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Order of the Sword & Rose
The sky above the open-aired Bogwater was a deep velvety blue, spattered with glittering silver stars, when Elorick d’Phiarlan entered the tavern. Violet and chartreuse everbright crystals offered the patrons enough light that even human eyes could see sufficiently clearly but maintained enough shadow to create a quiet and intimate atmosphere. An atmosphere, Elorick thought, that was perfectly conducive to his business.
As was customary on such occasions, Elorick first made his way to Hawrog, the tavern’s ogreish bodyguard. Lowering his voice, he counselled, “Keep an eye out for overly keen eyes and ears.”
Hawrog grunted an affirmative and inclined his head slightly in a way Elorick had taken to be an acknowledgement of his order. He was certain the brute didn’t possess an exceptional intelligence, but he was equally certain Hawrog was smart enough not to risk trifling with a Phiarlan if he wished to stay employed – or alive.
Satisfied that he had secured about as much privacy as was conceivable in a tavern situated in the ward of a house built on espionage, he made his way over to the bar to order a bottle of fine Ghallandan distillate. By pointing out his dragonmark and position within the house, he easily could’ve gotten the wine for free, but out of goodwill and a desire to avoid drawing undue attention to himself, he paid like any other patron and moseyed along.
On a typical day, he might’ve taken his beverage to a quiet corner and pored over some paperwork – ‘official’ house work, the charade of which probably took more time and effort than his actual business. But today was not a typical day. Instead, he scanned the few individuals still occupying the tavern for a particular face he sought.
His quarry, a lithe blonde elf with an attractive if somewhat cold face, was seated alone at a table to the right of bar, none too far from where Elorick now stood. He made his way over with a smile.
“Aratrix, my friend, what a pleasant surprise!”
Aratrix looked up and coyly returned the monk’s smile. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Respite from life’s troubles and a happy coincidence.” Imitating pouring her a glass, Elorick continued, “Care to join me for a drink?”
With a nod, Aratrix rose from her seat and followed Elorick to a table next to a fountain glowing in the Phiarlan colours. A noisy fountain that would make eavesdropping difficult without brining oneself dangerously close to the pair. And with the menacing Hawrog stationed nearby on lookout that would be a ballsy gamble.
Taking his seat and pouring himself a glass of distillate, Elorick at once assumed a much more serious tone and a lowered voice. “Has Eryll returned with his report?”
“He has indeed, Serpent,” Replied Aratrix, likewise adopting a more business-like tone. “It is as we feared. The Claw has built themselves a laboratory beneath the Phiarlan enclave. Eryll has infiltrated their clan and has collected invaluable intelligence. He has confirmed the terrorists are administering tests on a pair of trolls, though the nature of these tests he has been unable to ascertain. There is a distinct aura of necrotic energy permeating the laboratory, so whatever they’re up to, it cannot bode well. Nor am I fond of having grown trolls underfoot.”
A slight frown tugged at the corners of Elorick’s lips at the moniker, only to be deepened by the troubling news. As Aratrix concluded her report, he sighed and shook his head. “It is disconcerting for sure. The nerve of them; dragging trolls into the enclave right under our noses and carrying out their vile schemes beneath our feet. Eryll has done well, as usual. I would’ve offered my own services for the job, of course, except—”
“You were away on an errand. I remember.”
“Regardless, the threat will have to be dealt with as soon as possible. To think… trolls! Upon which the Host only knows what sort of dark magic they’re experimenting. I propose that I eliminate the enemy tomorrow.”
“Face the Emerald Claw’s warriors, alone? That would be quite the feat, even for Elorick d’Phiarlan. At least take Eryll with you. He can facilitate your infiltration of the lab.
“Not that you need the assistance, of course.” Aratrix added at the narrow-eyed look Elorick gave her, “But any risks that can be avoided, should. The quicker you get in and get out, the better off we’ll all be.”
She had a point of course, but Elorick was accustomed to working alone and had never fully gotten used to questing collaboratively. Though despite his reservations, Eryll had proven himself more than capable on his latest mission of espionage and if he had to work with anyone, Elorick was glad it was he.
“Conceded.” He said with a sarcastic grin, “Eryll and I will infiltrate the Claw’s laboratory and slay the terrorists’ trolls tomorrow evening, during the guards’ shift change, while you keep things under control up here.”
