Chapter IX - The Open Gates of Haven
Ell's words seemed to echo ominously in the ensuing silence of the forest. A Rivanwraith! Aramari had heard stories of these monsters ever since she was a child. Her own father used to scare her at night when she was a child with his tall tales of how one of their ancestors had traveled to Firemount, intent on climbing to the top. Supposedly, when he had arrived, he was attacked and possessed by a Rivanwraith that had its lair there. He was forced by the creature to go back to his home and slay his entire family. As the tale went, it had taken half the arrows in Splinterfist's army to bring the man down as he fled through the desert. She had never really believed in the tale after she had grown up. In fact, she had heard almost the exact same tale repeated to her many years later by a man who claimed that it was his ancestor that had been possessed by the Rivanwraith.
Quillion gestured for the companions to gather around him. As Aramari and the others moved in close he whispered to them, "If this thing is even half as powerful as the legends say, we can't defeat it. It looks like we've no choice but to find shelter here until it stops searching."
The companions nodded their heads and immediately split up, looking for some type of cover. Aramari moved as if in a dream, simply going through the motions of walking about. She could not shake the feeling that the Rivanwraith was hovering up there, watching hungrily from the gray haze above the companions. She knew that it was not true, for she was not feeling the preternatural dread she normally would if it was nearby. It was not watching them now, but it was searching for them.
A low hiss sounded from her right and she, as well as the rest of the companions, turned to see as Ephirea motioned them towards her. Aramari moved closer and saw a fallen log was lying on the ground partially covering a large hole in the earth underneath it. It looked like a cave entrance. Aramari presumed it was dug out by some large animal. Ell crept into the hole silently in order to scout for danger, her nose twitching as she sniffed the air. She emerged a few seconds later and said, "There's a bear sleeping in there, towards the back of the cavern."
Tersiano moved forward, cheerfully stating, "No worries there, me hardies. I'll simply place the creature in a magical slumber so that we can sojourn safely within."
Quillion reached out and grabbed the wild mage's arm, forestalling him. "That wouldn't be the best of ideas, Tersiano. We can't take a chance the Rivanwraith can sense magical effects."
The blue robed mage pulled his arms free from Quillion's grasp. Aramari watched, amused, as his eyes flashed and whirled in rage. However, just as suddenly as the anger appeared in Tersiano, it left him and he said, "Of course you're right again, my good man. I'll just be over here while a suitable solution is reached." He moved off to the side a bit, watching the companions with his enchanting eyes. Aramari covered a smile with her hand despite the tense circumstances. Tersiano's mood swings were the stuff of legends. Meyasha only knew what the wild mage was actually thinking at times.
Aramari looked back towards the cavern entrance and saw Dealyon slide himself into the hole. His dark clothes disappeared into the darkness of the cave as the companions waited outside. A few minutes later, the druid's disembodied voice echoed softly from the darkness of the cavern. "It appears that my ursine friend and I have reached an understanding. It is safe to enter the cavern now. The bear will not trouble us."
Scintara immediately dropped into the hole without a making a sound. The others began to follow suit slowly, each one waiting to make sure the way was clear before descending. Aramari was standing there waiting her turn when she felt the returning presence of the Rivanwraith. The cold, seeping feeling of fear and dread crawled up her spine as she felt its awesome presence draw closer.
"Hurry!" she hissed to the companions. It was hard to speak, as her jaws were locked in an attempt to keep her teeth from chattering. "It's coming back!"
The companions still above the surface took one look at her face, which she was sure was twisted in fear, and scrambled to get below ground. Malaryn's sword hilt, which was sticking over his shoulder, kept getting stuck on a limb from the fallen log and he could not get into the cave.
"Get that fool oaf into the cave!" said Lysinthia, who was standing behind Tersiano. "He's going to get us all killed!"
Tersiano reached down and gave Malaryn a hard shove. The tree limb snapped with a frighteningly loud crack and they both tumbled into the cave with a loud thump. Aramari winced at the sound that seemed to thunder in the silence of the forest twilight. She could feel the Rivanwraith's presence getting closer, but she did not know how far away it was. Maybe it could not hear them just yet.
