormund. I need to know a little more before I can really say what happened and how we should proceed,” She found a rock next to the pond and beneath the tree and sat down, smoothing her travelling robe under her, “And I think I can find some information here. Erroix, you wake me if you have any trouble. I might not sense it during the spirit-seeing.” The elezen simply nodded in response.
Nora closed her eyes and tried to endure the biting cold of the forest. The rock beneath her was also very cold, the forest around her was very quiet and all she could smell on the painfully cold air was the tree behind her. Slowly the few sounds of the forest and muttered conversation from her companions ceased, replaced by a low howling moan not unlike a winter gale.
Her ‘sight’ opened again, seeing the winter forest. Her companions had faded from her sight. Except for 2 small spirits, the glade was vacant. There were prints in the snow, large ones, evidence of something passing. It seemed to Nora that they had not been there when she had sat down. One of the spirits was a slim spirit of water, its essence tied to the cold pond. The other sat in the branches of the oak, its green form covered in patches of leaves and bark. Both of them regarded Nora’s arrival in their little home with curiosity rather than outright hostility.
Nora slowly got up, keeping an eye on the two spirits. She could just about see a faint outline of her body where it was sat outside the spirit-seeing. Moving about the spirit-seeing within the borders of the Zedlei was easier than moving through its border. Even in the spirit-realm, the cold was biting into her bones.
“Who are you?” The voice came from the oak tree, resembling the rustling of leaves in a harsh wind.
“Who are you?” The pond asked with a voice like ice-filled water hitting rocks.
“I am Bergen,” She replied, “And who are you, Oak and Pond?” It seemed to Nora that her voice was lighter than it used to be.
“Sprig.” The Oak replied, its embodiment spirit bowing its faceless head towards her.
“Splish.” The pond replied, its form flowing to bow like its companion.
“Who stands Bergen with?” The two spirits asked simultaneously, the ground shaking slightly as Sprigs embodiment leapt from the branch to stand beside Splish.
Nora did not yet know much about the great seasonal spirits, certainly not enough to even make an attempt at trickery. “Bergen stands with Bergen. Who does Splish and Sprig stand with?”
“Arhi-Spring.” Sprig replied, resolute.
The pond spirit shrunk a bit and shied away from Sprig. “Splish stands with the one that is Awake. Now two are awake. Splish stood with Arhi-Spring before the Totema disrupted the balance and woke Klahuu-Winter.”
Totema? Nora did not know that word. “The Totema?”
Both embodiment spirits nodded vigorously. “The Totema. Guardian spirits, strongest of all. Great Dragon Adrammalech of the Gales wandered the forest and his presence awoke Klahuu-Winter before its time.”
Another name Nora had never heard, not from her master nor from any texts. “How long ago did Great Dragon Adrammalech of the Gales wander the forest?” She asked, feeling that she could take a guess.
Two arms emerged from Splish’s form, ends splitting into 10 fingers. “10 of your mortal days ago.”
“Did Great Dragon Adrammalech of the Gales wander the forest alone?” Nora asked. She knew the answer already.
“Great Dragon Adrammalech of the Gales wandered the forest with a mortal, though this one knows not its name. It had a most peculiar presence in our world.”
So Volkmarr and this Totema are linked. “Did anything happen between this Adrammalech and Klahuu-Winter?”
Sprig pointed to the oak tree with a leaf-covered appendage. “We are both bound here, so we cannot wander far. We were not there when Klahuu-Winter and Adrammalech met.”
“I wish to talk to Klahuu-Winter. Where does the Great Winter Spirit reside?” Nora asked.
Sprig pointed a green limb towards the one side of the clearing. “Wander the forest till you find a waterfall. That is where all the seasonal spirits reside when they are awake,” Nora recognised that her group had entered the clearing from the opposite side. Splish continued the explanation, “There you will find both Arhi-Spring and Klahuu-Winter, though in what state we cannot say.”
Looks like we will have to go to the source to learn what we need, Nora thought. To be fair, she had expected as much. She bowed as elegantly as she could to the two forest spirits. “Thank you two so much for your help. I will do what I can to restore the balance.”
Sprig turned its form towards her, its curious sap-orange eyes staring at her. A spirits form conveyed emotions differently than a mortal, but she was sure she could sense something like hope from the oak spirit. “Will you return Klahuu-Winter to its sleep?”
“If that is what is needed.”
Nora slowly opened her eyes, scanning the little grove. Erroix was sitting by the pond, in a pose similar to hers. Bodvar and Dah’Marra were both lying beneath the oak tree, resting in the cold grass. Deormund was standing ready at the edge of the grove, peering into the gloom under the trees. With the sun setting, the cold had grown harsher in the little clearing.
One of Dah’Marras ears twitched, and the ranger was up and on her feet in the blink of an eye. “What did Nora learn?”
“Some form of powerful guardian spirit called a ‘Totema’ went through the forest around the same time Volkmarr arrived in Luthadale,” Nora replied, removing the stopper from her waterskin, “Which I cannot believe is unrelated.”
Erroix stirred as well. “I have heard the name ‘Totema’ before, but only in stories. Incredibly powerful guardian spirits, outstripping even materialised elementals.”
“Why would guardian spirits help Volkmarr?” Dah’Marra asked while looking at Nora.
Nora stoppered the waterskin again. The water had been almost painfully cold. “Without more information, I cannot say for sure. He certainly is not something that spirits should be guarding.”
“It is possible the spirits know something we don’t.” Nora said.
Bodvar had gotten up from the grass as well. “They probably do, but we know that Volkmarr willingly devastated a city and led to hundreds of deaths. I can’t see what could dispell that fact.”
Something still seemed off-putting to Nora, but the cold quickly replaced her worries with more practical concerns.
“We should move. I don’t think we are properly prepared for a winter wind, and it’ll be warmer, or rather, less cold among the trees,” Deormund had picked up his pack but was still holding onto his spear, “Besides, I don’t care much for this part of the Zedlei. We shouldn’t stay long.”
Nora thanked the spirits of the grove again, and the party moved on, travelling further west into the shifting groves of spring and winter evening. The smells and sounds of the forest that they had experienced on their journey north from Morabella were curiously muted, as the imbalance in the forest made itself felt to its mortal denizens as well. They had seen almost no animals of any kind since entering. They were just passing another frost-covered grove when Erroix matched pace next to Nora, holding a light-spell on the tip of his staff. Night had fallen in the forest around them and the party had contracted somewhat. Even Dah’Marra was staying in sight through the brush.
“Nora,” The elezen asked, still keeping an eye on the surrounding forest, “I realised you did not actually mention anything about the forest back in that grove. Didn’t the spirits tell you anything about why this phenomenon is happening?”
“They did. Sometime during the Totemas passing, it woke the Great Winter Spirit called Klahuu. I don’t know exactly how, but that is probably also why it has not simply returned to its usual dormancy.” Nora replied, keeping a similar watch on the night-time forest. Dah’Marra had told her that the forest was much more dangerous place after sundown, but the ranger had never specified why or how.
“So what is our plan of action? This is your area of expertise, not mine.”
Nora pondered for a moment before responding. “I am still not entirely sure. When I was training with Master Karitra situations like this were never covered, and she also never mentioned Totemas. I would say that we need to put Klahuu back into dormancy somehow. Zedlei Forest will be in disarray like this for years if the winter spirit is left awake, but quite how we do that is unclear to me at the moment.” Erroix nodded slowly in response, but said nothing further.
“I hope I do not need to remind you, Nora, of why we came to Luthadale in the first place.” Deormund walked in front of them, lantern held to his side and his spear in his other hand.
“What do you mean?” Nora replied, slightly puzzled.
Deormund still had his back turned to them. “What I mean is that we did not trek all the way to Luthadale through the Zedlei simply to help them with their problems.”
“We came to track down Volkmarr and stop him, I know,” Nora replied, trying to keep her voice level, “But then why are we out here?” She was surprised how the knight’s question had struck her.
The knight shifted the lantern around as he talked. “None of us have been able to pinpoint the location of the lighthouse Volkmarr is searching for. We are still not entirely sure why he is searching for it and what he hopes to find there. Fulfilling Miss Ailreds request is the quickest route towards that goal”
She tried to bury her frustration as she responded. “This could encompass all of the Zedlei and the lands around it, even Morabella, ser Deormund. It is not a trivial matter.” Nora felt wanted to stomp the ground or slam her fist onto a table, but the loam on the ground beneath was too soft and no tables were handy, and she was no longer a child that could rightly pull a tantrum.
“That is not what I am suggesting, miss Bergen. But surely preventing something like what happened at Sprohm from happening again takes precedence, does it not?” With that, Deormund looked back at her and bowed his head slightly then increased his pace, only his lantern showing where the knight was in the dark forest in front of her.
Nora knew the knight was not trying to agitate her, but simply trying to help. They could not stop in every little village, help every ill. If further problems developed in the wake of whatever solution they would find to this problem, unless solving those problems would directly interfere with their quarry’s mission, even she could not justify sticking around.
Eventually they arrived at the area mentioned by the two spirits Nora had talked to. Clearing a frost-covered bush away, the party emerged into a clearing by a large cliff. A waterfall splashed down from the top of the cliffs into a river that ran through the majority of the forest and down into the ocean past Luthadale. The frigid temperatures caused by the spiritual unrest had frozen the waterfall solid. Nora did not need to attempt spirit-seeing to determine that this was were the unduly-awoken winter spirit made its home now. By now night had truly fallen, and the wind blowing past the frozen waterfall chilled them to the bone.
