Omens of War
The Dark Amulet
The dinner bell echoed across the decks of the Queen of Thorns, but Calliav Giniuar did not notice. He sat in bed with a tattered diary resting on his raised knees, penning some words of what had come to pass in the recent months. Each word became lengthened and scrawled as his eyelids begin to sink, sleep overcoming him. He put the pen down and closed his eyes, letting dreams wash over him.
But he didn't have a dream, he had a nightmare. It was the sort of nightmare that felt real, like you could reach out and touch the terror. Calliav was trapped in sleep and could not escape the scene that unfolded.
He saw himself walking through a temple with rotting corpses of fallen heroes and friends lying at his feet. He walked into a room where a withered Taelosian sat in prayer, ignoring Calliav's presence. In the darkness, he saw someone move. He turned and saw Morden Rasp creeping in the shadows, edging his way behind a terrifying creature and passing through a stone door.
Calliav yelled, but Morden didn't hear him. He ran after Morden, going unnoticed by all of the Muramites in the room.
Morden was crouched in the dark, his presence nearly undetectable. His stormy eyes searched everything in the room, mapping his path. Calliav saw where he planned to go and ran ahead through another stone door at the back of the room.
And there he saw it, the leader of the Muramites. It was a beast unlike anything he had seen. It was an oddity with a fierce chaotic energy. He saw the creature wrap its spindly fingers around an amulet on its neck. The amulet began to glow and the creature's eyes rolled back. He saw it murmur as though it was having a conversation with someone. Calliav could not discern the words and was too terrified to move closer, or his mind simply wouldn't allow it in this nightmare.
Then, the creature removed the amulet and placed it on an altar. The stone in the amulet was unlike anything Calliav had seen. It pulsed and gave off a sickly dark glow, absorbing the light around it.
The beast slowly walked through a door and it closed. Calliav found his feet broke free and he was able to move. He reached out for the amulet, but his hand passed through it. He was simply an observer in this scene.
The grating grumble of moving stone came from behind Calliav. He knew it was Morden. He turned and watched him take silent steps toward the altar, examine it, and check it for traps. Satisfied it was safe, Morden reached down and picked up the amulet by the chain, careful not to touch the stone. He took out a small leather bag and slipped it inside, pulling the bag's string taut to close it. As Morden turned to walk out of the room, the scenes of the nightmare began to fade to darkness -- but Calliav did not feel alone in his mind. He felt a presence like a parasite, burrowing and digging into his thoughts.
From the darkness, the image of the amulet glowed and spun in his mind. It had secrets, mysteries to unlock. Calliav didn't want more visions. He didn't want to feel compelled to put his friends into more danger, but the more the amulet's image filled his mind, the more his resolve turned. He must have it. Yes, he must get it as soon as possible. He saw Morden get it safely. It should go well, he thought.
With a start, Calliav awoke from the dream and sat up. He gathered his robes about him and set off to find Morden, who was happily seeing the remaining hours of the day out with some ale in the ship's mess.
"Ahoy there, me strange mage. What will ye have this fine eve of adventure?" Morden bellowed across the tavern as Calliav walked in.
Calliav, embarrassed, shuffled quickly to the table. He begged Morden to speak to him in a quiet corner.
"I don't like that look on yer face Calliav. I really 'ate it when you get THAT look," Morden sighed, as they walked into a quiet room across from the rowdy bunch of wayfaring folk.
"I know I've asked a lot of you, but there is another thing I must ask. I will pay you and the brotherhood to do this," Calliav said, his voice quivering.
"I won't take yer coin, Calliav. You've done more for the minds and hearts of these adventurin' folk than ye'll ever fully know, no matter what the danger," Morden said with smooth, warming tones. In his mind, though, he wouldn't mind more money . . .
"The leader of the Muramites here holds an amulet . . . at least I think he does. It's important somehow. It comes directly from another realm and still may have ties there. I think it's used to communicate from this realm to another," Calliav said hastily. "I don't know why I must have it, I just know I need it. It has secrets, wonders . . ."
"Good grief. Slow down, eh? Fine. I've been stuck on this boat long enough. I'll leave soon and go get this . . . amulet. Where will I find it?" Morden asked.
"That's it? You'll do it?," Calliav said with a measure of disbelief.
"Of course. Ye still don't understand me, do ye? Me life revolves around attaining the impossible. Why wouldn't I do it? Now, where shall I find it?" Morden ask.
"It's in the highest temple at the farthest reach of Taelosia. There is a creature there -- a fierce one and it is very well protected. I get the feeling you will have no trouble there, but most others will. Don't ask me why," Calliav said and Morden detected some doubt.
"I'm going to ask why. I don't like yer tone," Morden said sternly.
"This vision I had wasn't like the others. It felt a little odd," Calliav replied.
"Ye've not been wrong yet, so I'm sure ye're right about this -- just like ye were right about all else," Morden said. "I'm going to pack me gear and start getting ready. I'll take Tondal with me."
