The Dark Messenger
By the flickering light of a gilded lantern in Felwithe, a slender high elf quietly sat on her bed in a lavish room with walls of marble. She carefully wrapped her robe around her body for warmth and drew her knees to her chest. For a good while she stared into the flitting shadows on the wall with sullen eyes. She began to rock back and forth, trying to ease the ache of her heart.
A cold draft blew through the room. The elf barely noticed it but for a loose lock of long hair that tickled her cheek as it danced in the air — hair that shone with unequalled strands of gold and honey. She caught it and wrapped it around her pale finger and examined it idly. She noticed for the first time how its color was dull and hardened by streaks of gray.
Her pointed elven ears perked ever so slightly as the familiar and comforting clanking of armored limbs drew nearer. She often missed wearing a gleaming suit of armor herself. Her head turned toward the hall outside her room and lifted just enough to allow her captivating aquamarine eyes to peer over her arm and settle on the approaching guard.
The guard did not dare look in the eyes of the lovely elf out of fear and admiration. It was a great honor to him and his family to be given the task of guarding the most lauded high elf in Norrath’s history, the swordmaiden and Chosen of Tunare, Firiona Vie.
“All is well, your highness?” the Koada’Dal guard asked with reserve.
“Aye, as always,” Firiona Vie replied softly.
“Grand. Do you have any needs or requests?” he said.
“Indeed, but none you could aid me with . . . I do thank you for asking. Please close my door. I wish to sleep,” Firiona Vie’s voice was flat, carrying none of the sweet melodies it sang in the past.
The vigilant and accomplished daughter of King Tearis Thex and the mortal chosen by Tunare to bring the Balance of Nature back to Norrath had become someone most didn’t recognize. Very few knew where the princess was kept, but the few that did, including her father, were concerned about Firiona’s quiet moods and how forlorn she’d grown. While her outer beauty was as striking as ever, her demeanor became meek.
The guard obliged the princess’ wish and closed her door, but Firiona could not sleep and had no plans to. She was tired of being watched and treated like a child. For a long time now, she’d understood and appeased her father’s need and obsession with protecting her. But that is not what weighed on her mind and spirit.
As Firiona was lost in thought, three rapid and muted taps came from her door. Surprised, and somewhat annoyed, Firiona stood up from her bed and covered herself with a robe.
The only unannounced visitor she had in years had been her father.
“You may enter,” she said with a tiresome sigh.
The wooden door opened slowly and a figure in a dark cloak stood before her, its face shrouded by a hood.
Alarmed, but showing no fear, Firiona stepped backward, and reached for a dagger she kept under her pillow.
“Reveal yourself! I demand it!” Firiona yelled, the dagger secure in her grip. Looking beyond the mysterious creature, Firiona could see no guard in the hall.
“Do not be afraid,” said the cloaked figure in a strangely comforting whisper. “Who I am is not important, but what I have to tell you is. You already know what you must answer for. You already know the ills that have befallen this world and that it is all because of you.”
Though this awkward figure did not move toward her or strike out, Firiona felt as though she’d been stabbed in her heart. Her posture wilted and her frown softened.
“I know not what it is you mean,” Firiona said, her voice betraying a hint of her sadness. “I know not how you slipped past my guards either, but you must leave before I am forced to defend myself.”
“I am not here to harm you. I am here to beg you to make it right. Be responsible for your failures, Firiona,” the voice urged and accused. “You betrayed the trust of the Mother of All. You let Tunare’s most precious gift — the Lifeguide — out of your grasp.”
No one had so keenly said what Firiona had believed all these years. Her vision was blurred by the wells of sadness in her eyes. Her shoulders slumped and she let the dagger fall to the floor.
“I know. I know . . . it is my fault. Tunare has left me. All of us. It is my fault the veil of evil begins to draw itself over Norrath. I fear the Lifeguide is gone forever!” Firiona sobbed, her hands covering her face.
“No, child. That is what I have come to tell you. The Lifeguide remains as strong as ever and is within your grasp. You must go in search of it. Your heart and gift as Tunare’s chosen will lead you to it. You are the only one who can find it,” the voice said. “If you truly listen, you will find it. Even now.”
“After so long, how could it be? I have not felt it in so long,” Firiona murmured. “Wait . . . why should I trust you? You are too cowardly to even show your face.”
“I am but a poor messenger with an illness. You know my words are true. I can see you feel it now,” the voice said sternly, watching as Firiona’s countenance shone with life. “You may choose not to save yourself and us. You are free to choose to sit here idly and not take this matter into your hands. In doing that, you become as great a villain as the evil you set out to overcome. You have an obligation . . .”
“Indeed, I do. I shall get my mentor Galeth, and I must contact my companions Dagda, Dweezil, Lyriae, Sionachie, Dabner . . . and . . . and our best of Felwithe and Kelethin to aid me. Where is it? Where must I go?” Firiona chattered, her eyes darting and brilliant.
“Foolish, selfish child! No!” the voice said harshly. “Why must you continually endanger your closest friends, mentors, and kin, for your own gain? Time and time again you march these good folk toward death! I’m sure Galeth’s scars from the Bloody Kithicor battle with Innoruuk’s Chosen still sting. Should you not carry this burden alone?”
The words were biting, yet Firiona saw wisdom in them.
“Perhaps,” Firiona said, glaring and searching for a face beneath the hood. “But know that I alone shall choose how and when to right this with my own hands. Only I can make the choice to test the truth of your words. If this is not an evil fabrication, then it would be me who brings back the love and care of the Mother. You have no influence here.”
“Indeed. You must follow your heart and I believe you will. It will guide you. I might suggest that you remain in disguise and you must escape the confines of your father’s smothering in order to succeed. You must find your way out of Felwithe unnoticed. I cannot help you more than that and I must take my leave.
“One last thing. Tell me, stranger. Who are you?”
“All will be revealed in time. Now, I beg of you to redeem your errors and restore the Mother’s love. Tunare’s blessings upon you,” the figure quickly turned creating a breeze as its cloak unfurled. It walked out the door and closed it.
Firiona ran to the door and opened it, but the stranger was gone and her guard came ambling down the hall on his regular patrol.
“What is it, your highness?” the guard said, his eyes cast to the wall.
“Nothing . . . actually, wait. Bring my armor, would you? I long to feel its weight on my shoulders once again to comfort me,” she asked.
“It is under lock and key, your highness. Your father forbids any to touch it,” the guard said nervously.
“Don’t be foolish. He meant, all but me, its rightful owner. Do fetch it and hurry. I grow tired . . . You would not want me to complain of your willfulness to my father, would you, knight?” Firiona said with a wry grin.
“No your highness. I shall return forthwith,” he said as he turned to walk up the hall. Firiona heard him ask another guard to fill his post for a time.
It wouldn’t be long now, she thought. Firiona’s hands shook with the anticipation of adventure and of turning the tides of her failures.
Soon she would embark on her quest to reunite with the Lifeguide and bring Tunare, the Mother of All, back into her heart and to the rest of those who would follow her.
And while the seconds passed like hours, she plotted her escape from Felwithe.
The Search for the Chosen
From early morning hours and into the setting of Ro, the bells of alarm tolled in Felwithe. Citizens and soldiers of Kelethin and Felwithe were all called to aid in the search for King Tearis Thex’s daughter, Firiona Vie. Even the best of the Faydark’s Champions, the renowned Kelethin wood elf rangers’ guild, found no evidence of her on Faydwer.
Tearis was fraught with worry and frustration. He feared his daughter was taken from him a second time. His mood was dark and very few dared to approach the king for fear of what he might say or do.
One by one, the king summoned all of the palace guards on the previous night’s watch to question them about the disappearance of his beloved daughter and Chosen of Tunare. Each guard trembled as the king intimidated and berated them.
“You are a mindless twit,” he hissed to one. “How difficult can it be to watch over one girl in one room? How thick is your skull that you can fail such a simple task?!”
With only a few guards left to question, the king shrouded his growing terror with anger. The next guard in line entered Tearis’ chambers and slowly kneeled before him. The guard’s face was unusually pale and glistened with sweat. His eyes remained cast to the polished marble tiles of the floor.
“How could one so frail of countenance and stature even achieve the ranks of the royal guard?! Speak your name and explain your actions of last night before I tear the fear from your face with my blade!” Tearis yelled in a manner rarely seen in a high elf.
“My name is Neallue. I will only confess that I did as I was asked and live by your command,” the guard spoke softly.
Tearis’ fast pacing in front of Neallue suddenly stopped and he turned and glared into the very spirit of the guard.
“What do you mean you were doing as you were asked?” Tearis asked.