Aramari was the last one to slide into the cave entrance. As she hit the floor of the cavern, Malaryn pushed by her apologetically and reached up to grab the fallen log. Aramari edged away from the smith as he strained to move the log so that it partially covered the opening to the outside. After a few attempts at moving it, Malaryn was finally able to pull the log over most of the entrance. Anyone viewing the hole from the outside would only see an opening that was not big enough for a human to fit through.
The cleric of Meyasha had never failed to be impressed by displays of Malaryn's physical strength in the past, but this time her mind was far away. The approach of the Rivanwraith was dominating her psyche, so powerful was its presence. She resisted her natural healer's instinct to reach out with her clerical senses and make contact with the mind. She forced herself to listen passively to the beast's mental echoes resounding through the psychic plane.
After a several seconds, the beast's mental echoes were less like echoes and more like tidal waves crashing into Aramari's sensitive mind. With each passing second, the Rivanwraith drew nearer and she could feel the incredible might it projected weighing upon her. The waves of fear that it radiated were like hammers into her emotional calm. She knew Dealyon would be feeling the same force and would have the same trouble resisting it. The others who were not as psychically sensitive as those who received power directly from their gods such as she and Dealyon, were feeling it as well.
The companions waited silently, huddled together in the pitch darkness. Not a single one of them dared to even breath hard for fear of the noise it would generate. Aramari gave a start as she heard a loud cracking sound coming from the outside. It sounded as if something was crashing through the trees. The presence of the Rivanwraith suddenly dominated the area, paralyzing the companions with its force.
A heavy thud sounded from outside the entrance and the ground shook slightly. The Rivanwraith must have landed outside! Aramari heard the clanking of armor and a moment later, a man's voice shouted out like thunder in the darkness. "Half-elf! I know you and your stinking friends are around here somewhere! My new pet here can smell your filthy trails!"
Aramari could hear the soft footsteps of a man walking about on the ground outside. It sounded as if they were approaching the cave. The voice spoke again, definitely closer to the cave opening. "Your time is about up, Half-elf. You have escaped my grasp twice now, and you will not do it a third time!" The volume of the voice began to dwindle as the man moved away. "My power is too great to be denied for long, and you cannot..."
The priestess of Meyasha stopped listening to the man as he prattled on about his power and might and whatever else he felt like bragging about. She was not interested in the man's chest pounding. The Rivanwraith was the true threat to the companions right now, not some braggart who did not know when to shut his mouth. She concentrated on managing her emotional projections. She had been a natural empath before coming to the service of Meyasha and her innate talent to project her feelings had only grown in strength since then. If the Rivanwraith caught scent of just one strong emotion from her it would destroy them all. Luckily the fear being projected from the companions would blend in with the natural fear from the forest animals in the Rivanwraith's presence.
Long minutes stretched as the man outside rambled on about how the companions would not escape. He was repeating himself, apparently trying to taunt one of them into revealing their position. Eventually the man grew frustrated with the companions' continued absence and Aramari heard him climb back on the monster. She heard its claws rend the earth outside as it jumped into the air, smashing more tree limbs as it rose. The awesome presence that it radiated eventually faded as it moved away.
Her body relaxed finally and she let loose a breath she did not know she had been holding. She heard the others do the same thing from the darkness surrounding her. She tried to speak, and found her throat was still too tight to get any sound past. She swallowed hard, silently cursing herself for being so affected by fear, and said, "The Rivanwraith is gone. I no longer feel its presence nearby."
She heard Quillion's voice echo in the dark, "Good. Let's get some light in here. Tersiano?"
The wild mage's metallic voice sounded stranger than usual in this tight space. "Not a problem. Moerhyn Villijde Jerahnch."
The words of magic slid through Aramari's mind as she covered her eyes from the sudden light that filled the cavern. After her eyes adjusted, she looked around and saw that Tersiano had turned a pebble he had found on the ground into a lightstone. Sometimes the simplest things that mages could do, such as this, would amaze Aramari.
