Gloriana quickly cast a spell to remove the magical fear that gripped Lem even as the sorcerous silence in which she had previously shrouded the gardener ran the course of its duration. Lem stuttered to a halt, grumbled, and went back to retrieve the knives he had dropped in the panic to flee. Blades recovered, the gardener made straight for Rahab, footsteps soundless on cold stone.
The wizard read the unstated intent: “No, I did not throw you. You will have to take that up with the other human.”
Lem considered for a moment. Whatever else he thought of the Cheliaxian conjurer, the gardener had to admit he had never known the wizard to lie, and he could not decide if that made him even more disagreeable. Spinning, he strode to the oracle. The glimmer of reluctance he had felt just before the battle with the wight receded and a new anger rose within.
Gloriana understood what was coming. Lem approached, daggers drawn, and as opening gambit the oracle elected to channel healing power among her companions, knitting wounds, easing pain.
Abby, Kara, and Rahab stood out of earshot watching the figure of the oracle and gardener in tensely heated conference.
“How do you think it’s going?” the warrior whispered. “Should we do something?”
The alchemist shook her head. “They are working it out. I once told Lem the same thing about you and Rahab. We have to trust them.”
The warrior glanced at Kara in surprise. “Strange. I once told Glo almost exactly the same thing about Rahab and me, also. In fact,” she faced the wizard, “these things seem to come up quite a bit where you’re concerned.”
If Rahab’s arched eyebrow could have made a sound it would have scoffed. The wizard returned his attention to the conference at remove.
Unsatisfied, Abby pressed: “Why did she throw him?”
The conjurer interjected: “With Lem ensorcelled in a spell of silence she reasoned putting the gardener in proximity to the necromancer would inhibit our opponent’s ability to cast spells with vocal components. In addition, Lem’s journey over the distance was more significantly hindered by the size of the steps than yours.”
Abby puzzled over this for a moment, and then said, “The stone giant moved.”
The wizard shrugged agreement. “Her strategy was valid, even if her execution left something to be desired. It is interesting: I cannot decide if her decision not to consult Lem beforehand was truly inspired social management, or tremendous blunder.”
Kara crossed her arms. “That’s probably why Glori’s the diplomat, and you’re . . . not.”
The meeting between oracle and gardener bested more than twenty minutes.
Abby could not help herself and approached the oracle. “Everything fine?”
Gloriana began another round of healing magic. “’Fine?’” The oracle turned the word over, like tasting a sweet, trying to determine if it was hot with cinnamon, or bright with mint, or shielded a soft center. “Hmm.” Power billowed out and washed over all of them, gentle, warm, comforting. “Has anything in this group ever really been ‘fine?’”
An icicle of alarm dripped chill down the warrior’s spine.
Gloriana read her friend as masterfully as she had the gardener. “If it makes you feel any better, Abby, I do not think he’s going to murder me.”
“You smoothed it out?”
“Well, I admitted I was wrong not to consult with him. Time will tell if that counts toward ‘smoothing’ anything.”
The warrior considered this. “Good thing it was you, then, and not Rahab.” She smiled, expecting consensus, but the oracle caught her off-guard.
“I’m surprised at you, Abby. As long as you’ve known Rahab, you’ve known he does admit when he is wrong. The hard part is getting him to realize when he is wrong.”
“Because he’s an ass?”
“Because he’s so often right. A brain that brilliant gets so used to being right that it becomes easy to assume that’s the normal state of things. But Rahab is brutally, beautifully honest, maybe in ways the rest of us aren’t.”
“What about Lem?”
“Lem . . . bears a burden of great rage, and a great deal of it is legitimate. Rage has its own seduction.”
Abby nodded, silently admitting to herself the conversation had moved somewhat beyond her ken. “I understand why you did it. You were trying to help against the necromancer.”
Gloriana stared hard at the floor, then looked the warrior in the eye and said, “Do not be too quick to take my side in this. I was going to throw you.”
Lem discovered a secret alcove beneath the throne at the eastern end of the cavern. The group gathered to go over what he found.
