Authors: Sam Ferguson
Kai nodded. “You have yourself an agent,” he said.
Jaleal sat precariously on the top of a barstool that was never meant for someone of his diminutive stature. His legs dangled over the edge as he leaned on the bar and looked into the cup of amber colored liquid before him. The mead was sweet, with a hint of lemon sparking off the honey flavor, but he had hardly taken more than a few sips. He looked up from the drink and glanced around the room again, still trying to adjust to seeing the tall, slender, elf folk instead of humans around him.
They wore fine robes and adorned themselves with jewels and bracelets, sipping their mead and speaking in hushed tones. It was not at all like the raunchy pubs or taverns he had heard about in Buktah or other cities within the Middle Kingdom. Instead of the crude cigarette smoke and the harsh smell of cheap beer and vomit, the air in this tavern swirled with the aroma of cherry cigars and pipes with apricot flavored tobacco. The high-arching ceiling provided enough ventilation through wooden slats controlled by draw strings that the smoke itself did not hang low in the room.
The music was different too. Instead of the raucous, boisterous playing of fiddles and drums, the elves listened to a duo of flutists accompanied by a harpist. It was nearly enough to put Jaleal to sleep. Still, underneath the façade of refinement was an air of caution and worry.
Jaleal saw the nervous glances toward the door and windows. He could hear the whispers falling from the thin lips around him. Though the elves appeared calm and serene, they were all plagued with the same visions the gnome was replaying in his own mind about the night before.
The word “drow,” was only mentioned a few times that Jaleal could hear, but he knew it was on everyone’s mind. A dark elf had come into the city and wreaked a havoc that had not been seen for centuries by the folk in Bluewater.
By comparison, the events of the night paled when Jaleal thought of the battle at Fort Drake. Jaleal smiled wistfully as he thought of Erik, his young friend who could likely have taken the drow down very easily last night. Jaleal could have too, if he had been closer to the fight when it started.
Nothing was the same here.
The elves didn’t have the slightest command over magic compared to what was possible in the Middle Kingdom. Only those who studied and trained diligently, and in secret, could attain the level of skill that the drow displayed last night.
Worse still, they had not seen any sign of Talon.
Jaleal turned to his drink and picked it up. He let a bit of the cool liquid pass over his lip and down into his throat, hardly savoring any of the flavor. He drank more out of boredom than anything else. Phinean had been gone for hours. Jaleal sighed and turned to look at the door.
He started when he saw Phinean climbing up onto the stool next to him.
“Sorry that took so long,” Phinean offered.
“Where did you go?” Jaleal asked.
“I wanted to see the…” Phinean stopped and looked around before leaning in and whispering the rest to Jaleal. “I went to see the dark elf’s body.”
“Learn anything useful?” Jaleal asked.
Phinean nodded. “Come, let’s go.” Phinean paid for Jaleal’s tab and the two exited the tavern. Jaleal tried to ask what they were doing, but each time Phinean shushed him with a finger over his lips and an angry glare. Even after they had passed the borders of the city and entered into the lush forest, Phinean demanded silence. They wandered in what might have seemed an aimless pattern over knolls, through copses of trees and around tangled briars. Yet, with one look to Phinean’s determined gaze, Jaleal was reassured that at least one of them knew where they were going.
They pressed deeper into the forest for maybe half an hour before they finally rounded a large hillock to see that the backside was a rigid rock face extending fifteen feet in height and over twenty feet in width. Jaleal quickly spotted the tiny entrance to an old, abandoned mine shaft.
“This is where the drow came from?” Jaleal guessed.
Phinean stopped before the entrance and turned a stern gaze to Jaleal. “This is the grave of a great and powerful warrior, and his dragon.”
Jaleal bristled. His right hand went for his spear and he made a show of flipping it over in his hands. “Are you certain the dragon is dead?”
Phinean nodded. “Of course.” The gnome walked toward the entrance and then paused a few feet before it. He turned back to Jaleal and then he shrugged. “Actually, I am not sure of anything anymore.”
