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Entry 29 Part 2: Riloth the 19th the 24th

Illunia 22 - Hardune Fortress

"Thanks," I said as I looked over the tome Daulf had just given me, the feeling of receiving new socks for First Landing coming to mind.

He moved on and examined the rest of the room with his magically enhanced gaze. His attention narrowed on the bowl of brown stones. Holding one up, he examined it closely in my light.

"Soul stones. Not from a person, but from some creature loyal to the necromancer I’d wager. This is likely how he raised that dragon. I thought something was off about it. It didn’t move clumsily like the dwarves, but neither did it move like the one I’d fought in Landing. Curious."

He placed them back on the table and continued around the room.

We found nothing new of interest, so I summoned a new Light on a quill from the table and handed it to Trish before leaving. Quills, I'd found, were one of the easiest everyday objects to attach a Light to, the Will requirement being much lower than a rock—plus it's a very handy trick when writing in the dark. I left the group to throw the journal into the fire and rid the world of its terrible knowledge. The fire blazed briefly when I tossed it in. I sat against the wall and flipped through the pages of the book Daulf had given me—your pages.

When I received you, you were a foot tall, eight inches wide, and three inches thick. And, as you know better than I, filled with unreadable nonsense and more blank pages. While looking through your pages, trying to make sense of it, Bearskin stirred.

"Good morning. Evening? Actually I have no idea." I greeted him.

"Good morning evening to you," he rose and looked around, seemingly recovered. "Where is the dragon?"

"Daulf slew it, and it turned into ash."

He smiled and let out an appreciative hum, "Hmm, good for him."

"I’ve been meaning to ask you, what's with the deep sleeping? We couldn’t wake you up at all. Neither now nor after we fished you out of the river," I asked, giving into my long burning curiosity.

He walked over to his weapon, which was still where it’d fallen during the fight, and brought it back over to me.

He pointed to the brown stone set in its face, "Bear spirit. It makes me tougher. It lets me enter a deep sleep to heal. I cannot wake until I have recovered fully. Sometimes—no. Often I get hurt using my Bond, and when it ends, I would die without this."

"Bond?" I asked.

He looked me over, deciding whether he should answer.

Eventually he gestured at his tattoos and spoke, "My tribe. We are the People of the Iron Veins. Our home was once a mountain. Deep within the mountain peak resides the Primordial of Bonds. Long before the Flood, lighting struck the mountain. Over and over, many years. Eventually, the ore veins became magnetic.”—he punctuated the word by pressing two fists together—”The Primordial appeared and made it problematic. Before, veins would pull at tools and weapons. Now the veins trapped anything that touched them and pulled metal up the mountain. We fled our peak, but the waters rose. We were forced back up the mountain. We lost people to the veins that ran through the land, but eventually learned to live alongside them. After generations, my people discovered we could use the magic of the Primordial."

He stopped speaking and grabbed two pieces of wood from the fire pile, pressed them together, and handed them to me. The pieces were stuck together, as if glued. I struggled to pull them apart, until suddenly they gave way in my hands and my efforts flung them across the room with a series of plonks filling the silences as they tumbled.

With a chuckle, Bearskin continued, "My people discovered many wonders with the magic. Our greatest achievement was bonding the Totem. The Totem has selected our clan chief since before the flood, before the Primordial. It also grants the chief great power. We learned that the whole tribe could bond to the Totem"—he gestured at his tattoos—"This bond allowed us to fill it with our strength for the chief to use. We can also share our energy, strength, and pain with the tribe. When my tattoos glow, I am Bonded with my tribe. I feel less pain and draw on their strength and endurance. Other times, I feel the pain of my tribesmen, and lend them my strength. We must only use the Bond in service of the tribe." While he spoke the latter, his face twisted in disgust and he spit to the side.

"I take it not everyone follows that edict," I asked, hoping to keep him talking.

"Once, it was unheard of to abuse the Bond. My tribe has lost its way. An outsider came and defeated our chief, but the totem did not choose her. After that, things changed. I opposed the change, and was to be executed. I escaped. I must go back." He took on a somber expression and it didn’t feel right to continue probing.

The rest of the group came to join us shortly after, my light acting as a beacon in the pitch black room.

When Daulf got to the fire he said, "Great, you’re awake. The water is beginning to recede. I would like to perform a brief service for the dead, and then we must get back to Edgewater."