“We’ve found the spirit-home.” Dah’Marra proclaimed, unaffected by the harsh cold.
Nora had reached the same conclusion, but she was well-versed in detecting spirits, with or without spirit-seeing. To her knowledge the ranger had never had such training. “How do you know, Dah’Marra?”
The miqo’tes ears twitched in the winter gale, but she didn’t reply.
“So what now?” Bodvar asked. Nora noticed he had drawn his weapon, the keen battle-axe ready in his hands.
She considered the warriors question for a moment. “I will need to talk to the spirits here, too. Hopefully we can return Klahuu to dormancy.”
It did not take Dah’Marra long to find a small cave next to the waterfall. It was hardly deep, but provided decent enough shelter from the wind and chill of the disrupted forest. While her companions watched and waited, Nora assumed her stance for the third time that day and reached out to the spirits, hoping for some answers to this quandary.
Nora was not sure quite what she had expected, but the spirit-grove exceeded it. While the cold had been harsh in the mortal world, in the spirit world it was frigid. Any plant-life seemed utterly dead, and the drifts of snow loomed above her, framing the frozen waters of the massive fall. Of the numerous spirits that should be inhabiting such an important place, there were none to be seen. The grove seemed devoid of any kind of life, physical or spiritual, that had not trekked through the Zedlei at her side. Except for one being. It sat perched on the peak of the waterfall like some great bird of prey, its rime-covered form impressive despite the massive white injury across its midsection.
Nora was kneeling even before the massive spirit craned its head to look down at her. “Great Winter Spirit Klahuu, I am Nora Bergen of Karradale.“
The massive being glared towards her but made no immediate reply. Nora eyed the injury that Klahuu had sustained. Were it a mortal being, Klahuu would surely have perished long ago. The massive gash crossed its entire form, forming a harsh white blemish across its torso. She did not like the look of it one bit. The forms of spirits did not function like mortal beings, so a visible wound or injuries was more significant than a similar gash on a mortal body.
“Totema.” Klahuus voice was rough and raspy, but somehow it carried easily through the freezing wind blowing across the grove.
Trying to remain calm, Nora asked, “What did the Totema do? How did it wake you from your dormancy? What happened to Arhi-Spring?”
There was a grating noise like a painful intake of breath, and Klahuu leapt from its perch, scattering a massive snow-drift as it slammed into the middle of the clearing. Icicles dislodged and landed all around Nora. “Adrammalech. His coming forced me from my slumber. He should not have been here, but yet he was. Arhi felt it too, and together we faced him.”
“Faced him? I thought the Totema were guardian spirits.”
Klahuu slowly nodded its great head, a red tinge appearing at the edges of its white eyes and wound. “Just so. Which is why he should not have been here. Adrammalech was different than he should be and Arhi questioned that,” There was a brief pause before the spirit continued, meanwhile the red colouration slowly grew, “To which the Great Dragon Adrammalech responded by nearly taking my form from me,” Klahuu grew visibly tenser, its form shifting slightly, “And destroying Arhi.” The gash was now pulsing with red light.
Nora gasped involuntarily in response. If this Adrammalech had truly destroyed one of the seasonal spirits, then not only would the Zedlei be out of balance for years to come, but the Totema was also far stronger than she thought. To wake a great Spirit from its sleep was one thing, but to wound one and destroy another? Nora had little idea what kind of creature would be capable of such a feat.
While Nora pondered, Klahuus form had shifted further. Its limbs grew long and wider, and white feathers had begun spreading out to form a pair of wings. It now resembled a great winter owl, its massive red-rimmed eyes glaring at her. Despite its snow-white plumage, the harsh injury Klahuu had sustained was still very visible, the crimson light discolouring the snow beneath it. “The Totema is close. I can sense him,” A new gale ripped through the clearing, nearly knocking Nora off her feet, “This time Adrammalech will not escape!”
Klahuu raised it wings, and the gale grew even fiercer. The air was thick with snow picked up by the wind, obscuring anything further than a few feet. Even the towering waterfall seemed to shrink as the massive form of the winter spirit screeched. Without registering the distance, Nora found herself sitting on the snow-covered ground in the same pose she used for spirit-seeing.
“Woah, what in the-” A large humanoid figure stood a few meters in front of her and drew an object from its back. A battle-axe.
Klahuu had not changed the grove; it had materialised Nora, the others and itself miles across the forest from the waterfall, transporting all of them to the first winter-grove they had found earlier the same day. Around her her companions were seemingly bewildered at their surroundings changing in the blink of an eye as well as a massive spirit-owl appearing in their midst.
Dah’Marra recovered the fastest, quickly rising from a sitting position to draw her bow, arrow nocked firm and ready. The arrow was trained on the great spirit-owl but the ranger made no other move. Erroix was kneeling next to her on the snow-covered ground, wide-brimmed hat off and lying at his side. “Nora, are you with us? Nora!”
“I am fine, thanks for the concer-” Nora tried to raise a hand to placate Erroix, but immediately felt so dizzy she had to resist the urge to empty her stomach onto the ground in front of her. Being moved so far and so quickly out of spirit-seeing would take a harsh toll on anyone. She was barely aware of Deormund coming over and helping her up. Klahuu was flapping its enormous wings, slowly rising up above the forest canopy. Even in the mortal world its form carried the injury it had sustained from Adrammalech.
As the dizziness and nausea began to fade, Nora looked up to see that they were approaching the edge of the forest. A half-moon was just peeking out from behind the clouds in the night sky, giving just enough illumination to show Klahuu gliding down towards Luthadale. In the wake of the Winter Spirits rime-covered wings, the spring-evening became filled with snow.
She had managed to keep her food inside, but she still had the taste of bile in her throat.
“Give her a second to breathe, Wright.” Bodvar stood in front of them, towering over both.
“It’s fine Bodvar,” Nora took a quick sip from the skin and turned back to the knight, “I think Klahuu materialised in whichever available location that was closest to the town, and we got caught up in that. The Totema destroyed one of the other seasonal Spirits, and Klahuu wants vengeance.”
“Do we know where this Totema might be, and does Klahuu even stand a chance against it if it has already destroyed one?”
Nora thought back to her spirit-seeing from inside the village borders, to the spirits she had felt roaming the beach. “There was certainly several curious spirits down on the beach, so if a powerful spirit is hiding anywhere, it would be there. As to Klahuu’s chances,” Nora got up, trying to feel for the dizziness returning, “I believe that even before the destruction of the other seasonal spirit and Klahuu’s injury, all 4 Great Spirits together would be hard pressed to defeat this Totema.”
With Nora back on her feet the group began to run to the village as fast as they could. Klahuu’s form was gone from the sky, shouts and screams from Luthadale indicating where it had gone. They had just reached the fields when they met Ailred standing in the road. The village wise-woman was sweating and breathing heavily but looked otherwise unharmed. She looked furious.
“What in Mateus’ name did you do!?” Ailred shouted at them.
Nora stepped forward, hands up in front of herself in a placating gesture. “I only tried to talk to the spirit, miss Ailred, trust me. It has sustained a grave injury that may have driven it to madness. We want to help.”
“We have had plenty of your help, and I don’t want you buffoons to make it even worse.” Ailred jabbed her index finger at them accusingly as she spoke.
Deormund stepped forward, spear in hand. “I hate to have to tell you this, miss Ailred, but that is not up to you.” With that, the knight resumed running, speeding towards the village proper. Dah’Marra, Bodvar and Erroix all followed suit.
“Sorry.” Nora ran after her companions, leaving the woman alone to her anger.
Villagers were running about, gathering children and belongings then heading towards the center of town and the town hall. Still in the form of a massive winter owl, Klahuu was tearing village houses apart. “Adrammalech!,” A support beam was ripped from a house as Klahuu tore at the buildings around it, “I know you are hiding, Totema!”.
During the devastation, Nora and her companions was were hiding behind the corner of a hovel, observing the spirit-owl.
“Should a Great Spirit not be able to sense something like a guardian spirit?” Erroix had his staff ready and like the rest of them, he was still in his travel clothes.
Nora had one hand clasped over the head of her own staff, so its light would not give them away. “Klahuu should certainly be able to sense that there is no spirit like that anywhere in Luthadale, hidden or otherwise.” A scream could be heard coming from inside the collapsing house that Klahuu was currently perched on.
“We’ve run out of time!” Bodvar stated as Deormund and him ran out of the cover of the hovel towards Klahuu, weapons in hand.
Shouts and dissonant owl screeches could be heard from the far side of the ruined house as Deormund and Bodvar attacked the Great Spirit. Nora tried to see if she could spot any signs of movement from within the ruined house. “Not as it is at the moment. Klahuu is too agitated and caught up in the pain of the injury.”
Dah’Marra ducked around the corner of the hovel and loosed an arrow. Nora was still in cover, but judging by the high-pitched screech, it hit home. “So if we weaken the owl, maybe Nora can do it then?”
“Maybe.” She really couldn’t say.
“Good enough for me.” Dah’Marra too ran out of cover, arrow nocked and ready on her bow. Nora and Erroix joined her as quickly as they could.