Calliav left Morden to his drink and returned to his quarters. He felt a dark presence surround him and grew cold. He tightened his robes around him and closed his eyes for a moment.
He cried out as two dark glaring eyes stared back at him in his mind.
As she slept, Nedaria Debeian's thinning body shivered each time she gasped in a shallow breath. Her once dark, lustrous Erudite skin was becoming flaked and ashen. It had been days since she had been strong enough to speak.
Days ago, when Nedaria felt her illness progressing, she appointed two trusted friends, Wuria Pyskar and Parillin Shurava, in the Wayfarers Brotherhood to tend to her needs and reassure everyone that she simply had a flu. The truth was that no one -- not even the best shamans and clerics -- knew what was wrong with her.
Twice, the most wise and practiced healers were brought in to examine Nedaria in her room on the great vessel, the Queen of Thorns, to offer diagnoses and remedies. Nothing worked.
Wuria and Parillin kept watch over Nedaria constantly in shifts, praying for a sign of hope. At times they would argue about Nedaria's mysterious malady.
Not known for her trust in people, the dwarven Wuria thought Nedaria was a victim of sabotage and blamed Norrathians and their arrogance for her friend's failing health. She believed that the gods might have otherwise granted healing gifts to Nedaria if they knew she was so ill. Parillin, always the gossiping romantic Vah Shir, believed that Nedaria had a broken heart that would mend as soon as Morden Rasp returned. She fancied that Morden and Nedaria were in love.
Both of them silently recognized that their foolish squabbles simply kept their minds off of their worst fear -- Nedaria was dying.
This day, Wuria took the first watch -- though day and night were indiscernible aboard the ship in the constant darkness of the Abysmal Sea -- and sat near Nedaria. To pass the time, she read reports that had been coming in from scouts in Taelosia and wrote notes in the ship's journals. It was very quiet, except for Nedaria's wheezing and the rhythmic creak of the Queen of Thorns as it rocked in the turbulent waters.
The candles in the room flickered, making the words Wuria read appear to dance around the page. She looked up and met a troubled gaze.
"Oy, Calliav. No change yet, I'm afraid. Her breathing seems more labored now . . . and . . . well, I won't go on. I'm at a loss," Wuria said.
Calliav nodded and walked to Nedaria's bedside, sat down next to her, and gently held one of her hands that lay on her chest.
"Can you leave us please? I want to speak to her alone. At one time she could speak to me in my mind and I want to try the same with her," Calliav asked, never looking up from Nedaria's gaunt face.
Wuria left the room without a word.
"Now, dear Nedaria, try to hear me. I see your eyes move. I know you are still here somewhere and I will find you. You must help me do this," Calliav pleaded aloud.
Calliav relaxed and let his head hang low as he began to send himself into a deep meditation. He grasped Nedaria's hand tightly as he called out to her mind.
After a few moments, an unexpected torrent of jumbled thoughts and knowledge flooded Calliav's mind so fast he choked on his own breath. He remembered the last time this happened -- when he felt the touch of Zebuxoruk and just a fraction of his lord's knowledge. Somehow, though, Calliav was not overrun to the point of madness. He felt as though he were removed, simply an audience this time.
All at once, he felt a familiar darkness and fervid tentacles of evil worming their way around his thoughts. He tried to rise from his meditative state and couldn't. His mind's voice screamed for help.
Nedaria's face faded into view before Calliav's mind's eye. She smiled at him and overcame all of his fears, his mind feeling free once more.
"I cannot feel or see anything but you, Calliav," Nedaria whispered. "My body is failing as my mind is weakened. Something feels wrong, but my visions fail me."
"'Tis the second time I've felt my mind open and a presence within it," Calliav said to Nedaria in his mind, but mouthing the words as he sat next to her. "That amulet I sent Morden and Tondal for might be the key . . . maybe for your illness too. I don't know."
"I sense nothing and I do not know what is happening to me. It is indeed odd that your mind opens as mine closes," Nedaria's face started fading from Calliav's mind. "Tell . . . Morden . . . that he must go on as I may not. I . . . do . . . love him and will lend him my spirit should I die. He must . . . lead . . ."
Nedaria's face faded and Calliav was able to open his eyes.
The lovely and weak Erudite before him began to shudder wildly. Nedaria started convulsing.
"Oh, what have I done? What have I DONE?!" Calliav cried. "Someone come help NOW! Wuria! Parillin!"
Nedaria's aides ran into the room and were awestruck at Nedaria's violent tremors. Wuria glared at Calliav and pushed him out of the way.
"Get out now and send a cleric and shaman," Wuria yelled with hateful venom. "We'll be lucky if we can save her."
With his back lightly scraping against the stone of a sheered cliff, Morden Rasp inched his way around a corner, careful not to attract attention. His arm was lightly bleeding from a skirmish with the Muramites moments before and it smeared the rock with blood as he moved.