We gathered near the ashes of the dragon in a circle under Dauf’s direction.

Without much pomp or ceremony, he spoke, "Illunia, patron of all those who seek knowledge, progenitor of dragons, protector of youth, I ask you to shepherd the souls of these lost to the Divine Realm, or to Torc’s embrace, wherever they choose to rest."

And that was all, short and sweet. We dispersed and set out for the stairs, but on the way there, I saw something in the ashes. As respectfully as I could manage, I walked through the dragon’s remains. In the center, covered in ash, lay a golden sphere the size of a plum. The sphere felt significantly heavier than something that size had any right to be. It must have weighed at least ten pounds. It felt cool to the touch, but as soon as I touched it, my mind felt clearer. It's hard to describe, but I'll try. It was as if I’d lived my whole life hearing a constant background hum, and I'd just grown accustomed to it. I'd accepted that was what the world sounded like and couldn't imagine a world of silence. When I touched the sphere, the noise went away, removing a burden I did not know I bore, allowing me to really hear the world around me.

Marveling at the new focus, I summoned an orb of light in my hand. The cantrip, which normally took minimal effort to cast, appeared in my hand as soon as the thought to cast it entered my mind.

"Whoa!" I exclaimed, shocked by my own spell.

Next I tried to produce a flame in my hand. Piercing the Font of Fire had never been so easy. It was not as instantaneous as the Light had been, but it was much easier than it should have been. The most shocking part was that when the flame appeared in my hand, the Light didn’t disappear as I expected. I was able to maintain my focus on keeping both spell effects active, a feat I’d not yet been able to master.

"It seems that there is truth to the legends," Daulf’s voice came from behind me, startling me out of my new-found focus and causing both cantrips to disappear. "Please, let me see that."

His voice was uncertain, but with a tinge of reverence. I handed him the sphere, and the newfound clarity vanished.

"Amazing," was all he said, as he marveled at the sphere.

After a moment, he pulled a pouch on a cord around his neck from beneath his chain mail. He treated the pouch with the same tender regard as the orb, and he placed the sphere inside it.

"I will see this returned to its rightful owners," he said, not explaining further.

We made our way down through the halls of the fortress unimpeded. The smell of the ocean renewed, but more pleasant this time. Like a fresh breeze off the waves, instead of the fetid stink of a tide pool. The water had washed away the evidence of our passage; the bodies we’d left behind were gone.

We couldn’t find a way to open the secret entrance we’d use to enter, so we continued down. The first floor was a disaster. We hadn’t looked down here before, but now the place was filled with debris. It was impossible to tell what the room had contained. Remnants of wooden furniture, crates, and supplies covered the floor. The missing bodies were also present here. The ceiling was tall, once again beyond the reach of my lights.

Navigating the mess of wet garbage, we found the floor to have two large gates, each twenty feet across, set on opposing sides of the long walls of this floor. Both gates were unadorned stone, except for a small area of runes. They each had the same pattern of runes as the secret entrance. The stones had no effect when we held them to the door. Further inspection revealed a small room set near the gate, half buried in debris.

With a few minutes of digging—with Bearskin doing most of the actual work—we cleared the floor enough to open the door. Inside sat a system of gears and a lever. A manual override. Daulf pulled the lever easily, and we heard the now familiar grinding of stone on stone. Outside the room, the stone gate rose, disappearing into a slot in the wall above it.

It was morning outside the mountain, and the scene was nothing like we’d left it. The river was flowing freely once more and all remnants of the river bed camp had been washed away. The water fed the river from an unseen cavern somewhere below the surface. The palisade was gone, the bank of the river had eroded under the resumed flow and pulled the wall down along with it. Most of the supplies that had been gathered along the edge of the river had vanished. Either the survivors had taken it and ran, or the army had marched before we restarted the river. With any hope it was the latter, and the resumed flood had wiped them out.

Surveying the scene of destruction, I asked the group, "So, are we walking or can we build a raft?"

"I vote raft, if we are voting," Trish volunteered.

"Raft it is," Daulf agreed. "I’ll admit, I don’t cherish the idea of walking back."