Klahuu stood on the ground, surrounded on 3 sides by Deormund, Bodvar and Dah’Marra. Both of the men had a few new scrapes and small wounds on their arms, but nothing serious. Klahuu had not sustained any new visible wounds and was craning its massive head all around it to keep an eye on all of its opponents. The house that the spirit-owl had attacked collapsed further as one of the walls started tumbling down, causing whoever was within to scream again.
“I’ll handle it!” Nora shouted to the others. The Great Spirit was too dangerous an opponent for the others to be distracted. As she ran to the ruined house the night lit up behind her, Erroix casting his spells towards the owl-form.
The main doorway into the house still stood, though it probably would not last much longer. As supports crumbled and the house shifted, so had the actual door opened inwards, creaking slightly as more and more of the weight of the building rested on it. Nora hurried inside, the light from her staff illuminating the dark hallways. The kitchen past the entrance was a mess, jars and various containers strewn across the floor. The oven was thankfully not lit. Another tremor went through the house, eliciting a scream from inside one of the rooms connected to the kitchen. I hope they actually heard I went in here, Nora thought as she rushed over to the nearest room. It was a bedroom of some sort, cowered in straw from a hole in the thatched roof. In the next room over she found what she was looking for; A young woman, probably a few years her junior, had been trapped by debris falling on her from the roof.
As Nora entered she looked up with shock and pain plain on her face. “Please don’t hurt me.”
“Do not worry, I want to help you,” Nora responded as she knelt down as close as she could. While most of the debris was harmless straw, two broken support beams had fallen along with it, one of them catching the young woman’s legs, “What’s is your name?”
She had begun sobbing, and needed a few tries to even get one word out. “Caroline.”
Any attempt by Nora to shift the beam was met by cries of pain or whimpers from Caroline. It was clear by the noises outside that her companions were still busy fighting Klahuu, and worse, she could swear a worrying crackling noise was growing somewhere close by, as well as a definite smoky scent in the air. “Caroline, listen, I am going to need your help with this,” The young woman nodded slowly and tried to wipe some of the tears away, “I can help you with the pain but I cannot shift the beam on my own. Can you help me with that after I deal with the pain?”
Caroline nodded again, sniffling all the while. “I think so.”
Nora muttered the incantion as quickly as she dared then lightly touched Carolines injured leg with her staff. The young woman gasped audibly and sat up straighter. “How- what did you do that?”
“Later Caroline, for now we need to move this thing together.” The spell had closed the immediate injuries and would dull the pain, but would not last forever.
Together they were able to shift the wooden beams off of Caroline’s legs and stand her up. She was not quite able to stand on her own, but made no protest at being helped up. One of the other bedrooms must have had a lit lantern inside, as fire had spread around the house since Nora had entered. Now the front door had closed itself and been wedged shut by the weight. Even working together, Nora and Caroline seemed to have no hope of opening it, and the fire was quickly spreading further. Punching and kicking the door, they shouted to whomever might hear outside.
The door shook as someone outside tried their luck. “Stand back!” Deormund shouted.
Nora quickly got Caroline and herself out of the way, into a little gap between the edge of the door and the wall. “We’re safe!”
She had barely finished the sentence before the door was smashed off its hinges, flying a few feet into the immediate hallway. Deormund had more cuts than when she had left, but otherwise looked fighting fit. Caroline, on the other hand, was slipping. The spell was wearing off, and the pain of her injured, possibly broken, leg was proving too much. As the knight stepped inside, Nora tried to lift her back to her feet. “Deormund, can you help? She injured her legs.”
“I would be a sorry knight if I could not,” He stuck his spear into the ground outside the door and knelt down next to Caroline, “What happened?”
Nora realised she had gripped her staff so tightly her knuckles were pale. “A support beam fell on her legs. They are not obviously broken, but she cannot stand on her own.”
Deormund nodded and lifted the young woman onto his shoulders, then followed Nora out of the house. It could collapse at any moment, and the fire was spreading into the last untouched areas. “Take care of my spear, will you?” With that, he was off, heading towards the town hall with the unconscious Caroline over his shoulder.
Nora looked at them for a moment before taking a deep breath and turning towards the noises of the battle with Klahuu. Smoke was rising steadily into the night sky as she ran around the corner to help. The owl-spirit was trying to take to the sky, but did not get far before a couple of arrows pierced its right wing. Klahuu screeched and plummeted briefly, falling just shy of smashing into another house. Before it could rise, Bodvar was on it, slamming his battle-axe into its side. The heavy blade lodged itself, and the massive highlander kept a firm grip on the weapon. The two struggled about the narrow alley, Klahuu trying to dislodge the axe and Bodvar trying to avoid the beak and claws. As the two spun about, flashes of light lit up the alley as Erroix finished his incantation, the tip of his staff crackling with energy. The lightning-bolt was let loose as Bodvar ripped his axe free and rolled away, unfortunately catching himself on a piece of timber lying in the road. The spell tore across the intervening space between the elezen and the owl-spirit, slamming it further back with a ferocious discharge of energy. Before the energy could strike Bodvar as well, a slim green barrier sprung up around him, absorbing the energy. Nora lowered her staff, noting that they would have to work on the timing in the future.
That would have to be another day; despite being hit head-on by Erroixs spell, Klahuu rose back up. The form of the Winter Spirit swelled as it drew in a great breath. Nora barely had time to raise the Shell again before the breath was expelled as a harsh winter gale, nearly knocking them all off their feet. The Shell barrier stopped the aetherial energy, but the biting cold passed through as if the barrier was a thin blanket. Before the snowflakes from the gale had settled on the ground, the owl had taken off and turned around, diving towards Erroix, claws extended to catch the mage in its grip. The elezen mage barely managed to react before Bodvar slammed him aside and took his place, blocking the sharp claws with his axe. Klahuu grapped him all the same and shot back up, quickly rising just ahead of Dah’Marras arrows. As the two rose steadily upwards, Nora desperately tried to remember any spells that would cushion a fall.
“Don’t mind if I hitch a ride!” A dark-purple ball of energy slammed into Klahuu from above, sending it plummeting towards the ground as if it had never been able to fly in the first place. The dark shell partially dissipated, revealing Deormund, his spear firmly planted in Klahuus back. The spirit-owl flapped its wings, but to no avail. While before they had lifted both the massive spirit and Bodvar, now they struggled greatly to not plummet out of the sky like a rock. The 3 beings struggled as they fell, Klahuu trying to wrestle the knight from its back and keeping the highlander in its grip. Bodvar trying to force the spirit’s vice-like grip apart. Deormund kept the spear firmly planted, riding the owl-spirit down like a bucking steed. Bodvar managed to escape just before Klahuu reached the ground in the alley where it had taken off from, and him and Deormund quickly disentangled themselves, landing opposite of where Nora and the others stood at the ready. As the dust of the rough landing slowly settled, Klahuu sat surrounded, with Dah’Marra and the mages on one side and Deormund and Bodvar on the other. For a moment the only movement was the Winter Spirit slowly testing its wings.
“Klahuu!,” Nora shouted as she stepped forward, arms out wide, “We do not wish to fight you any further!”
The head of the owl-spirit swivelled around to look at her. Its eyes were still bright red, but a hint of white was gleaming in them. Despite all their efforts, Klahuus form was undamaged apart from the massive injury that still scarred its form. “Adrammalech. The Totema is here, hiding his presence.” The Winter Spirits voice was shrill and raspy but it needed no repeating. Every word carried clear across the cold evening air.
She took another step forward, well aware of just how close she now was to Klahuu’s claws and beak. “He is not! Cast your senses out, see for yourself.” The owl-spirit glared at her for a moment, then raised its head towards the sky. As Nora could sense Klahuu’s focus flowing away from herself, she cast the healing magick she had been preparing under her breath. It stood no chance at actually curing the injury, but maybe it would soothe the pain enough to not cloud the spirit’s senses.
The small alleyway was silent but tense for a few moments as Klahuu stood stock still, its great eyes shining more fiercely than before. The villagers had long since fled the area, leaving just Nora and her companions. She couldn’t blame them. They were just barely keeping pace with the spirit, so a village militia would have been torn to shreds had they resisted. Her companions had kept their weapons drawn, but had made no others moves since Klahuu had stopped moving. Eventually the spirit-owls eyes dulled again and its form shrunk ever so slightly, its predatory features fading away. The red glare from it’s eyes and wound dimmed as well. “You speak the truth, Bergen. The Totema must have clouded my senses, for me to be so confused,” The owl rose slightly, turning its head in a wide circle to view the damaged village, “And it would seem others have suffered unnecessarily as a result,” Klahuu looked down at Nora, its gaze far less intimidating than it had been a mere minute ago, “Tell me, Seer, how fares the forest?”
Misleading the Great Spirit would not be in their best interest. “Zedlei forest will survive, Great Klahuu, but without Arhi-Spring the forest is in disarray. I mean it in the best possible way when I say that your presence will only worsen the disruption.”
The owl-spirit slowly unfolded its wings. “Do not worry, Seer, there is no need for your mortal niceties. I know what you mean,” The great wings flapped once, sending up a cloud of dust from the dry ground, “I will see what can be done, and then I must return to my dormancy. I thank you, Nora Bergen of Karradale.” With that, Klahuu took off, returning to the Zedlei, leaving Nora and her companions alone in the night.
