The Road to Shadrazar

JP with Thaen, Rosmary, and Ender

It took nine tries this time around, starting with the first set of doors that appeared like magic in the hallway. Some led to interiors of private homes, some the backrooms of shops or taverns. Most doors merely warranted a quick glance to establish they were not where Reise wanted to go before he moved on to check the next one, Severos and Orla cautiously following behind him.

One door opened onto a vaulted chamber of gothic appearance with numerous men in priestly robes performing a religious ceremony in front of a standing audience of chainmailed knights. Reise cursed under his breath, realising he was intruding within no less than the main headquarters of the High Church of Sarnia in Courlimar. The Church was not something he wished to mess with, nor that he wanted to have messing around with him either with all the other concerns that were already heaped on his plate. A man with glasses and a fur coat was standing at a pew listening to the mass and turned curiously in their direction. Reise gave Chris Van Binsul an apologetic shrug before quickly backing out of the nave and closing the door.

“The Hallway isn't reliable under the best of circumstances, but it's never been this bad,” Reise said, leaning back against the door. “If I didn't know better I would think it was trying to get us killed.”

"Perhaps that god you wisely decided to antagonize by trying to vaporise him was correct," Severos replied, brushing soot off of his robe from a close encounter with a strange serpentine dragon with a long trailing moustache the three had accidentally disturbed five minutes earlier. "In the lectures of Master Soran at Miekrannis College, the Hall of Doors was said to be a fickle place, constantly changing and opening new doors even as old ones are sealed ad infinitum. Mayhaps the Hall is doing exactly that?"

Impatience flared in Reise's eyes. “Severos, I mean this with all due respect, but the Hallway isn’t related to any of the mumbo jumbo you might have learned about in your little magic school. It’s not based on magic at all, it's science.”

Severos held his tongue at the frustrated retort and merely raised an eyebrow. “Science?” He spread his hands to encompass the Hallway of Doors. “Science can't create anything like this.”

“It can if you know how to bend it,” Reise told him.

Severos frowned. “Bend it?”

Reise sighed loudly and ended the discussion with an impatient wave of his hand. He had no inclination to waste time trying to explain it to a medieval man with no background understanding of high energy physics, let alone transdimensional engineering.

At the mage’s confused expression, Orla smiled sympathetically. “It makes no sense to me either. None at all.”

"What makes no sense to me is why in all the heavens and Hells this is even happening!” Reise said in frustration.

“It has to be the Zataran god Ar, or the Nameless, or both,” Severos said, remembering what they had been told at the orc's house.

“If Fernoia was still here she would aid us,” Orla said with absolute certainty.

“Yeah, well she seems to have lost a game of musical chairs with the other gods.” Reise a second later frowned at his insensitivity and looked to Orla. “Sorry, that was an asinine remark. You are right, the goddess would help us rescue you. I am just getting so mighty tired of these other so-called 'divine beings' interfering with mortal affairs because they feel they're important enough to change everything they deem to not fit their view, and be damned to the people who don't go along!" he vented, kicking a door open.

It started to close when Severos reached in and stopped the door. "Reise," he said, looking past him. The young man who was not really so young snapped his head back and took a closer look. They had opened the door of what appeared to be an empty carriage stopped on the road. That never happened, or rarely happened. The three stepped out in single file and found themselves on a bustling street fronted by stone buildings.

"Whither are we now?" Orla asked, hopping to the ground.

"Let's see," Severos said with a closer look about. He saw the road ahead and had a working idea on their whereabouts. "If that branch up the road is indication, as are those mountains to the… east, then we are in Middle Sarnia. East Midsarn as the locals colloquially call it. And a good deal closer than I expected to Zatar and the road to Shadrazar. We're practically on top of it. Come, this way, my friends."

The mage led them into a bazaar that spread out before them in a maze-like arrangement. Vendors with carts and tables laden with bolts of luxurious fabric, bowls and pottery, loaves of freshly baked bread, jars of cashew nuts and honey. Thronging the marketplace were humans, tanned dark as bronze. The men were dressed exotically in long robes and turbans, the women in alluring veils. The Sarnian border town was similar in many ways to Amanap, a place where west met east. Severos turned to see Orla looking around in wide-eyed wonder and Reise with a frustrated look on his face as he waved his scanner in every possible direction in search of their missing friend who seemed close, yet so very far.