Quillion looked around at the seated companions and even glanced at the bear which slumbered just a stride or two behind Dealyon. The Half-elf kept his voice low as he spoke. Aramari could not fault him for it. Even though they no longer felt the Rivanwraith's presence, no one felt safe by any means. "It appears that Emiriak has found some way to control a Rivanwraith. This little adventure just got a lot more adventurous." He pulled out a rolled map from his pouch and spread it on the ground in front of them before continuing, "Judging by the maps we have and the distance we've traveled through Ravenwood, we still have about a day and a half's journey to Haven."
Aramari could see the faces of her friends sag a bit upon hearing the news. She felt the same as they did. A day and a half? They would not make it five domins before that beast spotted them. Quillion could not have missed everyone's reaction, but he continued on as if he had. "There has to be some way for us to travel without being spotted. I don't look forward to dying of thirst, sitting in a cavern hoping that Emiriak will lose interest in us and move on."
Preosha eyed Quillion shrewdly before saying, "It appears he has taken a special liking to you, Quillion. Do you think he'll actually give up that easy?"
Quillion took a deep breath before responding, "No, I don't. I escaped from his Czak Myar after they had captured me about six months ago while sacking a village in Northern Windsong. It appears he doesn't particularly like the fact that I got away. He's a fanatic and I don't believe he's the type to ever quit."
The silence stretched out for minutes as each of the companions were lost in their own thoughts. An idea occurred to Aramari, but she was loathe the mention it for there was only a slim chance it would work. She knew, however, that it would probably be their only chance to escape intact. She straightened her back and pressed her lips together in conviction. She would do it. There was no other choice.
She shifted her gaze to Quillion, meeting his slanted eyes. She was proud of the strength in her voice when she spoke. "There is a way to travel to Haven without being seen. Unfortunately, there is a very good chance that it won't work, but it may be our only option."
Ephirea filled in the pause following Aramari's words, saying, "Well don't keep us waiting all day, Mari. Tell us about this miraculous plan of yours. We need our bacon hauled from the skillet."
Aramari glared at Ephirea, who simply smiled back impishly. The priestess of Meyasha lowered her head and said in a soft, clear voice, "I can attempt to summon a storm, a storm so powerful as to shield us from the Rivanwraith's vision."
Aramari gave Dealyon a sidelong look and saw his eyes widen in shock. She knew the druid had no idea that she had strength or knowledge enough to summon weather changes. He would be extremely shocked if he knew she had never tried it before. She knew through previous conversations with the druid that he knew how to control existing weather, but knew not how to summon a change.
Aramari knew Quillion was watching the silent exchange between the two of them, but she still gave a slight jump when the Half-elf asked, "So what's the problem then? It sounds like a great idea. Let's do it."
The priestess sighed sadly before explaining to him, "I have never attempted to summon a storm in a drought like this before." That was the simple truth, but not the complete truth. She would not let Dealyon know she had never attempted any storm summoning before. "I'm not completely sure I can do it."
Quillion gave a scoff, saying, "I've complete faith in your abilities, Mari. You can only but try."
"There's another problem as well", she replied.
"And what's that?" Quillion asked, sounding a bit perplexed.
"If I summon a storm to this area, it will be extremely difficult for me to control and could be potentially dangerous, not only to us, but to the countryside around us. Also, a storm of that power moving into a dry area like this will only shift the dry weather to another part of the world, causing a drought somewhere else. Storm summoning is something that should only be done in times of desperate emergency. I know that's what we're in now, but I felt you all should know the dangers before I try."
She looked around the cave, studying the companions' faces. All of them seemed to be somewhat tense, except for Dealyon, who had regained his stony expression, and Tersiano, who seemed to be a bit amused at the whole situation.
Ephirea, as usual, was the first one to break the silence. "Well, I say let's do it. I really don't want that damned thing finding me out in the open just before I get to Haven's gates."
Preosha spoke in very grated tone. "Can we really weigh the endangerment of the people's lives who live around here versus our own safety?"
"Why not? We've got to get away from this thing, or we're all dead," said the dark-haired archer.
Preosha was about to respond, her face darkening, when she was forestalled by Quillion. "If Emiriak followed me from Three Corners, then he must know about my intentions of finding Vormeastion. Since he's been so persistent in stopping me, I have to assume that Mirdas Morgal has something to fear from our mission, however unlikely. I can't believe that even Emiriak would work that close with a Rivanwraith unless he was being forced into it by someone. If Mirdas Morgal has something to fear from us completing this quest, then I say that's the best reason to continue. If we fail, then its armies will overrun this entire continent eventually. If we succeed, then we have a possibility of stopping them before it happens. I say we do it."
