Chapter Eleven "Arthas"
"We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
The web of black shadows startled Rose most as she entered the room. For the other three companions the statuesque skeletons of what could have only been lizardfolk was most astonishing. The room that the slaymate had lead them to was simple in layout holding only a chair and table but both appeared to be quite antique, Quancy assumed that they were of elven design along with a matching bookcase filled with books on its first three shelves and a number of small sculptures and other curios on the top two as well as on top of it. The room opened into another room that was almost half filled with a bed large enough for troll but much of the other features were obscured by the dancing blackness.
"Where is this 'Missus' of yours," Ojas demanded.
"I am right here," an enchanting voice spoke from the darkness, "And please cease from trying to intimidate my beloved."
Trysh's heart began to race at twice its pace at the sound of her voice. She clenched her eyes trying to fight back the thoughts and feeling that her voice invoked in her. Of all the pain that it caused her.
"That's your job, I assume," Ojas spat as he gripped his spear tightly in both his bloody hands.
Arthas laughed as she said, "My Gywnneth is like a daughter to me," then with a smile in her voice added, "Isn't that right Trysh?"
The druid looked over a Trysh whose eyes turned away from the accusing darkness then Rose's eyes darted to the undead child and saw the girl nod at the comment and for a brief moment wondered what it would have been like if she had ever been with her mother. She could have never felt the type of bond that Gwyn and this woman apparently had with her father.
"But you are not here to defend Gwyn are you," Arthas said evenly, "What is you seek?"
"You," Quancy said over Ojas.
"Me," Arthas' bony hand went to her chest, "You are so glib. I have heard of the silver tongue that your kind possess."
"We found people being controlled in the temple above," Rose said.
"Our Lady commands many," Arthas said as a tendril of the shadows leaped throw the ceiling, "It is the endowment of the god's power."
Trysh frowned and held her hand as more pain devoured at the corners of her mind.
"These people appeared to be dominated magically," Ojas said as he took a long step forward toward the shadow web, "Including the captain of the ship I work and live on."
"I see," Arthas said thoughtfully, "And you are here to…"
"Put an end to it," Ojas said forcefully pointing the end of his spear at the heart of the shadows.
Arthas allowed the shadows to fall from above her neck of a moment and smiled, "And you wish to do this by compelling me with a fisherman's tool?"
"We just want to know what is happening," Rose said, "The priest had an item… a black ball."
Quancy interrupted the druidess, "We know that you don't serve Mystra."
Rose's eye furrowed at Quancy. She hadn't come to that conclusion. Although she knew that whatever and whoever they worship was perverse, they had little proof in her eyes they didn't worship Mysstra. Although she knew little of the gods outside of nature she was painfully aware of the bloodshed between them in the cause toward their view on nature… most specifically between her Earthmother and Silvanus.
"We just want them freed," Rose added.
"I would love to do that," Arthas said as the black fog covered her again.
"Good then…" Ojas said but was interrupted.
"But the problem is that our Lady won't let us," Arthas said as the skeleton rose the weapons that they held at the sides and the double sided door they entered the room through slammed shut.
"Nine Hells," cursed Quancy, "It's a trap." He swiftly unlatched the quarterstaff on his back and took a defensive stance while Rose who stood between him and Trysh grasped for her sling.
Three of the four skeletons dashed toward Ojas with their weapon held over their skulls. The fourth armed with a shortbow placed an arrow from his quiver in his bow and aimed it toward the shaman. Ojas stabbed the blunt end of his staff to the ground and called out to the spirits of the storm as he had in the stone room but the arrowhead piercing into the small of his back interrupted the beckoning.
Rose had placed the sixth stone into her sling and hurled it at the skeleton in the far corner wielding the bow. The bones cracked the skull of the undead lizardfolk and the thick bones all glimmered in a blue light before it crumbled to the ground. The tiefling began casting a spell with his finger directed at one of the charging skeletons that swung at Ojas.
The shaman nimbly dodged a deathblow from a stone axe aimed at his head while a club bashed into his right shoulder. The third, gripping a greatsword with both his hands, stabbed down at the shaman but only caught a bit of his arm carving a bleeding wound but doing no real damage.
The white ray sent the club wielding skeleton flying before the bones fell apart and scattered across the room.