We got to work building a raft from the fallen trees that hadn’t been used in the palisade. A stack of them sat waiting for us, already delimbed and stripped of bark. With Bearskin's help, it was the work of half an hour to get the logs lined up in a ten-foot square and lash them together with some rope I’d found. Between Bearskin's strange bonding ability, his strength, and Roland’s unexplained experience with raft construction, we made a serviceable raft that could hold our whole group.

"This will last for maybe six hours before my bonds fail. I can renew them if needed, but then I will not be able to draw upon my tribe’s strength if we face battle," Bearskin explained after it was complete.

We—well, mostly Bearskin—pushed the raft into the river and watched it float. Once it proved stable, we all hopped on and pushed off into the flow downstream. The river’s current was fast, but it was wide enough that we were in little danger of hitting the sides before we could correct our course with poles brought along for the purpose.

The trip down river showed us the result of our efforts. The dead lined the river banks. Orcs, redcaps, elves, and goblins. So many goblins. The carrion birds feasted. Further downstream Roland pointed out evidence of survivors—footprints on the bank, and stripped bodies of the dead. He even claimed to have spotted them watching us through the trees. I couldn't see them, but I believed him; the man had more than proven his skills on this trip.

I spent the ride laying on my back looking up at the sky, exhausted. I’d slept more than anyone save Bearskin, but my body had yet to acclimate to this hectic life of adventure. It was this posture that allowed me to see the dragon. At first, I thought it was a bird, but when it disappeared behind a cloud, the scale became clear.

"Dragon!" I yelled, scrambling to my feet.

Everyone started looking around, suddenly alert but not seeing a threat.

"Up in the sky!" I shouted, pointing up.

They all looked up, and when it came out from behind the clouds they let out a collective gasp.

"Theral, give us a back wind, we must return to Edgewater with all haste." Daulf commanded me.

I did as he asked and summoned a Gale to blow us down the river. It was not a spell I needed in day-to-day life, but it was one my mother had insisted I learn.

She had always said, "A Stormcaller that cannot harness a Gale is no Stormcaller at all. You will never take passage on a ship and not be asked to assist in its voyage. If you ever wish to travel openly as a sorcerer, you must learn this spell."

Without a sail, the Gale had only a small effect on our speed, but as I was learning, inches could mean lives when dealing with the Forsaken. Bearskin and Daulf began using the poles to push us along as well and our progress increased noticeably.

After another hour of our focused efforts, Roland said, "I recognize the treeline, we will see the town soon."

And then, as if his words brought about the failure, Bearskin’s bonds disappeared, and the raft became significantly less stable. By Rilith’s mercy, no one fell into the river, though the raft became a loose lashing of logs, impossible to stand on and dangerous to slip between.

"I must save my Will," Bearskin said, balancing on the uneven logs with amazing proficiency. "I cannot repair the raft and draw from my tribe. We may face this dragon."

We rode the last half hour of our journey clutching desperately to the logs, and trying not to get crushed. We could manage this if it meant keeping Bearskin in our back pocket for the fight.

Finally we rounded the last bend, and the town of Edgewater came into view. The dragon continued to circle overhead. Occasionally, it flew down and passed over the town, outside of weapon range.

Evidence of a battle covered the fields around the town. Large sections of the forest had burned to stumps; the distance between the town and the forest had doubled. Bodies littered the field, and people were out there sorting the dead. The greatest host of bodies was concentrated around a newly dug trench and the makeshift wall behind it. Along the outer ring of buildings, a wall had been built from anything they had on hand. Wagons, barrels, boats, and ships were used to fill the gaps between buildings, and people still stood atop it watching over the field. The sight of a fishing vessel used as a wall invoked memories of the older settlements of the Continent, where the ships of the settlements had been dragged down the mountains for use as lodging and material.

The river took us straight past where the docks had once been; no evidence of them remained, the turbulence and debris of the river’s resumed flow having ripped them out. I turned my spell, so that it pushed us into the shore and aimed our raft towards the docks, where we caught on the submerged piling that had survived.

Our approach must have been seen, because a welcome party waited for us in the stripped dockyard. It had been cleared of anything that could have been used to build a wall, and was now an empty tract of land, populated by Mobear’s tents.

The "bigwigs" Mobear, Deshiv, Ludvik, and Tobren all waited for us at the water’s edge when we disembarked. Behind them stood a mass of spectators. When the last of us stepped onto the ground, the crowd broke into cheers.