"Get back here, Morden. Those hounds are going to smell that blood in no time at all. Are you mad?" Tondal Di'Xevar whispered sternly.
"Blast! When did that happen? I'm so darned tired, Tondal," Morden sighed. "Feels like we've been fightin' constantly for days. Let's rest back here for a while. The patrol we just got through shouldn't be missed for a while . . . I 'ope."
"Look at us, Morden. Looks like we should be dead ourselves. My armor is just bathed in the dark blood of those evil creatures," Tondal grimaced.
"Dark elf, should you not revel in war and spilling blood? That's what I was always told about you folk," Morden grinned.
"That's hardly funny Morden. I've seen enough death, and undead for that matter, to last many lifetimes, even before I met you," Tondal said. "My heart is not as black as my brethren. I do not yearn to see blood. I can't explain it other than to say that fate gave me a different heart to serve a greater purpose."
"There ye go again with yer fanciful dreams. Hmph," Morden said as he nudged Tondal, his armor grinding as it shifted. "Whatever it is or whoever it was that made ye what ye are, I'm grateful . . . just shut up about fates, will ye? Nonsense."
Both of their eyelids gradually closed as they settled against the cliff face and fell into a light slumber.
It had taken Morden and Tondal quite some time to pass through the mountains to the temples of Taelosia and the constant fighting was wearing them down. It seemed that at every turn they were attacked by the religious trusik and the Muramites.
At first, they were confused about the gaunt Taelosians' hatred. Morden was surprised that none of his wily charms took hold on any of them. It wasn't until they met Ubaki Caroda, a nihil Taelosian hiding in the mountains, that they began to understand the ways of the trusik.
After Morden and Tondal saved Ubaki from some surrounding Muramites in the Tipt mountains, the aged nihil sat with them a while and explained some bleaker moments in the history of the people of Taelosia.
Ubaki explained that when the Taelosians rose from the sea to land, they lived life as spiritual creatures -- loving nature, life and the oceans. They pursued their talents with moving and shaping stone and existed in harmony for thousands of years.
Then one Taelosian named Ikkibi Daluda, an elder at the time, ordained himself a high priest and stated to all Taelosians that they were not giving thanks to the bountiful oceans as they should. He believed there was a deity called Trushar, the ocean god, who was displeased and required devout attention of all of the Taelosians.
Ubaki continued with the story and described the worshippers of Trushar and how they grew more fanatical over many years and took to giving up the lives of many Taelosians as sacrifices to the ocean god. Before too long, the high council of Taelosi, the first city of Taelosia, discovered that the worshippers of Trushar were torturing and sacrificing non-believers too. Sadly, Ubaki explained, the high council no longer had influence over those that followed High Priest Ikkibi.
The high council of Taelosi took the news and events of the city to the four greatest elders of the Taelosians who lived in a hidden sanctum in the mountains. It did not take long for the elders to call all Taelosians together in the city to deliver their edict. All Taelosians, worshippers of Trushar too, respected the elders and would heed their words.
The elders decreed that the Taelosians would be forever divided and demanded that the worshippers of Trushar, now called trusik, make their way to the mountain temples to live out their lives. All others would remain in Taelosi and would become known as nihil. The city of Taelosi itself took the name of its new people and was named Nihilia. That was as much as Morden and Tondal could hear before they had to move on.
Morden was suddenly jolted awake by a voice and saw that Tondal was sleeping. Immediately alert, he jumped to his feet and looked around, his fingers tightly enveloping his daggers. No one. He peered around the edge of the cliff and saw a crumpled form on the ground. It looked human.
"Sir. Stay back, sir," the voice came from the body on the ground. It was one of the Wayfarers Brotherhood scouts -- a monk. "I have a message for you . . . please wait there for a moment until I determine that it is safe."
Morden reached down and grabbed Tondal by his bloodstained pauldron and hoisted him up to his feet. Tondal already had drawn his sword before getting his bearings, nearly nicking Morden in the ribs.
"Cripes elf. Easy," Morden said, examining his side.
"Easy?! Why would you EVER wake me like that?" Tondal said, going silent when he saw the monk. Morden just looked at him and shook his head playfully.
The monk slowly got to his feet and ran to Morden.
"Sir . . . I am Chadrik. It is an honor and a pleasure to meet you. My whole family serves you and we are grateful for --" the monk began, but Morden stopped him.
"Stop blathering and thanking. I'm no one special, well, not really," Morden grinned and Tondal sighed at his friend's humor. "What's the message?"
"Nedaria is becoming frightfully ill," Chadrik said. "When I left to come find you the day after you left, she was very weak and getting paler by the hour. We don't know what is wrong with her, but our best shamans and priests are doing what they can to help her."
Morden was awestruck and, for the first time, Tondal actually witnessed Morden lose his composure.