“I’ll lead the way,” Jaleal said confidently. “I have dealt with dragons before.”
Phinean reached out and grabbed Jaleal’s shoulder. “The dragon imprisoned inside this cave was an Ancient. He would not be so easy to put down.”
Jaleal grinned. “So was the other dragon I hunted.” The warrior gnome left out the part that he had nearly died when he confronted Tu’luh the Red, and even then he had been with Erik.
Phinean gestured to the opening and Jaleal went in first.
To his satisfaction, he found no creatures of any kind dwelling in the shaft. In fact he found hardly anything at all. There was a burned torch stump on the floor near the entrance, but little else. Phinean produced a magical light that hovered in front of them.
Jaleal turned questioningly and pointed to the light. “I thought you said you couldn’t do magic?”
Phinean shook his head. “I said that magic here is different. I can use the gift, when the occasion calls for it.”
“But you can’t travel through trees?” Jaleal pressed.
Phinean shook his head again. “I have never heard of any gnome traveling in such a manner. Though I do have other means of travel at my disposal.”
“Anything we could have used?” Jaleal asked.
Phinean pointed down the cave. “Not for land,” he said. “And before you ask me about teleportation, that was a one-off event. It took several elves combining their magic with my own, as well as Jahre, to get me to you.”
“How long have you known him, Jahre, I mean?”
Phinean’s voice cracked and he looked to the ground. “Centuries.”
Jaleal nodded his head. “I’m sorry,” he offered.
Phinean replied with a half-smile.
The two began walking deeper into the tunnel. The wooden support beams were aged and looked the worse for wear. Dust plumed up around their feet with each step, their footfalls echoing down through the tunnel. They walked a long way down the tunnel to see where it led. To Jaleal’s surprise there was no sign of mining. No tools, no marks in the wall, not even so much as a small hole anywhere to be seen.
“This is a tomb, you said?” Jaleal whispered.
“After the last battle, the mighty dragon entered into this cave with King Lemork’s remains to hide and recover.”
“This black dragon, you said it was one of the Ancients, is that correct?” Jaleal asked.
Phinean nodded. “Jahre was certain of it, though there are no books which name him.”
Jaleal whistled through his teeth. “There was only one Ancient that was black. His name was Gorensikdar, the Father of Chaos.” Jaleal stopped walking and turned to Phinean. “You do know the story, don’t you?”
Phinean shook his head and shrugged. “We are far removed from the Heart of Terramyr. Furthermore, our lands are cut off from the rest of the world. It is all but impossible to travel in or out of this corner of Terramyr. There is a great reef that allows passage only at one point, but even that was sealed off centuries ago, and now none can come or go except by great magic.”
“You don’t know the creation story?” Jaleal pressed incredulously. “What kind of gnome can you be if you don’t know where you came from?”
Phinean bristled and stood tall. “We gnomes know that Terramyr herself is our mother. We were created as a defense for the world, a protection from the evil that threatens it.”
“You say you know,” Jaleal said. “But the truth is you know only a fraction of it.”
Phinean’s eyes glowed hot with anger, but he sighed and blinked the wrath away with a shake of his head. “That is why we need your help. Jahre wasn’t able to piece it all together. Our records of the creation period are not complete. Our knowledge of the Goresym itself is limited as well. Jahre knew enough to recognize that the black dragon was an Ancient, but there were many on the council in Svatal who disagreed with him. Without the complete records, it was impossible to prove them wrong.”
“So you brought me here to identify him?” Jaleal asked.
Phinean shook his head. “To help fill the gaps in our knowledge, and to help us use the Goresym to save the world.”
Jaleal bit his lip and arched a brow. He stamped his spear on the ground and huffed. “If it is one of the Ancients, and he is black, then his name is Gorensikdar. He was the serpent who tempted Khullan to create the races of creatures that Icadion cursed. He is the father of deceit, and the patron of chaos. His cunning is what cursed Terramyr with orcs, goblins, trolls, and all the other ilk that Khullan set upon her face.”