“I fulfilled Firiona’s request before she retired. Your highness, she asked that her armor be brought to her to wear for comfort,” he replied. “She closed her door behind her and I was relieved of my post shortly afterward, sire.”
Tearis simply stood and stared, unsure of what direction to continue his questioning because he did not want to consider what this new information could mean.
For Neallue, the silence was suffocating. He had his own beliefs as to why Firiona disappeared, but did not want to utter them. The implications were great and, he assumed, voicing his notions would bring an end to his young life by the angry king’s blade.
Finally, the king spoke and asked the very thing the guard did not want to answer.
“Tell me, imbecile. Did it occur to you at the time that she may want her armor for any other reason?”
“No sire. She took the armor and closed her door, I swear on my life and the greatness of the Mother of All. That is the last I saw of her. I heard nothing and no one until the bells sounded after I retired,” Neallue said, hoping that was enough.
But it wasn’t.
“So, then, what do you suppose all of this means? Especially now that her armor seems to have left with her?” Tearis growled, boring into the guard with his light eyes.
“I would imagine she was either taken from us or she left of her own accord, sire, but I cannot imagine why she would leave our great city of Felwithe and her father,” the guard said.
In some way, Tearis ached for someone else to be responsible for suggesting what seemed obvious to him now. Firiona had left him of her own free will. It was a simple truth that choked his heart. All at once, his mind was barraged with the many reasons why she might have left and a shroud of guilt enveloped him.
Painful memories and shame of years past washed over him. He remembered locking his wife in a tower in Felwithe in anger and how months later she had suddenly died, not knowing her death brought him a daughter. He remembered all those years he missed with Firiona and the dark irony that the very high elf he cast out of Felwithe, Galeth Veredeth, raised and trained her as his own to become the Chosen of Tunare. While his reasons for putting Firiona under heavy guard were different than the reasons he hid away his wife, he had accepted he stole their freedom for good reasons.
Tearis was always envious of Galeth and his relationship with Firiona. He refused to let Galeth visit her for that reason alone. In his heart Tearis knew he would never be the father that Galeth had been to Firiona, but he didn’t want to encourage their relationship. It made his stomach burn and his throat tighten as his thoughts built a foundation for his daughter to leave him.
The guard did not move and continued to stare at the floor as the king mulled over his thoughts. Then, Tearis spoke.
“Leave me now and find Galeth Veredeth. Bring him to me at once. Should you fail this task too, you shall be struck down. I promise you,” Tearis emptily threatened.
Neallue ran through the city as fast as his armored legs would allow, sliding and scrambling as his plate boots slid across the marble floors.
Having heard the news while continuing to practice the arts of a high paladin, Galeth was already nearing the castle when he received word he was to be presented to the king. The paladin was afraid and confused by the news. He had always stayed near the castle, wanting to remain close to Firiona without alerting Tearis to his presence.
Galeth ignored his emotions so he could focus on what actions he would take to find Firiona once more. He was escorted by Neallue into Tearis’ chambers, where the king met his eyes with a purposeful glare.
“Galeth,” the king said flatly.
“Your highness,” Galeth said with an equal lack of emotion.
“By your timely arrival, I would guess you have heard word of Firiona’s disappearance.”
“Indeed sire. I was surprised you had summoned me as you have forbidden any involvement with Firiona at all,” Galeth said with a biting honesty.
“You know very well why I forbid you to come here. There are some things in the past that I cannot forget, nor should I,” the king sneered.
Galeth seemed unmoved by Tearis’ show of loathing.
“I am glad to see that you have come to understand that there are greater things to consider than your anger with me and your conjecture. I will tell you, however, that you will have to hold me prisoner or kill me if you command that I not attempt to find Firiona,” Galeth stated.
“Don’t push me,” Tearis said as he moved to stand toe-to-toe with Galeth. “For the time being, I will reinstate you as a general. I charge you with finding Firiona. You have all of the resources of my kingdom to aid you . . . as for our other conflicts — those will wait for a time. I suspect there truly is no other that would have greater success finding Firiona.”
“Very well. I will take my leave and prepare,” Galeth said evenly as he turned to leave.
Tearis was unable to stop himself from having the last word.
“I want you to know Galeth . . . I never forget and I rarely forgive.”
Galeth’s blood ran cold.
“Indeed. And look what it has brought you,” Galeth said with his back to Tearis.
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence as their contempt for each other filled the room.
Then, Galeth made his way to the door.
Once outside, Galeth’s shoulders slumped and his anger gave way to fear and guilt. At that moment, he decided to enter the Plane of Growth and confront Tunare, the Mother of All.
It had been a long time since they’d spoken.
The Scholar Emerges
Deep under the city of Erudin, a secret laboratory was alive with humming magic lanterns. In the humid and musty rooms, books were piled from marble floor to stone ceiling in nearly every corner as each of the many bookshelves was chockfull of tomes, papers, and scrolls. Several desks were placed haphazardly in the main study, completely buried in all manner of things. Over one desk, a drop of condensation fell on an open manuscript and splattered across its open pages.
“What in the . . .,” a grumbling voice uttered as he looked up at the ceiling. With a quick incantation, the wizard set the ceiling ablaze for a moment, drying it completely.
Al`Kabor had spent hundreds of years in this laboratory and always kept it hidden as he was the only one that knew how to teleport to it — well, almost the only one. It didn’t take him long to fill eight shoddy rooms with shelves and books. The adjoining passages that were part of this forgotten underground of Erudin were also piled with tomes and trinkets of magic. He was simply out of room and it was woefully untidy.
“The greatest wizard in all of Norrath and beyond and I’m living in a sty,” Al`Kabor sighed.
“First of all, ‘greatest wizard’ is up for some debate, and this is your mess,” a voice said from behind him.
“Foul little halfling. I told you never to use that bloody teleport potion unless it was an emergency — an emergency consisting of delivering me new materials or information. I don’t have time for your constant chatter and rather uncomely feet. How do you live with yourself?” Al`Kabor said, irritated by uninvited company, but somewhat relieved to see a friendly face. It had been a while since he had seen anyone from the rabble of Firiona Vie’s friends. Dreezil was one he could not easily forget.
“You’re a grumpy ole so-and-so, you are. At least some things never change, eh? You definitely look older and gained a heap around the middle!” Dreezil Pocketdip said, poking the wizard’s belly with the hilt of his dagger.
“Get off me, you toe-rotting stump,” Al`Kabor growled as he tried swatting away the rogue’s taunts, but Dreezil kept dodging him. “Oh for pity’s sake, stop. What on earth has brought you here to make my laboratory stink like the dregs of a sewer?”
“Right, down to business. I’m afraid my news isn’t good Al. Firiona is missing. Being the greatest wizard on Norrath, I would have thought you’d heard,” Dreezil taunted.
“First, halfling runt, don’t EVER call me ‘Al,’ and second, how could that silly high elf find herself in trouble yet again. Is she doing this for her own amusement? She certainly may have the touch of the divine, but in my estimation, she’s a bit thick in the . . . ,” Al`Kabor then pointed to his head and tapped his temple with a long, bony finger.
“Oh, shut up, old bellyacher. For all yer whinin’ and gripin’ I know you care about her. Now hurry. Galeth sent me to get you and that’s just what I’m goin’ to do. That and there will be something to gain out of all of this for you, so pack your things and let’s go,” Dreezil’s last words rushed out so he could sneeze. “Look at this dust! You’re living like a gnoll. About as good-lookin’ too.”
“Galeth, hm? But I would really prefer to just stay here and continue my studies. As you so kindly pointed out, I’m not getting any younger and I have plans and things I need to accomplish before time is wrested from me altogether,” Al`Kabor said, guiltless.
“Fine, you said your piece, now let’s go,” Dreezil said.
Al`Kabor stood and stared at Dreezil for a moment and then adjusted his robe so it better hid some of the faults of his form. He then turned and walked to a back room and spoke with resignation.
“Very well. But I will return if I get bored or find it’s a waste of time. For all we know, that foolish high elf is dead.”
A Grim Reunion
There was still no word from Firiona Vie. Her mentor, Galeth Veredeth, felt his spirit grow heavy with fear and his mind ache with hours of contemplation as he passed through the Faydarks on his way to Ak’Anon, the gnome city.
For many days he searched for Firiona alone and had no luck. A darkening dread in his heart urged him to seek the aide of the best and brightest Norrathians he’d ever known.
As he left the Faydarks, Galeth came upon Dreezil Pocketdip, a runt of a rogue halfling and a long-time companion of Firiona. Dreezil left Rivervale to find Galeth as soon as he’d heard the news of Firiona’s disappearance. Galeth immediately bade Dreezil to visit Al`Kabor to ask if he would join in their search. Dreezil was mildly irritated by Galeth’s abruptness, but took on the task without question. He soon disappeared into the shadows, making his way to the continent of Odus to find the old wizard.
