The Inquisitor's Dream
The world was light again. For the first time in months, Magnus saw the sun clearly. He was standing on the beach. He kicked at the sand with his boots, and then knelt to gather a handful. The mass was warm. It filtered through his fingers and back onto the beach. A breeze carried across and Magnus felt it climb through his helm and cool the sweat on his face. He noticed peace. All he could hear was the sound of the breeze, lightly whistling, and the occasional splash of waves. In that instance, Magnus knew that were gone; they were no longer whispering to him in muddled voices, and no longer did Sarinda's voice ring out from the storm of sound to issue a command. He wasn't angry anymore. He didn't feel the weight of his responsibility pulling at his heart. For the first time since he could remember, Magnus wasn't thinking about the potential new world that Sarinda had promised him. Instead, he thought of the waters that splashed on the shore and the sound they made. The world was calm again.
Magnus sat on the ground and pulled his helmet off. He couldn't remember the last time he ate or where he slept or if he had done either in the time he spent in Sarinda's service. He couldn't remember what he had done, only why he had done it; and even that was becoming hard to remember. He was told to protect Sarinda and to aid her Stitched. Sarinda had told him to kill the Pantier patrols through the Snarling Tangle, because they would sabotage the creation of her new world. He had to kill the Kanen who wandered near her inner-sanctum. They wouldn't understand what she was doing or why, so they had to be eliminated. He did all of this, because he was promised an incredible reward; a return to the peaceful world, to a Pre-Separation Poxanthuru. He was promised peaceful cities, quiet streets, an end to the war between Protectorate and Wrath. But, as he stared out at the Erilmundi, Magnus forgot the image of the peaceful world. He felt as if he had stirred from a dream, Sarinda and her influence slowly fading into the gentle breeze. Magnus began to pull off his armor, starting with his bracers. When he came to the breastplate, he began to feel around his sides for the straps.
"Let me help," said a soothing voice.
He turned to see Korin. But, instead of Inquisition-issued plate mail, she was wearing dusted white robes. The sword at her side was new, and the scabbard it rested in. Both were polished silver, or steel perhaps, and the scabbard was wrapped in fine leather. She knelt beside him and began to unfasten his breastplate. When the breastplate was off, Magnus began to work at the red sash. He smiled to Korin.
"If I lost this, I'd never hear the end of it."
He unchained the battered cloth, folded it, and placed it in his belt satchel. He pulled off his greaves and, after a moment of fighting the clasps, had undone his vambraces. Beneath the armor, he was wearing gray robes. He was surprised to find that the robes were pristine. There were small patterns in the fabric, black lines winding and reaching towards a crest in the center. The crest reminded Magnus of the undead city, Elsarin. But he had faced many undead and several of Serkan's finest necromancers, and he had never seen the symbol before. It resembled the Elsarin crest, but there were noticeable differences. Instead of the skull and the long claw-like finger bones, there was a towering castle in its center. The towering structure sat on a globe and inside the globe was an arcane symbol.
"Elsarin," said Korin, "These are the robes of the original Elsari. They lived long before Serkan's reign."
"How do you know this?"
"I've learned much while you were away."
Korin sat beside Magnus, her arms resting on her knees. He had many questions. How long had he been away? What happened since? Where was Sarinda? Instead of asking, he watched her. She was looking out to sea. Her face was fixed on the horizon, on something far away. He looked for what she was staring at, but saw nothing; the horizon was clear. The uncertainty in her gaze had gone, replaced with an adamant determination. She was no longer frightened of Maljara or of the nightmares that lurked in the jungle. They sat for a time, Korin watching the distant something and Magnus watching her. His questions still buzzed about in his head and he still had no will to ask. He was tired. It started in his arms and legs, an incredible heaviness. It was spreading through his body. When was the last time he slept? He couldn't remember. Magnus lowered himself onto the ground. For a moment, he thought he should find a more secluded place. The fatigue was seeping into his head and soon it didn't matter where he lay. He felt a hand on his forehead. Korin's voice stayed beside him, as the crashing waves and the breeze slowly faded.
"I have a story, if you'd like to listen."
The blue sky above him dissolved slowly, until he was in total darkness. The only sound was Korin's voice.
"You know about the war between Elsarin and Valdac."
The darkness was filled with a scene of battle. Magnus watched as soldiers fought in a mass. Within the crowd, hundreds of steel swords and maces swung viciously to and fro. One soldier lifted a broadsword over his head, only to receive the brunt of a warhammer across his face. Archers stood in rows on either side of the battle. Some pulled bowstrings close, while other pressed iron rods to their faces. A metal rod would crash and a soldier's breastplate would explode. Mages stood above them, lifting large spells over their heads and thrusting them down into the conflict. A man in chainmail, the cross of Valdac on his tabard, lifted a wounded soldier over his shoulder and began to drag him across the bloodstained ground. An arrow appeared at his neck and he fell. Both the soldier and his savior lay still.
