The ranger’s footsteps made no sound as he climbed toward the summit. No rock was loosed, no twig snapped; it was as if nature itself carried him along his path.
He reached the top and saw the monk sitting with his back to him. The monk seemed to be looking out over the landscape, the Plains of Karana to the west and the Commonlands to the east. The ranger approached silently, drawing closer to the one he came seeking.
“Welcome, Avatar,” the monk said without turning. “Have the preparations been made?”
The ranger stopped and smiled to himself. “The rangers of Surefall stand ready, while the Knights of Thunder are assembling their forces. And you, my friend, have excellent hearing.”
“It was not my ears that told me you were coming, I assure you. Your skills are unmatched. Karana chose well.”
“I still wonder if that is true,” the ranger replied. “It seems only yesterday that I was merely Askr the Lost, a refugee stranded in a cave in the Plane of Storms. Why would Karana choose someone like me to serve him?”
The monk rose and turned toward the ranger. “It is natural to question yourself, especially when there is so much at stake. But just as I must trust in the wisdom of Quellious, so you must trust in the decision of your master. Whatever you once were, you are now the Avatar of Storms, and you have a duty before you.”
The ranger nodded. “You are right. Please forgive my doubts. When the time comes, I will do what is needed.”
The monk smiled. “I know you will, my friend. May we both prove worthy for the task ahead of us.”
“And what of your preparations, Avatar? Will Freeport be ready?”
The monk’s brow furrowed. “Though few in number, the Knights of Truth will return to defend the city. Their sense of duty is unwavering. It was not so easy to secure the same assurance from the Ashen Order, however. Strife has arisen within their ranks, and many wish to ignore their obligation and remain isolated in their desert fortress. Thankfully I was able to convince them otherwise. As for the city itself, it is as I suspected. The Overlord refuses to believe any army could challenge his reign, and has chosen to ignore the warnings. Still, we can be certain he will defend his borders when he sees he has no other choice left.”
The ranger nodded. “I sensed reluctance on the part of the Bayle family as well. They seem unwilling to accept that the Rallosian Army could be rising again, despite all the evidence shown to them.”
“Kings and dictators see only what they want to see,” the monk said. “But there comes a time when the truth can no longer be ignored. And that time is fast approaching.”
“Aye. The orcs in the north will move soon. I do not believe Halas will be able to withstand their assault.”
“I have similar fears for Gukta. The ogres eye it jealously, and their leader harbors a fierce hatred for the frogloks. But the Guktans refuse to leave the lands they believe Marr gave to them, no matter the cost.”
The ranger moved to the edge of the mountaintop and looked around him. From this peak it seemed he could see to the very ends of Antonica. He sighed and lowered his head. “So much death is coming. Are you sure there is no other way?”
The monk was silent for a moment, then spoke softly yet certainly. “I wish there was another answer, but there is not. Though the gateway to the Realm of Discord was closed, its influence still holds Norrath in its grasp. Balance must be restored to the lands and this Age of War must finally be ended. But there is a terrible price to be paid. Our duty is to see that these two cities survive, for in the dark times ahead, the strength of both will be needed.”
The ranger nodded and faced the monk. “Then we shall not fail. My only regret is that we cannot save more of them.”
The monk closed his eyes and was silent. The ranger watched him, wondering if his ally knew more than he was telling. Minutes passed with no words between them. Finally the monk spoke.
“Listen to that sound, and remember it.”
“Silence,” the monk said as he turned and walked away from the ranger. “It will not linger long.”
The ranger watched him go, and then he turned back to the peak’s edge. “Nothing does,” he said to the wind. “Nothing does.”