"I don't understand. 'ow could she be ill? I saw 'er just days ago. Did someone hurt 'er? What 'appened?" Morden began to babble as he shook the shoulders of the monk in his thick, dirt- and blood-smeared hands.
"I'm sorry sir, I don't know. She did not want anyone to tell you of her illness, but I felt it my duty to come find you and tell you. She did not want to interfere with your mission," Chadrik said.
"Aye, that is 'er. Always selfless. I must return to see what is 'appenin'," Morden said. Tondal reached up and grabbed Morden's shoulder, turning him around.
"We must continue. We will not have the strength to make this journey a second time, Morden. I know she will be okay. I can feel it," Tondal said.
Morden's expression of worry became a scowl and he glared at his friend.
"What would ye know of it? 'ow can ye idly say she'll be fine? Ye don't understand 'ow important she is. No idea at all. I don't care what ye feel!" Morden yelled.
His voice carried on the dank air and alerted the Muramites standing on the steps of a temple. The three troubled adventurers had mere moments to forget their quarrel and draw their weapons before a horde of Muramites rushed around the cliff's edge to meet them.
Path to the Peaks
Morden Rasp lifted himself up and peered over the edge of the sewage pipe in Barindu, waiting for an opportunity to climb out and move into the shadows of a corner. He and Tondal Di'Xevar had been waiting for hours to get out of the sewer, but it was surrounded by grunting and lumbering Muramites.
Morden saw a young Nihil shuffle into the building, his body covered in scars and bruises. He knelt down to tend to a trampled plant. The ra'tuk brute standing nearby shoved the weary slave a few times and laughed as he fell over. Then as the Nihil struggled back to his feet, Morden moved slightly to get his attention. The Nihil did indeed catch Morden's eye, but quickly limped out of the building.
Disappointed, Morden lowered himself back down into the sludge and grimaced as slurping grime swirled around his feet. He wasn't sure what the slave could have done to help, but felt he had to do something. He was starting to feel anxious.
"Tondal, why do we always find ourselves in filth some'ow?" he looked to his trusted dark elf companion.
"Don't you dare blame me. You picked this route. You always pick these ones. I can barely breathe it's so foul. This one is all your fault, friend. Bleh . . . now . . . how are we going to get out of here?" Tondal asked.
"Not sure, to tell ye the truth. Those Muramites aren't budgin' and them poor Taelosians just don't 'ave it in 'em to 'elp. We need some sort of distraction or we'll 'ave to 'ead back to the shore and find another way through," Morden said.
A scream suddenly pierced the air and there was a thunderous explosion from above. Morden and Tondal looked at each other and both looked up to the sewer grate. They scrambled to the lip and saw the Muramites running outside the building. Quickly, Morden and Tondal jumped out and ducked in the shadows near the door. They saw the Muramites heading for a large building covered in plants and trees.
Morden and Tondal took the opportunity to sneak along a mountain's edge unseen and rounded a corner. It seemed as safe a place as any in Taelosia, which meant that with a few fights now and then, they could remain there as they scouted out the path into the mountains.
"We need to find out what 'appened out there," Morden said after they had a few minutes to relax. "I suspect the young Nihil I saw may 'ave sacrificed 'is life to get us out o' that filthy sewer."
"What?! You let one of those poor creatures see you? How could you, Morden? I would rather have fought them all and died myself than see another of those creatures tortured and killed. I have just about seen enough!" Tondal said in anger, his violet eyes glowing menacingly.
Morden sat in silence, his head down. His guilty heart choked his mind.
"Stay 'ere. I will return. We 'ave to keep movin'," Morden said as he got up. He carefully made his way around the city until he found a short passage of dirt and stone. He saw a pale figure alone in the distance. As he got closer, the Nihil beckoned to him.
"Greetings, I am Udranda. You must be the one that was hidden in the sewer, yes?" she asked. Morden felt another pang of guilt as he nodded.
"Gamesh is fine. He used a potion and some fine acting to gather the attention of the Muramites. He is quite a fast runner and was able to hide himself in a barrel near the gardens," she said.
Morden's expression softened and his heart lightened.
"What is this place? Me and me friend are tryin' to get to the temples to find a magical amulet for our companion, Calliav, and we can't find a way through," he said.
"You have not found the way through because I guard it with my stone guardian. The Muramites believe I am aiding them in containing the slaves, but I have been letting all manner of Norrathian through here to help thin out this evil horde. I can give you passage," she said. "This part of the city holds our Hanging Gardens. Once this place was teeming with life and laughter as our people grew and harvested fruits and vegetables, but now it's nearly barren. The only food we grow now is for the Muramites. We manage to get some food for ourselves, but not a lot."
"I'm so very sorry Udranda. I can't even imagine the plight o' yer people, but we're 'oping we can 'elp bring an end to the torture for many o' ya. I think the mission we're on might be part o' that," Morden said. "I'll return soon. I 'ave a friend I must bring with me."