“Excellent. I wish you both the best of luck. Now,” – and Aratrix’ voice resumed its earlier levity – “What do you say we finish this bottle and discuss less dreary things?”
“I say that’s a great idea.” Elorick’s voice had lost little of its sombre edge, but he did manage a small smile.
Just over an hour later, Elorick set his empty goblet next to the equally empty bottle and bowed deeply before the still-seated Aratrix.
“It is always a pleasure sharing your company, Aratrix. Even if it must often be associated with business. Have a pleasant evening.”
“The feeling is mutual, Serpent. May yours be pleasant as well.”
After a few steps, Elorick halted and glanced over his shoulder. “Oh, and Aratrix…”
“Please; it’s Elorick. Just Elorick.”
With that, he turned his back on the elf and departed from the Bogwater Tavern. In her chair by the fountain, Aratrix d’Phiarlan leaned back and chortled softly.
* * *
A gentle spring breeze carried the music of various street performers over to the peripheral street down which Elorick was now making his way. He wore no armour – it was too cumbersome for his liking – but instead a simple midnight-black garb that seemed to draw in the shadows themselves, amplifying his natural ability to stay hidden when desired. Each step was deliberate and purposeful though he moved with his usual haste. There were few pedestrians so far from the hub of the enclave, and those he did pass took no notice of him.
Before too long, Elorick stepped around an unattended caravan and encountered the tall, dark gray brick wall Aratrix claimed hid the entrance to the Claw’s secret laboratory. A cursory glance revealed no obvious doorways and a closer inspection would have proven equally fruitless. Thankfully, he did not have to rely on such methods.
“Twelve bricks up and three to the left,” he muttered to himself as he counted and then pounded the desired brick with the palm of his hand. A faint vibration passed through the wall and then the bricks in the centre of the wall pulled away to the reveal a dark passage lit only by dim torches spaced evenly along its walls.
Not the most original disguise, but sufficient to keep out all but the luckiest of the uninformed.
As he crossed the threshold, the wall behind him restored itself seamlessly so that to any outside it would appear as if nothing had ever happened. Briefly, Elorick travelled in silence, his feet treading noiselessly on the stone floor. Then from up ahead came the faint sounds of breathing and brighter light. He dropped to a crouch and crept along the remainder of the corridor, which opened into a fair-sized room piled high with crates of varying sizes. It appeared as if it might’ve at one point been a storage chamber for the Phiarlans. Now, however, it housed a pair of guards stationed on either side of a sturdy wooden gate.
Let the fun begin…
He paused momentarily to size up his adversaries. Both were tall, nearly six feet if he was not mistaken, were armoured in sturdy breastplates emblazoned with the Emerald Claw’s insignia, and had a blade sheathed at their hip and who knows how many hidden. The organization’s signature half-masks covered one side of each of their faces. The man on Elorick’s right was brawnier and had a wider-set weapon, probably a greatsword. He would be the greater threat if the encounter lasted long; he would have to go first.
With that thought, Elorick vaulted over the nearest crate and drove his index and middle fingers into a pressure point on the guard’s jaw. He was not stunned as Elorick expected, but turned and growled, “How’d you get down here?”
With a swift roundhouse kick, he knocked the guard’s hand away from the hilt of his weapon and then followed through with a blow to the face. The man yelped in pain and sank to his knees as the small metal spiked protruding from Elorick’s knuckles dug into his flesh and his nose bent to the right.
Confident that he had effectively reduced it to a one on one battle, he spun around to face the second guard. Surprisingly, though the man had drawn his longsword, he made no attempt to attack.
“Very nice, Elorick.” As he spoke, the man passed a hand before his face. What had the moment before been a half-masked human’s countenance was replaced by a kinder elven one. Eryll Coraendal was an inch or two shorter and far leaner in muscle mass than his illusory guise, and grinned crookedly at Elorick as he revealed himself. The blade alone remain untransformed, though it was unlikely the wizard could make much use of it.
“Now,” Continued Eryll, directing his hand towards the fallen guard, “It would be most unfortunate if one of the Claw’s warriors stumbled upon this poor soul and my true loyalty was revealed. We’ll just have to cut off that avenue of opportunity, won’t we?”
And with a casual flick of the wrist, he sent a stream of brilliant darts of force pummelling into the man’s chest. A final gasp of pain escaped his lips and then his body went limp.
Elorick was struck momentarily by a sense of grief for the needless murder, but then he thought of the trolls, of the mysterious tests, and the danger these posed to the citizens of Stormreach… to his home. The man dug his grave when he joined the Emerald Claw. He was not worth his pity.