Chapter 3 – Turris
Nora estimated it must have been passing midnight when they arrived at the crowded town hall. Having run away from their houses and hovels they had all decided to take refuge in the largest building in the village. Nora reckoned she would have done the same under similar circumstances, but looking back at how she had spent the last year on the road with 4 people she had barely known a month before that, maybe she wouldn’t have.
They received a mixed welcome; some thanked them for saving their house or a person, while others simply glared at them with a sullen expression. Ailred seemed nowhere to be found.
The small infirmary where they had been given lodging thankfully only had a few more occupied beds than the previous morning; the young woman that Nora had helped from the house and an older man with bandages across most of his left side. Both were sleeping soundly despite the muffled discussions audible through the doorway into the main room.
Bodvar lowered his pack to the ground, followed by his axe. “We should tell the villagers that it’s safe to go home. The spirit’s gone now, after all.”
“Assuming a good portion of the townsfolk share miss Ailred’s opinion, I think it would be advisable to have a known face deliver those news,” Erroix replied, his voice muffled from lying down on his bed, “They might not want to trust us on that.”
The door into the main hall was swiftly opened, admitting Berkholts large frame. The seeq guard closed the door behind him, shutting off the cacophony of the noisy town hall. “So here ye are. Noah said ye’d come in, but nay where ye went.”
Berkholt declined the offer of a chair and simply sat on the floor. The large seeq was still nearly as tall as Nora. “I’ll give it to ya straight. Some o’ the townsfolk want to run ya outta town, on account of believin’ you made that owl attack us.”
“And what do you believe, mister Berkholt?” Nora asked while glancing over at the 2 injured townspeople.
The seeq scratched at the stubble on his large chin for a moment before replying. “I reckon the village was attacked and that you and yours gave us a hand,” He motioned towards the 2 occupied sickbeds, “And so only Caroline and ol’ Lars got hurt,” Berkholt nodded while speaking, looking at each of them in turn, “So you’re good in my books.”
Deormund nodded in return. “Good to hear, mister Berkholt. You might like to know that the villagers should be safe to return to their homes. Nora managed to convince the spirit to return home.”
The seeq gave Nora a questioning look. “And what’s ta keep it from just coming back?”
“Klahuu, the spirit, has important business of its own to attend in the forest, after which it will return to the slumber it should be under during spring. It will not return before winter.” Nora replied. ‘Unless another Totema somehow wanders through the Zedlei‘ She mentally added.
“Fair enough. I did just say I trust ya lot, would be daft to call you liars in the same breath.” Berkholt replied before getting back on his feet, “I’ll tell the folk that they can go back home. There’s still a day tomorrow.” With that, the large seeq left, leaving the group to their thoughts.
What remained before morning passed without event. Come morning, the town hall was mostly empty, with one small group of townsfolk remaining, sitting anxiously around a table close to the infirmary. Nora was helping another young woman, whose name she had missed, seeing to Caroline’s leg when she felt watched. Turning around, she found the group from the hall had left their seats and were standing in front of her. A young girl and a middle-aged couple stood clustered around the infirmary entrance, gently pushing the man to the front.
“Erh, good day to you, Grina, and to you too, stranger. Might either of you know who saved my eldest?” The man held his wide-brimmed hat in front of him like a small shield, eyes darting back and forth between Nora and the other young woman.
The young woman, who must be Grina, piped up. “Godday Reikhart. The visitor with the spear brought her here just before midnight.”
“I didn’t save her on my own,” Deormund appeared in the door behind them, “Nora here was the one who found her and got her out of the house.” The knight nodded towards her then vanished again from the doorway.
The man turned back to her, the hat at his side. “Can’t thank you enough, Miss. Our Caroline went to bed early with a headache, so she didn’t see the monster coming in.”
“No need for thanks, I only did what anyone in that situation would have done.” Nora replied.
“Do you folks need a place to stay, anything? Our house burned down, but I can call in some favours around town.” Reikhart said, hat firmly back on his head. The two other family members had left his side and were now standing next to the now-conscious Caroline.
Nora bowed ever so slightly. “Thank you for the offer, mister Reikhart, but we have lodging in this very room for now so we have no further need for a roof over our heads,” Nora pondered for a second before continuing, “But there is one thing;”
The older man seemed a little anxious at her tone. “Yes?”
“We originally came to Luthadale to find a lighthouse rumoured to sit on the coastline by your village. We were unable to find it, and we tried to ask around as well, with similar luck,” She could see that Reikhart was very uncomfortable at being asked about it, but decided to press on, “You wouldn’t to know anything?”
The man clearly struggled, eyes darting back between Nora and his injured daughter, but as he was finally about to speak, Berkholts booming voice could clearly be heard from the hall behind them. The words were unintelligible but not hostile, however his intimidating physique seemed echoed in the sound. “Erh, sorry to say miss Nora, I don’t know anything about any lighthouses.”
Nora sighed. “Oh well, we’ll just have to keep looking then. I will leave you to talk with your daughter.” Reikhart doffed his hat# at her as she left. The town hall was now empty except for her companions and Berkholt, him and Bodvar sitting slightly apart from the others in some conversation.
She went and sat by her companions, joining Erroix and Deormund at a table close to the bar. As usual, it was currently tended by the young Noah. Dah’Marra was nowhere to be seen. A tankard had been placed at the empty seat. She hoped it was just water, as now was neither the time nor the place for alcohol.
“Where’s our ranger friend?” She picked up the tankard. Milk. She hadn’t considered that possibility.
“Dah’Marra said she wanted to scout the coast again,” Deormund took a sip from his own tankard, “So she’s probably taking a nap somewhere. Who were the villagers?”
“Caroline’s family. They offered us a place to stay, but couldn’t tell us anything about the lighthouse.” Nora replied, only then noticing the newcomer.
Ailred stood at the table-edge closest to the entrance. “That’s because Bunther told them to keep quiet,” Erroix and Deormund almost jumped from their as the older woman sat down heavily in the last remaining seat, “And they think Berkholt enforces it.”
Erroix cleared his throat. “If the town mayor has said not to talk about the lighthouse, then why are you willing to talk about it, miss Ailred?” He had lowered his voice, though Nora suspected it was not needed; Bodvar and Berkholt were being quite loud.
Ailreds eyes were like daggers as she looked about the table. “Because I don’t let some dolt behind a table tell me what and what not to do.”
“Even if those orders are backed up by a seeq enforcer?”
“Berkholt might be a loyal lardhead, but he’s not a daft lardhead. He knows to leave me be.” Ailred replied in a scoffing tone.
Deormund sat his tankard back down, leaning forward in his seat. “Then, miss Ailred, I believe we had an agreement. We would search the Zedlei and you would tell us what you know about this mysterious lighthouse.”
“I would say any agreement fell off when the spirit attacked our village.” Ailred replied in the same scoffing tone as before.
“You must believe us, miss Ailred, we were not the cause of the spirits attack.” Nora replied. If Ailred did not help them as they had agreed, they wouldn’t be able to save the village a second time, and possibly more importantly, would be clueless as to Volkmarr’s goal.
The older woman glared at her. “So the forest spirit just happened to attack us the evening of you 5 entering the Zedlei?”
“Miss Bergen speaks the truth. When we found the winter-spirit inside the Zedlei, he was already injured. Some other spirit tore through the forest around the same time our quarry passed through,” Deormund put his tankard on the table, managing to put a considerable amount of menace into the simple act, “And I would appreciate if you did not regard the words of a knight and a white mage as lies.”
Ailred turned to look at Deormund. Nora wasn’t sure how to read the woman’s expression. “So that ghastly wound on the spirit’s form wasn’t from you?”
Nora shook her slowly. “No. None among us have the power to inflict such a wound on a spirit. Klahuu, the spirit, mentioned a Totema called Adrammalech, who did the harm. According to its own words, the Totema destroyed one of the other forest spirits as well.”
The wise-woman paled slightly. “One of the spirits, destroyed?,” She turned back to Nora, her scornful tone considerably lessened, “What will happen to the forest then?”
Nora leaned back in her seat. Her teachings had not covered this specifically, so truthfully she did not know, so she would have to surmise. “Without a Spirit of Spring, the cycle of seasons within the forest will indeed be disrupted, but if Klahuu can return to dormancy, the lesser spirits of the forest should be able to soften the blow, and potentially one can rise to take the Spring-Spirits place eventually. It might take a few years, though.”
Ailred leaned back in her chair, her complexion reddening slightly. “Noah, some whiskey,” She shouted at the bar while slowly rubbing her temples, “Seems I am in error.”
The group was silent while Noah fetched the woman a small glass of spirits. Taking a sip, Ailred again turned to look at Nora. “As you probably suspected, the lighthouse does exist. I have never seen it myself, but in old stories about both Luthadale and the Zedlei, a tower or lighthouse called Turris is said to exist on the coast quite close to where Luthadale lies today. It was not always like it is now, but it is hidden in some fashion to render it invisible on both our plane and where the spirits reside. Its presence is exceptionally elusive.” Ailred emptied the whiskey glass.
“Do these stories mention any way of finding it or entering?” Erroix said during the momentary silence.
“I’m getting to that,” Ailred replied, “The reason for it being hidden differs across some of the stories, from ghosts of drowned sailors cursing the lighthouse that failed to warn their ship, to a resident magician hiding his tower-full of artifacts from prying eyes. One tale claimed the gods had hidden the lighthouse away to prevent the end of the world, but that must be fabrication. I have always suspected that you cannot stumble across it without knowing of its location and existence, or surely it would have been discovered by accident years ago.”