Morden found Tondal and brought him to where Udranda stood. She commanded her stone guardian to move a boulder that blocked the passage to the mountain. Morden and Tondal slipped through.
A small voice whispered to them between the rocks.
"Watch where you step and beware. You are about to trespass into the thick of the Muramite army," Udranda said.
Tondal put his hand on Morden's shoulder.
"If I'm to meet my end up there, I can think of few others I'd rather be with," Tondal said.
Morden patted Tondal's hand.
"Stop being so darned dramatic, elf."
Just then, a dark and menacing growl rumbled from up ahead.
The Troubled Two
"I think I understand, Morden," Tondal spoke quietly as he examined the strange platform in Yxtta, one of the temples in Taelosia. "It's some kind of time device, like a clock."
"Ye gotta be kidding. That thing? Not a chance. Seems like it might be a key or riddle. It opens that cave behind us. Really . . . must you read into everything?" Morden said in a gruff tone, clearly frustrated.
The two adventurers found their way through some of the trusik temples until they stumbled on a peculiar device. Tondal insisted they figure out what it was for. That was days ago.
"It's more than just a key, my friend. I'm sure it's about time. I think it's counting backwards. From what I've learned from some of the Taelosians, the Muramites reset this time-keeping machine at the same moment they began chanting at a portal near one of the temples. We have to get there soon. Something is bound to happen," Tondal said with some urgency.
Morden had been staring off into the sky as Tondal spoke, his expression vacant.
"The sooner we get this entire bloody business over with the better, elf. I want to get back to Nedaria and see 'ow she's fairin'," Morden said.
"You just don't care at all about the intricacies, do you? I've tried my hardest to learn ways to end the suffering of these people. This has got to be a clue. Sometimes I think you are more of a dark elf spirit than I, old man," Tondal said.
"Who are ye callin' 'old'? We were sent to get that blasted amulet for Calliav. That's what I wanna do. Nedaria is of greater importance than any of your crazy ideas," Morden growled. "Without 'er, we're nothin'. Ye are a . . ."
His voiced trailed off as he did his best to get a hold on his temper. He was thankful for all that Tondal had done and did believe that the Muramites were up to no good. His anger wasn't directed at Tondal. His heart and stomach had felt twisted and choked ever since he heard of Nedaria's illness. He was emotionally exhausted and his physical strength was failing him too.
"We need to get movin' to that temple and get that amulet now," Morden said. "We can send scouts and sages up here in droves if we need to. Look, we 'ave spent enough time 'ere and can report what ye've found," Morden ordered. "What ye've done is admirable, but we 'ave to get back to the Queen of Thorns."
Tondal sensed Morden's fright and panic about Nedaria many days ago, but chose not to discuss it then. As it was, Morden's good humor had all but vanished and he was quiet -- too quiet for the boisterous rogue the dark elf had come to know. Morden was so preoccupied that it was getting dangerous to travel with him and Tondal didn't want to risk both of them dying because Morden wasn't focused.
"Frankly, Morden, I think it's too dangerous to take on this task. You are too distracted right now and have almost gotten us killed a couple of times," Tondal said, trying to be honest, but also preparing himself for Morden's wrath and insults.
Morden shot him a steely glare and then turned his eyes to the rocky ground. He sighed, his strong shoulders slumped slightly.
"Aye, I know me mind's been a bit off and I'm sorry. I 'aven't been without Nedaria for years and the spark of chance of 'er dying . . . well, I'm sure ye know already that it don't sit well with me," Morden said quietly. "I will promise ye that I'll keep me 'ead on straight if we can leave now and just get this done."
"Agreed. Let's continue on," Tondal said, picking up his satchel and sword. Morden's eyes brightened at the thought of adventure and danger.
"You know," Tondal said, lightening the mood, "you get a sick pleasure from facing impossible odds."
"Aye," Morden grinned for the first time in days as they crept their way to the temple called Tacvi.
It took them two days to navigate their way to Tacvi, having spilled a lot of blood, including some of their own.
"I'm almost out of energy," Tondal complained while he cleaned some fresh Muramite blood from his sword. "I don't know how we're going to make it, especially if that amulet is well guarded."
"We 'ave it under control, friend," Morden said, reassuringly. "Calliav already said that a fierce creature guards that amulet, but somehow we'll make it through okay. 'e's not been wrong yet, 'as 'e?"
"Aye, 'tis true, but I'm leery," Tondal said.
"Be leery, then. I won't be . . . 'eads up!" with blinding speed and feline grace, Morden pushed past Tondal and sunk his dagger deep into the belly of a pouncing ukun beast.
"I really 'ate those things," he said while Tondal stood stunned for a moment, collecting himself. "Let's go. We're close. I want ye to stay near that doorway just ahead when we get it open. We cut the chatter now, so do yer usual signs and shouts if we get ambushed, hm? Ye may 'ave to fight on yer own."
