A Return to the Wastes
The Dawn Fortress – The Archives
She walks and walks, passing through narrow corridors this way and that. She descends, deeper into the earth. Soon, the walls shift from crafted bricks carefully layered atop one another into solid bedrock roughly hewn. In the deeper reaches, the ceiling is bound with nets hung to catch falling debris.
This looks less like a fort and more like a mine… what is it these Tacribians do again?
Eidos penetrates deeper into the earth until the path opens up. A chamber. Shelves. Tomes upon them. Austere and utterly simple.
The Dawn Fortress Archives, I guess.
Several black iron brackets house crystalline illuminators, though their meager light fades well below the hidden pinnacle of the vaulted ceiling. While a fair number of tomes line the shelves of this library, the dimensions of this space are far in excess of what would be required to hold such a humble quantity of work.
The center of the chamber’s floor is also marked by absence, a dirt-filled but otherwise empty, circular space having been fashioned into the stonework. Numerous milky crystals dot the earth within, all inert. It looks to be in preparation for some structure or decoration that was left unfinished.
Eidos’ entrance has aroused the attention of the Archive’s sole occupant, a youthful lady with long, fiery hair tightly braided on top with the surplus cascading down upon her shoulders, framing her deep set eyes and prominent check bones. Her sharp countenance displays both a sense of ease as well as penetrating awareness.
Logira. Just keep her hand away from your head, body.
Eidos continues to idly wander among the shelves, and though Logira pursues her with a relentless gaze, she makes no attempt to stop Eidos.
Wait, wasn’t Heyar exiled for trespassing in the Archives…?
Looking around these adumbral Archives, Eidos sees that there is a sizable fresco painted upon the wall, opposite the front entrance. While it is impossible to determine its age for certain, the art here looks relatively fresh, with vibrant colors visible even in the modest amber light.
Still looks a bit worn, but not nearly as much as the ones in the Sanctuary and the Tambulan Archives.
The image is of an imposing silver tree with brilliant golden foliage. Its knotted roots are depicted as unfurling like white tendrils down into the tenebrous space beneath. An army of hideous skeletal creatures appear to be assailing the tree, though they are held at bay by a woman wielding a spear painted in a shimmering metallic green.
Luin, ever-present where there’s blood to be shed, aren’t you?
Suddenly, Eidos hears a child’s innocent laughter echoing towards her and idly searches for the source. She sees it not and simply shrugs in response before renewing her half-hearted examination of the fresco.
Looking up the base of the majestic tree, Eidos notes three distinct animals among its branches: a serpent, a crow and, curiously, a wolf. Rays of metallic gold and red are seen radiating from the tree, as though it itself were casting divine light.
What do these damn trees do anyway—other than host a bunch of bizarre creatures? Also, why the crows, serpents, and wolves? I mean, the wolf has to be Fenrir, right? She hesitates. Hold up. I’m getting too invested in this again.
Above this, Eidos sees one further image painted in an understated hand, as if an afterthought. Behind the scene a disembodied eye surveys all that is in and around the tree.
Shivers bring movement to her otherwise frozen frame. Awareness begins to dawn within her, as though she is on the brink of an epiphany. She focuses, trying to remember a time from before she had memory. She sees it, knows it, for the briefest of instants. But then…
The insight disappears, and all knowledge of it along with it, save for the impression that she once knew something and is much poorer for having lost it.
She yawns and lightly scratches her belly, growing bored with the examination. But a sharp reflection of light catches her eye and draws her sight toward the base of the fresco. A metallic protrusion stares back with its blinding mirror-polish.
However, upon reaching to touch it, Eidos feels the watchful eye of the Librarian right behind her. Eidos turns to face Logira only to find a great distance yet between them, bridged by a smoldering stare. It leaves little doubt that further tampering with the device will be met with… resistance, to say the least.
Maybe messing with that thing is what got Heyar locked up… Logira didn’t seem pleased with you looking at it just now, body.
Eidos feels compelled to cease her investigation of the switch for now and renews her exploration of the Archives. Browsing around the shelves, Eidos spies an ancient tome related to combat—one appearing to have been translated into the modern tongue. Merely by viewing it, she commits it to memory.