Erroix nodded as the older woman spoke. “Would also explain how my companions and me have been utterly unable to do anything beyond merely sensing its existence. We do, however, still need to find it, curse or not.”
Ailred pushed the whiskey glass aside. “Well, if the entrance cannot be found by chance and none of us actually know how to get in, that’s a problem, isn’t it?”
Silence descended on the table for a few moments, interrupted by the boisterous conversation between the highlander and the seeq.
“On the upside, we know more about this Turris than we did earlier today.” Nora said, trying to break the silence around the table.
Deormund toyed with his now-empty tankard while looking at the table. “On the downside, we’re just as well off as when we arrived 2 days ago. We can only hope Volkmarr is equally lost in this matter.”
“Is this about the lighthouse?”
The new voice in made everyone to look up, searching for the speaker. Noah had left the bar and was sitting in a chair he must have dragged over. The young man was keeping close to Ailreds side, but still looked nervous. “I might know something, but Dad might-“
Ailred placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Noah, you know your father won’t do anything if I prod him. Speak up as you want to.”
Noah nodded and continued. “I was up on Little Brother about a week ago, after the other visitor had passed through. I was just looking for some spring flowers, but instead I found this,” Noah reached into his pockets and began searching for something.
While the boy rummaged, Deormund looked to Ailred. “Little Brother?”
“The westernmost of the cliffs aside the village.”
The boy withdrew a small disc-shaped object from his pocket, practically tossing it onto the table surface. It was shaped like a coin, only much larger. One side was smooth and featureless, while the other carried an image of a spire facing the ocean. On top of the spire was some faceted object. Noah pointed at the disc while keeping some distance from it. “I found it hidden in the grass. Not a bit of dirt on it. Picture looks like a tower or lighthouse.”
Erroix reached out for it then hesitated. “May I?”
“Go ahead. I don’t like touching it.” The elezen picked it up and started examining it.
From what Nora could see the surface of the object did not look rough or anything. “You don’t like touching it? Why?”
“When I do it feels like someone is trying to tell me something, like something is poking me on the shoulder.” The boy shook ever so slightly.
Erroix put the coin back on the table, but kept a finger firmly pressed against it. “Now that you mention it, I have some sort of unsettling emotion as well,” The mage closed his eyes, “And it would seem that, whatever this object is, it is connected in some magical fashion to a focal point in this area.”
Noah seemed pleased, but the anxiety was still present as well. “Don’t tell my dad I gave it to you, he won’t like that.”
Deormund leaned forward. “Does he know you found it?”
“No, he thought I was fishing that day.”
“Then I don’t see the need for him to learn about it at all.” Deormund leaned over to examine the coin as well.
“Can you pinpoint the location, Erroix?” Nora asked.
“Possibly. It is tricky, but I do not think that it is in the village.” Erroix replied without opening his eyes.
“The forest then? Maybe it leads to the Spirit Grove.”
The elezen slowly shook his head, then relaxed and placed the coin back on the table. “Opposite. I believe this object is tied to somewhere on the coast.”
“The obvious possibility would be the Turris then,” Deormund picked up the coin, turning the large disc around in his hand, “I can see why you don’t like holding this, Noah. It really does feel like something is prodding at me.”
A hand deftly snatched the coin from Deormund before anyone could react. “So this little thing can find what I spent the whole morning looking for? With no luck, I might add.”
Dah’Marra stood behind Deormund’s chair, bow and quiver hung over her left shoulder. No one had noticed her before just now. She made to flick the disc back onto the table when Erroix responded. “Careful with that!, ” The elezen almost shouted, “We still don’t know what makes it tick, so do not damage it.”
The miqo’te paused then put it back into Deormunds waiting hand. Dah’Marra sighed and went off to find a chair. She and Bodvar arrived back at the table at the same time, each bringing a chair with them. The table was now utterly surrounded.
“Berkholt had to leave to walk the rounds,” Bodvar said as way of explanation when he sat down at the table, “After the spirit attack, they’ve set up patrols to catch it if it comes in again.”
“As if they could do anything about it if they saw it coming.” Ailred said in a slightly derisive tone.
The highlander shrugged. “Possibly. Better than just waiting around, hoping 5 strangers help them out a second time.”
“So what will you do now?” Ailred asked, ignoring Bodvars comment.
“That remains to be seen.” Dah’Marra stopped herself from putting her feet up on the table.
Deormund put the coin in the center of the table. “I think we should go to the beach again,” There was an audible groan from Dah’Marra, “And see where this thing takes us.”
There were nods around the table. Erroix raised a hand, catching the attentions of everyone assembled. “So say this actually takes us to Turris. How do we gain entrance, and what is our goal once we are inside?”
“Should we really be wasting daylight trying to answer that question now, with Volkmarr out there?” Bodvar replied, chuckling.
A moment of silence. “I agree with Bodvar. We’ll consider it when we get to it, we can’t sit around and wait for what happened in Sprohm to repeat itself.” Deormund said. Erroix threw up his hands in mock defeat.
Bodvar rose from his chair. “I suppose we better get out of these travelling clothes as well. I would prefer not going into another deadly battle in just a tunic.”
The impromptu meeting disbanded as Noah and Ailred went back to their respective tasks. The group, with the exception of Dah’Marra, all changed out of their travelling clothes. Nora dug the various supplies and tools out of her pack, revealing the white mage-robe she had kept stashed in the bottom. The white fabric with the red inner lining and trims seemed just as vibrant as when Master Karitra had presented them to her. The only sign of wear she could see was the hood being slightly compressed from being pressed pressed inwards for a couple weeks on the road. Her travelling robe was folded and put away. She didn’t know if they would be able to return to Luthadale right after exploring Turris so no sense in leaving anything behind. After a last search for any items left behind, she went into the hall to join the others. Erroix had donned his own mage robe, its voluminous dark-purple fabric practically the opposite of her white robes. He had left the hat off, its wide brim and tall point covering a sizeable portion of their table on its own. A red scarf covered his neck and mouth, contrasting with his pale skin. Bodvar was covered in fur, leather and red fabrics. A steel breastplate covered hist chest and further steel plates enhanced the leather skirt that protected his thighs.
Deormund had strapped his knights armour on, leaving only his arms and shoulders without steel protection. His family sigil, a griffin striking from above, decorated the middle of his breastplate. While he wielded a spear in battle, he kept a sword sheathed at his side when in his armour. Dah’Marra had already been dressed in her battle leathers when she had returned from scouting the beach. Dark-brown leather long-boots covered her legs alongside a pair of dark green linen trousers. Similar gloves covered her hands and forearms, and a green tunic with a long skirt open at the sides covered the rest, as well as concealing the leather beneath. A quiver was strapped across her back, with a bandolier across her chest on the same strap, holding small ceramic bottles. Like Deormund, a sword was in a sheath hanging from her belt. Nora thought that, when all suited up and ready like this, they looked decidedly more heroic than when they had emerged from the Zedlei, tired and slightly muddy. Next time they arrived at a new village, she would like to try and present a first-impression like this, instead of 5 wanderers in brown robes.
All 5 gathered, they set off. It was slightly after midday when they left the northern village outskirts. As they travelled through the town, workers paused and conversations were mumbled as they passed, the fine armour and robes turning heads as they walked past. Erroix held the disc and so walked in front. Dah’Marra walked next to him, partly to scout for any coastal beasts but mostly to make sure the distracted mage did not trip on any rocks or bits of driftwood as they reached the rough paths of the coast. Deormund, Bodvar and Nora walked a short distance behind, enjoying the spring weather after the weird trek through the spirit-disrupted forest the day before.
Soon enough the reached the beach proper. Erroix kept walking without saying a word of explanation, before stopping so suddenly that the rearguard almost bumped into him. There was a moment of awkward silence while they all waited for the mage to explain the sudden stop.
Erroix cleared his throat. Even then, his voice was a little shriller than normal. “Well, that was a surprise. You should all see this, it is really quite spectacular. Come up next to me.” He waved them all forward.
Nora exchanged a brief look with the others. Erroix was one of the more pragmatic mages she had met, but he still had his oddities. Calling empty air ‘spectacular’ was a new one. Dah’Marra had however already stepped forward, and Nora couldn’t see the harm in following, so she followed suit. As she stepped up next to her two companions, she could have sworn she had just blinked. Between one step and the next a massive structure had appeared before them. The style reminded her of the magick academies in Morabella, all white stone and dark-blue decoration. They were so close to it when it appeared that it towered over them, making it difficult to gauge its height. The only entrance she could see from where she stood was a massive wooden door with no visible keyhole. A few slim windows were dotted along the length of the lighthouse, and at the very top, a radiant blue light shone out, seemingly in every direction at once with no change.
“We suspected that one could only find it if one knew the way, but this is something else.” Erroix said, admiring the architecture.
“To think something of this size was hidden so completely.” Nora muttered to herself. Like with all things, the greater the affected area or object, the greater the complexity and requirements of the magicks and skills involved. She barely dared think what or who would be capable of hiding something so massive.
“Well,” Deormund said, “Now we have found it, how do we get in? Surely it cannot be as simple as just opening the door.
“Well, only one way to find out.” The wooden door creaked and the hinges whined as Bodvar forced it open. “Whoever lives here really needs to oil this door.”
Erroix looked away from the lighthouses exterior to give the highlander a questioning look. “Lives here?” Bodvar simply pointed inside as a response.