“Most of this looks like equipment taken from Fort Rannick.” The gardener had organized the treasure into piles. “Recent acquisitions. Then there’s this: loose valuables. Not likely from Rannick. Finally there’s this,” the gardener flipped back a corner of oiled cloth to reveal something metal beneath.
The final tally did, indeed, include much from Fort Rannick’s late garrison: Clusters of magic arrows numbered among the occasional suit of minor magical armor or sword with a basic enchantment.
“The raid on Rannick must have started from here,” Lem guessed. “They left a huge force occupying the fort.”
Rahab nodded. “A small contingent returned here to report and bring spoils. The necromancer,” and the conjurer glanced over at the corpse of the stone giant, “is the most obvious candidate for leadership . . . here, at least. Curious to see stone giants working with ogres and a hill giant.”
Abby looked interested. “How do you mean?”
Rahab deferred to Kara, who explained: “Traditionally, the varieties of true giant and giant-kin tend to keep to their own. That the ogres organized was strange enough. To find them aligned with stone giants is alarming. However isolationist, stone giants are not known for the kind of evil in which the ogre or the hill giant revels.”
“Reinforcing what we have suspected for some time: Something of significant power lies behind all of this.” Rahab stroked his goatee contemplatively.
The mundane treasure included some gemstones of varying quality, size, and type, as well as smaller pieces of art or craftwork, mostly silver and gold objects that would weather storage in a mountain cave. Kara and Lem conferred on appraisal. Smiling, the gardener nodded in satisfaction. “Close to ten-thousand!”
Abby raised an eyebrow. “In gold?”
“But this isn’t from Rannick?” asked Gloriana.
The gardener shook his head. “Not unless The Black Arrows were running some sort of contraband operation we don’t know about. Some of this is older, and probably comes from a variety of different places around the region.” Lem turned to Rahab. “What about the stone giant?”
“A few items, including a wand you and I should discuss. His necklace incorporated a Sihedron medallion. I will look over his spellbook which, naturally, I expect to find focused on necromancy.”
Lem nodded and then looked at the bundle of oiled cloth he had discovered at the bottom of the secret treasure compartment. “Which leaves this. Kara? Care to let us in on what’s got you so interested?”
The unwrapped cloth revealed a breastplate of remarkable design and craft. Constructed of a strange alloy, the armor shimmered with an iridescent array of brilliant gold and copper tones. At the sternum was a circular depression nearly a handspan in diameter that showed a seven-pointed star upon a field of rich cerulean.
Rahab’s lips twisted wryly. “Now why does that not surprise me.”
“I believe,” the alchemist explained, “this breastplate consists of an alloy so rare as to be legendary. Mythic.” Kara shook her head in amazement.
“You know the piece?” asked Rahab.
“I do not, but everything that I can see in the substance of the armor suggests an alloy that I did not even know existed, save in tales. I believe it is celestial mithral—”
The wizard looked puzzled. “Celestial mithral?”1
Kara nodded. “According to dwarven lore, Torag Forge-Lord seeded the cosmos with special veins of mithral during the Age of Creation, deposits particularly blessed by Torag’s divine power. What difference this metal has from standard mithral—if such term even applies—are unknown, at least to me. Dwarves are tight-lipped at the best of times, especially with elves, but in thousands of years of alchemical magic practice even the most skilled among my profession have never truly attested to encountering celestial mithral.”
“Yet you think it is in this armor?”
“Only because of the presence of the other component: anamnesis.”
“’Remembrance?’” The wizard’s bafflement increased.
“Or ‘recollection.’ The name is ironic in that, to the best of alchemical knowledge, Golarion little recalls—if at all—the exact nature of this other substance, for it, too, is a metal out of myth. Supposedly capable of taking on powerful enchantments, the most recognized—that is to say, most rumored—attribute of anamnesis is its fantastic golden copper color . . . this color . . . a quality that shows iridescence when alloyed with celestial mithral. Note the effect in light. Whatever else anamnesis is, it is ancient and occult. The process of combining these substances is likewise unknown. Many would doubt their existence entirely, yet even at a glance I can see no other explanation for this material. I am familiar with hundreds of metallic forms, and like Avenger, this is not among them. I daresay we look upon a substance not seen in Golarion for an age, if not more.” The alchemist traced a trembling hand over the breastplate.2
Eventually Rahab’s devil grin appeared. “You realize what this means? In this very moment you may have advanced to the foremost ranks of alchemy. If you are correct you can lay claim to identifying a sample of a previously fantastic alloy, rendering real what has heretofore resided in myth!”
