It was a lazy day: I woke up in the late afternoon, then talked to my friend Marna to see how she was doing. She had moved close by after the paladin vs necromancer war, so after hopping on my nightmare wyvern Noxus it was a short flight over. She has a small log cabin estate, with an orchard, lumber yard, and trade hut. Today there were no sounds of sawing, the trade hut was silent, but I caught a few wisps of birdsong on the breeze as Noxus descended and touched down in front of Marna's cabin. The day had a very "Summer" feel to it: warm, and with a very clear blue sky, the birds and other forest animals active.
After I slide off Noxus and give him a pat on the neck I see something on Marna's for door. Reaching the house, I see it's a note: "Out in the orchard, come say hi. ~Marna" I smirk and head off to the orchard, the neat rows of trees looming ever larger. I can make out someone in a hammock between two trees and jog up to them. It's Marna. There's a stool with some red pearapplos and a cup of juice next to the hammock, and Marna is reading a book. I scan the title and can only glimpse The Chronicles before it's snapped shut. "Uskius! I was wondering when you'd finally make it over. C'mon." Marna sits up and swings her legs over to the side, giving me a seat. I can see part of the picture of the ancient sword Caliburn woven into the hammock, and sitting down Marna hands me a pearapplos. "So. I was in Battleon last week, visiting the Guardian Tower, and guess what I found out."
"What, Nimrod's finally got that new shipment of equipment in his shop? I don't know."
"No. You may have forgotten this, but when you register to become a Guardian they also record a bit of your personal information. Like, for example, your birthday..."
"I thought you said your birthday was in February." I say, taking a big bite of pearapplos. I know exactly where this is going, but it's just so fun to tease Marna.
Marna sighed. "It is. But, on the pegboard near the entrance, was a list of Guardians whose birthdays are in August. I missed yours by three days! You never said anything about it."
"Well, you'll have to forgive me for fighting a war to stop the spread of the Truphma. I didn't exactly have time to stop and tell you." Another bite of pearapplos.
"Truphma?" Marna has a puzzled look on her face, and I remember she's not a member of any of the clans.
"Yeah, Truphma. Surely you've seen some of their camps while out adventuring, right?" She nods, and I continue. "Well, Xov showed up on Paxia, and kidnapped the clan leaders. I... I've just never seen people so stirred up, and while I hadn't been a member of a clan then, I hate Xov and the Truphma. Like, studying-uncreation-for-when-I-finally-get-my-hands-on-Xov kind of hate, so there was no do-"
"I'm sorry, but uncreation?" Interrupts Marna. "Uskius, I know you're good with magic but that's just ridiculous."
"...I know. I passed out and woke up with a beast of a headache after my last try... Anyways, the war on Paxia went quickly enough. Everyone was in a frenzy, running all over the place to help out the clans who hadn't rescued their leaders. The main problem was to keep from running into someone carrying something sharp and pointy as they changed ranks."
"So, was this last try at uncreation with Xov?" Asks Marna with a raised eyebrow.
"I wish; it was with a pebble, by the way. Nope, Xov's a smart one, I'll give her that. We ran into golems she summoned while she made her getaway. No one got close." I took another bite of pearapplos and stared off into the distance for a moment, but I could feel Marna still looking at me. "...When you've died as much as I have, you learn to take things a day at a time. My birthdays really haven't been a very big deal since I've left home and started adventuring. But when I was a kid, I guess they were pretty fun. My mom would bake a cake for me, and dad would give me a present if I did good enough in a practice duel against him." I chuckle and look over at Marna. "I think I only earned one of them."
Marna smiled. "Why don't you come inside? I cooked something earlier today and it'd be a shame for it to go to waste."
"Oh, okay." I flash a quick smile and follow Marna in. Honestly, it's hard for me to imagine someone as militant and level-headed as Marna actually cooking anything. Marna is quiet as we walk towards and come into the cabin, making me a little more anxious as she stops beside a covered dish on her table. "Ready?" Asks Marna with a small, nervous smile. She yanks off the cover, revealing a cake with chocolate frosting. "Happy Birthday, Uskius!" Her brown eyes are sparkling, and I can't help but smile with her.
