Vhindr Varrintine: Chapter Twelve
Who am I?
Well, that is a difficult question to answer. It is more than just a name. It is everything about me. It is the entirety of my life until this point, and I will not be the same person tomorrow. Who I am is the accumulation of events and situations to this date.
Who I am, is my childhood where I was raised by a wet-nurse and a nanny. A second son in a family who only cared about their first born boy.
I am my younger days where I had an older brother who beat me at everything I attempted, and even when I did beat him those accomplishments were purposely overlooked.
I am my schooling days where I was forced into learning how to fight with a sword when I was more interested in reading books and studying the philosophical.
I am my adult years where I lingered in the shadows, behind a brother who ruled a nation. I am the younger brother who could do nothing when his flesh and blood was murdered.
And I am the second son who should rightfully rule this realm but has again been overlooked by a thick-skulled barbarian who would drag Gaianaus into ruin.
I am Lord Roht Ellengar. The true ruler of Gaianaus.
Interview with a Powerful Man by Szarzin Sheilly
Year 3633, the Sixth Age, the thirty-second day of Spring
“No. Now listen,” Kōrrin grumbled as he rode along on his sturdy pony. “A cavalry card halves the points of an entire row, but it can’t be revived from the spent cards, so ye gotta use it at the right moment.”
“I am still confused,” Valianna remarked and the dwarf sighed heavily.
“Look, we’ll play a game tonight an’ I’ll show ya,” Kōrrin said irritably, “That way ye might pay attention for more than thirty seconds.”
“I am the top student of my class at the Magi Guild, I shall have you know,” Valianna replied indignantly.
“Yet ye can’t grip the fundamentals of Bront, a simple card game,” rebutted the dwarf.
Valianna and Kōrrin continued to argue, but Vhindr turned his attention to the road ahead. They had set out that morning from Iceguard heading directly north-east on a straight course for the single mountain of the Frostback that stood on the flat tundra. But it was by no means an easy route, for there were no roads to lead them and the land was riddled with icy bogs and vicious monsters.
“We should reach Ard Thengr by this evening,” Rhalin remarked as she rode beside Vhindr.
“Ard Thengr?” Vhindr asked curiously, “I have not heard of it.”
“That is a surprise,” Rhalin quipped, “Ard Thengr are the rolling downs you see in the distance. They are the ancient tombs where Barons and lords of the old Age were once buried.”
“No longer?” inquired Vhindr and Rhalin gave him a surprised look.
“So you do not know everything,” she joked.
“Only relevant things,” Vhindr was quick to reply, giving his companion a frown.
Rhalin laughed slightly, “Well, the tradition of burying the lords and barons ended when the religion of The Five overpowered the worship of the old gods. The tombs have been unused for centuries.”
“I hope this Ard Thengr is not a breeding ground for fiends,” Vhindr remarked offhandedly.
“I cannot say,” Rhalin shrugged, “No one has been near there in years.”
“Wait,” Vhindr said suddenly and sat ridged in his saddle, “Do you hear that?”
Rhalin stopped her horse and craned her neck to listen.
“Fighting,” she nodded seriously.
“Probably Legin and Bel’eak,” Vhindr said as he glanced around the rolling tundra. “Over there. Come on.”
Urging his horse onward Vhindr picked a swift but cautious path through the mud and over a small rise to see Legin and Bel’eak fighting a horde of Alpha Grinlocks.
“Come on,” Vhindr called but Rhalin grabbed the reins of his horse to stop his charge.
“There is a peat bog between us.” Rhalin said seriously, “Follow me.”
Without saying anymore Rhalin took the lead and galloped her horse to the south, following a muddy trail through the tufts of short brown grass. Vhindr and the others followed quickly but he could tell that they would not reach the battle quick enough. Vhindr counted near on a dozen of the large hairy creatures encircling his friends.
As they came around the edge of the bog and raced down the trail Legin and Bel’eak must have taken, Vhindr drew on the magickal energy within him.