"I can handle myself. You're not that good," Tondal said, patting Morden on the shoulder, noticing the caked blood and dirt on his chain pauldrons. They both carefully opened the stone door and took stock of the surroundings.
Morden left Tondal at the doorway near the main chamber in the temple. He masked his movements as he became one with the shadows. Tondal was able to see him well with his ultravision and watched other shadows and doors for danger.
Morden moved out of the shadows, his raised right eyebrow dug lines of confusion into his forehead. The temple chamber was eerily silent.
There was a plain stone altar in the middle of the room. Even Tondal could see a gold chain hanging over the side of it. Morden circled the altar at a great distance, looking for traps or some sign of danger. He found none.
He moved to the altar carefully and examined it. Wary, but satisfied it was safe, Morden carefully grabbed the chain and as he held it up, he found himself looking at a large swirling gem in a glowing setting. He slipped the amulet into a small leather satchel on his belt and nodded to Tondal as he walked quietly across the stone-tiled floor toward him.
"I don't know 'ow, but we 'ave it," Morden said, with a sliver of nervousness. "Too easy. Way too easy. I'm almost disappointed."
"Best not to question it now. Let's get out of here and back to the ship," Tondal said.
As they turned to leave the chamber, Morden had an uneasy feeling that they were being watched. He turned abruptly.
There, far beyond the altar, the rogue swore he saw the blurred edge of a shadow slink back into the darkness.
Opening the Gates
With the Muramite commander's amulet tucked into a leather pouch on his belt, Morden Rasp and Tondal Di'Xevar made their way quickly to the shores of Natimbi. Getting home was much simpler after they learned of an ancient stone that allowed them to magically bypass the treacherous mountains of Taelosia.
It was only a matter of days before the two leaders of the brotherhood were back aboard the Queen of Thorns in the Abysmal Sea. Morden's demeanor was troubled and sour for the entire trip, no matter how many times Tondal tried to lift his spirits about the reports they'd gotten about their dear friend, Nedaria Debeian's, failing health.
With a determined gait, Morden pushed through the throngs of those welcoming him home and headed straight for Nedaria's quarters. When he laid eyes on her, he felt the beat of his heart in his temples. His hands shook at his sides. She was far worse than he dared dream.
Nedaria's skin was gray and cracking and he saw the bloodshot whites of her eyes as her eyelids fluttered. Her breath came as labored wheezes as she lay curled on her side, shivering and unconscious. Morden crouched beside her bed and grasped her thin, bony hand. He saw her fingernails were even splitting and gnarled.
"Lass, what 'as happened to ye? What 'ave I done?" Morden pleaded with her quietly. "This would 'ave never 'appened to ye if I'd let ye live a life on yer own. I should've never dragged ye 'ere. I will 'ave ye taken from 'ere at once."
Morden felt a hand on his shoulder and was instantly irritated, shrugging it off. He turned up to see the saddened gaze of Calliav and his mood softened some.
"We can't move her Morden. There is some protection here for her with the magic around the ship. It's keeping a lot of the dangers out," Calliav said. "We are working night and day to try to learn what is happening to her. Whatever it is has attacked her mind and her body is following. But she is still with us Morden, I can feel her presence everywhere. We just need time."
Morden sensed that, as usual, Calliav had more to tell him, so he waited expressionless while his eyes were fixed on Nedaria's withering face. After a thick silence, the mage spoke.
"We need to consider going there . . . uhm . . . to the realm of the Muramites and our sages are ready to start putting their knowledge of the Taelosian portals to work and then we can . . ." Calliav continued to ramble as Morden stood up and held his palm up in front of Calliav's face, stopping him from talking.
"What?! What in Norrath's grace are ye babblin' about?" Morden said, his eyes wide. "Are ye actually proposin' that we rebuild that portal that 'as been the bane of the wee people of Taelosia? I'm sorry, but Nedaria is the first priority. Frankly, mage, I'm tired of you leadin' us to our doom."
Morden couldn't help but lash out at Calliav and didn't feel apologetic about it. There was a slight edge in Calliav's voice as he replied, his voice a little deeper and more confident than usual. It caught Morden's ear and made his gut a little uneasy.
"Nedaria can only be saved if we do build it. I think there is something over there that has grappled her mind in magic, but I don't know what. That amulet I sent you for could give us some answers," Calliav looked almost hungry as he searched Morden for any sign of the bauble. Morden had seen greed countless times before, and often felt it himself, but had never seen it in Calliav before.
Reaching into his pouch to get the amulet, Morden kept his eyes on Calliav who was nearly salivating. He held the glowing amulet in his hand for a moment, a sickly feeling overtaking him.
"What do ye know about this thing, Calliav? What is it for?" he asked.
"I don't know for sure, I just know that I was meant to have it and study it. I haven't said much about it, but someone or something is guiding me and I believe and hope it to be Zebuxoruk himself. Why would he abandon me after touching me with his knowledge? I believe he wants us to know more -- I've felt a presence . . ." he said, almost with urgency, his eyes never leaving Morden's hand.