“If you’ll resume your illusions and see if you can’t procure us more information on their mission in Stormreach, I’ll deal with the trolls and any of the Claw’s cronies who get in my way.”
“Gladly.” Eryll’s outline blurred and he flickered out of view for a fraction of a second as he worked his magic; then he reappeared as the guard of the Emerald Claw.
Pushing open the stiff front gate of the laboratory, Eryll peered out into the adjacent chamber to assess the resistance that would await them. Three warriors of the same general appearance as he and two stout, dwarven wizards. He strode forward, hands behind his back, and loudly cleared his throat.
“Time for the night shift to step in. Which of you knuckleheads are gonna do it?”
At once, an almost tangible tension enveloped the room. The warriors gripped the hilt of their swords, the mages closed in on him and all five adopted a belligerent snarling expression.
This was all the distraction the Phiarlans needed. Hidden from their view, Eryll’s hands were already moving in the pattern of a spell. Elorick seized the focus of attention on his ally to sneak into the chamber undetected and circle around behind the spellcasters.
Then the battle erupted. Eryll flung his hands out before him and discharged a powerful bolt of lightning at the guard immediately before him. Electrical shocks coursed through the man’s body, amplified by his metal armour, even as the chain of lightning arced out to his armoured companions and produced similar effects. At the same time as Eryll cast his spell, Elorick drove his fist into the nearest wizard’s stomach, temporarily knocking the wind from him, and then redirected the assault’s momentum into a headfirst tumble and took the second’s legs out from under him.
Recovering from the stunning blow just as Elorick jumped back to his feet, the first wizard barked a word of power and loosed a ray of frost at the monk. Searing cold gripped his ribs and spread through the rest of his torso; he clenched his teeth against the pain but refused to let it stop him. Rushing forward, he thrust his palm into the dwarf’s chest and, tapping into the psychic energy building within him, released a crackling wave of negative energy. He turned ghostly pale and slumped to the floor, and Elorick turned to see the second mage struggling to his feet. A brief scuffle and he met the same fate as his compatriots.
Breathing a little heavier, Elorick sauntered over to where Eryll was sifting through the first wizard’s possessions. A glint of silver caught his eye, and evidently Eryll’s too, for the elf let out a soft “Aha!” and drew out the shiny iron key that had poked out of the dwarf’s pocket when he fell.
“You’ll need this if you want to get at the trolls,” he avowed, handing Elorick the key.
Elorick nodded and tucked the key into a hidden fold within his vestment. Then, motioning to the sole ladder leading up into the main keep, he inquired, “Shall we?”
Out of the Frying Pan…
A vile stench pervaded the passage – a concoction of rotting meat, corroding stone and the decaying scent of death. Golden everbright lanterns hung intermittently along the walls, a distinct upgrade in illumination from the dim torches populating the former sector of the hidden laboratory. Elorick crept along in utter silence, alone, for Eryll had parted ways with him at the head of the ladder.
At the end of the hall a wall of iron bars and a near-indistinct gate separated Elorick from the first of the trolls. Even from this distance he could make out the scintillating jets of acid restraining the beast. Two guards flanked the gate, garbed in armour eerily close in colour to the acid. Though the Emerald Claw’s security measures were a bit of a nuisance, Elorick had to commend them for taking the (evidently necessary) precautions, and he took a sick pleasure in knowing that at least they were trying to resist the Phiarlans. Even if they were going to fail.
The guards were no match for Elorick’s years of martial training and fell without too much hassle. Combined, they only scored a few small knicks along Elorick’s arm, which he promptly rubbed with healing salve.
Using the dwarf’s key, he unlocked and then opened the gate. A large, square caged-in stage dominated the room on the other side. Dust lay thick on the floor and bones littered the room. Closer to the source, Elorick was now overwhelmed by the aggressive hiss of the acid streaming out of a number of openings in the pillars at each corner of the cage. As he entered, the troll bellowed with rage and fixed him with a death stare, as if holding Elorick personally responsible for the torture he had endured at the hands of the Emerald Claw’s agents. He dared not move any closer to the acid, however; it appeared the corrosive spray frightened him.
Elorick gazed about the room, searching for some clue as to how to shut off the stream of acid. Two levers caught his attention, one on a raised platform atop a ladder on either side of the room. He hastened towards the ladder to his right but before he could begin climbing, he felt a preternatural chill that hinted at powerful necromancy.