“Kara,” the wizard sounded gleeful, “you just wrote yourself into history!”
Rahab cast his spell of magic detection and spent a minute or so staring at lines and runes drifting in his sight, magical information revealed as emanation from the armor.
“As suspected,” he murmured, “it is significantly powerful. Its aura reminds me of Avenger’s, and that of the book we found on the ogre sorceress in Fort Rannick. The breastplate is a relic of ancient Thassilon.”
The other treasure momentarily forgotten, the companions clustered around for a closer look.
“Can you tell anything else about it?” asked Gloriana.
“Like much of that bygone culture it remains elusive, for the present.” The wizard continued to read the shapes of light that shifted and spun. “Qualities of Thassilon’s magic register generally, and then somehow fail to resolve.” He shook his head. “Frustrating.”
“Perhaps it has something to do with the gods?” suggested Gloriana.
Rahab rolled his eyes. “Then the ‘gods’ need to get out of my way.”
Bemused, the oracle crossed her arms. “I suppose you think you could do better?”
The wizard turned the frame of magic detection with his hands to read the arcane information from a different angle. “They had better watch their asses.”
This sort of discussion always made Abby nervous. “Alright, well, look, I mean— let’s just . . . maybe we should try it on?”
Rahab shrugged and gestured at the armor. Gloriana and Kara helped the warrior out of her own carapace and into the breastplate with the seven-pointed star.
“Well?” Lem asked.
“It’s very comfortable,” Abby replied. “Easy to move in, and light . . . amazingly light.”
The conjurer continued to observe under the lens of his spell, carefully watching vectors, pulses, waveforms. “Do you detect any other properties?”
The warrior appeared to be feeling for something, eyes closed, moving through martial exercises. In the light the breastplate’s brilliant palette of polished copper and luminous gold shone under a shifting sheen of iridescence thinner than a dragonfly wing. The armor was stunningly beautiful, but after a time the warrior opened her eyes and settled. “Nothing.” She began unfastening the intricate and expertly designed latching mechanisms so she could return to her own armor.
Kara carefully wrapped the Thassilonian breastplate back in the oiled cloth for safe transport.
They searched the remaining areas of the cave system. Neither the hags nor the ogres nor the hill giant had anything of note, but they recovered some items and equipment from the frost wight that had been Lamatar Bayden.
“We have to return him to Myriana,” Gloriana said.
Lem rested hands on hips. “The whole thing?”
“She said even just part would be enough to restore him.”
“You think he’s coming back from this?”
“I do not know, but we have to try.”
Steel rang as a knife unsheathed. “How about the head?”
“We could try and descend now, but it will be very difficult,” Lem said. “Unless Rahab can magic us all there?”
The wizard shook his head. “The range exceeds that remaining to me today.”
The gardener nodded. “Then we’re here. In the morning we should set out as early as possible. The sooner we recover the horses and get underway the better.”
They settled around the forge to take advantage of the heat. Abby sat next to Rahab as they wrapped themselves in their cloaks. The warrior leaned close and whispered.
“Glo said she was going to use her magic to throw me instead of Lem!”
Rahab’s expression showed a mixture of exhaustion and the frayed patience of the instructor waiting for the pupil to arrive at a moment of insight. The warrior was nonplussed.
The wizard gave a resigned chuckle. “Abby, look at you: A tower of muscle shrouded in steel. That spell has certain limitations. You were too heavy.”
No one slept particularly well, but any rest was better than none.3
Shortly after dawn they reached the horses, relieved to find them alive. Mounting quickly, they rode for the foothills bordering the Storval Deep, turning east-southeast toward Skull’s Crossing, then southwest to Fort Rannick where they overnighted. The next morning the weather finally broke, the cloud cover gradually peeling away, welcome sunlight slowly beginning to dry the saturated land. Riding along the Skull River they observed the water level and flow had normalized, but they did not stop at Turtleback Ferry, bypassing the village on their way to the Wicker Walk.