THE ART OF COMBAT
‘Theory of Combat’
cr. Drago Gulga of Turrok
trans. Adarin of Kabu
The principles of combat have remained unchanged since the very dawn of humanity. Given that the first technique to land will have the first effect, it is imperative that our attack arrive before the enemy can react. This self-evident truth notwithstanding, we cannot forget that the force of our attack must also be considered. Thus, it is that under our current methodology, we must first observe our opponent’s stance to determine the speed with which he will strike; then we are to choose a response that is faster, yet that maximizes our power.
As an example, if our foe were to stand with their weapon at their hip, it would mean that they are about to strike with an attack of moderate speed and power. We must therefore act with a swift thrust to disrupt and intercept this strike, yielding a clean strike for us and a fatal miss for them.
Practice is required to gain experience and experience is required to survive. Only when we can determine the speed and power level from a stance can we survive. Remember: Forewarned is forearmed. As always, we must study judiciously to make the best use of time.
A fitting work to have in their library, I suppose…
No more tomes here seem to her worth the effort of committing to memory. From her cursory survey, it looks as though much of this Archives’ work is concerned with details of religion, history and accounts of war. These are the words of a folk both lost and resolute.
Leafing through a few select tomes, Eidos notes that the religious texts speak of a removal from home, a loss of past and a confusion of meaning. Many of the prayers seem to belie a distinct sense of an unheeding and unsympathetic heaven. Salvation seems found in the tomes of warcraft, which speak of feats of heroism, cunning, and fellowship in the face of sacrifice. Laced throughout, is a profound sense of resentment at a betrayal that can never be forgiven.
Likely something the Dazirans did… no wonder the Tacribians hate them so much. But I wonder what exactly the betrayal could’ve been…
Eidos feels Logira’s penetrating gaze intensify. She slowly turns to find the Librarian now standing right behind her. Perhaps having had enough of Eidos’ unexplained presence or perhaps from mere curiosity, the Librarian now stares at her point blank. An effortless stealth in step has brought her silently to her quarry, not from an attempt to hide her approach, but from a habitual caution. Likewise, a delicate serenity in tone carries the melody of her voice quietly to Eidos’ ears.
“Biracul bless you, outlander. I’m Logira, Librarian of the Tacribian people. To aid is my life and will.” Their gazes meet, eyes locking. “Though I must admit, I do find it puzzling that you would come to this fortress at such dire times…”
“Was kinda tricked into thinking this would be paradise.”
“Yep, the guards across the bridge said you’d been doing nothing since the draug raids ended—whatever that is. Said Rikharr or someone brought the last of them and that you were sitting down all day. Sounded great to me,” says a smiling Eidos.
Logira’s expression sours. “They said that, did they?” Then looking towards the painting of the tree, she adds, “Radysar’s ignorance infects Tambulans even to this day… that wicked stone she cast centuries ago yet ripples across time.”
“Sure. Can I go now? I’d like to rest.” Yes, of course, she snuck up on you for no reason other than to chat.
“Yes, we can leave the Archives together. I’ll take you to a place where you can eat a meal and then rest.” Wait, really?
“Okay, but I’m not hungry.” That’s true… I don’t think I’ve ever been hungry… though I was thirsty after I woke up in Dazir… wasn’t I? But why am I not thirsty now?
“Then perhaps just rest.” She begins her silent glide toward the one door leading to and from the Archives.
Might as well go with her, I guess.
Eidos’ feet lumber lazily in pursuit of the Librarian.
The Dawn Fortress – The Barracks
Myriad forgotten steps bring the two to a living quarters. Here, the midday sun desperately tries to creep in through thin surveillance slits in the walls—though the persistent rays find only limited success, as these barracks seem to mirror the reserved and guarded Tacribians who built them.
Logira soon stops and turns to face Eidos. Pointing to a nearby chair, she says, “Sit. I’ll go request an audience with Master Khlutt.”
“Because any and all guests to the Fortress must be aware of our protocols if they are to spend time here and our mage will explain everything in great detail.”