“We'll find her,” Severos assured him, not for the first time.

“Those mountains are full of iron,” Orla said, instinctively able to sense that even at such a distance. “They would block any detection of my... her presence.”

Reise nodded at them both. “The Zataran sorceress couldn't have gotten here ahead of us, could she?”

“The mages of Zatar are some of the mightiest in Aeran,” Severos said. “I wouldn't underestimate what any of them are capable of.” He scanned the bazaar with his eyes. “We should prepare to enter Zatar and begin stocking up on supplies and provisions.”

“Okay, what do we need?” Reise said, getting out his money.

Severos ticked off a list on his fingers. “Water, and a lot of it. In the desert water will be worth its weight in gold. We'll need jugs of it. Food, dried fruit and nuts won't spoil in this climate. Tents for sleeping outside and to keep us safe if a sandstorm erupts. Sun cream to protect our skin, though you two will need it far more than me. Some sturdy sandals. That is what many wear here instead of boots. We'll also need proper garments.”

“What do you suggest?” Orla asked.

“Galabeyas would be best I think. That's what my father wore when he entered Zatar. They're a long hooded robe that will keep us warm at night and during the worst of the day protect us against sunburn and blowing sand. We'll want plain ones so we don't attract any attention once we're on the road, and some finer kind to make us look like respectable and prosperous merchants. For you Orla, a gomlek, which is like a light undershirt worn under an entari, a loose fitting dress. A face veil might be a good idea for you as well. Also a burnous for each of us. They're a sort of travelling cloak.”

“I know what a burnous is,” Reise said. “So with that brass plaque of yours, I take it we'll be pretending to work for you?”

Severos nodded. “My father was a member of the Amanap Society of Merchant Venturers. I will be running my father's business acquiring exotic silks and spices that Zatar has mostly cornered the market on. You two will be my trusty assistants.”

“Fine, whatever. Let's get moving,” Reise said, able to take no fun in any of this as he imagined what Orla even now might be going through.

As Severos and the Orla fragment browsed the garments on display, Reise drifted to a liquor stand with an assortment of brightly designed bottles. Without giving it too much thought he grabbed the fanciest looking one as a method of celebration once this was all over, and paid the vendor for it. The man smiled craftily with brown rotten teeth as Reise stuck the bottle in his pack and walked back to the others.

After making some more purchases, the three ended up near the military checkpoint on a heavily guarded crossing that allowed authorised persons from Sarnia into Zatar's capital city, Shadrazar. That was when there was a series of vibrations from the prongs of the tuning fork given to them by Hemlock.

“The Mortith?” Severos said, unable to believe it. “Shade?!”

Incredibly, by some extraordinary stroke of luck, the necromantic tome was surprisingly close. The three of them looked around and soon spotted a very short hooded figure walking down the road, insects flying around his body, a sickly infested staff in his black hands. It was a halfling, but not the one from before.

"'Go to Zatar' he says. 'It's perfect,' he says. Damn you Sabriel." The figure spoke in a nasty voice, with chitinous clicks in-between each ranting word. Nearby him was the corpse of a young woman, which a swarm of insects were feasting on. "At least my friends can feed on this foolish girl." He let out a sickly chuckle.

Reise rolled his shoulders back. “Enough of this,” he said and drew his whip-thin sword from a cane shaped hilt. But as he did it the weapon changed into a thickly bladed instrument. Shaped like half a trapezoid. Swiping the blade through the air produced a crescent arc of black energy that screamed through the air sounding like a thunderous whistling firework. It burned the ozone in its wake, slicing through the obviously evil creature with an instantaneous immolation that left not even ash in the path it cut through the humanoid figure.

Severos and Orla exchanged shocked looks at Reise striking the man down so swiftly and ruthlessly.

Leo exploded into a burst of insects, the Mortith flying in the air. However before Reise could snatch the book the swarm of insects gathered themselves and flew into the air, reforming into the bug-like halfling, two wasp wings sprouted from his back. "Who are you!?"