Thrusting his hand ahead of him a series of bright lights shot from his finger tips and spiraled through the air to thunder into the back of the closest grinlock. Fur clothes burst apart as the creature lurched forwards to meet a deadly slice of Bel’eak’s saber.
Vhindr’s spell was followed by a similar torrent of magickal energies from Valianna causing the grinlocks to fall over each other in surprise as they fled from the area.
“Well, that went better than expected,” Vhindr remarked with a smile as they slowed their horses to stop before Legin and Bel’eak.
“What did you do that for?” Legin grumbled and crossed his arms. “That was just getting interesting.”
“Twelve against two is not exactly favourable odds,” Vhindr replied seriously.
“Yeah, for them,” laughed Bel’eak, and Legin joined in.
“Let’s just move on,” Rhalin suggested with a shake of her head and kicked her horse onward.
* * *
It was another dull day along the Northern Longroad as it stretched south from Iceguard towards Issia. The terrain had changed slightly as the road moved closer to the foothills of the Gaia Mountains. The ground was harder under foot and more foliage and rocks lined the roads. Although this was a stretch of road situated between two of the largest cities in Gaianaus it was also the most common area for attacks by bandits.
But Liuden was not worried for their convoy contained over a dozen hardened mercenaries hired by Hazeldin. A group of bandits would be foolish to try an assault on this heavily armed and armoured caravan.
He felt fairly comfortable as he rode behind the first wagon where Idunn and Hazeldin sat. The two of them did not talk as they sat in the wagon and Liuden had begun to notice a strange tension come between them. He truly did not care about that though, he despised Hazeldin and with Idunn still refusing to acknowledge him, he was beyond caring.
Though what he did care about was his job, and now that he was thinking more about it this appearance of Hazeldin in Gaianaus was seeming more and more peculiar. An oddity that he made a mental note to speak with Roht Ellengar once he returned to Issia.
With insistence from the hired guard they stopped for a break around midday to relieve the horses and have a few bites to eat. Munching down an apple Liuden gave the core to his horse and gave the steed and firm pat on the neck.
Just as he was getting back into the saddle a cry came from the back of the convoy.
“Bandits.” One of the mercenaries called out, diving behind a cart as an arrow thudded into the wood.
“Form defences,” Liuden was quick to cry as he drew his sword.
An arrow flew by his eyes scratching the end of his nose and nearly causing him to topple to the ground.
“To me,” Idunn called out as she jumped from the wagon and drew her sword. “Hazeldin, get behind the wagon.”
The hedonistic banker had different ideas however and he flicked the reins and the horses pulling his cart took off down the road.
Liuden cursed the man as he looked about to the mercenary defenders. To his horror they were not fighting the bandits streaming down the hill, but greeting them happily.
A cry from the side caught his attention and he whirled his horse around to see Idunn stagger back from the mercenary Meddler, clutching at her side. The burly man pressed his attack at Idunn and his sword sliced her wrist forcing her to drop her weapon.
Liuden knew that he would not reach Idunn in time as Meddler moved in for the kill. Thinking quickly he threw his sword with all his strength sending the blade end over end to slam into the large man’s face. The throw was not perfect, but it was enough to knock Meddler to the ground in pain.
More arrows whistled towards him as he spurred his horse towards Captain Idunn.
“Your hand.” Liuden cried out and he thundered down upon Idunn.
With only a split second to register his call Idunn reached out as he raced by. Grabbing her by the wrist Liuden swung the Captain up behind him as they fled from the ambush.
* * *
As the morning drifted into afternoon and they drew closer to Ard Thengr dark clouds rolled down from the north bringing with them heavy snow and winds. Stubbornly Vhindr pushed them on, knowing well that if they were caught out in the open when the blizzard struck in full force they could very well perish.
With their heads down they pushed on into the white wall of snow and it was not until the round hills of Ard Thengr were right next to them did they realise they had made it.
“Quick into this tomb.” Vhindr yelled to be heard above the snow storm and he dropped from his saddle before leading his horse over to the closest mound.