In the Steamfont Mountains, Galeth could finally see the entrance of the great gnome city. And when Galeth passed through its gates, there were stares and whispers as all of the citizens watched him. Farther into the city, gnomes were pouring out of every path and whirring building in droves as word traveled as fast as clockwork gears that the legendary paladin had arrived.
With some difficulty moving around the small streets and walkways, Galeth came upon the humble home of Dabner Drednever. He knocked and opened the door, crouching to peek inside.
Galeth’s gaze was confronted by the sorrowful visages of three familiar faces. There before him stood Dabner and his lifelong gnomish friend, Ognit Eznertob. And sitting awkwardly in the corner was Dagda Icefury, the striking barbarian who had long considered herself a protector of the gnomes. Galeth cleared his throat.
“Greetings, my friends. It has been too long since we’ve set eyes upon each other. I only wish we could have been brought together by a less worrisome occasion,” he said gravely.
It had been a long time since they had all stood together, side-by-side, and faced dark forces. They fought together in Kithicor Forest against Innoruuk’s Child of Hate and against the dark powers of Danak Dhorentath, the iksar shaman who abducted Firiona when Kunark was discovered.
Since Firiona’s rescue from the clutches of Danak, the world turned to other matters and the close companions went their separate ways to resume their lives. But for all of them, something was missing. And for each one, it was difficult to adjust from lives burning with purpose to ones that seemed to have none.
Galeth settled in on the floor and grabbed the small mug of ale that Dabner had ready for him. They all began to talk, sharing their views, theories, and fears about Firiona, and catching up on where they’d been.
There came a knock at the door. A round, gruff face with shaggy brown hair appeared and smiled.
“Ah! So we’re not too late! Thank Bristlebane for me good humor with this sack of flour draggin’ behind me,” Dreezil said as he rolled his eyes and motioned behind him.
“This has — without a doubt — been the most trying journey of my life . . . and not because of the physical strain,” Al`Kabor groaned as he entered the room, ducking and shoving Dreezil aside. “I have never in my days on Norrath heard someone natter so much about so bloody little.”
The mood in the room was brightened by the harmless ribbing the halfling and erudite afforded each other. As they all shuffled to make room for the new arrivals, a melodic voice rose above the chatter and caught their ears.
“I do hope you planned to wait for us,” Sionachie Heartsinger, the half-elf troubadour, said with an alluring smirk. Just over her slender shoulders, a set of bright eyes in dark skin peered into the room. It was Lyirae Oakwynd, the brave wood elf ranger and twin sister of Firiona’s fallen companion Lorisyn.
“Now then, we are all here. Let’s get to the matter at hand,” Galeth said with an air of confidence as they began to shape their plan to find their beloved Firiona.
Child of Hate Returns
Though the gods have been silent to mortals for some time, they are not stagnant. Innoruuk, the Prince of Hate, still holds a burning hatred for Tunare, the mother of the Plane of Growth, and her disgustingly fair elves. He still fondly recalls how he surprised the meddling Tunare by robbing her of the first Elddar elven king and queen of Takish-Hiz whom he transformed into his own race of dark elves. But when Innoruuk’s own ill-gotten daughter, Lanys T`Vyl, faced Tunare’s chosen champion, Firiona Vie, at the battle in Kithicor Forest and lost her ground, the Prince of Hate was overtaken by a sickening disappointment.
He would not have his child embarrass him a second time. After Lanys was rescued from certain death at the hands of Firiona, she was returned to Hate and summarily chained and locked in a cell.
Having left his concerns with mortals behind, Lanys quickly became Innoruuk’s obsession. He sickened and tortured her, keeping her flesh hovering between life and death, hour after hour, day after day. Innoruuk sought to strengthen her hate, will, and resolve and exact the full measure of his disappointment. In his estimation, he had bestowed a great dark gift upon her and imbued her with an even grimmer magic. She became a more twisted and hateful creature in Norrath.
Innoruuk viewed this time of torment as a rebirth for his daughter. His design was to create the most powerful soldier of Hate and unleash her when the time was right. Lanys would play a unique role in the tides of Norrath’s future, Innoruuk believed. She would be the one to spill the blood of the innumerous good and erode their stronghold on the world. Innoruuk would have the revenge against the gods, particularly Tunare, he so long wished for without having a hand it in himself. Without breaking The Turning Pact that all gods agreed to when Norrathians confronted them in their homes.
Lanys now feared no one, not even her father. All the while she was tortured the one image on her mind was that of Firiona’s determined face — the one that met her in Kithicor Forest. The death of Firiona was her focus; her goal.
Only days ago, Lanys was removed from her chains and carried to her chambers. She knew her father felt that her time had come. She was given the freedom to walk the halls of Hate for a time until she was conveniently sent a letter that detailed the rescue of Firiona Vie at the Tower of Frozen Shadows. Her mind and body lusted for revenge when she read that Firiona was out in the world, alive and well, and not well protected. The perfect prey. In an instant, Lanys saw her path was clear.
Lanys’ plan was simple. She would start with the extermination of Firiona and her friends. Then, someday, she hoped to return to the Plane of Hate to tear the throne from her father.
That same night, Lanys passed into her father’s throne room and took a small flesh-bound box from a locked cabinet. The wickedly nubile dark elven princess waved her hand over the box and it slowly opened. Inside was an ebony stone that drew light from around it. She closed the box with a slight smile and prepared to leave the Plane of Hate.
Lanys shrouded herself in shadow as she quickly moved through Neriak — through the Foreign Quarter, first and third gates of Neriak, and deeper until she found herself facing King Naythox Thex among his warriors, though he could not see her.
Without warning and as quickly as an asp, Lanys grabbed the king’s throat, squeezing it tightly. The king choked and grabbed at Lanys as she came into full view.
“Lanys, you are forbidden. You are nary a child of our father. You are a failure!,” King Naythox chortled without fear.
“No, you are the failure! You let the creatures of light walk freely over you. You have weakened our kind. My father and I will not let it continue,” Lanys hissed, raking her nails across his face, drawing dark blood.
“You . . . will . . . give . . . me . . . all . . . that . . . I . . . wish,” she said and with each word, Lanys continued to gouge at the king’s body with the power and quickness of a lioness, slicing right through his plate armor.
“What makes you think you will triumph where you have already failed,” Naythox said, blind to the pain, but showing signs of weakness.
“I have not suffered to accommodate your brazenness. You will work for my father and me, or you will suffer unlike anything you can dream. I feel I should give you a mere sample, hm?” Lanys said as she raised her hands. They began to glow. Naythox looked into her eyes with utter spite as she brought her hands down upon him, drawing his soul to the edge of his mortal being, pummeling and bruising every bone in his body at the same time.
The king could not contain himself and cried out in agony, a shrill, terrified scream. It was not long before he fell to the floor, barely breathing and unconscious.
With little effort at all, Lanys dragged the king through the city of Neriak as onlookers dropped to their knees in fear and awe, until she arrived at the House of the Dead. And when the princess of Hate called out to Queen Cristanos Thex, it made the walls rumble and dust fall from the heights of the underground caverns.
The queen emerged and bowed to the Child of Hate, a glint of satisfaction in her eyes.
“I believe this is yours?” Lanys said as she heaved King Naythox to Cristanos’ feet.
The queen smiled wickedly and bowed low once more.
“Oh, Child of Hate. What brings you to this dark home of ours?” the queen asked.
“The time has come to take the victory that should have been ours. I will command anyone I require of Neriak to build an army — even an undead one. We will march upon the creatures of light,” Lanys said with some satisfaction. “And Firiona will not survive this time.”
“The Primordial Malice and, as I’m sure Naythox will agree to if he wakes, all dark elves and those trolls are at your disposal,” Cristanos said.
“I will take anything that can wield a weapon or cast spells. I can train or turn some of them into my bound servants,” Lanys said. “First, bring me your best warrior. Now.”
Queen Cristanos nodded and called to a handmaiden who promptly arrived. Cristanos whispered in her ear and she ran into the darkness. When she returned, a strong, older warrior followed her.
“Stand there. Be still,” Lanys said. The warrior, Vyeer Yi`Traq, stood there motionless with a look of suspicion.
From an ornate, gemmed belt bag, Lanys withdrew a small box. She opened it and took out the dark soulstone, holding it in her right hand. With her left hand, she grabbed the warrior’s neck and closed her eyes. The hand with the stone began to glow and the magic rippled over and up her arm and down the other, and then encased the warrior. Vyeer’s eyes widened and he staggered back and forth while the magic passed through his body. Then, almost as quickly as it began, the magic ebbed.