We took a couple slices of the (surprisingly- but don't tell Marna I said that) tasty cake back out to the hammock in the orchard, and took our time eating them and enjoying the birds singing. The yellow cake was crazy delicious with the red pearapplos. I let myself get pulled into the Summer day, lazily gazing out into the rows of the orchard, a soft and familiar melody almost lulling me to sleep. After a moment, I realize that it's Marna singing! "That, that song- where did you learn it?"
"Easy there- I learned it when I was training as a paladin. Hmm? You didn't learn it in training, too? What is the order coming to..."
"I didn't learn it when I was in the order, no, but I would hear my mother humming it around the house all the time."
"Your mother was a paladin?" Marna asks, very surprised.
"No, she was a priestess of the Light Lord." I take a last bite of cake, finishing my slice. "Could you sing it again, please..."
"Sure." Marna cleared her throat, and began.
"Lorithia wakes the world, dawn of a new day
Glow of hope and faith on the darkened way
Blinding might of lords, strident, sharpened ray
Washing gray away, vibrant, living, hue
Bejeweled night sky returns to blue..."
I'm almost certain I'd heard that melody somewhere else besides at home as a child, and while I'm searching my memory for where, Marna continues speaking. "That's all I know of it, but I was told there's more, that that was just one verse of many. You know, the old paladin who taught it to me said one of those five lines describes everyone in the order in some way. That Artix was the 'glow of hope and faith on the darkened way', for example. I'd always hoped to be the 'blinding might of lords', the 'strident, sharpened ray'." Marna is looking at me earnestly, and I get a little uncomfortable for a second- and then I make the connection.
"The Hymn of Elemental Unity! That's it!"
Marna looks puzzled for a moment before asking, "Wait, you mean that verse is from it?"
"Yes! I remember hearing the melody during the final battle with The Galin. I'd asked Kalanyr about it after that awful camping trip earlier this year, and he mentioned that's what it was from."
"I don't suppose he taught you the rest of it, did he?"
"'Perhaps one day when you are an ArchMage, I shall teach you.' So that's a no. Kalanyr and Beleqwaya will probably be busy for years sorting out the tangle of magics on Dragonclaw, so I doubt they'll have the time to teach anyone." Marna and I shared a look for a second, and I realized what she was thinking. "Alright, but let me fly back home and get my gear."
Even now it's hard to believe that in the space of a few days such a situation could come from pursuing the Hymn of Elemental Unity, but stranger things have(and frequently so, I might add) happened.
"Right now my best idea is to bullrush the tower and head for Zunari," I propose. "Any better ideas?" Silence. "Alright. Valencia, where's Tristan?" More silence, this one filled with uncomfortable shifting around. "Valencia?"
"...He's gone. Two of Zunari's goons snatched him while I was heading back to the hut to come get you two. Hey! You know I'm not a fighter like you or Marna, don't look at me like that! I couldn't have stopped them if I tried!"
Marna sighs and holds her head in her hands; this is a major blow to our plan. You see, Tristan was no ordinary child. When he was only a baby, the dark wizard Zunari kidnapped him and implanted in his soul a magical key that would unlock a vault in the Talon Tower... or, if Zunari so wished it, explode and destroy Tristan's body. This kept the local villagers from marching on the Tower, and after a few years Zunari once every so often let Tristan out to the village. Marna, Valencia and I had had the good luck to come by the village during one of these times. We thought we could get away with using Tristan as leverage in our negotiations with Zunari, but then his henchmen and summoned monsters came for us. And now this happens. "Do you have the map?"
Valencia pulls it from a vest pocket, and hands it to Marna, who looks to me. "I'll blow open the gate if it's locked, which it probably is, so stay a little bit back from me. Let's go." I creep forwards to the last bit of cover, a small bush, and ready my Moglord Bow. I take aim and fire at the guard at the gate's right. The arrow connects and the man falls to his knees, clutching the arrow. I ready the second shot as fast as I can, but before it finds its mark the other guard sounds the alarm. I drop the Moglord Bow and pop up. "GO!" We make it about a fourth of the way before the arrows start raining down on us, a few at first but then a constant stream. That tells me that Zunari was expecting trouble, and that he doubled up on guards inside the Tower after our first attempt at breaking in. Our shields raised as we crouch and run, we're three fourths of the way there when the gates open and bandits and rogues pour out, grim determination on their faces. I keep running, and cast the fire spell H4XBBQ, the flames bursting up from the ground at the gates and sending the heavies flying. I look back and see that Marna's and Valencia's bucklers are full of arrows, but they are not. "That should have done enough to let us break through. Come on!"