Wheeling about, he watched in surprise as a pile of bones rose up and coalesced into a humanoid figure. Gathering his wits before the skeleton could strike, he launched himself at the undead and scattered the bones, which lay still once more.
He rejoiced for a moment for sending the abomination back to its grave and then a blinding pain erupted in his back as an unseen assailant slammed his mace into Elorick’s back.
With a howl, Elorick dropped to his knees. He took a deep breath and, sensing the disturbance in the air behind him, tumbled out of the way of the descending mace and sprang to his feet, spinning in mid-air to face his adversary. Elorick feigned a strike to the rib with his left fist and, as he anticipated, the necromancer swung his mace at Elorick’s seemingly exposed and vulnerable head. Shifting momentum, he swung his right hand up and caught the weapon’s handle. Then he spun and gave the man a swift kick to the head, sending him sprawling to the ground. With a blow backed by the force of the earth he ended the necromancer’s life.
The threat to his life ended, Elorick sat down and leaned his back against the wall, panting. He quickly wished he hadn’t. Another wave of pain, though significantly duller, rushed through him as he came into contact with the wall. His spine would undoubtedly trouble him for a few days but miraculously it felt as though nothing had been broken, just severely bruised. Time was of the essence in this mission, but he allowed himself a few minutes to meditate and heal his wounds. By the time he had finished, the pain in his back was reduced to a dull ache.
Returning to the task at hand, Elorick rapidly ascended the ladder and pulled the lever. As the flow of acid was stemmed, the awful hiss trickled off into silence and the troll let out a confused grunt. When the second lever was pulled, the troll’s cage clattered open.
Raising his club, the troll rushed at Elorick as soon as he touched the ground. What advantage the troll had in strength, Elorick more than made up for in agility. Nimbly dodging the giant-kin’s clumsy assaults, he made short work of the battle.
On the far side of the room, a gap in the wall opened into a wide hallway. No more than five feet in, a perpendicular wall blocked off all but a narrow passage. Around this narrow bend Elorick rounded the wall, only to find another such wall forcing him to the left. A tingle of danger warned him of the spike traps along the floor only a fraction of a second before they sprang up to impale him.
Just enough time for the flighty monk to evade a painful skewering and duck into an alcove to his left. There he found a disengaging mechanism which he used to retract the spikes so that he could continue. Around the next blocking wall, a blackbone warrior came rushing at him, sword bared. Elorick raised his fists to meet the oncoming skeleton and to hold his ground.
The blackbone was made of sturdier stuff (or stronger magic) and held up longer against Elorick’s offensive, but eventually fell just as certainly as his brethren in the troll’s chamber. And Elorick was on his way again. After a few steps he thought he caught a faint metallic clang. Only a moment too soon! A long, spinning blade-arm swung out from the wall and whizzed through the air towards him. He realised his peril before the blade caught up to him and vaulted gracefully over it, landing safely on the other side.
Through the heavy wooden door around the corner, Elorick entered into a chamber ripe with a sulphurous odour and thin grey smoke. Iron bars like the ones on the other end of the maze-like passage quarantined a section of the chamber. Two warriors of the Emerald Claw awaited him here. He wove in and out of their various thrusts and slashes, jammed one of their noses into his brain and sent a fatal wave of vibrations through the other. His key unlocked this gate too.
Magical flames surrounded the cage containing the second troll and the heat in the room was oppressive. Larger than the first, this troll also looked more belligerent. Gnawed and half-rotten corpses dangled beside the troll – forgotten Stormreachers that had become troll-food. The thought made Elorick simultaneously queasy and furious. Accelerated by his disgust, Elorick pulled the levers on the side walls. He felt a welcome decrease in temperature as the fires were extinguished… and a slight breeze as a portion of the far wall slid away to reveal a hidden alcove.
A blue-white bolt of electricity preceded the skeleton that emerged from behind the secret door. Elorick danced out of the way of the lightning and took a better look at the undead. It was probably a foot taller than any he had seen before and wielded a polished darkwood staff and, evidently, noteworthy arcane magic.
One of the weaknesses of arcanists was their frailty, and Elorick assumed that held true for the undead as well. He zigzagged towards the skeleton, dodging the spells being flung at him, and then swept his leg in a low circle along the ground, taking out the mage’s legs. At his will, a wreath of flame engulfed his hand and he drove this flaming appendage into the undead’s face, disrupting the magic holding it together. The bones clattered to the floor.