His companions heeded his call and cautiously they headed under the cover of the open tomb. Thankfully the horses realised that they would be better off underground than out in the open and did not balk entering the dark tunnel.
The mounds were in fact a stone construct with a small entrance room before steep stairs leading down into the darkness.
“This will have to do,” Vhindr remarked as he led his horse into the room.
“Quiet,” Legin said harshly, “Do you hear that?”
All stood silent for a few seconds straining their ears in search of what Legin was talking about. As they stood there a strange moan echoed up from the stairs and all exchanged nervous glances.
“Just the wind,” Kōrrin stated and laughed slightly, “Ain’t no such things as ghosts or walking dead.”
As the dwarf finished however another sound crept up from the deep, this time clearer than before.
“Voices.” Valianna said, her eyes fearful.
“Tomb raiders?” Vhindr asked quietly and looked to Rhalin.
Rhalin shrugged, “It is possible.”
“Who else wants to go and sort them out for stealing from the dead?” Bel’eak asked with a sly smile.
“Are you insane?” Valianna asked in a hushed tone, “You want to go down there?”
“Aren’t you just a little bit curious?” Legin asked with a smile. “Come on.”
Without another word Legin quietly moved towards the stairs with Bel’eak close behind him.
“Wait up.” Kōrrin said and headed after them.
“Watch the horses would you dear sister.” Vhindr said, his eyes shimmering and he and Rhalin moved towards the dark stairs.
“Don’t you dare leave me here.” Valianna grumbled and hesitantly followed.
Cautiously moving down the stairs Vhindr met up with the others in another small room. At its center stood a small stone alter that had several ceramic jars sitting upon it, no doubt used for ceremonial purposes. The jars on the table were not the only ones however, many larger jars and urns stood at the edges of the room, lining the wall and appearing completely undisturbed.
“Odd that the raiders would leave these,” Rhalin remarked as Vhindr quietly headed for the dim corridor opposite the stairs.
With the others close behind him he edged along the hall, the sound of voices echoing louder as he neared the exit. Along the walls softly lit crystals sat emanating a dim white glow and making Vhindr move quickly from shadow to shadow.
Cautiously from the corridor Vhindr crept out onto a narrow walkway the divided into two before sloping a few feet down to the room below. Unlike the last rooms, this one was large and round with nothing else in it aside from the crypts that sat in recesses in the wall.
Vhindr shivered as he paused at the top of the landing. It was very cold down here, perhaps even more so then it had been out in the snow storm that could still be heard rumbling in the distance. Snow even sat on the stone floor of the room and around the feet of the two individuals that stood at its center.
“The time is nearly upon us Celniel,” a slender man with an unusually designed attire was saying, “You need to make a decision sooner rather than later.”
Vhindr held his breath as he looked upon the man and the woman, never before had he felt so intimidated. Although neither of them looked threatening, there was something about them, the tension in the air, the strange pressure Vhindr felt upon his chest and head. Obvious power emanated for both of them causing the air to almost vibrate before his eyes.
What was even stranger was the appearance of both of the people. Though the man seemed like an ordinary individual his light clothes in such a cold environment was very odd. And the woman, Vhindr had never seen anything like her. It was as if she were a part of the snow and ice. Her hair was icy blue as were her eyes, even her skin was a peculiar hue of azure. This woman wore no clothes. Instead shards of ice covered her body. Each time her bare feet touched the stone the very ground seemed to freeze.
“It will be my decision to make,” Celniel replied calmly as she played with a floating snow flake. “Tell me-”
“Wait,” the man cut her off, “We have company.”
The strange man suddenly turned towards Vhindr and his companions, his eyes glowing yellow.
Sucking in a breath Vhindr ducked behind a stone column along with the others.
“Come out intruders,” the man said menacingly, “Before I make you.”
Realising they had no option Vhindr slowly stood up.
“We meant no intrusion,” Vhindr began hesitantly, “We merely sought shelter from the snow storm.”