The guard blinked and his expression slowly twisted into one that was much more sinister.
“Ah, welcome back. Let’s get to work,” Lanys said, with a wicked smile.
“‘Tis good to be back, for certain. I’m rather thirsty for blood too,” Laarthik K’Shin said. When Laarthik, Lanys’ mentor, called upon Innoruuk to rescue Lanys during the Bloody Kithicor battle, his body was incinerated, but his soul was imbued into the stone he held to open a the portal to Hate. She was able to grasp the stone before being drawn into Hate.
“Aye, don’t worry, my friend. You will be well fed,” Lanys said as they left to recruit and train as many dark elves, trolls and even ogres as they could find with their eye on amassing in the Overthere.
Plea to the Mother of All
With the protection of goodhearted Norrathians, Galeth Veredeth, the high paladin sent by King Tearis Thex of Felwithe to find Firiona Vie, finally found his way to Tunare’s home, the Plane of Growth. He wandered through the grasslands and among the trees alive with all of the Mother’s creatures. A forest spirit inched alongside Galeth and eyed him with solace and recognition. Galeth began to feel whole again.
It had been many years since he’d been there. Too many, Galeth thought. He was reminded of the simplicity of living among Tunare’s children in the plane and being a part of something magnificent and regal.
For hours he wandered a familiar path as he contemplated his past until he suddenly found himself at the bottom of the great and mystical tree — the tree where the Mother resided.
Majestic treants groaned in the soft wind as their branches swayed gently to and fro, giving thanks and prayer to their goddess. Their eyes followed Galeth as he made his way slowly up the tree. At its height, Tunare’s strongest and sleekest feline beasts snarled and bared their long fangs, their ears flattening as they readied to pounce. They slowly circled Galeth, assessing him with their deep yellow eyes, and slowly backed away with a look of confusion.
Galeth passed through, but Tunare was nowhere to be found. Galeth’s heart sunk.
“Mother of All, I beseech you. I beg of you to hear my plea,” Galeth shouted. The gentle breeze and the ruffling of leaves were his only answer. He had known that Tunare had turned her back on her children, that she was forced to through a pact amongst the gods, but he did not expect her to shun him too — one of her very own children of the plane.
In despair, Galeth fell to his knees and was compelled to voice what he had held within for many a year. All of his guilt; all of the truth.
“I am sorry I left you, Mother . . . and this place. My home. I am sorry I did not request your blessing to bear the burden of bringing good and evil to balance in Norrath. To forsake my life in Growth was forbidden, but I was young and felt I was doing right by you,” Galeth cried out and continued, fearing if he stopped he would never own up to his mistakes and be forgiven.
“I did not steal this body that is not my own. On a field of battle between elf and orc I found this shell and made it my own. Mother, I beg your forgiveness . . . for leaving you, this place and my blessed life as one of your servants. I wanted to serve you better . . .,” he paused a moment. There was still no answer.
“There are many things I still do not understand and I do not question. Falling in love with Allisea, King Tearis’ queen, was unexpected and pure and what that love yielded is still beyond my comprehension. My heart aches with every beat when my daughter is not near me. I feel I am dying inside — not in this body — but in my spirit,” Galeth said.
Saddened, Galeth leaned back on his heels and gazed to the sky as the wind tousled his hair. He remembered his passage into the mortal realm, becoming a high elf, and growing into a skilled and powerful fighter under the tutelage of his guildmaster, Tynkale. He rose quickly in the ranks of the royal guard of Felwithe.
Then he met King Tearis Thex himself, a high elf with unwavering beliefs and morals, and the queen, Allisea. She was a stunning elf with golden hair. She had an unsurpassed intelligence and a dry sarcasm that always made him smile. Firiona looked like her mother.
Galeth cared deeply for both the king and his wife and the kingdom of Felwithe and served them faithfully. His valor and service led him to become the king’s advisor.
While often at the king’s side, Galeth spent much of his time in the palace and often found himself in the company of Allisea. They had a profound respect and fondness for one another, something which the king noticed and did not like. Galeth did not know the king had suspicions about his intentions or that he was being followed.
One fine morning, Galeth accompanied Allisea to the pond in the courtyard of the palace. He remembered how beautiful she looked as the sunlight reflected off the water and rippled across her flawless pale skin. She glowed. As they stood and stared into each other’s eyes, they grew quiet and both reached out their hands and intertwined their fingers without thought. After several moments, a horse whinnied and broke their entrancement. They quickly pulled back from one another, stunned by the glorious and terrifying realization that they were in love.
They walked slowly back to the palace in silence, occasionally glancing at each other with a glints of embarrassment and sadness.
Though they did not know it, they were seen by the wood elf rogue the king sent to follow them. The wood elf now faced the grim task of telling the king what she saw, though she recognized the beauty and innocence of it. Duty overcame compassion.
That night, after the evening meal, Galeth met Allisea out in the Greater Faydark so she could watch the sunset, as she often did. This night, he brought his horse and lifted her upon it to sit behind him as they rode to a hilltop. It was that night that he and Allisea let their hearts guide them; the night Firiona was brought into Norrath.
It was also that very eve when Galeth and Allisea returned to the city to find the way blocked by guards. The queen was taken from the horse and whisked inside the city gates as it was announced that King Tearis had barred Galeth from reentering the city, citing his failure as a royal advisor. Not long after that night, Galeth learned that Allisea was locked in one of the palace towers, never to leave.
Sadness and shame overcame Galeth and he struggled to contain his tears.
“I have caused so much heartache. I lost the woman I love because I did not have the will and honor strong enough to see past my heart. She died because of the strain of bringing a child of immortal and mortal essence into the world. I have lost my daughter a second time. I feel I can endure no more and my work is not done. I still strive to aid my child in striking a balance in this world — a task you charged her with,” Galeth paused, trying to calm his nerves.
“I beg you, merciful Tunare, help me. Give me your blessing to aid me in finding your chosen and my child,” Galeth’s words trailed off. He was exhausted from the strain of reliving a history that plagued him.
As he sat, he felt a tickle on the back of his neck and a warm rush of air blew his hair onto his face. He turned his head and a smile began to lighten his tortured face.
There, with a triumphant sparkle in its eye, was the Avatar of Growth, a glowing white steed of unmatched purity and elegance. Galeth had been blessed by Tunare, though she could not speak it herself. She sent the avatar as her messenger.
With a silent prayer of thanks, Galeth mounted the steed and set off to find his daughter, and Tunare’s Chosen, Firiona Vie.
The steady rhythm of Lanys T’Vyl’s gritty footsteps echoed off of the walls of Karnor’s Castle as she passed through it, unchallenged. A satisfied smirk marked the Child of Hate’s dark-skinned, sultry face as she relished the hate and fear of the undead that watched her walk by.
Lanys arrived at Venril Sethir’s chamber doorway and smugly leaned against the wall and crossed her arms.
“That gaggle of bones you gave me left a lot to be desired in battle out there, Venril. How you’ve managed to survive is one of this feeble land’s mysteries, to be sure,” she said indignantly.
Venril hissed and moved closer to Lanys, hovering over her.
“Lady of Hate, your jesting is one of your greatest foibles, but your arrogance is crippling. My work with you is done, however, so I do expect I will not be seeing you again,” Venril said.
“I may not be done with you yet. I simply won’t rest until the light-loving races all find themselves rotting and sinking into the lands, especially Tunare’s slave — Firiona Vie,” Lanys snarled, her irritation with her failure to kill Firiona surfaced on her face.
“I care not what your motives are. I accomplished what I needed to and will remain satisfied for some time,” Venril’s scaled visage almost revealed a smile, which greatly confused the daughter of Innoruuk.
“What could you have possibly gained? You sat on your scaled laurels while your lands ran red with the blood of the good — an act I might characterize as cowardice,” Lanys said.
“Do you honestly believe I would bend so easily to your demands to take my loyal subjects into war if I had nothing to gain?” Venril said, relishing the opportunity to reveal his achievements to Lanys. “In fact, you may enjoy this.”
Lanys was very near ready to take her blade to Venril for his impudence, but then looked on with interest, quietly. Venril recounted his recent activities, starting with Tserrina Syl’Tor’s successes with transmuting the magic of the Lifeguide, Tunare’s gift to Firiona, to suit his own ends. Tserrina believed that the full capability of the Lifeguide’s magic was incomplete and needed Firiona Vie’s presence to continue her work — to get the full benefit of the magic. She required Firiona’s essence as a half-child of Growth.
Venril explained how Tserrina was able to separate and change the Lifeguide’s invaluable crystal so that its soul-bound owner could manipulate any creature’s memories. Venril became that owner. With the crystal, he was able to easily walk through Felwithe, stealing the memories of any who saw him.
