1998-10: The Attacks Were a Diversion!
While strolling through Britain, thinking back fondly on a wedding I had recently attended in the hedge maze of all places, a silver and blue flash barreled into me and all but knocked me from the cobblestones. He stopped and helped me steady myself, all the while quickly apologizing, and then just as quickly disappeared up the street toward the Main Gate. After a few moments of stunned bewilderment, I realized I knew the receding figure. 'Twas none other than Halston Montil of the Royal Guard. My previous musings lost and forgotten, I hurried off in pursuit of the guardsman.
Upon reaching the Cat's Lair tavern with no further sign of Halston, I prudently decided to forego the chase. He was gone. I shut my eyes in disappointment for I knew something must be afoot to leave the normally sure-footed and polite guard rushing about so haphazardly. After a moments consideration, I decided to head toward the castle and see if any of the others guards knew what was happening. My luck appeared to be changing, for as I approached the outer gate to our Liege's castle guard I spied a guard I had spoken to before, Burlen. I had spoken to him and a few others at the tavern in Vesper after a close call with some bloodthirsty headless. When finished with the usual pleasantries (he had no idea who I was), I mentioned that I had seen Halston rushing off toward the south. Burlen nodded.
"Heading ta dat battle down near Trinsic, he was," Burlen told me. "A whole mess o' us had been eatin' at the Salty Dog tavern when we heard dat a horde o' mages was attackin' ever'one on dat road to Trinsic. Attackin' wit elementals even. Well, when Sir Halston heard dis, he set his fork down onta his plate, slowly raised his eyes ta mine, and then hurried out o' the tavern."
"We're heading down there ourselves," chimed in another young guard named Harolis. He smiled quickly. He looked every bit as eager as he did scared, and I mentally saluted his valor. I wish now that I had made that salute known to him.
I didn't really wish to head to where a battle was raging, but I wanted to determine who was attacking and why. This attack was such an audacious thing to do... striking boldly on the road between Trinsic and Britain.
I was swaying in my decision when Harolis spoke again, "Your that writer, aren't you?" he asked. "In the newspaper?" He smiled enthusiastically. I nodded somewhat absently, deep in thought. "You might be interested to know then," Harolis continued, "that there is also an attack in Jhelom. On the north island. Orcs and ogres and ettins and more mages. And the Followers of Armageddon are responsible for both attacks." Absorbing this startling information, I turned slightly toward Burlen. Burlen smiled sadly and confirmed the news with a slight nod of his head.
At that I bid them both farewell and rushed toward the moongate to the south of Britain intent on going to Jhelom. Battle or no, with the FOA involved, I wished to be there. My previous attempt to speak to one of the members of the FOA had come to a abrupt end when the prisoner who had just been transferred to the Court of Truth in Yew was slaughtered, viciously and suddenly, by the troll G'thunk. I had discovered this while speaking to a young lass named Birmingham. She had blamed herself for the prisoner's death, but there had been nothing she or anyone else could have done. The troll struck with cunning and excellent planning. But perhaps another FOA members would be leading one of the battles. I was determined to go and hopefully be able to speak with one of them. Valor? Not so much… foolishness I would now say. But luckily it never went that far.
I had barely taken more than a dozen steps before realizing I was heading into battle not only unarmed, but also wearing only a shirt and pants. Armor and a weapon were definitely needed only I had left mine in Vesper. With a sigh and a shake of my head at the delay, I continued toward the moongate, but bound for Vesper rather than Jhelom this time.
Upon the sixth time stepping into the moongate, I finally emerged in the forest between Minoc and Vesper. Making my way to the road, I moved aside for a small troop of guards hastily moving north along the same road to Minoc. I turned south toward Vesper. Then paused, furrowed my brow, and reversed direction toward Minoc. Arriving in Minoc, all seemed normal. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Every other time I had seen someone rushing about, it had meant danger somewhere. But not in Minoc. Bewildered, I wondered if perhaps the tavern, The Barnacle, had just brought out a fresh keg of ale, and the guards had wished to be there for the tapping of it. I must say I couldn't blame them.
Since I was in Minoc anyway, I decided to go check on Julia and see how she was faring. I had pretty much given up on trying to "interview" an FOA member during the battle. What exactly had I been thinking? (**clang** So did you always want to destroy the world? Even as a kid? **ducks and drinks yellow potion**) Smiling at my own foolhardiness, I let my feet find the path to Julia's cabin. Nearing the cabin, I thought it odd that her door would be wide open. When close enough to better see, I saw that the doorway was splintered and mangled, and that the door itself was no where to be seen. Too numb to be surprised by anything else, I calmly asked the guard who was standing outside, Madellene, what had happened to the door.
Wincing in pain as she involuntarily shook her head, Madellene told me, "Someone struck me before I ever saw anything and knocked me unconscious. I don't know what happened. Talk to Averill inside."
Entering to do just that, I immediately noted the disarrayed state of Julia's normally tidy room. I also found the guards who had come rushing up the road. I nodded to Averill who stood among them and told him I was a friend of Julia's. "What happened here? Where is Julia? Is she well?"