The others sitting around the lightstone nodded their heads in agreement, even Preosha, though she took a bit longer than the rest. Quillion looked at Aramari and said, "Is there anything we can do to help?"
Aramari nodded her head briefly before saying, "I will be unable to defend myself physically while I do this, so I will need you stand guard over my body."
Malaryn fingered the hilt of his sword and said with a grim face, "The only way something touches you is by stepping over my corpse."
"Amen to that, big guy," growled Lysinthia. The bard was flexing her hands as if preparing to play her guitar or wield a sword, both of which she could do with equal skill.
With the companions all in agreement, the priestess of Meyasha folded her legs underneath herself and sat with her back straight. She began whispering the ritual words that cleared her mind in preparation for contact with the power of her Goddess. Once her worldly distractions had been cleared, she began the mantra which placed her spirit in Meyasha's hands to be led outside her body.
She opened her eyes, and found she was looking down at herself, at her body which still chanted the prayer of guidance. She saw Malaryn move towards the cave entrance to watch for danger as the others watched her physical form with concern. Her spirit self smiled and moved up through the dirt over their heads. She emerged into open air and gasped in awe. This was not the first time she had traveled out of her body, but the way her spirit viewed the world without the confines of flesh could still overwhelmed her. She could see the life energies radiating from each tree, each animal, each blade of grass. She could see the breeze blowing, see the power that forced it along its path. She looked down at the earth and almost wept in horror when she saw the withering black marks that no physical body could detect, the marks of death that the Rivanwraith had left in its tracks in the dirt.
The foul sensations left by the Rivanwraith reminded Aramari of her task. She must hurry to summon the weather or the beast would return, looking for the companions. She thought briefly about searching for the Rivanwraith's trail, to determine how close it was to her friends, but decided against even a tenuous contact with its powerful mind.
She traveled east, sweeping herself along the currents of energy faster than she had dreamed imaginable before. She studied the currents of life flowing through the air closely as she moved along, searching their patterns for the signs of organized chaos which would signify a storm cell. Her spirit form whisked its way to The Moon Sea, and there she found what she sought: the tempest that continually whipped around its center. She watched the rapid, violent swirls of energy that comprised the storm cluster, looking for a place to size a power flow and redirect its focus. There! That was exactly what she wanted. Her mind reached out and latched on a particularly powerful current, and she was suddenly yanked into the center of the storm by its force. She used all of her strength to keep a hold on the current, but was unable to redirect it. This storm was entirely too powerful, as if it had been summoned just as she was trying to do to it now.
The currents of energy in the storm were battering her so severely that she could not get a bearing on herself. She knew that if she lost her mental grip on this current, she would be lost in the center of the tempest with no way out. She desperately made a plea to Meyasha for help and received a response almost immediately. A warm calm filled her essence, the same warm feeling she had experienced back in her shop three days ago. She felt no more powerful than before, for she knew now Meyasha could not grant her the strength to wrestle the storm, but she was filled with enlightenment. She knew now what she had to do to accomplish her summoning.
Her first mistake had been in attempting to pull the current directly away from its pattern, she had not had the strength for that. She allowed herself to flow with the current instead of fighting it, simply giving it a few nudges here and there to slightly redirect it. The current emerged from the tempest momentarily and she regained her bearings. She waited for the powerful storm current to move in the correct direction again and then pushed with all of her might. The current resisted with tremendous force, almost crushing her between it and another current, but it eventually pulled loose of the tempest's hold. Once the first current had been freed and she had directed it Westwardly, others became much easier to guide. A summoning was established and she could sense the chaotic patterns build in strength and rapidly move in the direction where Ravenwood and her friends awaited.
She began to move back to the forest to inform her friends of the good news when she noticed something strange. The tip of an island peninsula peeked through the storm clouds still remaining over the sea. She was certain she would never have seen it had she not weakened the powerful tempest with her summoning. An island in The Moon Sea? She had never heard of one before, and she was certain that any map she had seen before did not have it labeled there. This was a good mystery.