Lanys’ interest piqued as Venril detailed how he planted enough seeds of guilt in Firiona’s heart to make her leave Felwithe of her own accord to find the Lifeguide, delivering her into the hands of Tserrina for the final spell for the crystal. Even though Tserrina never did get her chance, it did not matter. Venril was satisfied with the crystal. And he was amused by the news that Firiona had taken the Lifeguide from the Tower of Frozen Shadow — a now virtually useless weapon with a false crystal.
Venril hissed as he spoke of the dragons of Norrath, particularly the Ring of Scale, and while Lanys was not surprised to hear of his desire for revenge, she was impressed by his methods. It was the Ring of Scale, and Trakanon in particular, that were the catalysts that brought the end of the Sebilisian Empire that Venril created.
As he paced around the room, Venril continued his tale, walking through each step of his plan. He told of how he returned to his old home, the city of Sebilis, and into Trakanon’s lair after he sent Firiona in search of her missing staff. Using the Lifeguide’s crystal, Venril searched Trakanon’s memories and discovered what no one had known — details of the Nest — where dragons were born and raised. He also learned that the cycle of birth for the next dragons — a time known as the Brood Dawn — was rapidly approaching. He chose to prevent the young wyrms from taking their first breaths. That would be his revenge.
Using the knowledge he obtained from Trakanon, Venril began to shape a collage of deception that would have others acting on his behalf so his plan may come to fruition without interference. He built and bought distractions, having the Solusek Mining Company dig their way to the Nest with the promise of riches.
Lanys’ arrival in the Dreadlands to mount an attack against the city of Firiona Vie was a fortunate coincidence for Venril. When Lanys entered Karnor’s Castle and demanded soldiers for her army, Venril recognized that allowing his fallen comrades to fight with her in any battle would be a worthy distraction as he anxiously awaited the opening of the Nest. While a war raged outside his castle walls, Venril became reacquainted with all of necromantic arts he learned from his Shissar masters so many moons ago, to create a most unusual curse — a very specific curse that would become the coup de grace of his vengeance.
Venril continued to move around his chamber, focusing on the details, while Lanys looked on, fascinated. He said that when he sorted through Trakanon’s memories, he learned of two storm dragons that protected the eggs in the Nest that would bring the next generation of Veeshan’s children to Norrath. Their names were Yar`Lir and Vishimtar. He learned of their magical bond and the ward they formed together that served to protect the Nest from disruption and corruption. Venril used this knowledge as the stage for his final act.
Venril had managed to create a curse that, once unleashed, would disturb the Brood Dawn and corrupt any egg or creature it touched. He could not release the powerful curse himself as he would undoubtedly be caught in it. It did not take long for Venril to see a perfect solution that would bring horror to the dragons.
While there were no guarantees, he knew that as soon as the Nest was discovered, mortal Norrathians of all races would pour into the area like a grim infestation, just like they did on his own continent of Kunark. He knew they would kill anything and everything should it stand in their way.
Venril reworked the curse and created a unique ward for it. If all went as planned, the curse would unfurl when the strong magical bond between Yar`Lir and Vishimtar was broken and the Nest was left with no magical protection. All this would require is the death of either dragon. Venril felt this was a safe gamble.
He was right.
Norrathians eagerly aided the bumbling Solusek Mining Company and expedited passage into the Nest. In the chaos of that day, as the Nest was breached and Tirranun, the dragon of lava, rained fire in Lavastorm, Venril was able to slip into the Nest undetected having learned of a hidden path that Trakanon unwittingly revealed to him. Venril was able to place the curse in the Nest with ease as all the creatures of the Nest scampered in confusion that day. With the curse planted, Venril then disappeared into the darkness and waited.
And so it came to pass, sooner than he’d imagined. Norrathians rampaged through the dragon temples and through Thundercrest Isles, soon taking the life of Yar`Lir. With that killing blow, the curse was unleashed in the Nest below Yar`Lir’s Thundercrest Isles, spreading so fast there was no time to react. Even the storm dragon, Vishimtar, succumbed to the curse, becoming a twisted dragon of shadows. The curse decimated the unborn dragons and ruined every creature that stood in its wake.
As Venril finished his tale, a grin grew on Lanys’ face. She walked forward to Venril, clapping her hands, slow and loud.
“First, I have to say that your actions could be considered treacherous. Second, I’m pleased that the Dark Reign, my army, was able to assist in this plan, albeit unknowingly. Third, you do serve my father, Innoruuk, so I will grant you pardon. I might even suggest that this quaint story be used as a shining example of the superiority of hate over all,” Lanys said.
“I care not what you think of my deeds. I only care that it was done, as I planned, and the dragons of Norrath have felt the consequences of their actions against me and my kin,” Venril said disinterestedly. “Now, go. I will not support your cause and you have built a fair army of your own now.”
“I will do as I please, Venril, and do not forget that! I am the daughter of the Prince of Hate and take orders from no one. However, it is true, I do not need you or your lingering minions, but I would very much like to learn of this curse, especially if you drew from the power of hate,” Lanys said.
“Sit and I will tell you, but know that should this curse not be contained, you could bring destruction to Norrath. Only I know how to stop it and that is something I will not share,” Venril said.
“No matter to those of us who aren’t mortal, Venril, hm? Show me!”
Return to Felwithe
At the shores of the Lake of Ill Omen, Firiona dressed the deep wound on her shoulder with a salve that Al`Kabor made for her. The disease that spread through her from a tainted blade was slowly being cured. But, it was not healing well and she was still dizzy and weak.
“Let me do that for you, Firiona,” Galeth Veredeth, her father, said. “Sit down.”
He crouched next to her and lovingly wrapped her shoulder with bandages.
“Father, I know this may not please you, but I must return to Felwithe. I must see the king. There is much to tell him and I also must ask for his aid,” Firiona said in a raspy voice, her throat constantly dry and cracked from her illness.
Galeth handed her his flask and she sipped the water carefully, wincing with each swallow.
“I do understand and do not begrudge him. He was your father for most of your life and I accept that. I only hope he is as understanding. This news will not be easy for him to hear. I will journey there with you, but as soon as we see the gates and it appears safe, I will let you walk through alone,” Galeth sighed as he looked across the water. “He has been angry with me for years, and rightfully so. It will be best for me to stay behind.”
“Thank you, father. I think it best if I go alone and deliver this news, but I do want you by my side for the journey, and afterward. Can we leave soon?” she asked.
“You are not well, but perhaps your wounds would be better tended to within Felwithe and you may be safer,” Galeth said. “Ognit, Dabner and Dagda, Sionachie and Lyirae can continue to watch your city and kill what dark creatures they can.”
“I resent that!” Al`Kabor said as he wandered down the beach, catching the tail end of their conversation on the light breeze. “I’ve wandered in the mud, brush and shrubs for hours trying to find what was needed for that salve. And let’s not forget that I can turn just about anything that comes this way into cinders, or whatever I choose. High elves. So hopeless.”
“Really, wizard. Did you not notice we were overrun and that we lost our city of Firiona Vie to Lanys? Where were your powers then? Or were you too busy with your nose in a book?” Galeth jibed.
“Ha ha, very funny. I had two choices, save your feeble bones, or fight an army by myself. I chose to protect you, though perhaps I made the wrong choice,” he said sternly.
“Stop it, you two. I don’t have the energy to laugh, but you do always manage to lift my spirits,” Firiona said.
And with that they gathered their supplies and Al’Kabor opened a portal to Greater Faydark. When the city gates came into view, Galeth paused.
“Al`Kabor, go with her and watch over her. I will remain here in the woods. Should it take hours or days, do not worry. Take your time and do what needs to be done. I love you, my daughter, and hope that all goes well,” Galeth said.
Firiona thanked her father, embraced him tightly, and then left with the wizard to Felwithe.
Upon arriving at Felwithe, there was much fanfare, but there was a constant hiss of whispers. Firiona was given a mount to ride through the city and she did not look well. Her golden hair was dingy and matted and her armor and clothing were ruined. It was not the homecoming most had hoped for.
As soon as King Tearis Thex heard word that Firiona had returned, he raced to meet her in the dining hall. He watched as she was escorted inside and noted Al`Kabor was with her, not Galeth.
But when he saw her closer, if his high elven skin could pale, it would have.
“Call upon all the clerics at once!” Tearis yelled as he approached Firiona. Two guards immediately ran to carry out the order.
“My poor girl, what has happened? Who did this to you? Did Galeth have a hand in this?” Tearis said.