Later that afternoon they met with Yap in the forested reaches outside Bitter Hollow. The pixie reported no traffic into the Shimmerglens.
“Help mistress?” Blue wings fluttered.
Gloriana nodded, somber.
They skirted the village and made their way south into the gloaming, into nightmare.
The desolation around the pool was unchanged. Cast by Myriana’s breathtaking lament, splintered bits of ivory-colored willow lay scattered over the once-green grass. Overhead the moon rode high on the dark, ghost-white sliver like the tear of a god fallen on black velvet sky. The silence was immense, as if the entire region held its breath, terrified to draw the attention of the spirit wandering galleries of torment, returning to each chamber over and over again in hope of finding love not torn asunder.
Gloriana became golden fire. Grasping snow-white locks, the oracle lifted the head they had carried all the way from Hook Mountain.
“Myriana,” she said softly, “we have returned with your lover, freed from undeath. Lamatar awaits.”
From the depths of the pool erupted phantom light, beautiful, dreadful. The ghost-nymph coalesced and floated near. All but Gloriana averted their eyes, and when Myriana began to weep the companions could do nothing but the same.
Afterwards it was difficult to say exactly what had happened. Bright light suffused everything, and then faded slowly, revealing two figures, no longer wrought in horror, but whole and hale and new. Impossibly stunning, she gently brushed his cheek, and then was gone. He remained, now an elf with features unmistakably like those that had belonged to the once-captain of The Black Arrows. Already the land changed, a wave of color billowing out from the pool, renewal rippling through tree, leaf, soil, stone, water. Blooms formed, buds appeared, wounds healed, banishing the twisted devastation under the night sky. A lone deer bounded effortlessly across the clearing, regal head held high, a herald of woodland restored.
Weeping abated, grief diminished. Within each of the companions bubbled a feeling like waking fresh from troubled sleep to find a land washed clean after a storm.
“Lamatar?” Gloriana asked.
“Do I know you?” the elf replied. Seemingly ageless, he stood unashamed of his nakedness, soft argent hair framing a graceful countenance. He was like a silver tree facing her avatar of burning gold.
“In a way,” the oracle answered. “We returned you to Myriana.”
Quiet tears escaped his eyes, gentle as soft rain. “I could not save her. I could not protect her, as I could not protect the fortress.”
“Rannick lies in enemy hands no longer. We have retaken it, and even now one of The Black Arrows stands on watch there.”
The silver elf considered this for a time. “I feel relief to hear it, though my memory of such things feels borrowed. My thanks are insufficient for what you have done.”
“Can you tell us what happened here?”
“Not clearly. I think I returned from the wilderness to find the fortress fallen. Not knowing they would follow, I fled here, unwittingly leading the monsters to my love. They tore her apart before me, and save for waking here all after that is vague nightmare, shapes in darkness, dreams of death. Those fragments belong to someone else, now.”
“You are Lamatar Bayden, captain of The Black Arrows.”
“I find little familiar in your words. Perhaps I was. Henceforth I shall be Lamden, and my memories shall be all that the Shimmerglens tell.”
A silence passed. The silver elf clasped his hands lightly behind his back and turned to gaze up at the crescent moon in still reflection. Eventually Gloriana spoke once more.
“Myriana’s spirit had been corrupted, but when we returned you here she was freed of the misery that twisted her and Whitewillow. She worked powerful magic of reincarnation, the likes of which I have never seen, nor would have thought possible.”
Lamden gave a faint smile. “I see only the land as it is in this moment, and in this moment is the whole of time for the land.”
“Do you want us to lead you to Fort Rannick?”
The elf’s expression acquired a certain melancholy. “Do you not understand? As my love was before, so now am I a part of this place. Its protection falls to me, and I could no more leave than could the trees.”
“Then you will need your armor and weapons to defend it. We brought them from Hook Mountain.”