The inside of the lighthouse was curiously well lit, considering that none of the torches were lit. A small kitchen area filled most of the wall immediately to the left of the entrance. A table and some chairs sat under the far window, a few meals set on its surface. Or, they had been meals once. Whatever had been on the corroded plates had been left out for long enough to completely rot away, leaving a sickly-looking smear on the plates. 3 beds were laid out next to each other beside a wooden staircase ascending further into the interior. The bedding was beyond repair from age and one of the beds had collapsed, having lost a leg. A hatch sat into the floor hinted at a basement level, but the lock was rusted utterly shut. This room had not been touched for many years. Of the previous occupants there was no sign.
Deormund and Bodvar led the rest of them up the stairway. The story was similar. Signs of long-gone habitation with no hints as to the fate of the people who had obviously lived here. The next level up was out of theme with the rest; a wide open space. The wooden stairs ended right into the room with no fence or railing to safeguard from falling into the living areas of the lighthouse. The floor and walls of this new floor were also mysteriously smooth with none of the windows or ornamentation spread throughout the rest of the structure. The whole space insidse the room was covered in some curious phenomena, like a heat wave.
“Been a while since we’ve seen this.” Deormund waved a hand through the haze, creating swirls in the air.
It seemed to Nora that she had seen it before, but couldn’t place it. “What is it?”
“Mist. Lingers around places with a large quantities of magical energy, whether before or after the fact. I am surprised it hasn’t spread into Luthadale if there’s enough to be visible to the naked eye.”
“Maybe this room contains it here, stops the spread.” Erroix was running a finger along the smooth white stone of the walls.
“I wouldn’t say that is impossible, but I have never seen Mist be stopped by anything other than distance.” Deormund replied.
“There is certainly something different about this room. The style of construction is very different from the rest of the building. Unnaturally smooth.”
Dah’Marra and Bodvar did not join in on the little conversation. They were both watching the stairway they had arrived from, keeping guard from the rear.
In the center of the room another stairway ascended to the next floor. Unlike all the other staircases in the lighthouse, this one was not wooden but instead constructed from the same white stone as the room around them. The blue light Nora had seen at the top when they were outside the lighthouse was shining down the staircase.
“We still have not found any clues why Volkmarr would be looking for this lighthouse.” Deormund said.
Bodvar turned from the entrance and started towards the staircase. “Let’s search the beacon then, only place we haven’t been.”
The highlander took a step towards the stairs, and the atmosphere in the room showed a sudden and definite change. The heat-haze-like Mist intensified, cloaking the corners of the room in something like fog. Wind kicked up despite there being no windows, and there was a new presence in the room alongside them. A presence that Nora had felt traces of back in the Zedlei.
“How have you gained entrance to this hallowed place?” The voice came from the air around them, vast and angry. “None but the Guardians should ever gain entrance to the Turris.” Now it was coming from the staircase and sounded rougher.
A massive creature sat at the bottom of the staircase, its skin a mesh of dark-gren hide and green scales. Brass-like natural armour covered its chest and shoulders, and a pair of wings sat folded against its back. Hunched over on the ground like a wolf or bear, its regarded them with great white eyes. Two horns like small spears protruded from its head, completing the image of a green dragon looming in front of them.
Nora did not need spirit-seeing to see that this creature was a materialised spirit, and an extremely powerful one at that. Powerful enough to permanently injure even Great Spirits. She bowed, motioning for her companions to do so as well. “Oh Great Spirit, we did not mean to intrude. We believed the Turris to be in danger, so we had to find it. We did not know a spirit such as you guarded it.”
The dragon snorted, breath like a gust of wind washing over her. “Your intentions matter not. You cannot be allowed to leave these hallowed grounds. The other creatures that think they can threaten the crystal will equally fall. So is the command given to me, Adrammalech.” With that, Adrammalech rose up on its hind legs and drew in a great breath.
“This creature begs to differ.” A male voice rang out from the stairway they had come from. Even the Totema paused in its attack to see who would willingly choose to enter a situation like this.
A cloaked form, face hidden inside the hood, had ascended the stairs behind them, standing in a relaxed pose. Throwing the hood back, a male hume was revealed, long dark hair falling around a pale face that bore no helmet. A sharp nose followed by sharp features and eyes that effortlessly conveyed casual cruelty Where the travel-cloak drifted, glimpses of beautiful metal armour could be seen, as well as a hand resting easily on the hilt of a single sword sheathed in a sturdy belt.
“Volkmarr.” Deormund said through gritted teeth. The knight’s spear flew into his hands in an instant.
Volkmarr ignored him, striding towards the white-stone staircase in the center of the room. Adrammalech lowered to the floor again and roared, leaping towards Volkmarr. He did not change his stride at all, but a flash of light chased the fog in the room away for but a moment, and a massive creature intercepted Adrammalech in midair. The two rolled past Volkmarr, slamming into the far side of the room. The new creature was similar in build to Adrammalech, but larger and fiercer, but something was off. Had it been a mortal creature, Nora would have called it malnourished. Its sickly-looking frame did not seem to inhibit its strength, however.
Volkmarr kept walking with very little pause, ignoring the scuffle of the two massive dragon-forms. The larger one had gained the advantage and was slashing away at its opponent when Adrammalech pushed it off, sending the massive form flying towards Volkmarr and the stairs. Just before it slammed into the ground, there was another flash of light and the dragon-form vanished, leaving nothing but a slight glimmer behind.
“What magic do you wield, mortal, that you can summon such a beast?” Adrammalech snarled, white eyes trained on his back.
Volkmarr stopped, one foot on the first step of the staircase. He turned around almost lanquidly, casually glaring at the Totema before responding. “I think it’s best if you ask him yourself, o Adrammalech.” The flash of light came again, and the larger dragon-form sat in front of Volkmarr, keeping itself between him and the Totema.
It’s great horned head moved in something like a bow. “My apologies, Adrammalech of the Gales. I should not have underestimated our shared powers.” As it finished speaking, the larger dragon-form took a deep breath. Nora barely had time to raise a barrier before the breath was unleashed like a tornado, slamming into Adrammalech and nearly blasting Nora’s barrier away like a leaf in a storm. The Totema weathered the storm better than they did. The other dragon-form’s attack had barely ended before Adrammalech launched his own assault, another typhoon rushing across the distance. It was equally phased, and the two Spirits stared at each other as the storm subsided.
Adrammalech raised himself on his forelegs again, nearly reaching the ceiling of the large chamber. Nora hoped she would never see anything glare at her like the Totema was glaring at his opponent. “How can you exist?”
“It is not me you should be asking, little brother.” The other dragon-form replied with a mocking tone, then leapt at Adrammalech, fangs snapping.
Nora and her companions had barely moved, both entranced and terrified at the spectacle of the two powerful spirits battling. Wrestling her attention away, she realised that was not entirely true; Deormund had crossed the chamber and reached the foot of the stairs, while the soles of Volkmarr boots were disappearing over the lip of the roof.
Dah’Marra had noticed as well. “We need to move. The knight’s gone ahead.”
Bodvar sighed heavily. “And I’m supposed to be the impatient one. I’ll go in front.”
“Hold a moment. Let me cast a spell before we move.” Pushing the massive spiritual presence from her mind, Nora chanted an incantation, bringing forth a bubble of blue hexagons with her staff as it’s center. “Stay close to me.”
The group set into motion, running after their companion. The two spirits ignored them utterly, completely intent on each other. Still, once or twice the group had to dodge a blast of wind or dragon-form sent flying. By the time they reached the bottom of the stairs, both Deormund and Volkmarr had disappeared over the top. The clear blue light grew in strength as they ascended. The curious heat-haze of the Mist faded away, but to Nora it did not feel like the magical presence faded one bit. Reaching the top of the stairs, they arrived onto the top of the lighthouse, with a view of the coastline, all of Luthadale and the majority of the Zedlei forest. Ornamented pillars supported a large gold latticework, and in its centre, a humongous blue crystal sat. It was easily 6 meters tall, possibly dwarfing even the spirits fighting below. The blue light that they had seen numerous times since they had revealed the Turris‘ location radiated from it in every direction at once. At first sight it was clear to Nora that this was the source of the magical presence, and probably tied to the Totema as well, seeing as they were supposed to be guardian spirits. This was certainly something worth guarding, whatever it was.
Volkmarr stood a little distance from them, alone and with his sword still sheathed. His back was turned to them, but it was clear that he was looking up at the crystal. Deormund stood a little distance away with his back to them, spear held in a white-knuckled grip.
The sounds of battle below and the wind rushing along the top of the lighthouse filled the silence as the party caught their breaths.
“That’s far enough, Volkmarr!” Deormund shouted. The man ignored the knight, beginning to walk towards the crystal. Without another word Deormund threw his spear at Volkmarr’s back, the razor-sharp point aimed between his shoulder blades. Nora almost gasped as the weapon stopped shortly before reaching its target, halted mid-air as if someone had caught it.
Volkmarr stopped and turned, staring at the group across the distance. “How brash of you, knight, to simply toss your weapon away during a battle,” The coldness in his eyes robbed the words of any humour. A massive hand with blue skin and encircled with bands of gold slowly materialised around the spear, “Someone might try and take it from you.”
The spear’s metal shaft groaned as the hand started straining. Before the weapon was damaged, it vanished, reappearing in Deormund’s hand a second later. “I might say the same of a man who wanders into the unknown alone.”
