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Orion startles awake from a deep rumble and looks over at Mark nodding off as he leans against a cave wall. "Hungry Mark?"
Mark jumps, and shakes his head, "That wasn't me Skinny Legs..."
Orion begins to rise, his ribs still sore from his gripping flight to the cave, but before he can exit the small side cave Father Almoraz rushes in, Greywolf in tow. "Orion, she is awake-and she has asked to speak to you...please, do not anger her again."
Orion chuckles and shakes his head, "Not until I've healed, but you have to admit she has pretty eyes. I'll bet--"
Before he can continue his statement, Morna's voice hisses like steam rushing from a boiler room, "Orion, I would speak to you now!"
Orion walks out of the side cavern and into the massive main chamber of the lair alone. Before him stands Morna in all her draconic beauty. The mage is surprised to see that there she has no hoard. All the stories he had ever heard about dragons had him evisioning her lying on a bed of gold coins and precious gems with here and there a weapon or suit of armor sticking out from the piles of riches. Instead, she lies on nothing more than a mound of river sand. It is probably more comfortable than lying on gem-encrusted goblets, he thinks.
Steam rises from Morna's nostrils as she glares at Orion. She yawns in apparent disinterest, revealing row upon row of gaping teeth. With an idle claw she picks a piece of horse flesh from her maw and then turns to study him again. "I see you have healed from your wounds of yesterday. Are you ready to take a more respectful attitude, or must I kill you outright this time?"
Orion inclines his head slightly, "I meant no disrespect yesterday, had you only given me a chance to explain before you crushed me."
"I do not recall that you made any effort to soften your words. You have time now, but beware your tongue."
"My effort yesterday was occupied with breathing. However let's let bygones be bygones. We obviously started off on the wrong foot, or claw, if you'd rather. Let us dispense with the pleasantries and just get down to it. You obviously have the power to kill me in a single grasp of a claw, or a single breath from your lungs.
"Which is why you should never dispense with the pleasantries when speaking with me--or any dragon." She pauses only a moment to let that sink in before changing the subject. "Almorhaz has assured me that you are indeed heir to the Tower of Ebenfar. When I plucked you off the Moor it did not seem that your quest was going very well..."
Orion laughes, "It has been an interesting story, Mistress. We had a rough time with the two trolls atop the Tor, but all in all the trip had been fairly successful. All I know is that in order to find the man that killed my parents I will have to take the Tower at Ebenfar and reclaim my ancestor's glory."
"I do not understand. Are you serving the Dark Goddess, or are you on a quest for vengeance? Yesterday you spoke as if you were simply using the Goddess to acquire power, and today you speak as though the quest for power is simply a means to achieve vengeance. What is it you seek?"
Orion looks up sharply. The question reminds him of his first meeting with his ancestor, Balen Calendir. "What dost thou seek, my son?" the lich had asked him. His answer then was, "Revenge." Revenge first, power second. Revenge for his dead parents. Revenge for the idyllic childhood he lost. Someone was going to have to pay for the years of sadness, the years of mourning for his lost happiness. "Vengeance is what I seek, and I will do whatever is necessary to see that vengeance played out."
"Where do I fit into your vengeance? I have my own quest to pursue--I'm guessing that Almorhaz has already told you what it is that I seek. How would helping you help me?"
"In my quest for vengeance I have already aquired much power. As my power grows my magic grows stronger and stronger. I can use that power to help you track down the people who did this to you, so that you can have your vengeance, too. Also, in the tower of Ebenfar lies a gate to an ancient library of Balen's. If you help me to take it over, it is possible that I could find a spell in that library that could break your enchantent"
Morna seems to consider this for a few minutes. What you ask is very definite: 'Help me take over a tower.' What you offer is very tenuous. How do I know that you won't get inside your tower and forget your promises of help?