Lamden shook his head kindly. “No. Such were the tools of another time, another being, and they bequeath to you. In my veins are the waters, in my lungs the mists and wind. Where I walk springs new grass, and where I rest grow new trees. My eyes and ears and thoughts course the realm with the deer and the fox and the hawk on the wing. Any who venture here with ill intent shall find the very land arrayed against them, but you here before me shall find refuge. Springs shall flow fresh to quench your thirst, and fruits shall fall ripe from the branch into your outstretched hand when you hunger. Bowers shall arch overhead when you sleep, and birdsong will wake you refreshed in the morning.”
A sudden smile brightened Gloriana’s face, a smile of the road, of nights spent under stars at crackling campfires haloed in song. “It cheers our hearts to see this place restored. We look forward to returning some day. Please look kindly on the pixie, Yap, who sought us for aid. His heart was ever devoted to healing here.”
“He shall be favored. Go well in your travels.”
Perhaps they blinked, or perhaps there was some trick of light, but suddenly the companions stood alone in the clearing under the faint and distant moon. Around the pool had sprouted six new willow saplings.
They spent two more days in Turtleback Ferry, helping how they might with continued flood recovery. Here, too, locals began talk of heroes, of deeds to alter the course of fate, of acts no two individuals could verify each other had truly seen. Gangs of children followed the companions around mud-choked roads, the bolder among them asking for a token, or demonstration of strength or skill, or the casting of a spell. Some villagers crowded close for a glimpse, a touch, a word; still others moved quickly along with nervous whispers or wary glances. Singly or in groups the companions were invited to homes for meager meals the villagers struggled to prepare in the wake of lost supply. At some point every party member received marriage proposal and plea to take someone away to a dreamed utopia.
The two casks of ale Gloriana and Rahab had brought to Bottom’s Up had not even lasted until the companions’ return, but the inn made significant cleaning progress with magical help from the oracle and wizard. The Keskers opened the upstairs rooms to the companions. At night, lying down to sleep, they could smell the stagnant flood reek lingering in the timbers. With the end of constant rain it suddenly felt like proper spring, and structures in Turtleback Ferry propped open doors and windows, eager to catch fresh breezes and warm sun.
For their last night’s meal in the village Rahab used his dimensional walk to usher his friends and their food to the roof of the inn where they could dine in peace, free of villagers begging audience, coin, or blessing. Arrayed like curious rooks, they ate in silence for a while, watching the sunset over the lake.
“Tomorrow?” Abby turned to the wizard, a look of unmistakable excitement in her eyes.
Rahab nodded. “Three translations: The first will teleport four of us, the second shall return me here, and the third will bring me and whomever remains.”
“How long will it take?”
“Within one standard deviation of eighteen seconds. In subsequent days I will make return journeys to teleport the horses.”
“Will that be more difficult?”
“Easier than teleporting people.”
“Because they’re stronger?”
Devil-grin flashed in twilight: “Because they do not complain, or editorialize about the process, or bother me to ‘go again.’”
Gloriana proffered the conjurer a rude gesture, and when Kara, Abby, and Lem giggled she did the same to them, which only set them to more laughter.
After another silence Abby asked, “Do you think the Kreeg are vanquished?”
“Possibly,” offered Kara. “Certainly they will not menace this region for a long time. Their numbers must be significantly diminished.”
“Regardless, The Black Arrows must be reinforced,” said Gloriana, “and the villages in this region do not have the personnel.”
“The Black Arrows must be reformed,” the gardener corrected.
Abby swallowed a piece of salted fish. “Do you think Magnimar will send anyone, Glo?”
The oracle sighed. “Eventually. The city would hate to cede any territory—even if only in theory—to Korvosa. That will require some sanctioned presence, though I do not think the lord mayor will make haste.”
“Is there anything we could do to help?”
Gloriana mused in silence for a while. “I am not sure yet. Perhaps we will find a solution while in Magnimar. In the meantime we have much to do ourselves.”
“Are we going to talk to Quink?”
“We are. We also need to do some work. Rahab?”