Quancy screamed as he moved near the table, "Tryshra, fight godsdammit."
Tryshra only stood, still grasping her head almost oblivious to the combat around her.
Rose touched the end of her stone necklace, quickly reciting a prayer to the dormant land pleading with it for help. As the small plant hidden behind the darkness stretched out of his container, Rose thanked him for hearing her. The plant swiftly grew thorny vines and reached into the shadows.
Ojas swept his spear to his right, caving in the knee cap of the club bearer and sent it tumbling to the ground from its lack of balance. The stone axe carrier swung his heavy weapon down at the squatting shaman. The weapon rang sharply on the chainmail armor. Although he knew that the weapon hadn't pierce though his skin the breath that flew out of him felt worse than the wound from the arrow.
Arthas raised her hand out of the shadow bog waving it toward the door. As the twin stone doors flung open, Gwyn who had taken refuge under Arthas' oversized bed ran head down through the wave of fighting and out of the doorway. A moment after she raced out of the door a huge one arm black steel creature entered it.
Rose's eyes grew twice their size as she ran from the doorway next to the teifling.
Ojas' back was away from the door and his attention more on survival then on the comings and goings of those around him. Deftly he blocked a slash from the remaining skeleton and jabbed at it with his spear sending the weapon clear through one of the ribs and an arm's length pass it. As the undead lizard lifted his axe, Ojas cursed under his breath and released his blade and took a step back dodging the cross slash.
Rose could hear the spellcaster in the shadows calling on the powers of another spell and before Quancy could even start another spell, a giant, bony ebony hand swept from the darkness toward Rose. The druidess' first thought was to run but the shiny black construct stood in the doorway and as the long index finger of the hand soared toward her, Rose closed her eyes and bit her lip nearly drawing blood.
As she opened her eyes she felt nothing and looked down and was only a tear in her robe over the left side of her chest, just over her heart.
"Must be an amateur," Quancy teased as he waved his staff and shouted a word of command send another ray, this on fiery orange at the black steel construct.
The mindless creatures eyes glowed in his head which hover a few inches from the rest of his body paranormally. Then with in a black blur it bashed its fist into the ground send a wave of dark energy coursing through the room knocking everyone aside from itself and Tryshra including Arthas off their feet. The warrior looked up at the missing limb of the creature with a gaze of curiosity. Then screaming so loud that the door shook she sprinted the handful of steps to the creature and punch at its chest sending it flying a few feet backwards.
Rose rolled over and knelt on one knee looking at the spellcaster as the tendrils of shadows fell along with the thorn covered tendrils that had wrapped around the woman.
Blood racing over her arms and legs Arthas laughed as she said, "You are a doomed child."
Somehow Rose knew she was speaking to her. Rose could feel warm blood on her hand but refused to look down as the woman continued.
"My spell worked perfectly… you will never know love though you will long for it and all those who come near you will fall in your wake. If you live to see a thousand winters you see thousand times as many die and all their blood will be on your hands."
"Shut…up," Quancy said gingerly sat up and pulled a rust called bag out of one his numerous belt pouches. He stretched three of his fingers in the palm sized bag and revealed a small brown ball and hurled it as hard as he could across the room toward Arthas. As the ball hit the ground it erupted into a ball of black fur that sprout four thick legs and a watering maw. Rose stood up inquiring the creature.
The black bear bite at the spellcaster's arm as Qunacy pointed at the woman not saying a woman.
"Rose," the teifling demanded, "We need to take her down… she'll kill us all if we don't."
Rose nodded and loaded her last stone in her sling but as soon as she had the spellcaster pulled at a small white piece from her robe and hurled it end over end at the druidess and tiefling.
"Not the only one with tricks up your sleeves, demon," Arthas spat as she flung another one at the floor near her.
A pair of hulking skeletons of creatures that Rose had never seen before stood before her. One kicked the bear of the spellcaster while the other slammed a bony fist into Quancy sending him crashing into the stone wall behind them.
Rose duck and rolled out of the way as the same creature swatted at her. Rose felt the ground shake and for a brief moment saw a flash of blue light burst through the open door. The next thing Rose saw was the white of the skeletal creature's hand pressing down on her… all Rose saw next was darkness.