I continue the charge and quickly cut down the first two bandits in my way, my custom sword Gyrfang's blades easily parting their leather armor. Though he lasts longer than the first two, the third to step up still gives me no great trouble, and as he is downed Marna and Valencia come up to my side. There is a brief but tense melee as the initial rush of guards is finished, and I lead us to the first flight of stairs at the back of the hall. "Remember to keep your shields up around and on the stairs," Marna reminds us. "Zunari knows we're here and we need to stay ready for his men." The first flight is unguarded, as is the hall it brings us to. It's a deeply unsettling sight. Marna checks the map, and calls for a halt. "We've already passed it. The main stairway is in one almost continuous spiral around the tower, so it should be in the first room on the left." I think I hear the floors creaking behind us as we head back, but when I check nothing's there.
The second stairway is also unguarded, and we make it to the third floor easily. "I smell danger..." Valencia quietly says. When a Surehunter tells you they smell danger, you pay attention, so I raise my Pureheart Mirror and open the door where the stairway should be found.
Immediately I'm assaulted by a strange creature. It bowls me over, and I can hear a couple more monsters jump over me. I struggle with the thing for a moment and roll it under me, about to smash its face with the pommel of Gyrfang when it throws me off. I sail away and crash into the wall on the opposite side of the hall. As I stand, I get a better look at the thing: it has the head of a transformed werebat, the body of human and the talons of a bird, as well as having the feet of a lion and tail of a horse. Despite the mix and match composition of the thing there are no obvious seams, or at least I can't see any before it rushes me again. It's very fast, and I have trouble dodging its blows. I hobble it with a slice to its leg after I manage to duck a heavy swipe, but it launches itself at me off the other as I pull back a few steps. I slide to its injured side and score with a heavy thrust. The thing is still clawing at me when I kick it off Gyrfang, and almost gets in a strong slash when I bash it with my shield and then finish it with a slash across its torso while it was off balance.
There's another patchwork monster nearby, this one having the horns of a deer, head of a wolf, and a reptilian body similar to a vartai. Its chest is mushy and sagging, which suggests Marna punched it. I hear a couple meaty thuds to my left, and see that Marna has come to Valencia's aid and defeated the third patchwork monster. It's made of several animals; I recognize the tentacles of a sea brigling and a wyvern's beak in the mix. Whatever we thought Zunari was before, it's become apparent that he has way more skeletons in the closet than first thought. I'm not sure if merely rescuing Tristan will be good enough...
"Uskius!" It's Marna, calling me over. Valencia is sitting down on the floor, her right leg out to the side, hurt. There are a few deep claw marks on her calf, going right through her pants and boots. I focus, and cast the healing spell Heal Mortal Wounds. A few sparkling, golden explosions of light burst over Valencia and when they fade her calf is healed. "When did you learn healing magic?"
"After the Elemental Championships."
"Elemental Championships?!" Marna and Valencia ask at the same time.
"Long story. Let's catch our breath, then I'll take the lead once we get going." The others nod in agreement, and I take a deep breath and try to center myself. The place was obviously full of guards on the run to the gate, and from the outside it looks like there are four stories to Talon Tower, yet after three floors we've only encountered a handful of monsters. That can only mean one thing, and I don't like it one bit. "Okay. There's gonna be a big crowd up on the next floor, so be ready for that." I raise my Pureheart Mirror and creep up the stairs, my heart pounding. The silence and close space of the stairs presses in on me, and I'm completely focused on the sliver of stairwell that I can see from behind my shield. After what feels like forever but really can't have been more than a minute I come to the door. I reach for the knob, then pause. The room will be short on space, I know, but I'm starting to wonder if there will even be enough room to swing Gyrfang. "Marna?" I whisper.
"Would you mind if I had a swig of your Hero Serum?"
"No, here." She hands me the vial, and I take a quick drink. Even as I hand the serum back to Marna I feel strength flooding my limbs, my Pureheart Mirror shield feeling almost as light as a feather.