“Your majesty, I am fine, and no, Galeth has stayed behind for now. I have much to discuss if we may, but I’m tired,” Firiona said, sitting in a chair at an unfathomably long table. “If I could rest a while, maybe we can talk this evening?”
“Anything you wish, my dear. I’m just delighted you are home. I will allow a celebration in the city in your honor, but you and I will dine tonight,” Tearis said, ignoring Al`Kabor, who was now quite irritated with being treated with such disregard and cleared his throat.
“Al`Kabor will join us for dinner, but I will speak to you alone before that. He will spin a fine tale of our battle, but I will tell you, it wasn’t good,” Firiona said.
“Fine, then you will see our clerics and then rest until you are ready. Welcome home, my dear,” the king said.
A Daughter Undone
The clerics of Felwithe told King Tearis Thex that Princess Firiona’s condition was direr than it appeared. They believed her strength of will must have allowed her to survive for so long, or her gifts as Tunare’s Chosen. They set to work healing her, but said she would need to rest for a few days.
Tearis sat by her bed and watched her sleep for much of the time, anxious for her to wake. Al`Kabor would surface from the library once in a while to see her, but refused to discuss any details with the king at Firiona’s behest.
Her sunken cheeks and dull hair began to take on their former beauty and she eventually woke, groggy and confused. Disappointed that she had been asleep for five days, she immediately tried to get out of her sick bed.
“Just because you’re awake, doesn’t mean you can go gallivanting about, silly elf,” Al`Kabor said as Firiona tried to stand.
“I’m as much a silly elf as you are a charming erudite, my friend,” Firiona said with a grin.
“Oh, I see you’ve adopted your father’s inane sense of humor. Wonderful,” Al`Kabor said, rolling his eyes. His face then froze as he realized what he’d just uttered.
“I beg your pardon?” Tearis said, sitting on the opposite side of the bed to the wizard. Firiona shot Al`Kabor a glare and motioned for him to leave the room.
“What is this? What are you doing?” Tearis looked confused as he watched Al`Kabor mouth “sorry” to his daughter as he left the room.
“I’m sorry this has to happen now, but I suppose there is no time like the present to discuss this matter with you, your majesty. I have some news that will upset you, I have no doubt, but please just listen if you can,” Firiona said, reaching for Tearis’ hand which he gladly gave for her to hold.
“You’re alive. I’m sure there is no news you can bring me that will sully my mood,” Tearis said.
“First, I will you tell that I know why you banished Galeth from Felwithe so many years ago. And, at the time, you were probably right for doing so — but you were too late,” Firiona said, tightening her grip on her father’s hand as he tried to pull away. “That very night you banished him, when you suspected he was becoming too close to my mother, I was conceived. And during the time you locked my mother in the tower because of your suspicions, Galeth and my mother arranged with the servants to have me taken into the forest to be raised by him, my father, for fear you would have me killed as an illegitimate child.”
Tearis’ face twisted into an expression that Firiona had never seen. It was furrowed in many places — anger, sadness, shock.
“So, I am not your daughter or your princess by lineage, but my heart still believes nothing has changed,” Firiona continued. “You were a father to me for many years and I hope that won’t change. I want you to understand and be forgiving after all of these years and stand by me as we march into war against the growing threat of evil in Norrath.”
“Wasn’t I a good father? Like HIM?! He robs me of my wife and then my daughter?!” Tearis blurted out. He stood up and walked around the room. “I was so blind. I knew they were falling in love, but I refused to believe it. I should have acted sooner. No elf would ever dream of that sort of betrayal!”
Firiona looked at him and said, sternly, “So you would prefer I’d never been born? And the most important thing to you right now is how you were betrayed?”
“No, that’s not what I’m saying . . . I lived for years not knowing I had a daughter. Then, you were presented to me — a beautiful adult high elf touched by Tunare, the Mother. And now I learn that you’re not mine at all? And not only that, you are the daughter of my friend and my wife,” Tearis said, his eyes squinting; brow crumpled.
“All I can say for certain is that I think of you as my father still and do love you as a daughter would love her father. But I love Galeth too. I will not choose between you. I want both of you in my life. I need you both,” she said.
Tearis’ paused and all of the muddled expressions on his face fell away, leaving a lifeless one behind. As he spoke, his voice was flat and droning.
“You’re not in a position to ask for anything of me now. As a citizen of Felwithe and Chosen of Tunare, you are granted our protection and good will, but in my eyes, you are not my daughter or the princess of Felwithe. With Galeth’s traitorous blood running through your veins, there is no telling what could happen to this kingdom under your rule,” he said coldly, avoiding eye contact with Firiona. “And as is the law, Galeth is charged with treason and should he dare return to this city, he will be executed. Because of my respect for you as a paladin of Tunare, I will not put a bounty on his head.”
Firiona sat in silence, shocked by the king’s reaction; his bitterness and anger.
“Very well, your majesty. I shall not waste more time on that subject and submit to you a request as Tunare’s Chosen — I need worthy soldiers from Felwithe and Kelethin to join with my army, Norrath’s Keepers. We need aid in this war against Lanys T`Vyl and her Dark Reign horde,” Firiona quickly said, trying to hide the quivering sadness in her voice. “I believe Faydwer is in no danger and all of the good in Norrath must band together against this threat which very nearly saw the end of me.”
Tearis looked at Firiona and her sudden shift into a dutiful paladin hurt him. The admiration and fondness he used to see in her eyes was gone. He expected her to console him, or argue. He knew his temper was rash, but he was under its influence and was unable to ease it under the strain of the ache he felt in his heart. He felt even more despair by Firiona’s apparent indifference.
“I will grant you this under one condition — no one from my battalions will obey any order given by Galeth. He is to be stripped of any title he has. I simply will not allow it. This decree will be given to my elves and I do hope, in some way, Galeth will feel shame and guilt for what he has done, if not worse,” Tearis said with a biting tone.
“Thank you for your mercy, your majesty. Tunare will look fondly upon your kingdom for your generosity,” Firiona said, lowering her head. “I will prepare to leave in the morning.”
“No, Firiona, as a citizen of Felwithe, you will remain here until you are well. I will not have an unfit leader carry my subjects into war. You may stay in this room for that time and it will be the last time,” Tearis turned and walked for the door, pausing as he reached it.
“There are some things that can’t be forgiven or forgotten, child. Perhaps one day you will understand this,” Tearis said, and left the room.
Shadows of Nektulos
From the saddle of her unholy steed, Lanys T`Vyl, the child of Innoruuk, the Prince of Hate, surveyed the trolls as they marched through Nektulos Forest with all of their belongings and wares from Neriak, the dark elf city they called home for a time, to the city of Grobb in the Innothule Swamp. The frogloks had finally lost their foothold in Grobb and now the smelly, foul race of trolls had their home back.
A crooked grin slightly pinched Lanys’ dark, becoming features. While Lanys saw no need to get involved in the skirmish between froglok and troll, she was pleased that the frogloks of Mithaniel Marr and their foolish, unwavering faith in their god of truth and valor had been humbled. Once again, she thought, the frogloks felt Innoruuk’s hand of Hate squeeze their slimy throats. The darkened frogloks in the Rathe Mountains coupled with the trolls’ return to Grobb further spread evil into Antonica. It was time for the Dark Reign to further spread its fingers of evil over the continent.
Lanys was anxious to put into practice the magic she had learned from Venril Sathir — the Curse of the Bound. The curse was so powerful it tainted the ancient dragons of Norrath and Lanys believed the curse could bring an end to Firiona Vie, a half-mortal like herself, and the Chosen of Tunare, the god of nature. With a few alterations in the incantations and reagents of the Curse of the Bound, Lanys believed she could not only ruin Firiona, but also enslave her. Some experimentation was in order and she had a plan in mind.
She kicked her steed into motion and made haste through the forest, making a cursory survey of the lands and then turned to Neriak where dark fates would soon unfurl by her ebony hand.
“Bow to me, Cristanos,” Lanys hissed to Queen Cristanos Thex as she brushed her silvery mane in her chambers. Cristanos did not see Lanys enter, but was in no way surprised to see her standing in her doorway.
“Great Mistress Lanys. What brings you to Neriak this day?” Cristanos asked as she crouched on one knee with her eyes cast at Lanys’ feet.
“You must serve me now in a way that may indeed please you. You will provide a subject that is strong in will and skill. I need a suitable sacrifice that will aid the greater good of the Prince of Hate’s children in Norrath,” Lanys said nonchalantly as her eyes grazed over the ancient tomes and artifacts Cristanos kept in a bookshelf. She picked a tome of arcane magic from the shelf, the Velui D’Xon Exium, an ageless work that contained the origins and requirements of dark elven necromantic magic. She opened it and deftly turned the pages with her long ebony fingernails.