The disembodied hand faded away, but Nora could definitely feel its presence now that she was aware of it. This one was as strong as the two spirits fighting downstairs. Volkmarr placed a gauntleted hand on his chest and bowed ever so slightly. “Indeed, but I am not alone, as I believe you saw in the room below.”
Nora stepped forward, keeping a firm hold on her staff to steady her nerves. “Alone or not, what do you hope to achieve here?”
Volkmarr turned his gaze to her, his right hand drifting to the hilt of his sword. “Forgive me for being rude to a lady, but I do not see any reason to answer that question.” With that, he turned away from them again, walking towards the crystal with sure strides. Bodvar and Deormund immediately went into a sprint, quickly covering the distance. Arrows flew ahead of them as Dah’Marra nocked and loosed in the blink of an eye. The projectiles failed to strike their target as they splintered or bounced off a rock-hard surface in mid-air. The blue-and-gold that had stopped Deormund’s spear appeared again, along with the rest of the spirit’s form. This one was humanoid, standing tall on two armoured legs. A helmet of some ocean-blue material sat on broad gilded shoulders as the spirit-form rested an object like a metallic urn on its right shoulder. It was easily over 2 meters wide and several more tall, towering over the two fighters racing towards it. The helmet creaked open as the spirit sounded a blood-curdling roar. The urn-like object shone with a harsh light as substantial magical energies coalesced inside it.
“Watch out!” Nora shouted after she had cast the protective magick, watching as the slim green shell held just long enough for Bodvar and Deormund to dive out of the way of the massive aetherial beam that stabbed out of the spirit-form’s weapon.
Wasting not a moment, Deormund sprinted past its massive legs, before being forced to dodge backwards as a hand almost as big as him reached out to grab him. A ball of flame slammed into its chest before it could react, but the spirit-form barely budged an inch under the attack.
The knight was forced to move even further back as the spirit swung the massive weapon it held in a single hand. It took a few strides, positioning itself between them and Volkmarr. A harsh blue light shone from within its helmeted head.
“I was born with the White Ones,” It planted the butt-end of its weapon on the stone in front of it, “I am Famfrit, the Darkening Cloud.”
“I don’t care who you are, get out of my way!” Deormund shouted, gripping his spear.
Nora grabbed him by the shoulder before he had time to do something foolish. “Careful ser Wright, this spirit is as strong as the ones below. We cannot just choose to ignore it.”
She could feel him wanting to break away from her grip. “So you would suggest we just let Volkmarr do as he wishes?”
Dah’Marra stepped up beside them, her bow back in its holster. “If you 3 can keep this spirit occupied, we two can slip past.”
Famfrit had stood passively by during their little discussion, but she suspected that would not last forever. Bodvar stepped up next to them, axe resting on his shoulder. His eyes were entirely focused on the huge spirit-form before them. “We don’t have time to plan this out. After it attacks, run through.”
The party quickly moved to surround Famfrit, with Dah’Marra and Deormund on each far flank. The narrow space at the top of the lighthouse and the sheer size of Famfrit’s form made for tight quarters regardless. The summoned spirit still regarded them as if they were insignificant, making not a move to shift its own position.
Chanting an incantation, Erroix opened with a massive ball of flame. It crossed the distance between them in the blink of an eye, impacting with Famfrit. A plume of steam exploded outwards to cover the top of the lighthouse. 3 shapes closed with Famfrit as Bodvar, Deormund and Dah’Marra took the opportunity. They scattered as Famfrit swung its cannon through the steam, sending it swirling away. The spirit-form had barely finished the swing before Bodvar had ducked back in and swung his axe at Famfrit. The keen edge dug deep into Famfrit’s upper thigh, drawing a grunt of pain from the spirit. As the two trashed at each other, the last 2 shapes ran past Famfrit, closing the distance with Volkmarr who stood somewhere beyond the cloud of steam.
A cry of pain and the groan of metal sounded as Famfrit finally found an angle and bashed Bodvar away, sending the highlander sliding towards the edge. He caught a pillar to stop his deadly slide and got up on one knee. His left shoulder-plate had taken the brunt of the spirit-forms attack and had buckled. A few drops of blood dripped onto the white stone from beneath the shoulder-guard.
“I commend your efforts, hyur, but you cannot win this battle.” Famfrit tore out the battle-axe still embedded in its leg and tossed it back to Bodvar. It towered over the highlander, its curious weapon hoisted onto its shoulder.
Bodvar wrenched at the damaged armour, but the strap must have remained undamaged. “We don’t need to put you down, just buy time for our friends.” He unbuckled the guard as he spoke, tossing it aside.
“Ah yes, the two you sent after my master. They will be unsuccessful.”
A lance of ice formed in the air above Famfrit, cold mist lazily drifting off its surface. “Rise to your feet, Bodvar. There is not much time to be bought on your knees.” Erroix let the magick-wrought shard drop, scattering icy crystals in all directions as it slammed into Famfrit’s form. Bodvar grabbed his axe and bolted, dodging around the large chunks of ice sliding all over the spire-top, while steam and mist congealed to obscure the large spirit-form. A resounding tone echoed across the fighting ground as Bodvars axe impacted with Famfrit’s magickal weapon. His strength was barely enough to shift the massive urn-like weapon. As it swung upwards, a plume of water erupted, soaring over Nora’s head, covering most of the surface in a deluge of water. Had she been hit she would have easily gone over the side, if she had even survived. The impromptu rain subsided. Bodvar had retreated outside the range of Famfrits swing.
The spirit swung its weapon down, a bell-like noise ringing out as it settled on the stone. “Enough time has been bought. There is no need to continue this.”
“What are you talking about?” Bodvar had raised his axe again and was raring to go.
“You need not understand my words. You can see for yourself.” Famfrit faded away as quickly as it had appeared.
Famfrits parting words did not make much sense to Nora, but she still breathed a sigh of relief. Spirits as strong as these were not trifling matters, so escaping like they had was a blessing.
The remaining fog from their battle still obscured the rest of the lighthouse, only the blue light of the crystal poking through. Across the distance Nora could only make out 3 shapes, 2 of them on the ground.
They will be unsuccessful.
The only shape that still stood made some indistinct movement and a ear-splitting screeching blasted out across the spire. The light dimmed and the fog immediately began drifting away, swirling as a new gust of wind began dragging it away to reveal the scene before them. Deormund and Dah’Marra were both lying on the ground, ribbons of blood covering the stone around them. The ranger still held on to her bow, but Deormunds spear was lying half-way over the far edge of the roof. The gigantic crystal still stood in its mounting, but the blue light had dimmed and a great scar had nearly separated it from its lower half. In the middle of it all, Volkmarr stood straight with his terrible sword, its tip dripping with blood, held in one gauntleted hand.
The 3 companions cried out as the fading fog revealed their friends bloodied on the ground. In the same breath, Bodvar charged with his axe held high. Erroix’s magick reached Volkmarr first, an arc of lightning slamming into a white shell around him. Volkmarr turned with a condescending slowness as Bodvar reached him, blocking the downward swing of the warriors axe with his sword. Taking a step forward, he kept the weapons locked and swung his blade around and down, slamming the axe into the stone.
Another step and Volkmarr slammed Bodvar in the throat with the pommel of his sword. The highlander stepped backwards, gasping, and his opponent swung a second time, the keen edge of his blade aimed at Bodvar’s throat. Before it could connect, it impacted on a hexagonal shield between the two fighters. The shield turned into a green shell a moment before Erroix’s fireball impacted with the white shell around Volkmarr, obscuring the top of the lighthouse for the third time. The wind that had picked up earlier was gathering speed, so the smoke didn’t last long.
“I see a battle with you 3 will be far more trouble than with your companions.” Volkmarr had retreated a few steps. Both hands on the hilt of his longsword, he stood in front of the shattered crystal.
Bodvar had regained his breath and stance, axe at the ready. “I don’t know what trick you used to lay them both low, but it won’t work on us.”
Volkmarr paused for a moment, then flicked his blade forwards. Droplets of blood splattered across the stone. “I assure you, there was no trickery involved.”
A strong gust of wind crossed the roof, dragging some of the remaining ice-shards off the edge. Erroix had to grab his hat to stop it flying off. “The wind is picking up. I would strongly advise against any of us staying up here for much longer.” The howling of the wind as it whistled through the gold latticework around the crystal was making it increasingly difficult to hear anything.
Nora had cast some magicks to help Deormund and Dah’Marra from expiring immediately, but nothing within her ability would save someone from tumbling from the spire of the Turris. “Bodvar! We need to get them downstairs!” She was shouting to be heard above the growing storm.
“I know!,” The highlander growled in return, “But I cannot exactly turn my back to this guy!”
A metal-on-metal sound was barely audible above the wind as Volkmarr sheathed his sword. “Worry not warrior, this storm is growing too intense even for my tastes.” The fighter turned and walked swiftly away, pausing at a pillar to peer over the edge. Before any of them could react, he had taken another step and vanished over the edge.
Bodvar took a couple strides towards where Volkmarr had vanished before Nora cried out. “Don’t! Me and Erroix can’t carry both of them!” The highlander paused for a moment, then audibly groaned and strode over to the stricken knight. Bodvar took Deormund over his broad shoulders, while Erroix and Nora carried Dah’Marra together. As they prepared the pick up the ranger, Nora pocketed a crystal shard that had landed next to Dah’Marra. Maybe they could learn more about it after they had found some safety.