"Thanks..." Alright, here we go! I pull open the door and dash in, only to find the room half as full as I had thought it would be. There, at the other side of the room, stood Zunari. The man was bald, and his entire face was pale like it was covered in scar tissue, excepting one long scar running vertically over his left eye. Tristan was held at Zunari's side, the boy's unkempt blond bangs obscuring his eyes. I could feel he was scared, though. "Zunari. Let Tristan come with us and I'll consider letting you walk away from here."
"Absolutely not. And as to the implied threat, I have forgotten more about magic than you will ever learn. There always has been and always will be a wizard in Talon Tower, and I intend to stay and make use of the stores of knowledge here forever."
Always has been and always will be? "Living forever doesn't really work out for those of us who were born mortal, Zunari, and I know that better than anyone. You're going to pay for what you've done to Tristan and his family- it may be the people in the village who come for you one day, or, who knows, it might be me and my friends here- but you aren't going to get away with it. And that's not even counting what you did to make those abominations you sent after us down below."
Zunari snorted. "Abominations? Those creatures were crafted for defense. I assure you, if I wanted to make an aesthetically pleasing amalgamation of beasts, I am perfectly capable of doing so." Zunari raised his hand and snapped his fingers, and up the stairs behind us comes the rest of his guards. "Now then, lay down your arms and shields, and I will consider letting you walk away from here." I glance at Marna and Valencia and nod, setting down Gyrfang and my Pureheart Mirror. The ladies chuck off their bucklers, and Zunari smirks. "Well. If you are still alive when I return, I shall let your party leave. Tristan, let us be off." With that Zunari turned around and left, going through a door which he shuts behind him.
I heave a sigh and go over our options. H4XBBQ can cover a large area, but we're surrounded and that won't take care of the henchmen behind us. Then something pops into my mind, a spell so dangerous I hardly ever use it. "Marna, Valencia, do you trust me?"
"You're not thinking about what you did in No Man's Land near Granemor, are you?"
"Please don't tell me you're talking about what you did that time you got us out of the jam in Krovesport." Say Marna and Valencia, at the same time.
"No, and no. This will sting, but it's the only move that'll give us a chance to get to Tristan and Zunari." Valencia and Marna share a look then turn back to me.
"Go ahead," Marna says. The mob has inched in on us, which actually helps. I pull out my fragment of the Blood Orb(an item that increases the power and range of spells), and prepare to cast the spell. "Red Fog!" The soupy red life-draining mists cloud the room, and howls of agony fill the rest of the space. I sustain the spell until I have just enough mana left to cast Heal Mortal Wounds again, and then release it. In front I see the bandits and thugs and rogues sprawled out on the floor, passed out or perhaps even lifeless. Behind me I see the fog has had the same effect on those behind us, then- I look down. Marna is on her hands and knees, breathing raggedly; Valencia is curled up in a ball crying. I step over and lay my hands on their shoulders and focus, calling up water from the Pool of Immortality. The healing waters wash over us, soothing some of the sting.
"Can you stand?" I ask them. They do; Marna also slaps me in the face. I spin around, my legs getting tangled up so that I fall over. "Sorry." I get up, rubbing my cheek. "Why don't you two rest up here while I go after Zunari. I'll call if I need help." Valencia gave a dismissive wave of her hand, her face angry and disgusted as she pointedly did not look at me. I shake my head and turn to go, the effects of the raid on Talon Tower now starting to set in. The blows from the fight with Zunari's patchwork monsters, the gate crash, and now the awful sting of the Red Fog draining my life force, and on top of that the headache I get from sustaining a spell past its usual duration.
Turning the handle on the door, it opens up into a large and richly appointed study. The walls are lined with full bookshelves, there are gold fixtures holding up stained glass lampshades, and thick woven rugs on the floors. Turning to my left I see Zunari and Tristan: a bookshelf has been moved away from the wall, and behind it an intricate patterns of golden runes is glowing. Tristan is facing it and has a palm to the stone, breathing heavy in great effort. I walk up, but Zunari does not turn to face me. I sneak a quick glance at the nearby shelves, and freeze. There, right there, is a positively ancient black leather bound book: The Dark Waltz. I step closer to it, and Zunari still does not turn to face me. Am I really that small of a threat to him?
"I heard the screams," He finally says, not taking his eyes off of Tristan. "And I must admit that I underestimated you. But soon the vault will be opened and I will retrieve a certain object that for good reason has been placed in there, and any danger you might have posed will be insignificant."