Inside the alcove was another lever which, when pulled, raised the cage imprisoning the troll. Before it had time to take advantage of its liberation, Elorick summoned another fistful of fire and charged at the troll.
“No more punishment!” Roared the troll and swung its great club at Elorick, forcing him to abandon his assault. “No more burning!”
He would’ve almost pitied the troll were it not for the innocent corpses hanging behind it or that fact that it was presently attempting to end his life. Instead, he ducked under or away from the troll’s swings, keeping his eyes peeled for any opportunity to strike back. Thankfully patience was one of his virtues and his perseverance paid off.
When the troll struck a little too far to the right, it left its anterior vulnerable. A quick punch to the groin temporarily incapacitated it, and before the troll could regain its bearings, Elorick pressed a quivering palm to its chest. High-frequency vibrations pulsed through the troll, overworking its heart and thereby killing it. Elorick had to make a quick sidestep to avoid being crushed under the troll’s falling corpse.
“You’ll pay for decimating my army, Elf.”
He turned in surprise towards the source of the unfamiliar voice. Smiling maliciously, a silver-haired man in blood-red robes strode into the chamber, practically radiating divine power and evil. A skeletal archer stood on either side of the priest, arrows pointed at Elorick. The priest’s evident puissance would’ve unnerved Elorick under any circumstances, but his blood ran cold at the sight of the symbol emblazoned on the man’s chest.
A draconic skull with a gaping jaw.
The symbol of Vol.
… And into the Fire
Elorick dropped into a crouch and assessed the situation before him. It was less than encouraging. He was surrounded, outnumbered, far from reinforcements, and up against a foe he knew next to nothing about. As he took an experimental step to the right, the skeletons’ arrowheads followed him, yet still they held their fire. The priest just stood there smiling cockily. He thinks he’s already won.
“That sorry lot?” Smirking, Elorick glanced down at the troll corpse then back up to the Volite. “Your mistress must have low standards for her followers.”
“Pawns,” the priest insisted coolly, “All of them.”
This surprised Elorick little, though the facility with which he’d extracted the information contented him. Garbed in the Claw’s raiment though the guards had been, they were weak, and not an accurate representation of the order’s might. Underlings.
Putting on a brave face to quell the fears that lingered in his heart, Elorick pressed on with the interrogation. “Must be high in Vol’s favour to be charged with supervising such lowlifes. Are you a pawn as well, I wonder?”
If looks could kill, Elorick figured he would have been banished to Dolurrh then and there.
“That is not your concern, elf. The Lady’s plans are greater than any of us, and I play my part willingly. Your death shall be a welcome addition to what we have accomplished here.”
“No doubt it would be.” A dark gleam flashed in Elorick’s eyes. “But I have no intentions of dying today.”
The discordant song of the skeletal archer’s bowstrings proclaimed the beginning of the battle clearer than any war horn. An effortless tumble removed Elorick from the arrows’ flight paths, and they clattered to the floor behind him. Rising to his feet, he pointed a finger at the archer to his right and loosed upon it two missiles of roiling shadows. Then, leaping through the air with an Abundant Step, Elorick drove his fist through the torso of the undead to his left. Twin piles of bones came crashing down within second of one another. Within minutes, he had effectively reduced it to single combat.
There was no time to celebrate his minor victory, however. Elorick was still processing the priest’s shriek of “Flame Strike!” when a pillar of crimson flames coalesced and crashed down around him. Even as he thrust himself to the side to avoid the spell, fire washed over his left half. It was only a moment of agony, but agony nonetheless.
“Bow down before the might of Vol!” Smoke coiled around the priest like an obedient snake, a potent reminder of what he was capable of. “You have fared well thus far, but you cannot hope to match the Queen of the Dead.”
Elorick coughed to clear his throat. “Then it is well I am facing you and not her.”
Lightning crackled around the elf’s fist and he charged headlong at the priest. The brashness of the assault gave the Volite pause, but only for a moment. “You are a fool,” he intoned gravely. “Implosion.”
To the priest’s surprise, the elf actually winked before… his figure rippled and dissipated.
As his misleading phantasm was dispelled, Elorick cast off his invisibility, strode up behind the priest and wrapped his arms around his neck. Yanking his head back hard enough to hurt, but not nearly enough to kill, he leaned in close to the man’s ear and hissed, “No, you are a fool. Now go join your cruel mistress.”