"They took her," he replied, "but did not harm her. At least as best I could tell. The one in charge, wearing a strange necklace, used some kind of enchantment on her and she just followed him out. She struggled at first against him then just slumped. When he told her to follow, she did unquestioningly, but haltingly. Almost like some part of her was still resisting even though she wasn't really able."
"Did you recognize any of them? Do you know where they went?," I asked. Averill shook his head. "I have no idea. They kept me pinned up against the wall. It took fou.. five of them to hold me," he said puffing out his chest proudly. Then deflated, "Aw, who'm I kidding. I was helpless against them. I could do nothing while they took her away." He glanced at the other guards and then his gazed dropped to the ground in shame.
Split between concern for Julia and for the portents of these events, I wandered out of the cabin. More guards were standing outside and were speaking hurriedly amongst themselves. Hoping that perhaps they had news of Julia, I went over to the group. But instead of Julia they were speaking of another kidnapping that occurred shortly before Julia's. A young mage from Moonglow had been taken. A mage named Mariah. And she had been abducted in the same manner as Julia. I prompted them a bit by asking to know more about Mariah. According to the guard doing most of the talking, Mariah was one of the brightest students at the Lycaeum in Moonglow. She had recently been doing some research on blackrock. Looking for references to it in the many books of the Lycaeum's libraries. At the word "blackrock," I thanked them and left. Back to the moongate for me.
It took nine times stepping into the moongate this time, but I was finally on the island that housed Moonglow and the Lycaeum. Getting to the Lycaeum was much easier. The halls were oddly quiet. There was a knot of mages by the statue. I approached them, but as I drew near, their conversation instantly faded. A few minutes of trying to speak with them garnered nothing more than a few vague head movements. Frustrated, I glared at them all and then turned away. My spirit slumped as I walked toward one of the library rooms. I pulled a chair away from the table and collapsed into it. For the moment at an end, I idly thumbed through one of the many book piled on the table in front of me. Glancing at the writing, I realized that it wasn't a library book, but rather someone's journal. Feeling guilty, I promptly closed the journal. The word written on the journal's cover, however, brought a sudden, wry smile to my lips. "Mariah." Turning in the direction of the mages who refused to help me, I gave a curt laugh and then reopened the journal.
Mariah had never spoken to Sage Winslow after hearing he wished to ask her about some substance. After learning about the blackrock being gathered by the Followers of Armageddon, she reasoned that blackrock may have also been the substance Winslow had been interested in speaking about with her. So she began pouring through the many, many tomes of the Lycaeum's libraries in quest of any references she could find. She threw herself at her task eagerly and almost hungrily, by her own account enjoying the challenge. For there was little reference to blackrock in your average book. But she persisted and gathered what information she could. This information she had been compiling in a second journal. Discovering this information, I search the library for the second journal, but there was no sign of it. Which didn't surprise me. A hollow feeling told me that it had been taken by the same who kidnapped Mariah.
I dragged myself to the moongate one more time. I had decided to return to Britain in the event that more information could be gleaned there. Treading heavily this time through the streets of Britain, I tediously made my way back to the castle. My natural vigor all but sapped, I wearily walked up to the castle gate and again found Burlen. He looked none the worse for his part in the defending the attack. I inquired as to how the battle had gone. Without looking up from the sword he was cleaning, Burlen said sullenly, "What da yer expect from a fight. Blood and pain. I guess we won."
"That's... good," I stammered. He seemed reluctant to speak of the fight, and I found myself wanting to change the subject. "That's a nice sword. Much nicer than mine. You take very good care of it."
"'S not my sword," Burlen replied slowly and heavily, "It belonged to Harolis. He... Harolis... he was killed during the battle." Burlen's voice voiced dropped almost to a whisper, as though afraid to repeat what he had seen happen to his friend. "He died screamin' as three earth elementals pulled his body apart. I can still... **swallows hard** ... can still hear the bones and muscle rip and crack." Tears welled up at Burlen's eyes. They streamed freely down my own cheeks. Not only for poor Harolis. But also for Julia and Mariah who were at the mercy of those cruel, savage brutes.
Mercy... was there any hope for such? I slumped into the chair next to Burlen. He looked up at me, paused, and then handed me the sword. "Please, he'da liked it ta know ya had his sword. Take it. It's all dat is left of the boy. Ya would honor him ta accept it."
Silently I took the sword from Burlen's hands. As I held it across my lap, I remembered Harolis' eager smile when we spoke. I nodded. "Thank you, Burlen. This means quite a lot to me." I wrapped the sword in some clothes and slipped it into my pack.
I ended my day at the Wayfarer's Inn, lying sleeplessly in my room. I had realized by this point that the attacks had been diversions away from their true aims. The true desire of the FOA had been to kidnap Julia and Mariah. A tinker and a mage. One thought and one alone brought me some measure of comfort. The Followers of Armageddon had gone to great lengths to ensure that there would be little obstacle when they nabbed Mariah and Julia. Harolis' death may not have meant anything to them, but the mage and the tinker did mean something to them. They would be safe... for now. But for how long? And why did the FOA want them?