“You do not like my blizzard,” Celniel asked angrily, “Perhaps I should show you how harsh it could be.”
Wind suddenly erupted around the round room and shards of ice danced in the air around the woman.
“Stop.” The man held up his hand to the woman, his eyes now green and studying each of the companions closely and the wind died down.
“Let them be,” the strange man decided and turned back to Celniel, “We will continue this another time.”
With that statement the man simply vanished causing Vhindr to gasp slightly. The woman dressed in ice pouted slightly as she looked to them before she too disappeared. The large room became deathly quiet and light clouds of Fog drifted through the air, shimmering in the dim light.
Vhindr let out a deep breath and ran a hand through his black hair.
“What in Hell was that about?” Bel’eak wondered aloud as he looked to Vhindr and the others.
“Don’t know,” Kōrrin shook his head, “But am I the only one who feels like we were lucky that ended where it did?”
“Who were they?” Rhalin voiced the obvious question.
“Can we go back to the horses please?” Valianna asked seriously, her hands visibly shaking.
The others were quick to agree and headed they back through the hallway and up the stairs. Vhindr lingered at the back of the group, his mind still reeling from the strange and seemingly dangerous encounter. But he was focused enough to notice that Legin did not seem himself at that moment. Not thinking much of it Vhindr helped set up the camp back in the small entrance room and they all went about their own business in stunned silence.
“Alright,” Valianna finally broke the quietude, “Who in the Abyss were those two?”
“Don’t look at me,” Kōrrin blurted, “I ain’t got no clue. All I know is I don’t want to ever meet them again.”
The others nodded their agreement to that statement and slowly ate their meals.
“You seem very distracted Legin?” Bel’eak spoke up.
Legin looked up from his food in surprise as all eyes fell upon him.
“That woman, Celniel.” Legin began slowly, “She reminded me of someone.”
“Who is that?” Vhindr asked curiously.
“When I was with the Yineth they took me to see someone,” Legin replied hesitantly, “I forget her name but she had a similar feel to that Celniel. And the woman I met seemed like she was a part of the forest, just like this one was like a part of the snow and ice.”
“One of the Old Gods perhaps?” Rhalin asked aloud and the others gave her a curious look.
“What?” Bel’eak asked.
“Didn’t ye learn anything before invading this place?” Kōrrin said loudly.
“Only the relevant things,” the Nevārancien was quick to reply.
“The Old Gods were worshiped before the religion of The Five took hold,” Rhalin explained. “Though the stories are few, it is said that they are a part of the earth, the elements and nature.”
“That ain’t all true,” Kōrrin said authoritatively. “The ones ye lot call Old Gods are the Guardians created by Dhror and Melenduil to look after the land and its creatures. There ain’t no need to worship them, simply make offerings of thanks now and then.”
“I see,” Rhalin nodded with interest, “So it seems that Celniel could be one of those Guardians. But that does not explain who the man was.”
“A powerful Magi maybe?” Valianna voiced her thoughts and the others did not disagree.
“But his eyes,” Legin said quietly to himself, which only Vhindr heard.
“Whoever they were,” Vhindr spoke up, “I am glad they are gone, now we can get some decent rest until this blizzard blows over.”
The others quietly agreed and they finished their meals in a still silence.
“Hey,” Korrin said once they had finished eating and all were sitting quietly around the fire. “I was gonna show ye how to play Bront, ay Valianna?”
“You were,” Valianna smiled, “But I do not have any cards to play you with.”
“I got a spare deck,” Kōrrin waved away the remark and began rummaging through his pack. “Got about three full decks actually.”
“How many decks can you have?” inquired Valianna curiously.
“As many as ye want,” Kōrrin said pulling out a metal box from his bag. “Each ‘o the realms have their own specialised cards. As do each ‘o the Dwarven Kingdoms, along with the Halflings. Elves don’t play much though so they just use general Elder Race cards.”