“I have a potion you must deliver to this sacrifice. No suspicion must be raised as the heart of the sacrifice must not be stressed and the mind not clouded by fear. Send prayer to me when you have completed this task and I shall come to gather the sacrifice. I must have your best necromancers at my disposal also,” Lanys said matter-of-factly as she put down the tome and took an intricate obsidian bottle adorned with runes from her wrist satchel. Cristanos immediately recognized the language as one of Sebilisian origin.
“Do not disappoint me,” Lanys said.
“Your will be done, Mistress,” Cristanos said, remaining on one knee. “The Dead will serve you well once more.”
“Be quick about it. When we see this done, we will have in our hands the one thing that may bring all of the embracers of light to their knees,” Lanys said, revealing a wicked smile with teeth that nearly glowed against her dark skin.
As the bright face of the Luclin moon glared down on Norrath that eve, Queen Cristanos sent one of her handmaidens from the Lodge of the Dead to request an audience with her husband, King Naythox Thex, in Nektropos Castle. It had been a long while since they’d spoken. In fact, the last time they parleyed was shortly after Lanys had beaten and battered the king and dragged him to the queen’s feet to make a point — that she was to have Neriak’s full support in her war against Firiona Vie and Norrath’s Keepers. Cristanos was certain that even as the king lay broken at her feet that day, he could feel her satisfaction and pleasure at seeing him in such a state.
A young wisp of a Teir’Dal page returned late that night asking to speak with Cristanos personally as he had brought news from the king. Upon entering, the page announced that Queen Cristanos was “permitted to see the king.”
Cristanos froze when she heard the words fall from the page’s mouth. In her wizened heart, she knew Naythox was goading her, treating her like a commoner.
Fine, she mused, she could play this game just as easily and perhaps with more flare. She eyed the page and smiled, biting her bottom lip ever so slightly, bringing a devious bent to her otherwise pleasant expression.
She blinked her eyes slowly and began to whisper under her breath, her hands making practiced and elegant movements as they danced under the light of the lazy flames that formed over them. The page was mesmerized and hopeful he was about to receive a rare reward.
Cristanos stared deep into the eyes of the page and laughed as her arms extended gracefully in his direction. The flames slid from her forearms and hands like a snake would shed skin and they licked the floor as they sought out the page. The flames were not hot to the touch . . . at first. He watched in wonder as his body became bathed in the orange light of the flames. They were beautiful and alive.
Then he screamed. The flames sought out the marrow of the page’s bones and seeped beneath his skin without extinguishing. In an instant, the young dark elf could feel every bone in his body ignite with fire, his flesh burning from the inside out.
A bewildered look melted across the page’s face. And in mere moments, a smoking pile of ash lay on the ground where the dutiful page once stood.
“Vuzea, come to me,” Cristanos called to her handmaiden. “Sweep up this mess of ashes and put it in a satchel. Dress a lowly servant appropriately and request to speak to the king personally with a message from me. Simply tell him, ‘We received your page’s message and the queen will attend within the hour.’ And make sure the satchel is handed over at that time.”
Vuzea K’Myl recognized what had happened as soon as she entered the room. The unmistakable scent of burnt bone and flesh flooded the air — not entirely unpleasant to the Teir’Dal. And the page she admitted to the room was, of course, no longer there.
Cristanos tolerated Vuzea, a highly intelligent wizard, and found her useful, though she did not approve of her arts. But Vuzea was always a willing and respectful handmaiden.
As for Vuzea, she delighted in Cristanos’ utterly evil nature and happily took on all of the deceitful and deviant tasks her queen offered, including this one. Cristanos had some additional orders for Vuzea which she quietly explained as she handed the wizard a small, decorated vial out of a small curio cabinet.
The queen always made a point to be especially alluring when she visited her husband. She knew she was still the most beautiful and most terrifying female Teir’Dal in Norrath — qualities her husband once admired. And while he hated her more than ever, her intuition told her that he desired her equally.
She walked in the king’s throne room and noted that his expression did not change, though his eyes washed over her like a waterfall. She saw a glint of approval in them.
“You are quite a loathsome creature, my queen. Something I used to take great delight in. Now it is somewhat of an inconvenience,” The king said from his throne, flanked by four guards who stood uneasily, ready to act. Cristanos assumed they’d been told to be wary of her actions.
“You have turned to ash the very son of Vyeer Yi`Traq, the warrior you delivered to Lanys some months ago. I chose to employ him as a page hoping his lineage would be a benefit to me and now you’ve all but destroyed that family,” Naythox said wearily. “Have you no wisdom in the art of political subtlety? This family was at the forefront of the Indigo Brotherhood and they will be none too pleased.”
“The same question could be asked of you, my husband. I do wonder what might be said and done in other kingdoms where a lauded queen is treated with the same disregard and disrespect as you have shown me,” Cristanos stated blatantly. “Regardless, what’s done is done. Let us have a drink and discuss an urgent matter.”
Naythox nodded at two attendants that stood by the door to the king’s throne room and both of them left, one of them quickly glancing at Cristanos.
The king stood and walked toward his private dining room in a small but ornate alcove behind his throne. His guards aligned and began to follow.
“Hold,” Cristanos said, raising her right hand. “You may not enter. What I must discuss with the king is for his ears alone.”
Naythox continued to walk with his back to Cristanos and simply nodded. One guard looked at Cristanos with some suspicion and she smiled back at him, raising an eyebrow, denoting her victory in the matter.
Once inside, the queen took a seat across from her husband at a rectangular ashen table, its edge carved with the runes of the Teir’Dal language. Around the table, the runes repeated, “The Cauldron Binds Us. Hate Above All.”
“What is the matter you’ve come to discuss?” the king asked with remarked disinterest.
“Lanys visited me earlier today. She once again demands the assistance of the Teir’Dal. I agreed as there is no other choice,” the queen said smoothly. “As distasteful as this is, she did promise us one thing . . . that we will overcome Firiona and her kind.”
“The obsession with the high elf is confounding. We should have greater goals. Set our sights on claiming all of these lands as our father would wish it, not fall behind the failings and preoccupations of his pestering child,” Naythox said. “But, as it is, we will aid her.”
Cristanos smiled as the attendants entered the room and set glasses down at the table, filling them both with wine.
“Hate above all, my love,” the queen said.
“Hate above all,” the king said as he drank his wine.
The king saw Cristanos pause and look at him expectantly. In that moment, he knew it was too late to thwart whatever grim design Cristanos had artfully painted and seemed resigned to accept his fate, whatever it might be. His face and body calmly went limp and he appeared to be asleep, right then and there.
“Vuzea,” the queen whispered. “Let us go, now!”
Vuzea, dressed as a king’s attendant, walked in the room and took a small gray stone, a portal fragment, out of a pocket in her tunic. She spoke quietly and closed her eyes and the air around her hands became hazy and shimmered, just as it does above magma in the Lavastorm Mountains. It was not long before Vuzea completed her spell and a large arch of undulating blue light stood before them.
“Grab him and take him through,” Cristanos urged, pointing at Naythox while looking beyond the room to be certain the guards maintained their posts.
Vuzea grabbed the king’s arm and tried not to grunt aloud as she heaved him toward the soft glowing archway. As soon as she and the king’s arm were touched by the shimmering light, they both disappeared. Cristanos quickly followed into the portal.
Cristanos, Vuzea and the unconscious king were teleported directly into the queen’s chambers in the Lodge of the Dead.
“Just leave him there and leave me,” Cristanos said. She readied herself to send prayer to Lanys when she heard a cackle and the sharp slap of clapping hands behind her.
“Ha ha! I should have guessed. I really should have. I’m so very pleased at your choice for a sacrifice, queen. I must admit that I underestimated your devious and vengeful nature,” Lanys said.
Cristanos smiled and bowed on one knee before Lanys.
“Welcome, mistress. I have done as you asked,” Cristanos said.
“Indeed you have. And now we must continue. The king must be moved to the forest at once so our work may begin. It is too dangerous to undertake this experiment in the city. I have selected the finest necromancers of the Dead to help in the creation of this curse,” Lanys said, leaning over and tracing a finger down Naythox’s cheek. “He will make a fine subject. A remarkable slave.”
Cristanos was unsure which curse Lanys referred to, but knew she’d find out soon enough.
The very next morning, a royal entourage of Teir’Dal traveled to Nektulos Forest, their king carried on an ornate slab of obsidian. He was placed upon a great stump while the necromancers began to chant around him in a language onlookers were not familiar with.
News of the king’s illness rushed like a river through the city and in its undercurrents were whispers that the king was poisoned and the queen was going to great lengths to cure him. Even more quietly, the name of the Indigo Brotherhood could be heard.