"And until then?" No reply. "Zunari, I may not be Warlic but I don't have to be Warlic to wipe you off the face of Lore."
"Oh, I have no doubt you have a few tricks up your sleeve," He says, at last turning to me. "But modern magic is quite pitiful compared to the knowledge I have gained here in the Talon Tower. 'Wipe me off the face of Lore', you say? Tell me, just how do you plan to use a magic that powerful with a child standing right behind me?"
"By uncreating you."
Zunari blinks, wide-eyed. "I beg your pardon? Uncreation?"
I swallow. I'm going to be taking a really, really big gamble here. You see, after my try at uncreating that pebble I did pass out and wake up with a headache- but what I failed to mention to Marna is that I woke up over a day later. I'd had my natural store of mana full beforehand, too- and I woke up on empty. I'm not even sure if I uncreated the pebble; there were others on the ground from previous failed attempts, and I couldn't pick it out from them. And besides that, I knew those pebbles about as well as you could, and this is the first time I've been face to face and up close with Zunari. With an honest attempt at uncreation out of the picture, I decide to try just teleporting something. It's a small magic that I occasionally use to change equipment during battles, and won't take even a fourth of the mana I have left. The thing is, if Zunari's studied up on uncreation, he'll see right through it. He already knows he has me beat, and if this fails then I really will be out of options. "Yeah, you heard me. Uncreation." I take a couple steps forward, and draw out my Sword Master Emblem from my belt pouch. I turn my hand over and open it up, almost immediately teleporting the emblem to the room behind me. For effect, I start panting.
Zunari's face goes wide with utter shock, but soon I see his brows come together and his expression changes. Not good. As fast as I can I step in and nail Zunari with a right hook, the dark wizard spinning around and falling hard against a bookshelf, unconscious. I pull him up and haul him out, calling for Valencia.
She and Marna step up, surprised. "I got lucky," I say as I see Marna begin to ask how. "Valencia, tie him up and gag him. I'm going back to check on Tristan." I jog back into the study, and find Tristan collapsed in a heap. "Tristan!" He doesn't respond, but when I get to him I can see he's still breathing. I brush his hair out of the way, and check his pulse at his neck. It's steady. "Thank you," I whisper to the Light Lord. I move Tristan over and sit him up against the shelves. Then, I notice that the vault is open. Checking Tristan's pulse again, I stand up and walk into it. It's furnished much the same as the study, but much larger. The shelves of scrolls go off far into the distance, and a few yards in on a pedestal with a glass cover is-
"You're just standing there with all that loot in front of you?"
"Valencia, don't sneak up on me like that!" I sigh. "And yes, I'm just standing here. I'm not sure how safe it would be to carry out something from here..."
"Danger always brings a high price," Valencia says.
"No, this- this isn't the fun and exciting kind of danger. I found a copy of The Dark Waltz in the study, who knows what else might be in here..."
I turn back to Valencia, and she's staring at me. "The Elemental Championships and that book? Hello, my name is Valencia. I don't think we've met before."
"I promise I'll tell you sometime, but not now. I just want to get out of this place."
"I'm not leaving here without something from the vault. This kind of opportunity never comes up, and you owe me for what you just did back there."
"Fine." I grab a random book off of a shelf, and hand it to Valencia. "There's your treasure, now let's get going." As I start to prod Valencia forwards, Marna enters the study.
"He seems exhausted, but other than that I think he'll be okay." Marna nods and step forwards to kneel by his side. "Listen, Marna, I need to stay here and watch the vault. When you get back to Battleon find Warlic and tell him I need him at the Talon Tower A.S.A.P."
"Yeah, right here behi-" While I'm turning to point, my hand bumps into somethings solid- the wall is back. "I swear, it was open just a second ago..." There's an awkward silence while Marna is looking at me and Valencia is leafing through the tome I handed her.
"Well, the only thing in here of any interest to you two is the Hymn of Elemental Unity," Valencia speaks up. "Other than that it's just an account of a previous coming of The Devourer, which I'm sure certain historians and mages will appreciate. Not bad at all for a random pick, Uskius." I look from Valencia to Marna, and clear my throat.