Reise didn’t even respond, he just sliced the air again, in a pattern the man couldn’t escape. Again the cuts vaporizing what they came in contact with. Every time the ‘thing’ tried to start to reform, Reise blasted it again with another screaming slash from his blade. His usually vibrant eyes now dull and cold and he went on and on, taking a step closer with each ‘kill’.

Leo knowing he wasn't going to make it in the air took it to the ground, burying himself in the sands, with the book. The sands began to move as a large mass moved underneath it. Leo jumped out in the form of a giant scorpion version of himself. He snatched Reise with one of his pinchers, slamming him into the sandy ground. With his stinger he went for the kill, aiming at the man's abdomen.

Reise showed no fear. Quickly pulling something from his waist, a thunderous ‘fwoof’ filled the air as two beams of energy cracked off. Up through the beast head and tail. Firing off another beam to sever the claw and free himself, Reise stood and brushed himself off, kicking away the writhing claw.

As Leo reeled back in pain, he spat at Reise. A black goo hit him in the side, burning away at his clothes and flesh. The scorpion monster used his other claw that wasn't detected to grapple Reise's arm, threatening to cut it off. "I know you, Horo Inu. My Master has just told me all about you. You don't belong here, but you've made this place your home." He let out a click of laughter. "And now you've come to save your friend? My master is making sure she breaks. Thanks for pushing away the Guardian and his brother, you have been a big help for us. Think you could kill the King in White while you're at it too?" He laughed.

"Draken is dead, meaning you are the only one in our way of converting the fey. Yes, we know what she is. We know everything, and that is why you're going to lose! If I can't kill you, Sabriel will certainly dispose of you." Leo began to close his claw, drawing blood. "You know, I can spare you though, Wandering Dog. Bring you to your friend. All you have to do is swear loyalty to my master."

Severos kept in front of Orla, tightening his grip on his willow staff as he said, "Stay behind me." With that, he began to focus on the mage. He muttered low, words of power quick to his tongue as he channeled the Weave of Aeran. He focused on the claw holding Reise as the servant of the Nameless laughed, twisting its claw to prevent Reise from detaching that one.

Leo was focused on Reise for the other two seemed frozen in fear. As well as they should be, he thought with a mental, malicious grin. "Now, time to dispose of you!" He laughed again, raising his scorpion tail out of the sand.

He felt the spell hit him even as he watched his claw suddenly begin to turn crystalline, cracking along the entire length as chitin was replaced with glass. The pain was excruciating as it shattered into hundreds of pieces. The tail stabbed at Reise, missing mere centimeters as the Wandering Dog dodged out of the way. Screaming in pain and fury, he finally noticed that one of those two carried a staff, the young man leaning into his staff as he stared directly at Leo with unblinking focus.

Realizing his form was compromised, Leo backed away from Reise, who narrowly missed him with that odd sword. Once more he switched his form, a cloud of insects exploding from his form. Severos was waiting for that, well aware of what schools of magic this particular mage was using. "MUSA ventosa," evoked Severos, even as he splayed his fingers behind him, already preparing another spell.

The gust of wind came, throwing the cloud into disarray as Severos mentally invoked illusion magic. This was his specialty, as was transmutation. This took very little of his attention, the ease he had in projecting once being a highway to becoming a master.

Leo could not keep his cloud together, forcing his insects to coalesce into his humanoid form. Reise, seeing Severos' work for the first time in two years, was appreciative that young Aven was just as capable as two years ago. The mage was already beginning to channel the power needed to blast them with energy when Reise came forth again through the whipping dirt and leaves. The Wandering Dog had to dodge out of the way as a twin column of insects barreled out of the wizard's arms. They swerved in the air, now aimed for Orla and Severos.

Severos finished his spell with a quickness that surprised him and calmly stepped a few feet to the left, always protecting Orla as he moved. She in turn was flexing her little fingers and preparing her own spells, whatever those might be. The insects dove for them then and Leo laughed as he swarmed the two.

"Bastard mage," Leo muttered. He then stared wide-eyed as his swarms withdrew, the two blinking from existence as the bugs attempted to sting and bite.