Descent into Darkhollow
An explosion tore through Nektulos Forest and shook the dark elf city of Neriak to its core. Commoners rushed out of the city gates in droves to catch a glimpse at the cause. They all knew that somewhere out in the darkness, their king and queen, and Lanys T’Vyl, the Child of Hate, were in the throes of summoning a powerful magic and defending themselves and Neriak against Firiona Vie and her army of Norrath’s Keepers.
The throngs of commoners were soon ordered to make way as three troops from the Indigo Brotherhood, led by Sergeant L’Nev, marched from the city to investigate. The sergeant led his troops to the grove where Queen Cristanos Thex and Lanys kept King Naythox Thex, who was reportedly still unconscious and sickly. The war hero had heard the king was taken to the forest in order to save his life, but, of course, he suspected other motives. It was widely known that there was no great love between the king and queen of Neriak — not that there should be. Their creed “Hate Above All” was certainly borne out by example.
When the sergeant and his troops arrived at the grove, a muffled wave of mutterings and whispers moved among them. Much to their surprise, the grove was wiped clean. A few looked behind and around them to be sure they were in the correct area. There was no sign of the queen, the king, Lanys, nor any of the ritualists who had been chanting and weaving magic. Much to the chagrin of the troops who had been prepared for battle, there were no Norrath’s Keepers present either.
The sergeant noted the weight of the quiet that hung in the air and peered about him, the ultravision in his sapphire eyes piercing the darkness. There were no animals or insects scurrying about, and none were seen on the march to the grove. Where had everyone, and everything, gone?
And as the sergeant pondered the possibilities, a terrible shriek pierced the silence behind him.
Hours before, as the battle between the Dark Reign and Norrath’s Keepers in the Nektulos Forest began to heighten, a finely robed dark elf female slipped through the trees. She stood behind the king and the ritualists who were entranced by the continuing chanting and creation of the Curse of the Bound. Queen Cristanos slipped from the shadows and stood next to the young dark elf. For some time, they waited patiently, calmly. And when Firiona Vie, the chosen of Tunare, and Lanys met face to face in the grove and clashed swords, the queen motioned quickly to the young female.
The nubile dark elf wizard, Vuzea K’Myl, moved forward until she was well obscured from Lanys’ view by the great tree stump the king was set upon. The queen moved in close to her assistant and in a matter of moments, the queen, Vuzea, and the king disappeared into a portal.
In that same moment, the Curse of the Bound that had been in progress for days erupted in a way that could not be replicated by any other magic. Everything near the epicenter of the curse simply vanished in an explosion that rocked the entire forest from sky to stone. The Dark Reign army, the Norrath’s Keepers forces, Lanys, Firiona, everyone, and everything . . . gone.
When Lanys set the Curse of the Bound in motion, she did not account for the creeping tendrils of Discord that still aimed to choke all order from Norrath. Even while being taught the curse by Venril Sathir, Lanys did not fully understand that when Venril set his curse in the magically protected dragon’s nest, only a faint touch of Discord was present. That mere wisp of Discord was enough to turn Venril’s curse into a devastating force.
Discord already had a firm grip on the rest of Norrath and in Nektulos Forest. It had become pervasive and thick as the Dark Reign and Norrath’s Keepers armies bled and fed its strength. It turned and twisted the creation of the curse and when it was interrupted by the king being teleported swiftly away, there was a terrible reaction; an unknown reaction, and one that caused some of Norrath’s most prominent heroes, both evil and good, to vanish.
From his royal oaken bed, varnished with a blood lacquer blessed by the Dismal Rage priests in the Sanctum of Hate, King Naythox opened his eyes, confused and expressionless.
“Ah, the king awakens,” Queen Cristanos said. “It is good to see you recover, my love.”
With the speed of a striking snake, Naythox reached out his hand in the direction of the voice, and grasped the throat of an aide that stood in front of the queen. The aide chortled and gasped as his windpipe was squeezed shut.
“Deceitful wench! I will see you quartered and strewn about this city for your betrayal!” Naythox yelled, his eyes still attempting to focus through an oddly glowing faint green. The queen wisely had him restrained when he was brought to the castle, expecting the very same reaction he now displayed.
“Quiet now and save your strength. I have much to tell you, the least of which is how I saved you from Lanys,” Cristanos said with a smile. “Release my aide. He has been tending to you.”
The king cackled and with one quick flex of his muscles crushed the bones of the aide’s neck under his fingers. The lifeless body fell to the queen’s feet. As she looked from the dead aide to her husband, she saw a vein as thick as cord draw a coarse line down the king’s forehead as it strained and pulsed with a strange rhythm.
“You are in no position to make requests of me, traitorous wife,” the king growled.
“Then, listen, before you will have me done in,” Cristanos said. “‘Tis true that I delivered you to Lanys. ‘Tis also true that she had designs for you through an experiment with a spell that would see you as her mindless slave. As much hate as exists between us, that is one outcome I did not wish to see realized. We are united by our god and our mortality.”
She continued, trying in vain to appear empathic and sincere.
“I soon saw the validity in your words — the ones you spoke before that fateful sip of the poison I gave you,” Cristanos continued. “You are right, my love. It is time for the Teir’Dal to take their rightful place — to hold the reigns of Norrath — without the aid or supervision of the spiteful and narrowly focused child of Hate.”
The king shifted and was about to speak when the queen continued nonchalantly, examining the jeweled rings adorning her ebon-skinned fingers.
“And so, as fortune would have it, after I withdrew you from Lanys’ clutches a great peril befell the child of Hate and Norrath Keeper’s both. They are gone. Even that meddlesome chosen of Tunare, Firiona Vie, and her followers are also gone. I heard it from the very mouth of a sergeant of the Indigo Brotherhood.”
The strained muscles in the king’s face began to relax and twist into a grin that was sly and feral in some way.
“What do you mean, ‘gone’?” the king asked.
“Disappeared, my king, and to where we know not, though scouts have searched high and low, across the Commonlands and the deserts of Ro,” Cristanos said.
“It would seem the error of your ways may find some manner of redemption, but that does not mean you won’t be punished. I’ve always admired your intellect and devotion to Hate and that might serve me now,” Naythox said, and in an effortless fashion, he sat up and broke the leather restraints that held him.
Cristanos’ surprise was apparent on her delicate features and she stepped backward quickly.
“Whatever has been done to me has done me some good, it would seem,” Naythox said, examining the muscles is his arms and chest. He then looked up to meet the eyes of his wife. “I can say with confidence, there is little that could stand in my way now. Not even you.”
Knowing the king would have already killed her if he’d meant to, Cristanos relaxed and walked to her husband’s side, sitting next to him on his bed.
“I will walk beside you, my love. Not behind you or ahead, but beside. Treat me as your equal and you will have an ally that will aid you in ruling Norrath with hate — drowning all creatures in its power,” Cristanos said.
“My queen, you may walk beside me, but know that your life is mine. For appearance’s sake and for the support of your faithful Dead, I will allow you your life . . . for now,” Naythox said.
“That will suit me. And there is one other thing . . .,” the queen said, with an undertone of reluctance.
The king’s eyes bore into her, their hazy green glow even more apparent to Cristanos now.
“Something deep beneath us has been awakened. A great explosion shook our forest and the way was opened to a dark and dismal place, a place called Darkhollow, some have said,” Cristanos leaned forward and whispered in the king’s ear. “All manner of Norrathian now walks through our forest to investigate this new place and for a short time last eve our lands were overrun with drachnids. In fact, Sergeant L’Nev was the only one of his three troops to return and he may not survive as it stands.”
At the mention of the drachnids, Naythox stiffened. He remembered being a child and running from drachnid raiders and vampires who would pluck dark elves from inside and outside of the city to be used to create more drachnid abominations.
“Strengthen our defenses at once,” Naythox commanded to the guards that waited dutifully by his bed. “Also, speak to the Indigo Brotherhood guild masters and tell them to prepare a battalion that will inspect this place called Darkhollow.”
He then turned and took his wife’s hand, squeezing it tightly . . . too tightly.
“As for you, dearest queen, you will sit with me while I tell you what it is you WILL do,” Naythox said. “It is time for the glory of Hate to sweep across these lands.”
The queen offered the king a strained smile as she sat next to him, daring not to look into his tainted eyes.
And a great distance away in private quarters on the creaking and swaying Queen of Thorns on the Abysmal Sea, a weak and frail Erudite female suddenly opened her eyes.
On the surface, as the battle between Fironia Vie and Lanys T’Vyl continues to rage throughout the lands of Nektulos, an expedition of Qeynosian miners breached the barrier of Darkhollow. Now a new evil begins to emerge from the underground; far beneath the surface of Norrath.