“Sure, why not?”
“I’ll return shortly.”
“Take your time. I’ll just be here resting.”
Eidos sits and immediately lets her mind wander. Fine, just don’t fall asleep.
A silent stillness rules over this place, as midday is no time for a warrior to be idle, it seems. However, in a far corner, there look to be three occupants engaged in a conversation so quiet that Eidos failed to notice their presence until this very moment. But attention brings awareness and clarifies their muffled speech, allowing it to ring crystal clear within her ears.
“It’s a bitter wind blowing from the Wastes these past eves… I like it not,” says the weathered voice of an old man.
“What’d you expect?” chimes in a new voice, its youthful vigor in sharp contrast to the first. “The Wastewinds are always as fell as Rikharr’s stinking arse, theses nights or any other, from before the beginning.”
“So you’re a deedscribe now, are you, Imat?” a third, distinctly feminine voice asks. “Perhaps Logira will have a challenger soon!”
Young Imat sneers at her, but holds his tongue.
The lady continues, “It’s for the best Diya steers clear of the Wastes, though. Ranging ill-suits him, older than Ark as he is…”
Imat’s the young one, Diya’s the old one, but who’s the snarky lady. She seems annoying…
“I’ll have your silence, Xerk!” Imat bellows, finally unleashing his tongue. “What Diya says with his fretting you say with your jibes. We’re all worried about Shen. But there’s nothing we can do for him now.”
The old man amends the statement, “Look, Shen’s disappearance is only the latest in a series of jinnborn horrors! That draugnir Fwayya and her Shariken tracked from Land’s End into the Salt Forest during her last circuit begs the question of how in Ark’s name it got beyond the Beacon in the first place!”
Imat adds, “True! And what’s more, where they found it oughta be beyond the wraithglow, but Fwayya nearly fell to it—would’ve too, if it hadn't been for Shen’s sacrifice.”
Diya picks up the thread, “And if that’s not enough, I myself heard voices and jinnwhispers on the air some nights ago…”
Xerk smirks derisively, “Ha! Voices! Don’t let Khlutt hear you say that; he doesn’t look favorably upon those who hit the Jinn-liquor while on watch.” But soon her tone takes on a serious tinge, “But if you’re really so curious, then why don’t we do a little investigating of our own..? Perhaps we’ll even find Shen while we’re at it…”
“I know the Wastes like the back of my hand! If the wraithglow’s not got him yet, I can find him!” says Diya with a resolve more solid than the walls he protects.
“Neither of you jinnlickers are going anywhere you’re not instructed to go!” Imat shouts. Then, realizing just how loud he was being, continues again in a whisper before his seething elders can get a word in, “Fwayya was bound by duty to leave her Shariken in the Salt Forest; and she had the wisdom to follow through. A true Tacribian she is! Our wills are deferred to the League for the good of the League, and don’t you forget it!”
A momentary silence falls upon the interlocutors as they reflect and lament.
“Besides, you two have neither the right nor the wit to undertake your own draug-brained scheme to rescue Shen, ha!” A poor attempt at levity pulls the words from Imat’s mouth.
“I’m not worried about Shen; he can take care of himself!” Xerk snaps. “Fact is, he might be safer out there than those of us still in the fort, if that Kharrspawn Khaa has his way…”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about, pup!” says Diya. “You’ve never ranged past the Nearwaste. Never seen the wraithglow of the forest—or what it does to a ranger… I’d not even wish it on a jinnlickin’ Daziran!”
Xerk frowns looking as if she will argue, but Diya just keeps on speaking.
“You’ve never been in view of the Stilled Sand Crater at Ark’s Beacon and seen those wandering draugnir… staring back at you from across the fields of icesand with their eyes, blacker than the Obsidian Ruin…” Diya gets up to stare through a surveillance slit, out into the Wastes. Though the trio is far, Eidos can clearly see the fear in his eyes.