"I fear yer actin' a little odd me friend," Morden said. "I 'ave never questioned yer requests, no matter 'ow mad they've been -- mostly at Nedaria's behest."
It was then that he looked over at Nedaria and saw a lazy trickle of blood tracing from the corner of her mouth and landing in tiny droplets on her pillow. Instinctively, Morden tossed the amulet to Calliav and held Nedaria's face in his hands.
"Parillin, get in 'ere," as he called for Nedaria's aide, Morden's voice cracked and his chin began to quiver.
The often cheerful and meddling Vah Shir, Parillin, ran into the room and stopped suddenly, her clawed feet scraping against the planks on the floor. Her face dimmed, like someone suffocated the light of her life. She had been hoping against hope that the return of Morden would bring Nedaria out of her illness, believing the two were in love. Looking at the frail Erudite, it looked as though she had only gotten worse.
"What do we do . . . she just . . . I don't know," Morden said helplessly.
Parillin laid Nedaria on her back and let a few drops of a healing elixir pass between her lips. Within a few moments, the blood stopped and Nedaria's body went limp as she fell into a deep sleep.
Somewhat relieved, Morden stood up, looked at Calliav, and addressed him icily.
"Ye do what ye must and I want to 'ave that amulet back when ye are done. Ye can 'ave them wizards work on a way to the realm, but we will only go if ye can somehow prove that goin' there will save 'er. Once we unlock a way to the Muramites, it means we may open the door to the end of Norrath," Morden said.
"No, you can't and you won't do this," Tondal interrupted, having heard Morden's word as he arrived to see Nedaria. "It's absurd. We need to end the threat here and seal off any way to Discord. How can you even suggest this, Morden? Would you sacrifice all in Norrath for Nedaria?" he asked.
Morden turned to Tondal and blinked slowly, calming his temper.
"Aye, me gut says no, but if there is a magic that can 'arm Nedaria from afar, then there must be a reason they want 'er. And if those bloody Muramites can 'urt any one of us from another realm then are we really safe anyway? I think we're strong enough to go with the rest of the brotherhood and end this once and for all. We need to hunt down this Mata Muram," Morden said.
Tondal stood for a moment and considered his companion's words. Calliav looked between the two of them, holding the amulet anxiously in both hands, remaining silent.
The saddened dark elf looked Morden directly in the eye and nodded before he walked to Nedaria's side.
"It's done, then," Morden said. "Calliav, you get on this and know I've got me eye on ye. I don't mind sayin' I don't like 'ow ye've been actin'. Get out now and I want ye to report to me every few 'ours. Me and this elf 'ere nearly died gettin' you that amulet, so ye make it worth our while."
As Calliav turned to walk out of the room, Tondal swore he saw an unearthly green glimmer in the mage's eyes.
Whispers of Darkness
There are whispers hissing on the winds that careen through the cities of Norrath.
Citizens are leaving their homes less and less and when they do, they coldly eye each other with growing suspicion. Streets and walkways are becoming barren of the daily noise and bustle of city life. For the first time in the recent memories of most Norrathians, they are locking their doors.
There is an oozing ill on the air that no one can taste or touch, but it is building . . . everywhere.
And no one knows what is happening or what exactly is changing, even the greatest sages are dumbfounded. Even some of the greatest minds of Norrath are suffering disturbing bouts of paranoia now.
Some do claim to know what is happening across the lands, but they are easily dismissed. They are the priests of Discord -- an order of disorder -- that has always been accepted as a necessary nuisance for most cities. They have simply been tolerated for centuries.
These past months, the priests have been more wild-eyed than usual, almost excited. They claim the time has come; the way of discord and chaos is at Norrath's door.
Dawn of Discord
A maniacal cry suddenly disrupted the quiet of Rivervale. In Freeport, an outburst of wild glee reverberated across the stony paths.
Most passersby remarked that it was the priests of Discord causing all the noise, and while they didn't know it, it happened all at once with all of the priests in the cities throughout the lands.
"We have found it. We have truly found it," the Priest of Discord in Neriak said. A passing guard, annoyed by the priest, raised a blade to his throat.
"What is it ye are screaming about, ye mad, ugly, zealot," Guard S`Lon sneered. "Ye should not even be here, in our dark. It's bad enough we have trolls. We should not further debase our city with humans. However, I believe there is a bit of hate in all acts of discord, so perhaps that . . ."
"Silence!" the priest screamed. "How dare you mock one who has been granted access into the realm of Discord itself. We are blessed with a gift. Perhaps you would like to be the first to pass through and meet your end? Are you so brave?"
Guard S'Lon frowned and hissed as he walked away, "I'd rather trust my own brother."
Elsewhere, the priests were thrilled at what they had done. They had finally broken time and space and found a magical path to the realm of Discord. They had believed Discord to be a god, their god. Now they believed they had the proof.