"You did it!" Tobren shouted, with a big smile on his face. "Come, let us rest and celebrate. We will share our tales."

Up close, I could see that all the people bore signs of battle. Bandages and scratches covered them all. Tobren escorted us to the inn, where we could have privacy to debrief. He sent everyone out until we had the common room to ourselves. A meal was prepared and, without waiting for invitation, Bearskin grabbed an entire lamb shank and began eating it.

"If no one else is going to ask, I will. Why aren't we worried about the dragon?" Trish asked as Bearskin dug in.

Tobren answered for the group, "The dragon has been here for hours. It's either looking for something or waiting. It risked a flyby but Deshiv dissuaded it from doing so again with his magic."

That defused some of the tension from the room, and I too became aware of my appetite. I joined Bearskin in making a smaller, more reasonable plate of lamb chops with some greens and cheese. After that, everyone partook, and we all sat around a long table as Trish relayed our tale with a dramatic flair.

Her retelling filled me with suspense, her presentation so compelling that I forgot I knew the outcome at times. Her recounting painted us all in a very heroic light, and she highlighted my own contributions in a way that I felt gave me too much credit. When she reached the part about the undead, the two dwarves slammed the table in anger, spilling drinks and flinging a plate across the room.

"Fauel Slime!" Deshiv cursed. "They desecrated our dead with their filthy magic. It wasn’t enough for them to kill our children, but they defiled our corpses too!"

I realized then that Trish had never read the note that set off Daulf, and I found myself interjecting, "Umm, actually, sir. We found this note that suggests your children may be alive somewhere."

I fished through my bag and found the note, tucked in my old fake spellbook.

Deshiv ripped the note from my hand, and his anger broke, turning into tears. Ludvik came and took the note from him and after reading it he whispered to Deshiv in Torcish, "We will get them back. The Hardune may be devastated, but the Empire is still strong. This will not stand."

Empire? What empire? And what was the Hardune?

Wait, didn’t I read that somewhere? Yeah. That report mentioned the Hardune. What is that? Some dwarven organization or military branch? It seems that whoever your owner was was a member, and Deshiv and Ludvik were as well. Maybe I should have asked them about you, though at the time, you were just some random book.

I got distracted from my musings at the weird word choice as Trish finished her tale with a description of Daulf’s victory over the undead dragon. She kept the references to his butt to a minimum this time.

"Hah!" Mobear shouted, "See? Daulf the Dragon Slayer."

"No, friend, this dragon was slain by the enemies of good. I only saw that it received a proper send off," came Daulf's modest reply.

Our tale done, Tobren then described the events we had missed. After we left, refugees had continued to arrive by the hour, packing the warehouses to the brim. The townsfolk, refugees, and soldiers worked around the clock to prepare the town for a possible invasion. They built the walls and prepared a controlled burn of the forest. Deshiv helped with both, using his Blessings to dig the trench around the town and a firebreak in the woods.

The river’s flow had returned ten hours after we’d left. A few hours after that, the surviving enemies had begun to amass in the woods outside the town. The town’s forces lit the forest on fire, forcing an attack so they could meet the enemy at the walls. By then, the force had been reduced from the ten thousand strong it had been. Dragon cultists, orcs both Fallen and gray, dark elves, redcaps, and goblin hordes fled the burning forest and ran to the walls of the town. The fighting was fierce, and the town lost half of its fighting men and women, but the enemy fared worse. The invaders were poorly equipped; the well armored having not survived the flood. The axes of the town’s lumberjacks, their arrows, and the blades of Mobear’s men clashed with the unruly and ill equipped mob.

The cultists lit parts of the wall on fire early on, but when the archers focused their fire on them, their shields were quickly overpowered. Whenever a redcap used its magic, Deshiv would cause the ground below it to swallow them whole. Eventually, their scant magical support left them and soon after the enemy broke and fled.

It was not a cohesive military force, they didn’t have the discipline to fight in the face of staggering losses. Neither did the townsfolk, but fighting for one's home will give anyone courage in the face of death. The dragon arrived from Landing after the battle. It didn’t attack, but circled the city, making occasional low passes, as if searching for something.

There was a moment of silence for the fallen, which was broken by screams and cheers from outside. We all ran out of the inn to find the market square filled with people looking up at the sky. I looked and saw the dragon spiraling through the air.