“In the next several weeks we shall consult on the construction of new magic items, or the augmentation of existing ones. Those treasures we have looted that we do not wish to keep we shall arrange to liquidate for funds—buyers permitting—to supply our crafting or purchasing. Further, we should attempt to penetrate more of the mystery that has eluded us these months. Such will inform our next move. And, we have research to conduct, as well . . . independent of the ‘sage.’”
“Really, Rahab,” needled Gloriana with a smile, “professional jealousy seems beneath you.”
“Jealousy occurs between rivals. If I ever encounter any of those, I will let you know.”
Villagers passing in the mud streets outside Bottom’s Up heard new rounds of laughter from the roof.
After sunset the air quickly grew cool, and so Rahab stepped behind the dimensions with each of his friends, appearing inside the inn on the first floor. They went downstairs to place an order for hot tea, which supply the Kesker’s had not entirely lost, then they gathered upstairs in the room shared by Abby and Gloriana.
“Are we any closer,” Lem asked, carefully cleaning a fingernail with the point of one of his daggers, “to understanding what’s going on? Ogres and now stone giants? All that business back in Magnimar? It’s all connected, right?”
Rahab nodded. “There is a new piece.”
“What is it?” Kara raised an eyebrow.
“A note I discovered tucked away in the pages of the necromancer’s spellbook.” He produced a section of paper the size of a hefty tome and began to unfold it. By the time it was spread completely open it was twice the size of a folio.
“That’s a note?” Lem’s eyes widened.
The wizard was dry: “It is if you stand more than twelve feet tall.”
“Is that the language of giants?” Gloriana traced some of the ink lines on the page.
Rahab nodded. “It reads thus:”
Latest contact with Teraktinus indicates he has narrowed the search—he believes a human town called Sandpoint could hide what my lord seeks. Teraktinus will lead several of the people as well as the dragon on a raid into the town some time after four full lunar cycles. When they return they may be pursued and I may need your ogre slaves to aid in Teraktinus’s retreat to Jorgenfist. Be ready to return at my command.
“Ghosts of the road,” the oracle sighed. “Do any of those names mean anything to anyone?”
“I surmise Barl to have been the necromancer,” Rahab replied. “The hag who bargained mentioned ‘Breakbones,’ perhaps mere referent, but likely part of Barl’s name. Stone giant appellations often follow that style. At a guess I suspect ‘M’ may be Mokmurian, the name provided in brief conversation with the lamia matriarch Lucrecia. As for Teraktinus and Jorgenfist, I do not recognize those.”
Lem shook his head. “Nor do I.”
“Then I shall add those to our subjects for upcoming research.” The wizard began refolding the giant note.
Kara looked troubled. “Do you think this ‘Mokmurian’ is another stone giant?”
“Possibly,” Rahab shrugged. “Difficult to say at this point. Why?”
“He refers to the ogres as slaves. Stone giants are not given to slave-taking.”
“Maybe it’s another kind of giant?” Abby suggested. “Like that hill giant?”
The wizard shook his head. “This giant appears literate, ruling out almost one-hundred percent of all hill giants, ever.”
“Fire?” Kara offered. “No. Not likely. Cloud, perhaps?”
“We are now tossing darts at a target we cannot even see,” Rahab crossed his arms. “Without more evidence any such speculation is specious.”
“Do we have time?” Abby chewed nervously at her lip.
“I think so. Four full lunar cycles is at least four months, and I suspect this note was dispatched to the necromancer prior to the worst of the winter, which was heavy enough in Magnimar. Nevertheless, in the next month we will need to remain vigilant.”
Gloriana brushed curls of gold from her eyes. “Maybe we should go straight to Sandpoint instead.”
“Eventually,” the wizard said, “but for now Magnimar will serve us better. We must prepare. Ready first, then move. Sitting in Sandpoint waiting for an attack about which we know very little, indeed, gives the advantage to our enemies.”
“Do you think they really have a dragon?” Kara’s voice reflected a rarely expressed fear.
“At present I see no reason to interpret that as anything other than a legitimate reference to such a creature.”
“By The Brightness,” the alchemist murmured. “What chance does Sandpoint have?”