And he snapped the man’s neck.
Without Further Adieu
The conference room was surprisingly well-lit for a house whose source of power was named for shadow. A simple silvered ring of a chandelier with five tall, smooth-edged pillars of everbright crystal in place of candles hung above the fine-crafted oaken table, polished to a sheen and a lifelike carving of a snake coiled about its leg. Six chairs of the same craftsmanship were tucked around it, every one empty. On the opposite wall, a gilded image of a Greater Mark of Shadow was showcased in brilliant crimson, and a warm fire crackled in the hearth beneath.
As usual, Elorick was the first to arrive to the intimate gathering. Not long after, the grand doors swung open to accommodate the entrance of his colleagues. Aratrix came first, somehow moving with both a womanly swish and a huntress’s gait; behind her strolled Eryll, his usually cheerful demeanour tempered with wariness; and last of all was Cyan, most capricious of the three, whom Elorick knew only by reputation.
“The viceroy is indisposed at the moment; I present myself here on his behalf.” Cyan curtsied shallowly before seating herself. In the everbrights’ light, her ruddy hair seemed to turn to flame.
Where the priest’s flames had struck him, Elorick’s skin was still tender and tight. Ignoring the slight pain induced by the contraction, he nodded his acknowledgement. “It is a genuine pleasure to hold council with such an accomplished member of the Table.” He quickly exchanged glances with the three elves forming his so-called council. “Given the reason for which I have called you here today, it may be we will be in need of its resources.”
Before he could elaborate, the doors were flung open again and a young serving girl – half-elven by the looks of her – stumbled in bearing a platter of golden goblets and a pitcher of what smelled like wine. Elorick sighed and ran a hand along his face, careful to avoid his healing burnt side. Interrupting a private meeting was inappropriate at the best of times, but rumour had it doing so in the Phiarlan Chapterhouse had led to a few suspicious “accidental” deaths. From the terrified look of the girl, standing in the doorway like a doe at bow-point, she knew it.
“Well, come in and get on with it,” Elorick growled, emphasizing his command with a waving motion. The girl hurried to obey. With an impressive lack of spillage, considering her haste and shakiness, she placed a goblet before each of the Phiarlans and filled it nearly to the brim with a fragrant amber-coloured brew.
Bowing once she finished, she stuttered, “M-my ap-p-pologies, m-milords and l-lady, but M-M-Master Eryll i-insisted.” With that, she darted out the door.
The sheepish grin on Eryll’s face revealed the truth in the cupbearer’s words. “Oftentimes, a good drink helps take the sting out of difficult news.” His voice dripped its customary honey, but Elorick thought he detected a trace of embarrassment.
Elorick took a long sip of the wine and shook his head. “Now if you would please lock the door. I pray you have appropriately warded the chamber?” When Eryll nodded and proceeded to murmur the words of a Lock spell, he continued, “Our investigation into the Emerald Claw’s laboratory revealed some peculiarities, including… this.”
From the folds of his robe, Elorick drew a hammered green-gold ring, which he placed with exaggerated caution in the centre of the table. It was wrought in the shape of a curled fist, with multifaceted emeralds where one might expect fingernails—or talons.
“I found this ring on the Volite, who also named the Claw ‘his army’ and spoke of them as pawns in Vol’s plan, whatever it may be.” For a moment, Elorick paused to gauge his colleagues’ reaction, but they were trained in the arts of neutrality and he could find nothing of note. “On its own, it would mean little, but in light of the reports from other chapters of stirrings in the Blood of Vol’s faith, I fear this bodes ill.”
Tense silence stole over the quartet for a short while before Aratrix picked up the ring to examine it. As she turned it over in her hands, she mused, “If the Emerald Claw is truly under the Blood of Vol’s dominion, then the Dark Faith is stronger than we suspected.”
“It would not be surprising, given the organization’s name.” Eryll, too, was looking at the ring, though from over Aratrix’s shoulder. “Erandis’s dragon father was known as the Emerald Claw.”
“Aha!” At last Aratrix ceased the ring’s rotation and focused on… something. “There’s an inscription here.” A crease of worry quickly formed as her eyes scanned the hidden message; when she lifted her head, an implacable emotion swam in those keen waters.
“Si Cel mar vori,” she read aloud. The Queen shall rise.