“No, I haven’t,” Xerk concedes. “But I have seen what a day’s thirst can do to a strong ranger within these walls! But, maybe you’re right. Maybe all the draugnir are about to descend on us led by the Obsidian Jinn herself. It all means nothing!” You’re absolutely right about that. “Because if we don’t take care of Dazir and the Wellspring soon, all the draugnir will find is a fortress full of parched corpses!”
“So first you want to range into the Wastes to save Shen and now you want to slit Daziran throats?” asks Imat incredulously. “You do realize they’re on the opposite ends of the jinncursed map, don’t you?”
“Well we need to do something!” she says growing louder.
“Yeah, and that something is saving Shen, Ark protect him,” says Diya.
“Melinoe’s lips for both of you!” shouts Imat, stunning the two to silence. “You’ve sworn your blood-oath to obey your mage! If Khlutt says to go find Shen, we range; if he says to kill all the people of Kabu, we fight; if he says to linger here and perish by thirst or slaughter, we wither…”
Logira’s tap on Eidos’ shoulder comes as a surprise, startling her.
“Come,” she says. “I’ll take you to Master Khlutt.”
But quickly regaining her utter apathy, she replies, “If you say so.”
The door is a mere five paces from where she sat, the sign above it offering nothing more than the word ‘Gymnasium’ written in a blocky script.
And now we meet Khlutt again, though under very different circumstances, I suppose.
The Dawn Fortress – The Mage’s Abode
Light pours in through long, narrow windows high on the western walls, like a dozen eyes peering down in divine judgment. Beneath these windows, another set of eyes scornfully appraises Eidos from the shadows—eyes she cannot see, but whose vivisecting gaze she can most palpably feel.
A voice solid in its self-assuredness commands her, though the curtain of brilliance the windows’ light casts makes it impossible to determine who—or what—lurks in the wall’s penumbra but fifty paces hence.
Khlutt. I’d recognize that cocky old man’s voice anywhere.
She begins to carve a path through the dust motes floating in the afternoon sun, getting ever closer to that motionless creature. Twenty paces off, the form gains in clarity. More onyx statue than human being, Khlutt sits on an elevated platform, immobile, absolute, and intractable. His oppressive aura is enough to make the brave cowardly and the belligerent docile.
Within ten paces, he authoritatively raises a hand commanding her to stop. The shadowy figure now finally comes into focus. Lines sharpen and colors separate. Sitting there before her is a lean, somewhat muscular man of advancing years, his face etched with a perpetual scowl.
To say Khlutt was unenthusiastic about her approach would be to call the sun lukewarm. For the moment, he simply glares at Eidos from on high.
But after a lengthy silence and a domineering staredown, he deigns to speak.
“Be silent, outlander. My Truesight will speak your true intentions for you. And if I don’t like what I find, I’ll cripple your Falseflesh along with the True…”
Just try it, asshole! I’ve got ways to protect myself now!
Instinct becomes will, will then becoming thought. An image forms in her mind, burning out indigo lines from hidden dimensions. An unseen circle manifests, weaving an intricate tapestry of lines, never crossing, as they traverse planes both seen and unseen linking paths among them.
Hidden Mind descends like a curtain upon the window of her mind, now hiding her thoughts from prying sight.
Khlutt’s expression turns from derision, to confusion, finally warping into wrath and contempt’s bastard.
“Your mind is stained! You Unseen scum!” Now rising from his platform, “You’d imitate Ormenos? Then be thorough and share his fate!”
Ormenos? The Trueflesh from the blue crystal? Khlutt knew him?
A Glyph appears beneath her, its blazing dark fire carving a void into the floor.
Her knowledge of the Glyphs seems to flicker and then disappear in an instant, and Khlutt soon blitzes toward her with inhuman speed.
The mage will soon be upon her.
Khlutt is now within striking distance. Desperation takes hold and Eidos throws her fists wildly at the advancing mage. But any and all attacks appear to be futile before him. He moves lithely, dodging every attack Eidos plans to use before she can even use it, his careful positioning and smooth footwork the cause.
In a flash, he is behind her.
A mind-numbing fear drains her courage.
A searing pain.
The floor rises.
On a hobnail sandal?
Connecting with her face.