The wizard seemed surprised. “With us there? Significant. Let us not get ahead of ourselves. Firstly, we do not yet know what intends to march on Sandpoint. Secondly, we know nothing about this dragon, neither age nor type, though no dragon should ever be underestimated. As Abby has reminded us, it might even be a name for something else entirely: a weapon, a magic, a different monster entirely. That is not to say there is no cause for concern, but our priority upon return should be our own augmentation, including adding to our knowledge. We are best when prepared.”
A long silence ensued. Gloriana glanced at the wizard and saw Rahab rubbing his eyes. “I know how you feel.”
“I confess to weariness,” the conjurer mumbled, “weariness about this constantly elusive thing that returns again and again in violence only to fade into the unknown even as we repel its assault.”
“The mystery no longer intrigues?”
“Mysteries may be plumbed. This is more like mischief, as stupid as it is inelegant.”
The oracle gave Rahab a sympathetic smile. “Perhaps the days ahead will reveal more.”
“Perhaps. For now I am to bed.” He rose and bid good night to his friends. One by one the others, too, relinquished the field to exhaustion. Still unaccustomed to the wizard’s power to instantly move vast distances, the idea of a long journey home—and all its attendant exhaustion—loomed large. All that had transpired in recent weeks still weighed on their hearts. A journey of more than three hundred miles had brought them to the horror of the Graul farm and the crisis of The Black Arrows. Kaven’s betrayal and the death of a friend lingered fresh in the mind. Retaking Fort Rannick had pushed them to previously unknown limits of ability, cohesion, life. From rain to flood to the nightmare of Whitewillow even the land seemed an opponent to overcome, and through it all lumbered a host of monstrosities serving some fell purpose. The journey of new scars had seen battle and heartbreak in such measure that it became impossible to separate one from the other, and still they felt no closer to understanding the forces behind all they had witnessed. Every victory, every found relic of a bygone civilization, every scrap of plan or stolen conversation or piece of information summed to no value they could recognize.
And now Varisia itself had begun to change. What had been ignorance became whisper until it could remain hushed no longer. From the western coast to the wilder interior minstrels, poets, raconteurs, sailors, troupes, travelers, and everyone in between took to tavern, salon, boards, or public space with tales about five heroes traversing the land committing deeds grim and triumphant. Where this company arrived, the stories insisted, so, too, did tremors to shake existence itself, and the resultant tumbled fruit tasted as people had not known for many lifetimes.
Under a clear night sky slept a lakeside village troubled by dreams of a future in which it would find the journey back to where it had been impossible. On the far side of the water a curious sensation crept through the marshland, peaceful yet hinting at a silver menace that warned away all those unprepared to face the spiral madness of a region touched by otherworldly green. Farther north, in badland boltholes, brutal giant-kin had already begun to invent a name for the vision of steel-clad war they would invoke to discipline wayward offspring for generations to come. In a deep cavern farther still, a malicious mind brooded over intrigue, magic, and thoughts of ascendant conquest.
In a once-rowdy inn-and-tavern subdued by flood recovery it was enough, however, that it finally felt like genuine spring, and a pentad found sleep untroubled, save for one. Abby lay on her bed staring into darkness.
“Glo? You awake?”
The oracle made a wordless sound, a sluggish, muted reply from the murky verge of sleep.
Weighty pause crumbled under excitement chasing warrior around a circadian maelstrom, and giggles shook a bed frame. “We’re going to teleport tomorrow!”
Gloriana was wide awake now.4
1 Oh, there’s all kinds of stuff Rahab does not know.
2 Kara’s Knowledge roll was pretty much as high as she could achieve at this level.
3 Overall loot included around 9,700 g.p. worth of gems and art pieces, plus a bunch of magic arrows (including some +1 giant bane variety), a suit of studded leather +2 light fortification, +2 belt of dexterity, boots of the winterlands, wand of enervation with 12 charges, +2 headband of vast intelligence, +1 chain shirt, +1 icy burst composite longbow, cloak of elvenkind, +1 longsword. More on the breastplate to come.
4 End of Book IV. Screen wipes to black. Turn the sound up and play “Without Love” by Black ‘N Blue from their 1985 album Without Love over the credits.