One elder priest of Discord appeared in Qeynos as he had volunteered to be the first who would travel into the new choatic realm. It was his duty to venture to the other side and see if there was a way to return home from wherever he may find himself. That was his sole purpose.
The rest of the priests would invite all to come and taste the power of Discord -- to bring Norrath into a new age.
The elder joined the Priest of Discord and prepared himself, slinging a small pack of food and water over his withered shoulder.
"Good luck to you and we hope to hear good news and see you again," the priest said.
The elder did not respond or show any expression. He stood quietly, ready to take on what may face him. He nodded to the priest who then closed his eyes and uttered an eerie incantation in a whisper.
Soon, a glow appeared near him and a circular portal began to form out of the air. There was a burst of light and sparks and the elder could see an image of where he was meant to travel -- a place with a dark, burning sky and a field of green.
With nary a blink, the priest gathered his robes about him and wandered through the portal, his body shimmering and distorting as he was pulled to the other side.
The Wayfarers Brotherhood is considering meeting the Muramites on their home turf to end their tyrannical ways once and for all, in a place called the Realm of Discord.
The Brotherhood is still puzzled by the realm, unsure if it will take the risk of going there. However, this team of wayfarers is doing what it can to learn from the Taelosians about the dark lands. There has been talk of preparing to build a portal in order to open a way to Discord - much like the Taelosians once did, except this time Norrath would have the advantage of preparation.
Taelosians have told the Wayfarers Brotherhood that the lands of Discord are most surely a twisted and volatile place - even the Muramites seem to fear them. Word tells of constant war there.
The Muramites have been heard commenting that Taelosia is a welcome break from the chaotic Realm of Discord, with its crazed creatures and dangerous magic. Nothing there is at it seems.
Everyone has now learned of Mata Muram, the leader of the legion - a terrible creature seeking to build the ultimate army by any means necessary, including stealing beings from other worlds.
Mata Muram is much older than almost every member of his army, and well protected. He is described by Muramites as unmerciful, powerful, a worthy leader - although there are rumors that he is obsessed with revenge against someone. Some Muramites have been overheard describing Mata Muram as some sort of dragon.
No one knows when the Realm of Discord and its counterpart, the Realm of Order, came into existence. In both are rulers that are all-knowing and all-seeing, yet are never seen or touched - much like the Nameless.
Kuaa, A History
Passage to Discord
The Priests of Discord in Norrath believe they have been granted a gift. A unique knowledge has been bestowed upon them which they believe was granted as a reward for preaching the way of Discord. That gift, they claim, is the knowledge of a way to a world that is enveloped by Discord itself — an ethereal poison that wreaks havoc and strife upon all it touches.
World of Kuua
The world known as Kuua was once a relatively normal place, like Norrath, until the influence of Discord seeped into it. There were a vast number of races in the lands, the most civilized being the dragorn. After the dark taint on the world, all races began fighting each other with fervor. The wars created a darkening sky filled with ash and embers. The dragorns stopped their travel and were called home to fortify their walls and the city from all outside influences. Little did they know that even the dragorns would begin to turn on each other.
The dragorns are noble creatures who believe they were carved from of the heartiest earth and stone by the great dragon, Dranik. As a civilization, the dragorns valued courage above all else — that was, at least, until the influence of Discord drew a shade of darkness over their world of Kuua and opened the door for Mata Muram’s legion. Throughout their history, the dragorns led simple lives. The serfs kept their city and kinsfolk with full bellies and armored bodies. The warriors and knights often made courageous expeditions and patrols from their great city of Dranik to the regal palace to the northeast, fighting beasts and creatures that threatened to overcome their lands.
There is a number of dragorn who were exiled from Dranik before and after the influence of Discord caused fighting among the race. The exiles are often on the outskirts of the city in the caves in Dranik’s Scar or other outlying areas. They have attempted to organize and overthrow the high council several times with no success. Some of them feel they were wrongly accused and wish to return home. Some dragorn, most of the best fighters in the lands, were blackmailed or brainwashed into joining Mata Muram’s legion.
Mata Muram and his Legion
Mata Muram is a dragon slave trader that has great strength and mind powers. He is but one slave trader in an organization of many. All of the various armies of Discord that are part of the greater enslavement force riding on the front edge of the shroud of Discord — a rat race for enslavement acquisitions.
Mata Muram conquers a large number of races and inducts the very best into his army. He sells the rest to other worlds.
The Riftseekers — Pyrilen and Gelidran
The riftseekers are the minions of an even greater planar race that have been granted to Mata Muram for travel between worlds and to seed Discord into as many realms as possible. The riftseekers have the ability to hone in on rifts in space, no matter how small, and have the magical means to force them open and sustain them. These creatures are chaotic and do like to cause trouble. Keeping their allegiance is difficult at the best of times. And if they are crossed, there will be trouble.