Her thoughts were broken up by a familiar, icy feeling of dread seeping into her spirit. The Rivanwraith! How could it have known she was here? She had to escape! She turned to move back to the forest, intent on outrunning it, but knew immediately she was too late. She only had time to see a flash of dusky gray and hear the terrifying shriek of the beasts' roar. A light enveloped her and the Rivanwraith struck.
Quillion was almost in a panic. He had no idea what to do. Aramari had been in her trance, still chanting softly to herself for about twenty minutes before she suddenly screamed, her eyes widening in terror, and fell over backwards. Her body was as limp as a rag and no one had been able to get a response from her. Dealyon had done some type of examination and said she had nothing physically wrong with her. It was a problem of the spirit that the druid did not have the power to heal.
Oh merciful fates! They were trapped in a cavern in the middle of a haunted forest with a Rivanwraith searching for them and they were still leagues away from safety. If there even was such a thing as safety any more. The Half-elf leaned back against the wall of the cave, taking deep breaths. He had to focus and not panic, the others were depending on him to come up with a way to get them out of here. How in Tartarus was he going to think of a way? Everyone agreed that Aramari's plan was the only way to get out of here alive. Wait! That may be the answer.
Quillion pulled Tersiano and Dealyon close to him and said, "Can either of you find out if Aramari succeeded? Can you sense if a storm is heading this way?"
Tersiano nodded his head and said, "I can, but it will require a spell to be cast. If the Rivanwraith can truly sense magic as we supposed, it will know our location."
"I know, I know. Believe me, I know, but we'll end up being discovered sooner or later. We've got to know if she succeeded before we can plan another option."
The tall mage nodded his head and said, "I'll need to go outside, old chap. It's very hard to decipher the weather from inside a cave."
Quillion moved down to the entrance of the cave and told Malaryn to move the log back. The warrior calmly sheathed his sword and reached up to clear the entrance for them. Quillion was the first one out, his sword breaker drawn and the words to a deadly ice knife spell on his lips. He strained for any signs of danger, but his sharp senses detected nothing moving anywhere nearby. He gestured for Tersiano to come out of the hole behind him, his eyes still on the shadowy trees above. The wild mage casually climbed out of the entrance and walked about five lengths away from it to stand by himself, facing towards the East and staring off into the forest.
Quillion saw the wild mage gesture a few times with that seemingly delicate crystal staff of his with the raven carved into its top. He heard the metallic reflection of Tersiano's chant echo off the trees as the mage finished his spell and stopped, bowing his head. A sharp blast of wind rose in the air around Quillion and he saw Tersiano cock his head as if listening to something. In a few moments the wind died down and the mage slowly returned to the entrance. He looked down at Quillion and said, "She has succeeded all right. There's a storm heading this way the likes of which most men never see. If it doesn't kill us, it will provide us with the penultimate traveling cover."
The tight bands that had been squeezing Quillion's chest relaxed for the first time since the Rivanwraith's appearance. His head bowed and he felt such a rush of relief that he almost shamed himself by bursting into tears. He hastily cleared his throat and said, "Any idea as to how long it'll take to get here?"
The wild mage's eyes seemed to gather in the ambient light as they whirled in amusement. Quillion was willing to guess that Tersiano did not miss Quillion's near emotional outburst. "I would wager that we had about an hour or two before it hits. Aramari didn't exactly use subtlety in sending the storm this way." The wild mage's voice softened as he looked in the direction of the cave. "Of course, she may not have had a choice."
"Go back down and tell the others to prepare to be hammered by this storm. I'll stay up here and try to fashion something to carry Mari across the plain with," said the Half-elf. "If the Gods are smiling on us, we might just be able to make it to Haven after all."
The storm had been raging on for two days now and the floods that it had caused were surely ruining the planting topsoil for the next crop of barley. If this kept up, there would not be a mug of ale left anywhere in the entire city of Haven in three months' time. Rikus certainly would not be able to stand it if that happened. He was certain he would go mad having to stand guard in front of the gates night after night, bored beyond belief, without being able to go down to Crazy Jask's Tavern and knock back a few. He and the other guardsmen on his watch were the only ones that ever drank there that early in the morning. Most of the city was either still asleep or just waking when his night watch shift ended. Oh aye, he definitely would be forced to seek employment in another city if the lack of barley led to a lack of ale. Let the bloody Knights of the First Order come and guard their own walls. They nearly controlled the whole town anyway.