“This sounds awfully complicated and very strategy based,” Valianna remarked as she looked through the deck of cards Kōrrin gave her.
“Nonsense,” Kōrrin snorted, “Easier than breathin’.”
Vhindr shook his head in amusement and looked back to the fire.
“Hey, Legin,” Bel’eak said to his friend, “I saw some clouds of Fog down in the tombs. Shall we?”
A slight smile came to Legin’s face and he nodded before he and the Nevārancien got to their feet and headed for the stairs going down.
“What are you doing?” Rhalin asked curiously as they headed for the door.
“Exo-what-do-you-call-it,” Legin replied with a smile, “Vhindr knows what I mean.”
“Exo-Convulsion,” Vhindr said, still looking at the fire.
“Are you serious?” Rhalin baulked. “You do know how dangerous that is.”
“Of course,” Bel’eak replied confidently, “Let’s go Legin.”
Rhalin did not argue any further and just shook her head as the two of them silently headed into the deep.
As the night passed Vhindr sat staring at the fire and listened absently in amusement as Kōrrin taught Valianna the game of Bront. As it got late they ended the game and decided to go to sleep. Rhalin was not far behind them and soon it was just Vhindr sitting awake watching the flames and listening to the snow storm continuing to rage outside.
Just as Vhindr was considering turning in for the night a strange moan echoed up from below and caught his attention. Curiously Vhindr got to his feet and with a brief glance at his sleeping companions, headed down into the tomb. The sounds continued through the stone hallways as Vhindr hesitantly walked back into the large round room where they had met the two strange individuals.
Through the dim light Vhindr spotted a lone figure sitting cross-legged before another dark corridor and he slowly approached.
“Where is Bel’eak?” Vhindr asked as he drew closer to Legin and sat down next to his friend.
“Meditating among the Fog clouds,” Legin replied without looking to Vhindr.
“Those are his cries?” Vhindr asked with concern as another groan drifted out of the darkness.
“He’ll be fine,” Legin reassured Vhindr.
“What about you?” Vhindr asked seriously, drawing Legin’s eyes to his. “You did not speak all of your concerns about the two we met previously in this room.”
Legin looked back to the dark hallway.
“’Cause I don’t even know my concerns,” Legin replied softly.
“Then what was it?”
“The man’s eyes,” Legin replied hesitantly. “You remember when we were at the Azarě Monastery in the Scar of Gornl?”
“Like it was yesterday,” Vhindr replied seriously.
“When Stinfry blasted me through that wall and I landed in the sea,” Legin continued, “Pip spoke to me then, as I floated on the still surface of the water. But his eyes were different than I remembered. They changed colour from green to yellow and pink.”
Legin stopped and let out a deep breath before he rested back on his hands.
Vhindr opened his mouth to say something, but he could find no words. What Legin was saying was beyond his ken, a mystery he truly had no notion how to solve.
A louder groan from the corridor broke his train of thought and he and Legin jumped to their feet as Bel’eak staggered from the darkness.
“You alright?” Legin asked and moved to support his friend.
“I’ll live.” Bel’eak replied and clutched his head painfully.
“Come, let us take him back to the camp,” Vhindr said and Legin nodded.
Before Vhindr moved across the room with his friends a strange glimmer caught his eye. A slight feeling of pins and needles stabbed at his scarred eye and to his horror he began to see ghostly forms of men walking through the room, their outlines the colour of the Fog. Vhindr’s mouth fell agape as he looked around at the ghost and his eye fell upon a single woman clothed in ice watching him curiously from the center of the room. A curious look came to Celniel’s features as she realised that he saw her before she vanished into wisps of Fog and snowflakes.
“Vhindr?” Legin called to him.
The strange ghosts vanished as he looked to his friend in surprise.
“You alright?” Legin asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Fine,” Vhindr dismissed the concern and moved over to help support Bel’eak. “Come on, let’s go get some sleep.”
Legin did not press his obvious curiosity and quietly they headed back to the camp where they were each quick to lie down on their bed rolls and try and find some sleep.