"Our history, the history of the Stronghold and the Sarnghaver, begins with conflict. There were many other events before this, but this one is the most important to us. Our ancestors fled from this conflict. Elsari and Valdaci both sought peace in the mountains."
The battlefield was gone. Instead, there was a small gathering of people resting in a valley. A woman, wearing the same Elsari robes that Magnus wore, knelt beside a fire. A man, wearing a cross of Valdac around his neck, offered her some food. She accepted and they ate in silence.
"And there were some who didn't flee."
He watched the rubble of Old Elsarin. Two men, in the same dark robes, sifted through rubbles. One uncovered an arm, protruding from a pile of stone and wood. Together, the two robed men lifted the stone away and pulled a body from the pile.
"They didn't flee, because they weren't afraid. Because they had the power to rebuild what was destroyed."
One of the men pressed his hands against the chest of the corpse. His mouth moved rapidly, as if he were saying many things as quickly as he could. There was a flash and the man stood up. The corpse stood with him. The two robed men walked on, the corpse stumbling behind them.
"You know this history. But, there is more than this. There were other wars in other parts of the world."
The scene was filled with chaos. Two armies clashed along a mountain pass. The combatants, and the battlefield, were different. They didn't wear chainmail or plate armor. They wore leather tunics and swung at each other with wooden clubs. Some were solid and others had spikes on the end. These warriors were massive, standing nearly 7 staff-lengths high and with all the power of a Garu. One warrior swung its club and connected with a boulder. A fissure tore through the massive rock, nearly splitting it apart. The warrior swung again and his club struck the shoulder of another. The foe stumbled, regained his balance, and swung back.
"We do not share the same war. They argued over what to do with their expanding empire. Some wanted to continue expanding across the world. Others wanted peace; they wanted time to build their nation."
One of the warriors looked to the mountains, his single eye fixed in a glare. He pointed his club to something in the distance and began to roar. Magnus turned towards it. Several more figures stood at the top of the pass. These Cyclops wore regal clothing, robes lined with silver and padded with steel. Each wore a hood, covering their heads. Each carried a massive staff, adorned with Nora gems and crafted into intricate shapes. Were they mages? A Cyclops mage?
"And when their arguments went nowhere, they fought."
One of the robed Cyclops raised its staff to the sky. The Nora jewels glowed red and then flashed. A large bolt came down on the battlefield, the force of it sending several Cyclops into the air. Soon, the warriors broke rank and began to charge the lone group of mages. Soon, several red-glowing staffs were raised and several more bolts came down on them.
"The Royal Court held the most power. They tried to bring peace between the two warring factions. The Court knew their subjects would only understand force."
A bolt came down and scattered a cluster of charging warriors. Some of the warriors recovered and continued their charge, only to be struck by another bolt. The charging armies were reduced to a few Cyclops, who began to run from the wizards. They trampled down the pass, abandoning their clubs as they ran. The scene had stopped. The wizards stood silent. They watched the warriors flee into the distance and then disappear.
"They didn't understand the damage they had done. The fighting didn't end until the Separation. When the lands divided, Myridin had been split at both ends."
Myridin? Magnus had never heard the name before.
"This was the name of their land. Kalmyrid was their Emperor. The northern lands, the Shattered Peaks on Poxanthuru, these lands were spared. The Separation was not kind to the Emperor and his Royal Court."
One of the wizards removed his hood. His face was pale and his eye was crimson. He scowled at the fleeing warriors and turned away. The others followed. When they were gone, the scene changed. The northern rock wall that flanked the pass was gone, replaced by a cliff that overlooked the sea. The pass was covered in stones of various shapes; some small and some impassable, some were jagged while other were smooth. A lone Cyclops was slowly stumbling towards the cliff. His white robes were tattered and dusted. An ornate staff, the same the wizard's carried, was fastened to his back.
"Few survived the Separation. Those that did wandered aimlessly. At the end of the season, Myridin lost its last survivor."
Magnus watched the Cyclops struggle up to the cliff's edge. The Cyclops fell to his knees. He stared out at the newly-formed sea, watched waves crash against the cliffs below. He knelt there for a time, watching the sea and listening to the wind. The Cyclops stood.
"His name was Zeventrech."
The Cyclops stepped forward and disappeared.
"I remember him," said Magnus.
"He saved you from Sarinda. When he destroyed her Stitched form, her grasp on you was broken. But, Sarinda and Zeventrech weren't always at odds."