Phinean tugged at his beard with his right and fell backward against the wall, sliding down to his rump. “Then we are in more trouble than even Jahre suspected,” Phinean whispered.
“If he is dead, then what more trouble can he cause?” Jaleal asked.
Phinean shook his head. “If this dragon is the one you speak of, then a portion of him still lives.”
Jaleal cocked his head to the side and then it clicked for him. “The sword you mentioned?”
Phinean nodded. “Drekk’hul was forged by the black dragon and given to the Sierri’Tai. King Lemork wielded it, but the sword was buried in this tomb with the dragon and the king’s remains. No elf dared to touch the cursed blade, for it was said that it could control the one who held it, corrupting their very souls.”
“So Jahre wanted the Goresym to finish off the last remains of Gorensikdar, then,” Jaleal said.
Phinean nodded, but the shock on his face was replaced by fear. His hands trembled and his voice quavered. “Are you certain there are no other black dragons among the Ancients?”
Jaleal shook his head. “Do you know how many Ancients there were?” he asked.
Phinean shrugged. “In our holy writ it is said that there was a number of dragons who lived within the sun that Icadion created. It is said that they emerged from the fires and then were given the charge to guard the peoples of Terramyr. We know that after the creation, they were sent to the Heart of Terramyr so they could guard the most sacred secrets of the world.”
Jaleal moved over and pulled Phinean to his feet. “Why are your scriptures lacking so much in detail?” he asked.
Phinean shrugged again. “The first peoples who came to this part of the world were not very strong believers. Our history is not a pristine one. The mainland was settled by savages, raiders, and merchants. They weren’t the kind to keep scripture, or value it. The elves brought their scriptures with them, as well as their books of history, but in the wars that ravaged this land, many of them were lost. What we have left is now preserved by the councils on the Elven Isles. The council in Svatal has the largest library. That is why Jahre made this his homeland. Selemet Isle was in large part ruled by the Sierri’Tai, and they destroyed any records they could find. The council that presides there now has a smaller library, and it is acknowledged among scholars and priests alike that the collection is incomplete.”
Jaleal put a hand on Phinean’s shoulder. “Then let me give you a quick version of the creation as it concerns the Ancients. There were seven such dragons that lived within the fires of the sun. They were not born of the sun that Icadion created, but hailed from somewhere else, a world known as Kendualdern. The seven Ancients each had a different appearance. Hiasyntar Ku’lai is golden, and known as the Father of the Ancients. There was also a silver dragon, a bronze dragon, a red dragon, a blue one, a white one, and a black dragon. Of the seven, only six were permitted to retain their status as they moved to live upon Terramyr. The seventh, Gorensikdar, was cursed to wander the plane of the living with no memory of who he once was.
“It was Icadion who cursed him, for his meddling in the creation process. After that, there was a great war between Icadion and Khullan.”
Phinean held up a hand. “We are aware of that part. That is one of the few portions we have in almost complete detail, except that it makes no mention of Gorensikdar or the other Ancients.”
Jaleal pointed down the tunnel. “So, if the assassin doesn’t have the sword, then it should be in here, yes?”
“The drow, you suspect it was King Lemork?” Jaleal pressed.
Phinean shook his head. “King Lemork was slain by the human king, a man named Dailex. There were many witnesses to that fact. The dragon was alive when it came here, but the Sierri’Tai king was dead.”
“So what are we hoping to find here?” Jaleal asked.
Phinean sighed. “I am not sure that I know what I want to find,” he said. “I want confirmation that the beast is dead. I want to know if the drow came from this cave, and if so, whether there are more.”
“Shouldn’t we get assistance then, from the elves I mean?”
Phinean shook his head. “There is a special order that deals with the secrets left over after the Elf Wars,” Phinean replied. “They are a highly trained, secretive group called the Svetli’Tai Kruks. In order to learn about their secrets, and the things they guard, one must be sworn to their service. If they discovered how much I knew, I would be given the choice of servitude, or death.”