"This place is unhallowed," a voice that the druidess had never before spoke in the darkness as her eyes tried to open.
"Aye," another voice, hoarse and definitely male replied, "What are you going to report to the Wizard's Council?"
"Exactly what I've seen," the velvety voice spoke as Rose forced her eyes open. She was lying on her belly and only saw the black marble ground of the hallway she had entered the spellcaster's room in.
The gruff voice muttered something inaudible.
"The whole town was deceived, Maximanus," the silky voice said almost admiringly, "And if you had not acted who knows what would have happened."
Rose's voice stirred as she tried to rolled over but couldn't. Then she noticed that her arms and legs were bound to the small of her back the same way some farmers tied livestock.
"The little one is coming out of it," the gruff voice said.
"Then untie her," the softer voice demanded.
"Not until I find out that she is not one of them."
"You are not even aware of what one of them actually is."
"All the more reason…"
Rose mumbled, "I am… Rose… I wanted to find out… what… was happening."
The gruff voice asked as he turned the girl over sending waves of pain through her body, "How did you know what was happening here?"
"I saw it… a man was captured and led here… I needed to find out if he was okay. His name is… Cooper," Rose said remembering the visions she saw from his horse's mind. And the horse's tracking of her owner back to the opposite side of the tower on the river.
"You mean his name was Cooper," the gruff voice said. "He was murdered by your high priestess."
Rose swallowed trying to get air to her lungs, "I… I don't worship here."
"Where do you worship," the soft voice asked firmly.
That was a question that Rose had to think about. If worship meant respect, than she had done it here. As a druid any place she felt a connection to nature was a place for reverence.
"We asked you a question," the gruff one said as he pressed his boot on her chest over the tore piece of her robe and the pink scar that had form beneath it.
"I worship everywhere the Great Mother touches," Rose said and coughed up a piece of curdled blood.
"She worships Chaunteau… let her up," the soft voice pleaded.
"She's probably lying," the gruff voice man spoke as he leaned over giving the druidess a full view of the coiling purple dragon racing across the man's silver armor.
The other person leaned over as well. Rose recognized the seven starred pattern on the person armor and gargled, "Mystra?"
The Mystran nodded, "And judging from leaf designs in the sod clumps on your necklace I assume you are a cleric of Chaunteau."
Rose nodded, "Not a cleric… just a druid of little knowledge."
"Judging from the scene left throughout what's left of this temple I'd assume you were a circle leader," the soft voiced Mystran smiled. "Max, let her loose now. We need all who are able to search this place over… with a malevolent portal like the one in the next room only Oghma himself could have the knowledge of what this place could possess."
Max grumbled quickly as he untied Rose.
"I swear if she makes one threatening move toward any of my men, Arini," Max oathed to Mystran.
"I won't," Rose said meekly. "We found some notes in Fembrys' room."
"Which one is Fembrys," Max commanded.
"The… ummm… large one. He should have in the room by the stairs," Rose said immediately.
"He has been taken in for questioning," Arini informed the druidess.
Rose nodded not knowing what that truly meant, "Qunacy should have the notes… he is the… one with horns."
"The demonblood was with you?" Max nearly spat on the druidess.
"Aye," Rose said, "He came to rescue the woman with an iron arm."
Arini's lips curled, "The woman that killed a third of Max's men and helped the caped woman that was commanding the shadesteel golem get away."
Rose head spun at the flood of information, "What's a…," she began than figured it was whatever the large metal creature was, "Tryshra… left?"
"Left," Max yelled, "The wench single handedly crushed the skulls of a dozen of my men then somehow teleported away with that cleric."
Rose heart ached with every beat for a several moments of silence.
"Did you find anyone else alive in the room with me?" Rose asked tentatively.
"Two males," Arini reported, "The teifling you spoke of and a large mariner."
"They were both wounded gravely but they should recover in due time," Arini interrupted, "They are being healed at the Watch House… hopefully they are being treated better than you are."
Max shrugged, "Children lost their fathers and wives were widowed today… this no time for courtesy to those who ain't earned it."
"Rose," Arini said as she tried to ignore the Purple Dragon Knight, "What else did you find out about this place."
Rose told them about the people that seemed to not be themselves and the priest's actions toward here and his attempt to keep her at the temple while briefly describing how the four of them fought through the temple to where they were found.