"Let's get our things together and head back to the village. We'll leave Zunari to them and make a copy of the Hymn there. That sound good?" They nod, and leave the study. I stay behind, deciding on a whim to take the copy of The Dark Waltz with me before I pick up Tristan and go. For a moment after I sling Gyrfang and my Pureheart Mirror onto my back it seems as if he'll wake up; he makes a face and moans in his sleep. As I'm descending the stairs and catch up with Valencia and Marna I remember Zunari said there would always be a wizard in Talon Tower. I look down at Tristan, and I think I know who the next wizard will be.
"-And here's your copy," Marna says, sitting down across from me at her table. "I swear, if I have to go through anything like that again just to get a copy of a hymn..."
"I like to think we helped out a troubled village and got this," I say, holding up the sheets of paper. "But I do agree with you, though." I glance at Marna, then get started on reading.
From one came all, from all comes one
Creation's cry, in unity sung
In which all was born, the darkness blessed
The dark, sacred night, Lorithia's rest
The gloomy, sable cloak, the heart of death
The door to the end, that gave birth
To the hardened slumbering earth
A chill goes down my spine after reading the first verse. It seems the "from one came all" couplet is the refrain.
Trembling at the touch of its maker's hand
The earth became Lore, our strong homeland
Sure and steady still, all the mountains grand
Have raised up our hopes, our dreams still higher
Lit within us Lorithia's fire
The burning fiery core, the fire of life
Heat and spice of Lore, scourge of war and strife
Summer's heady haze, with jubilation rife
Breath of flame and power, straight into the heart
Inferno begun with one spark
I've noticed something now: the end of each verse leads into the next, like a wheel turning...
Startling, shocking force- inspiration strikes
Clouds are rent with awe, down from the skies
Sudden start and end, heartfelt fleeting cry
Thriving, piercing pulse- for its touch Lore yearns
Shock to the system as life returns
Lorithia wakes the world, dawn of a new day
Glow of hope and faith on the darkened way
Blinding might of lords, strident, sharpened ray
Washing gray away, vibrant, living hue
Bejeweled night sky returns to blue
I half begin to wonder which one of those lines describes me, but I think I already know. This hymn- and this verse in particular- holds such an odd place within me. Connected with apocalyptic battles and mass violence, and also with mundane and peaceful moments...
Close, yet far away, unending expanse
Lore's cradle and cloak, clouds and planets dance
Maelstrom and soft breeze, Lorithia's hand
Journey's aid and boon, turn of fickle will
Warm and playful becoming chill
Snow white blanket's kiss, Winter's icy reign
Frigid, bone-deep bite, numbing end to pain
Lore within its grasp, mountaintop to plain
Invisible steps, trail fading slow
Leading to where the waters flow
Laughing brook and stream, mighty ocean's roar
Gentle wave and rain, floodgates open store
Lifeblood of the land, Lore's heart running o'er
Wells and mother's tears, cycle without end
Darkness encroaches, slow descent
Apart from the odd bird chirping, for several moments it's silent in Marna's cabin. I re-read the verses, and after a while Marna begins to sing them. She's no Jordin Sharks, but she can definitely carry a tune. Hmm, I'll have to ask her where she learned to sing someday... I watch her as she sings, absentmindedly twirling a finger in her dark brown hair. She falls silent after finishing the refrain one last time, and looks up at me.
After a moment she smiles, and says, "You know, Uskius, I think we make a pretty good team."
"We do, don't we?"
"Mm-hmm. But right now, you're going to tell me just what in the Heck you were doing at the Elemental Championships and how you made it out alive."
"Oh, Uskius. You're back. How did the trip go? Valencia mentioned something about Red Fog..."
"Ahaha, did she?" Change the topic change the topic- "Well, we managed to make it out of Talon Tower just fine."
"Hmm, Talon Tower. You didn't take anything out of the vault, did you?" Warlic asks, growing serious. "In particular, you certainly should have left the-"
"All I took from the vault was an old history book; Valencia might still have it if you want to see it." I wave a few sheets of paper at Warlic. "Inside it, we found the lyrics of the Hymn of Elemental Unity. I thought you'd like a copy, so I made you one."
Slowly, Warlic smiles. "Thank you, but..."
"...But I have the Hymn on a scroll in the back room."
Link to discussion thread!
< Message edited by Uskius -- 8/21/2013 7:02:30 >