The scene had shifted many times since they spoke. The sun sank and rose many times over, but the rocks stayed relatively still. Then, it slowly returned to a normal pace. The sun was slowly fading into the horizon. A pale hand grasped at the ledge and an Elsari woman pulled herself up. She stepped away and brushed dirt from her palms. Her face was thin and severe. Her gray eyes were dark and heavy. She wore the gray Elsari robes. Two more humans climbed up behind her, both wearing the same attire. They spoke to her in Ancient Elsari. Magnus struggled to listen, but they spoke too quickly for Magnus to decipher. The woman didn't respond. Two more Elsari appeared, and then a sixth heaved himself onto the ledge. The sixth turned and began to call down the Cliffside to a seventh. It took only a moment, before the seventh appeared. He was huge, compared to the others. He wore a white robe, tattered and dusted. The seven cloaked figures moved along the path, Zeventrech taking the lead.
"Where are they going?"
"There was a sacred place in Kalmyrid's empire and Zeventrech was the only surviving member of his court. He knew where to find the sacred place and Sarinda knew this."
"But where is he leading them?"
"Reviving a corpse can be done in one of two ways. The first is to reanimate the corpse with Nora and control it with magic. It becomes your servant, a kind of puppet. But, the master must continue to focus on the corpse, channeling their power into the vessel. It is not a true revival, simply a reanimation. The other way is impossible."
The first, the severe woman, paused and turned towards Magnus. Was she looking down the path or was she staring at him?
"The other way is to retrieve the soul from the Utterdark and return it to the corpse. But, to enter the Utterdark would mean certain death. Once you enter, you are dead. It would take the power of a demigod to resist the Utterdark."
The first didn't smile or grimace. Her gray eyes were cold and piercing.
"The second way is a true revival. The servant is restored completely. It's as if it never died."
"Sarinda," called the sixth.
The first turned to him, nodded, and continued up the path. She pulled her hood over her head.
"Sarinda performed the second revival to resurrect Zeventrech. In return, he promised to show them the sacred place."
The sun disappeared in the horizon. With it, the scene faded out of view. Magnus was in darkness again.
"But, Sarinda didn't tell him what they would do when they arrived."
"What is the sacred place?"
"I can't tell you, because I don't know myself. Zeventrech wouldn't tell me."
The light returned and Magnus was staring into the sky. The sun was sinking into the horizon. The crash of waves and the light breeze returned. Korin was still sitting beside him.
"Sarinda did something and it infuriated Zeventrech. He is hunting her and the other five Elsari. He wouldn't tell me what they did, but he said it was unforgiveable."
"He's still hunting Sarinda? But, you said he killed her."
"Sarinda wouldn't die so easily. It would take much more."
Korin smiled. She stood up and offered Magnus a hand.
"They're almost here."
Korin pointed to a tortalleon in the distance. It was headed towards them. On deck, Magnus could make out a Tortun in a redcoat. The tortun's head was reared back and one arm was waving a lantern. He could barely make out the tortun's call.
"Oi! We see you there!"
"They're coming to help us," said Korin, "They'll take us back to Gharivol. We'll find Isran and Zedin there."
"Did he tell you all of this?"
Magnus turned to see Korin's hand still outstretched. He took it and she helped him to his feet.
"Zeventrech taught me many things. And some of it I learned on my own. I saw the tortalleon circle around earlier this morning. I signaled to him and he gave me a response."
"How did you find Zeventrech?"
"He found me," said Korin.
"What happens now?"
Korin turned to him. She was smiling.
"Once we get back to Gharivol, you'll tell Isran about how you woke up on the shore. And then, tomorrow morning, you'll be on a tortalleon to Poxanthuru."
"No I won't," said Magnus.
"If Zeventrech is hunting Sarinda, then I'll join him. I want to help."
"Isran won't let you," said Korin. She turned to him and smirked.
They watched the tortalleon approach, slowly growing out of the water. They would reach Gharivol at midnight and Isran would be waiting at the dock. Magnus would bring her to the tavern, buy her the stoutest ale, and tell her everything. And, somehow, he knew she would believe every word.
Lu'sara didn't see him enter, but she knew he meant no harm. He stood at the center of her room, the only place where his head wasn't touching the ceiling. He still had snow clinging to his robes. He held his staff long ways, as if to show her. She remembered the craftsmanship and the many little Nora gems along its body. She smiled up at his single, red eye.
"It's good to see you," she said him, "How long has it been?"
"You were younger then," he replied, "I thought you wouldn't remember me."
"I'd never forget you, Zeventrech," she said, "But, you look half-frozen."
"It's colder than I remember."
Lu'sara offered him a yetihide blanket, but he held his hand up in refusal.
"I won't be long," he said, "I have a story for you."
Lu'sara sat down, in a chair of Aracdon bone and hide. Zeventrech knelt beside her.
"Do you remember the story of the Seven Immortals?"
"They were exiles from Axiliun. And one of them was from the Old Empire. It was my favorite," she replied.
"Well, there was more to the story than I first told you. Now, there are eight."