Hidden by magic, Severos produced his hawthorne wand from his sleeve. He aimed carefully as Reise made the wizard pay attention to him. "Fulmen," he said with calmness. His lightning bolt cracked from the tip.

Leo changed back to normal, his wounds were repaired by the additional insects. Pointing his staff back he snarled, "Isvilm!" A shield appearing as a giant black beetle took the blast from Severos.

"No more games! Isn't that what you said, Wandering Dog?" Leo slammed his staff into the ground, his mouth split apart as he snarled a spell, "XIS'VOR!" The desert sands moved as if they were liquid, a shockwave sending everyone away from him. "Forvic Moor Kith!" He screamed again, thousands of beetles crawled from the sands, crawling towards Leo, he broke down before reforming into a horrific armored bug beast, taking on characteristics of an emperor scorpion, a tomb beetle, a pray mantis, a black window, and a wasp. He pointed his large black claws at Reise, "EVAPOS! however before his spell could even be casted, a bright beacon of white light struck the beast.

Leo screamed in fury and anguish as the light fried the monster. Once the light faded off, the monster's form crumbled, leaving Leo back in his original form, burnt greatly. He snarled at them, too weak any longer to fight. "Why, why does he protect you? Any of you! You rejected him! He should have let you die, yet he comes to aid you whenever the time comes! Why! Tell me, TELL ME!" He screamed at him, crawling pathetically on the sands towards Reise.

“Because he's a damn busybody! Now shut up and die!” Reise said, levelling another device at Leo.

The man formerly known as Horo Inu fired his death ray just as Severos shouted "Fulmen!," and let loose another bolt of lightning. The near simultaneous attacks of science and magic struck Leo and the evil halfling fell to the ground and stopped moving.

Reise walked over and gave Leo a few hard kicks. After ensuring the hivemaster was really dead this time, he retrieved the Mortith from out of the remains of the halfling's broken and blackened carcass. He held the book away from Severos, his eyes warning the young mage to maintain some distance lest its malignant influence once more take hold and undo Hemlock's temporary cure. He could not bear the thought of Severos regressing back to the feeble-minded wretch that two years of safekeeping the Mortith had turned the wonderful young man into.

Reise heard a cry of concern from Orla and turned as she hurriedly rushed forward to examine his battle wounds. It was only then that he even realised he was wounded. Looking down, he touched the sticky blood that was soaking through his shirt where Leo's pinchers had bit into his sides when they grabbed him earlier. “Oh, by the goddess,” she exclaimed. “He could have cut you in twain...”

“No, I wouldn't have let him,” Reise said, seemingly unfazed by the brutal fight.

Orla placed her small hands over his injuries and incanted a healing spell. Like soothing warm water, waves of restorative magic flooded through Reise, mending his sliced flesh and cleansing them of any trace of infection.

“I didn't know what to do,” she said, upset at having to stand by and only watch as her two best friends battled the deadly halfling.

“If you intervened you would've just got yourself hurt or one of us killed. No, you did the right thing, Orla.”

“I have no talent for fighting, I know naught of battle magic. To inflict harm on another is against all my instincts and against who I am. But at times like these... I feel so useless.”

“You're far from useless,” Reise assured her, reaching down and feeling where his wounds had completely healed. “I'm not a big fan of magic as you know, but I'd be lying if I said it doesn't come in handy sometimes. I have a bad feeling before this is over we're going to need just about everything in both your and Severos's bag of tricks. Zatar is a very dangerous place-even more dangerous than Dalen is right now.”

“Well it seems our luck has turned at last,” Severos said with a smile. “We have the Mortith back again. It happened so suddenly I can hardly believe it. This only makes me think we will soon have Orla back as well.”

“Did you hear what he said about Draken being dead? And about breaking--” the Orla fragment started before Reise cut her off.

“I wouldn't pay attention to what that freak said. But what Severos said I hope is true. That good luck is ours.”

Severos smiled and patted them both on the shoulder. “After recent events I'd say we're owed a lot more good luck.”

Together the three began their walk up the road to Shadrazar.

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