Rikus was certain that he could not get more miserable this night, standing under an overhanging parapet and shivering from the wet and cold Southeasterly wind. Where had this bloody storm come from anyway? It had been blazing hot and dry as a duck's skin two days ago. He remembered to count his meager blessings. He could be like poor Masser up there on the wall, having to stand directly in the rain to keep a look out for people approaching. What was the point of putting up a guard tonight anyway? No one in their right mind would travel about on a terrible night like this. Not to mention with all of this wind and rain whipping around, Rikus could see no further than he could spit.
He was just starting to lean against the wall in his favorite pose with his pike resting against his shoulder and his conical helmet pulled down over his eyes when he heard yelling coming from the wall. No, surely that was not yelling. It must be the wind whipping through the eaves or something. He hunched down further into a good dozing stance when he felt a hard thump on his helmet. The ringing of the steel still hung in the air as he looked at the rock that had struck him skid across the ground. Rikus looked up to the wall at Masser and shouted, "Hey! What's de idea? Hittin' me wit' a rock like dat?!?"
In response, Masser jumped up and down excitedly, pointing out away from the wall. Rikus turned to see what he was pointing at and looked out into the plain. He saw nothing but the grass which stretched for half a day's journey all the way to the Northern edge of Ravenwood. He shook his head, wiped the water from his brow and looked closer. Well sure enough, there was something moving out there. It looked like a group of travelers walking down the muddy road leading into the plain. Looks like he and Masser was not the only ones who were crazy enough to walk about in this storm.
As the group of travelers grew close, Rikus began to get a bit nervous. There were ten of them, and they appeared to be armed. Actually, there were eleven of them if you counted the one that was being pulled on a litter. Rikus reached behind him and pulled a rope that rang the bell on the other side of the gate, alerting the other guards that there were people outside the wall. The apparent leader of the group approached Rikus and the others remained back a bit. The man seemed to be fairly tall and he wore soft leather boots, but that was about all Rikus could tell about him because the man had pulled his green cloak around himself to keep out the rain.
"Salutations, guardsman," the man said. Rikus recognized his slight Elven accent even through the downpour. "We're looking to get in out of this storm. As you can see, our friend back there is sick and we need to get her some assistance as soon as possible."
Rikus realized his initial assessment was incorrect, for no Elf would ever speak in such a common way. The guardsman's blood quickened at the thought. He was willing to bet this man was a Half-elf, and the fact he was traveling with ten other people could only mean one thing. Rikus had to make certain who this man was before he tried anything, though. "Greetin's yourself, traveler. You say your friend is sick? We'll get her inside right away. All I need is your name and country so I can log it in de books."
"The name's Quillion A'Sirendon of Frenyndale, recently from Two Sands," replied the cloaked man.
"Let me go log dis in de books inside, den we'll get you in out of de rain", said Rikus.
He walked through the guard's door, just to the side of the main gate, and entered the courtyard inside of Haven's walls. There he faced fifteen other guards that had been summoned by the warning bell. "De people we've been lookin' for are outside. Let's go out dere and get them."
He quickly arranged the rest of the guards behind him to make as impressive of a display as he could and gave the signal to the gatekeeper to open the main gates. As the gates which towered ten strides high slowly swung outward, Rikus walked forward through the rain until he could clearly see the party. He watched the leader of the group stand up from where he was crouched beside the woman on the litter and turn to face him. Rikus looked him in the eyes and said with as much bravado as he could manage, "You are all under arrest, by order of Rendron Alshien, High Commander of De Knights of the First Order!"
Having impressed himself greatly with his speech, Rikus was surprised when the man replied with outrage. "Under arrest! What is the charge?!?"
Rikus gave the signal for his men to lower their pikes at the group. If this surly bunch of rain-soaked journeymen even twitched, he would have them run through. "You are hereby charged as traitors to de country of Windsong."
© 1998   C.A. Lutke