No.

Two dragons, the white one from Landing, and a new much larger golden one. The golden dragon was at least three times the size of the white, but it was hard to tell as they tumbled through the air towards the ground.

Ice and flame blew in all directions from the falling mass as they spun, leaving a helix of white and orange in their wake. As they fell closer, it became clear that the white dragon was covered in blood, red patches maring its white scales. Shortly before impact, the gold dragon let out a mighty roar, and ripped the head off of the smaller white. The roar was nothing like that of the undead dragon; it shook the very ground, and I could feel it in my chest as if its source stood before me. Truly the cry worthy of a creature of legend. The white dragon’s head flew from the falling pair and landed in the square in an explosion of red gore. The dragon and the corpse crashed into Tobren’s inn, and the building collapsed around them. Dust billowed from where the inn had stood, shrouding the square in an impenetrable cloud.

The dust cloud knocked me to the ground in shock, from surprise as much as from its force. When I regained my feet, I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. I summoned a Gale, and the wind quickly dispersed the dust as I walked around the crowd. Townsfolk and soldiers covered the square, all looking around in silent confusion.

The silence was broken by a wooden beam flying out of the pile of rubble that had once been the inn. The massive timber struck the inn's stable, causing it to collapse as well, already damaged from the impact. Out of the debris, walked a man with faintly elven features. His head was bald with golden eyes, and his ears came to subtle points. His skin was a light bronze, and he wore an immaculate tunic, in the style I’d seen on the dwarves, but ornamented with golden thread in patterns reminiscent of runes.

He walked out of the dust and into the square, casually as if he’d just walked out of a standing inn.

From my side Deshiv shouted, "Wyr Teshivanido! You are here!"

The man walked to Deshiv and embraced the much shorter dwarf in a hug.

After the embrace he said, "I’m sorry. They have all fallen, but it is heartening to know some of you made it."

His voice had a strong commanding tone to it, but in a reassuring way like a stern parent. Pain was evident in his words for the loss the dwarves had suffered. As he walked closer, my mind stilled and I felt some small semblance of the clarity I had experienced when I held the golden sphere.

Ludvik cut in, "Aye Wyr Teshivanido, few of us did. I pray some of our brothers at the other outposts survived. These fine people here have liberated this outpost. We were about to discuss plans to retake it."

"I have told you, call me Teshiv. I am your ally, not your master," said Teshiv like a teacher repeating a lesson for the dozenth time. "That is great news. We can retake the outposts from here. Have you gotten word to the dwarven army? Where is my son?"

At the last question, the two dwarves looked stricken, and then looked to Daulf.

In a low voice, Deshiv said, "I thought you knew. Isn’t that why you are here?"

The strong commanding face of Teshiv went white and devoid of all emotion. He did not speak, or even move.

Daulf approached the dragon in human form, and knelt before him, eyes downcast. "Wyr Teshivanido, Child of Illunia. I am Daulf, Chosen of Illunia. I regret that I must bear this news to one such as you, but the forces of Faust have slain your son. I saw to him receiving proper last rites."

Daulf reached into the pouch around his neck, produced the sphere, and held it up to Teshiv, still kneeling.

Slowly, gingerly, the dragon took the sphere from Daulf’s outstretched hand. He held the sphere, and clutched it to his chest with one hand.

"Thank you," he whispered.

His face, once blank, now contorted with rage. His eyes turned from the golden irises of a man, to the vertical slit eyes of a lizard, and smoke began to flow from his nose.

"She must pay. She has gone too far. I will find her and end this once and for all."

And then, without warning, he leaped into the air, easily rising forty feet. As he rose, he grew into his full dragon form, and took off into the sky with a mighty flapping of his golden wings. Below him, his wing beats came within inches of crushing awed spectators and the settled dust stirred once more.

We were all left to watch him depart, in shocked stillness from what we’d just seen and confused as to what it might have meant.

Teshiv. That is the name of the man my father was to meet. Could this be? Was my father on his way to meet a dragon? How could I have missed this? Daulf always referred to him as Wyr in our conversations since the meeting, I’d forgotten the shortened form he’d requested he be addressed as. How did my father get wrapped up in all of this? What was he really researching?

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TK523

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