Only after they had descended halfway down the stairs did Nora remember the angry Totema they had left behind when they chased Deormund and Volkmarr. Her worries were swiftly put at ease. Near the center of the chamber, Adrammalech lay shattered. The Totema’s dragon-form was broken, with great wounds in many places. Its wings had been rent and the scales that had covered his body lay scattered across the floor in great clumps. Most of his neck was missing like something had torn its throat out. Despite the horrendous injuries, Adrammalechs spiritual presence had not faded entirely. The spirit still had life, of a sort.
Even his terrifying gaze was less than when Nora had seen Adrammalech fighting with the other spirit. Bodvar had reached the bottom of the stairs before Erroix and herself, but had stopped there. The Totema had raised itself up on on trembling limbs, shuffling towards them like an injured animal trying to defend its den.
“Do you wish to ensure my destruction as well, mortals?,” The Totemas voice was weak but full of disgust. It took another shambling step towards them and stumbled onto the stone floor. “Was the crystal tether not enough?”
Bodvar had lowered Deormund gently to the floor and was keeping himself between the wounded spirit and the rest of the group. “We did not destroy the crystal. Volkmarr did.”
The dragon-form growled. A sliver of its strength was still to be heard there. “It matters not which one of you mortals did the final blow. You toy with matters you do not understand,” Adrammalechs remaining leg gave out under it, sending the Mist in the room swirling as it collapsed, “Like greedy fools hacking away at the very ground you stand on.”
Nora helped Erroix to put Dah’Marra down next to Deormund. They were both still breathing, but being hauled around would not do them much good. Sadly nowhere in the lighthouse would be a good enough resting spot for neither of them. The spirit seemed weak and was getting weaker by the second, but so were her companions.
They would need to get past the Totema, and the sooner the better.
“O great Adrammalech, I promise that we mean no harm. If you will let us pass we will leave you and the Turris alone and never return.”
The Totemas gaze shifted, dimming eyes boring into her. “It matters not if you ever return, mortal, there is nothing left here. With the crystal tether destroyed, I too am not long for this world.” As if to prove his words, the edges of Adrammalechs form had begun fraying and dissipating, small glowing wisps of aetherial energy drifting away on the growing wind. The party stood silently by as the massive spirit-dragon faded away before their eyes.
“Something tells me it did not just go invisible.” Bodvar said. Even he# sounded slightly sombre.
Nora sat down on the lowest step and took a deep breath. “Then that something is correct. The Totema is completely gone, no trace of it remains. The Mist in this chamber is subsiding as well.”
They carried their injured friends downstairs in silence, leaving Nora to care for them while Bodvar and Erroix left the Turris to scout the beach. Sand followed the howling wind into the main chamber when they quickly went through the door.
She was inspecting Dah’Marras wounds when they returned. Sand had clung to their clothes and they both looked dazed.
Erroix started slapping sand away from his robe and sat down in a chair. “I do not think we can move ser Wright or Dah’Marra to the village just yet.”
“Why?” Nora had seen to their wounds as best she could, but having been abandoned for many years, the Turris did not exactly have much in the way of medical supplies.
“The winds we felt up on the spire have intensified into a full-on storm. It would not be safe to move them, nor is the village likely to be a better place than here for a while yet.”
The image of Sprohm going up in smoke as the ground beneath it crumbled and shook appeared in Nora’s mind. “What do you mean? What’s happened?”
Bodvar set his axe against the far wall. “The village has been damaged by the storm. The town hall is mostly unharmed, but I can’t imagine there is much space for guests.”
Erroix sat down at the table. “I would also hazard a guess that the villagers, miss Ailred specifically, are not enthused about us.”
“Because last time we went away like this, an angry spirit attacked their village,” Dah’Marra stirred in her bed so Bodvar lowered his voice, “And this time Luthadale is struck by a storm?” The elezen just nodded in response. “I would advise against us going to Luthadale for help. We might be innocent of wrongdoing, but the townsfolk might not agree.”
“Deormund and Dah’Marra need proper rest,” Nora protested, “and Luthadale is the closest place they can have that.”
“We know, Nora, but we might not have much choice in the matter.” Bodvar responded, rising to examine the door.
She looked at the highlander in silence for a moment before Erroix spoke up. “As we turned back towards the lighthouse, we realised we could see it from the outside, so it is possible that the villagers can as well. Hopefully we can lock the door.”
“They are not our enemies!” Nora responded, finding it difficult to keep her voice low.
Bodvar found a latch and worked it. “Perhaps not, but they might think we are. Remember what Berkholt said last night,” Nora nodded cautiously, “that after the spirit’s attack some of the townsfolk wanted to run us out of town. Imagine that sentiment after another attack.”
She had to admit that Bodvar was right. Suddenly tired, she ran a hand through her hair as she looked down at their injured companions. “How did it come to this.”
They made an impromptu camp in the lighthouse’s living space. They rested without speaking, the silence broken by occasional groans of pain from the sickbeds and the howl of the storm still raging outside. Dawn was shining through the few viewports in the lighthouse when Nora awoke. She had slept on the ground next to Deormund and Dah’Marra, and was glad to find that they were both resting more peacefully than they had the day before. While she tended to their wounds and changed some bandages, she wondered how soon they would be able to travel, and if they would even survive a trip. If Luthadale was not safe, Morabella was the second-closest safe haven they could go to, and it was several weeks of travel through the Zedlei.
“How are they?”
Nora jumped in her seat. She had been so preoccupied she had not noticed Erroix on the stairs behind her.
“My apologies. I did not mean to startle you.” The elezens voice sounded more amused than apologetic, though. A chair was carefully brought over and he sat down next to her.
“They’re better. Deormund had it the worst of them, even considering his armour. He was struck between the joints,” While speaking she tried to assess if she had forgotten any of the bandages, “I was just thinking about where we can go if Luthadale won’t take us in.”
At first, Erroix simply nodded in response. “Would they be capable of travel?”
She looked down at her two wounded companions. Despite her ministrations, some blood had dripped onto the bedsheets, and she would need to change the bandages again before the day was out. “They both lost a fair amount of blood, and should they strain their bodies, they might lose too much more. I expect they will make a good recovery in time, but I would not move them for several days if at all possible.” The mage simply nodded again.
Both sat in silence for a while, looking down at the knight and the ranger. Faint hints of snoring could be heard from upstairs, if one strained their ears.
The grumbling of stomachs broke the silence. Nora looked wistfully at her backpack across the room. “I don’t suppose you have had breakfast yet either, Erroix?”
“I would prefer not digging into our travel rations until we know how long we will be staying and where we will be going afterwards,” The elezen looked at the locked door, “But avoiding doing so will mean foraging for supplies outside.”
Nora turned back to the sickbeds as Dah’Marra twisted about in her sleep. “We will need some food for these two as well. Hardtack is not the best sustenance for a patient.”
“It’s not the best sustenance for anything.” The staircase creaked under Bodvar’s weight. He had removed his armour. Nora realised she was still in her white robe. The highlander looked at the broken bed for a moment, then sat on the stone floor. “How are they?”
“Better, but still not good. We need some food, for them and us.”
Bodvar took a sip from his waterskin, offering it to the others. “I don’t think we should stay around for much longer. The storm seems to have largely subsided.”
Nora accepted the offer. “Surely that is a good thing.”
Erroix slowly got up from his chair to rummage through his own backpack. “Indeed, it would be quite beneficial for the village. But also make it easier for them to pursue those they think as their enemies, should they wish so.”
Nora handed the skin back, trying to examine Dah’Marra and Deormund’s injuries with a fresh eye. “You mean us.”
Erroix retrieved a few bags from his backpack. “Bodvar, help me with these rations. Nora, see if you can do anything to help us get on the road faster.”
The early day passed as they worked. Nora washed wounds and replaced bandages, casting a few magicks to try and speed their recovery. Her companions made a simple soup, softening the hardtack from their rations to make them more palatable.
Nora had just set her plate aside to replace some bandages when Deormund groaned loudly at some tightening.
“Please don’t do that, Nora. I’m sore enough as it is.” He hadn’t opened his eyes.
She hurriedly finished the binding then placed a hand firmly on his shoulder. Awake or not, he still should not move about. “Apologies, ser Wright, but your pain is preferable to the alternative,” She kept a hand on his shoulder but reached for her glass of water with the other, “Good to hear your voice again.”
“If you spoke a little more softly, maybe I would agree.” Dah’Marra croaked, one green eye ever so slightly open.
“Dah’Marra? You’re awake too?” Nora almost dropped the glass in surprise.
“I’ve been awake for hours. You make too much noise for me to sleep.”
The broken bed was salvaged of its last remaining bedding, and together some some surplus travel-robes, they propped Deormund and Dah’Marra into a more upright position and got them some food.
“It leaves something to be desired.” The ranger commented as Nora helped put the bowl away.
“Hardtack and travel rations do not make the finest soup.” Erroix responded as he put out the smokeless fire. They still wanted to avoid attracting the attentions of the town.
Dah’Marra shuffled a bit under the bedding, but the ranger knew she should not move too much, lest her wounds open up. “No, I suppose not,” She paused a moment, “What are we waiting for?”
Nora could guess what she meant. “What do you mean?”
“Before we can leave.”