Slowly, with a distant look in her eyes, as though recalling a memory of some other time, Cyan stated, “Those who believe that Erandis Vol yet lives on Eberron in undeath call her the Queen of the Dead.”
You have fared well thus far, but you cannot hope to match the Queen of the Dead.
“It’s true. The priest of Vol I slew called her by that title.” Elorick frowned.
Returned now to his seat, Eryll steepled his fingers and leaned forward. “Then we must assume the inscription refers to Vol. In which case, the situation boding ill would be an understatement. For Vol to rise…”
“Would be insanity, and a scourge to elvenkind.” His deepening frown was practically audible in Elorick’s voice. “We cannot allow it to happen.”
“No one possesses that magnitude of magic, save perhaps the gods themselves—and it would be a sad day indeed that they deigned to restore Erandis Vol to life.” Cyan spoke with such calm assurance, that Elorick felt his anxiety lessen, yet it came nowhere near to disappearing completely.
It did not last long. Shaking his head, Eryll said sadly, “Such feats have been performed my mortals aforetime. Moreover, some historians insist that the Lady Vol magicked herself into a lich, in which case a superbly-competent mage or cleric could well bring about the reverse process.”
The sound of fingers snapping drew all eyes to Aratrix. “Let us not get distracted from the matter at hand, comrades. Irrelevant whether or not such a resurrection is possible, the schemes of the Emerald Claw and the Blood of Vol warrant our immediate attention.”
“Thank you Aratrix, I could not agree more.” Shifting his gaze to Cyan in her far seat, Elorick continued, “With the viceroy’s permission, I would lead a Phiarlan expedition to Karrnath to probe deeper into the Claw’s structure and motives.”
“Granted.” The reply came so quickly, he half-thought he had imagined it. “Our seers have augured this eventuality, and just this morning the Stormreach chapter of the Serpentine Table convened to give our blessing to it.”
Irked, and making no effort to hide it, Elorick demanded, “And have the seers also glimpsed what we will find, to save us the trip?”
“No.” Cyan’s voice remained polite, but assumed an icy edge. “That much they cannot see. There are some things one must uncover for themselves.”
Elorick inclined his head in understanding and half-hearted, unspoken apology. “Very well. But, pray tell, what do they foresee for us in Karrnath?”
To his surprise, Cyan laughed. “Why, shadows, of course. And fire.”
* * *
Nighttime was oddly calm in Stormreach. From atop Falconer’s Spire, Elorick could see the vast majority of the city, stretched out below him in muted colours. Compared to the daytime hustle and bustle, it appeared almost a ghost town, yet even at this hour a few buyers haggled with merchants in the bazaar, pickpockets and worse roamed the alleyways, and members of the City Watch stood their vigils. Above the tall airship tower that overlooking Stormreach, looking out for danger, Elorick stood vigil in his own way.
It seemed just yesterday he had begun his unofficial watch, yet tomorrow he would be gone from this place. Observing the almost-peace that consumed the city under the night skies, he felt suddenly saddened. Stormreach had started to feel like home, and with departure facing him in a matter of hours, he found he was loath to go.
But he had no home, not truly. Elorick d’Phiarlan was a tool of his house, to be deployed where he could be used most effectively. He reached a hand up and absently traced his dragonmark with his fingertip. His mark had given him power, family, a purpose… but it had stolen his freedom to choose how he lived his life. To this day, he wondered if he might have been happier had his heritage never revealed itself.
Two hours before dawn, a quarter of an hour before the others, Eryll climbed up the steps to join him, just like he said he would. The dragonmarked were nothing if not dutiful.
“The time is almost upon us,” he said softly. “Karrnath awaits. Do you have any last adieus?”
Elorick turned to face the man he was beginning to consider his friend, and shook his head. “I have learned it is easiest to never let anyone close enough that you need deal with goodbye. I shall not be missed.”
As the moons began to recede and the stars began to fade, the rest of Elorick’s expeditionary force – two Phiarlan elves whose names Elorick had forgotten – ascended the ramp of Falconer’s Spire. Cloaked by the remaining darkness of the night, an ostensibly modest airship pulled up. A human crewmate with a shaggy beard let down the gangplank. While Stormreach slept, the elves boarded the vessel, and prepared themselves for the voyage to Karrnath. Not for the first time, and, most likely, not for the last either, Elorick d’Phiarlan turned his back on his home and flew away into the night.