The two armored figures stood in silence just staring at one another.
Rose looked over to the ring of purple surrounding a black space in which the wall ended and asked, "What is that?"
Arini sighed, "A holy symbol."
"But Mystra's holy symbol is…" Rose began.
"That ain't Mystra's symbol, you fool… y'ain't too bright to not notice Shar's mark at first glance are you."
"Oh," Rose mumbled and tried to recall what she knew of Shar.
"She is the Goddess of Darkness and Secrets… and the rival of Mystra," Arini said softly as she touched the girl's shoulder, "Her one passion in existence is to tear down the Weave and make it her own."
The dark confusion in Rose head immediately clear and she understood what was happening and why she was treated how she was by Max, "They were killing mages."
Arini nodded but said nothing.
Max added, "But there must have been a greater purpose to it… that is what we have to find out."
"Constal Maximanus," a heavily winded man practically the same height as Rose raced through the dark portal and to the trio, "Report… there's a tributary further down leading down river… I think this was just a holding camp for something larger. There are several enclosures further down past the black vortex. We have also captured a man that works on the boats they sent out from here and I found a map."
The small man handed it to the Constal. Arini looked over Max's shoulder.
"A map of the swamp… odd," Arini said.
"The Vast Swamp," Rose asked inquisitively.
"Aye," the map finder said, "But it doesn't have directions, just a few locations, I thought that Arini might…"
"I am the Constal of Wheeloon not War Wizard Arini," the man snapped and waved his hand, "You are dismissed, Boreas."
The man nodded, turned on his heels and raced through the dark portal again.
"Your men must love you," Ira rolled her eyes. A pair of men carried a headless form from the room opposite of the one the woman had used as her bedroom.
"My men respect me… love is meaningless," Max stared at the map.
"Women from here to Dambrath must be lining up to date you," Arini spat.
Rose raise up onto her tiptoes to try to get a glance at the map and the Constal rebuffed her, "This is no child's toy."
"But I live in the swamp," she said.
Four unblinking eyes glared at her.
"Honestly," she placed her palms over her shoulders facing them, "I am… was… a member of a group that maintained the swamp."
"So… you are a druid of the Vast Swamp?" Arini asked still unblinking.
Max dumbfoundedly lowered the map so Rose could see it.
Rose had a basic understanding of reading maps as it was one of her duties to aid in sending messages and on occasion some of the location needed to be mapped to find since their paths were obscured in one way or another. She recognized many of the places that most could, the Temple they were at and Wheeloon proper, the Hullack Trail and the Way of the Manticore.
Rose pointed to a small skull near the middle of the map, "That is the Skull Staff."
"What," the pair responded in unison.
"It is just inside the swamp and marks the territory of the Dragonscales," Rose said quickly.
"Okay," Ira said confused. "And they would be."
"A large tribe of lizardfolk that hold most of the western half of the swamp," Rose said focusing on the map and tracing approximately their hold, "The North is most controlled by smaller ones called poison dusk… the Claws of the Flooded Forest is the largest group and the East is too dangerous even for lizardfolk… many say that beholders breed there."
Arini smiled. Max guffawed.
"What does this mean though," Rose said as quirked the corner of her mouth thinking, "There are no directions and no path."
"Vellum perhaps," Arina said louder than she expected.
"Aye indeed," Max said and then bellowed so loud Rose's her rang for several heartbeats, "Purple Dragons to me!"
As the pattering of feet clambered through the building and race from every direction to their leader and as they all came to a rest crunched together like fish in a wharf Max gave out specific direction and informed the men of what they needed to look for. Several men gave him reports of their findings but nothing seemed extraordinary. Rose knew this scene all too well but the 'Constal' in her memories was her father. Secretly she wondered how each of them could sleep with the knowledge that not only had they sent people to their deaths but that come the renewing day they will have to again.
"Now, Rose," Max said quietly, "We need you to go back to Wheeloon without a scene."
Rose started to nod as felt a thick hand grasp her jaw and the other wrap around her body. In a span of just a few moments she was clasped in cold metal that seemed to drain what little energy she had.
"Max," Arina shouted, "That was uncalled for and…"
"I am in charge here and Rose is an enemy combatant until Lord Redsarp says otherwise."