Orion chuckles, and rubs his ribs, "You spared my life once, and I always repay my debts, whether it be vengeance or help. I will do my best to give you your life back, by the Mistress of the NIght. But since I know my word will mean little to you, it will take your power to help me gain my tower, you could use that power just as easily to reduce it to rubble if I try to forget."
"Perhaps. Are you wanting me to reduce it to rubble now? It would be of little use to you, if I did."
"No, I don't want you to reduce it to rubble. But I was hoping you had information on who occupied the tower, it's defenses, things like that. Also, when the time comes, your presence alone would help win any battle."
"The tower is held by the hobgoblin, Buk Z'rok. It is surrounded by a village of hobgoblins. He has united all of the hobgoblin tribes on the Moor under his leadership, and has subjugated the goblins, as well. He is now in a war against the orcs, if you can call these tribal raids a war. "
"Hm, I do not think that even with your might we would have the power necessary to slaughter an entire tribe of hobgoblins....perhaps there is a way to persuade them to join me in my quest. Are any of the tribes jealous of Buk Z'rok's power, perhaps enough to stage a coup with our assistance? Then in return perhaps we could gain their loyalty..."
The corners of her mouth stretch back revealing her swordlike teeth in what might be a smile. "In fact, I have been nursing one such jealousy. There is a cabal of Shar worshippers within Z'rok's tribe. They must stay hidden because their worship is forbidden by the priests of Magubliyet, who are allied with Z'rok and support his rule. The faithful Sharrans seek to overthrow the established order and place one of their own in power. To that end, they have seduced the Chieftain's son with dreams of replacing his father early..."
Orion smiles in return, folding his hands in the sleeves of his robes, "Excellent. Are they strong enough to make their move yet?"
"Not by themselves. Most goblins venerate Magubliyet, and his clergy is widely respected among their kind. The Chieftain has their backing, and that carries a lot of weight with the soldiers of the tribe. Not to mention that he has been very succesful militarily. It would take a lot for the tribe to abandon him. Perhaps you should challenge him to person combat for the tower." There's a spark of amusement in her green, reptillian eyes.
Orion chuckles, "I could do that, but would burning him to a crisp have the same effect as a physical fight?"
"Hobgoblins are not orcs. They are intelligent enough to respect power in any form. The more pertinent question is whether they would follow a human who had struck down their chieftain."
"Do you think he would accept such a challenge?"
"I don't know. If he refused, though, it would lessen him in the eyes of the tribe."
"Which might give his Son the chance to take his father's place."
"If he refuses."
"And if he does not, he will die. Either way, it will not be a good day for him."
"You are very sure of yourself."
Orion laughs, "I am. I have no other option."
"A little caution might be in order," the dragon replies irritably. "You know nothing of Buk Z'rok, and he may prove to be more than a match for you. He cleared the tower of its previous inhabitants when he claimed it for himself. It was full of undead creatures, from what I've heard. Supposedly, the ground floor and the dungeons below were never cleared. They built a ramp of stone and earth up to the second floor, and added a new door. No one goes into the bottom floors, unless Buk has them thrown in as a punishment."
"If you want to fight him, though, I will take you there. At the very least, he may find my presence intimidating."
"I am not afraid of the lower levels, the protectors of that castle are the creations of my ancestor. I am ready to fight him at any time, though I would like to talk to Almoraz, as well as you about any spells that you can cast on me before hand to assist in the fight. Also I will need to prepare a different set of spells, so I believe we should go tomorrow."
She stretches lazily. "That is good. I hate to fly on a full stomach. Make your preparations with Almorhaz, and I will call for you before dawn tomorrow morning. We will fly to the tor where I found you, and leave your companions there. You and I will fly down out of the evening sky, and spoil their dinner."
Orion grins in thought, "Yes, we will spoil their entire day I believe. I must go prepare myself and speak with Almorhaz about what he can do to help ensure my victory." He turns to walk off, and then pauses, "Morna....thank you for your help." without waiting for her reply he walks back to the smaller cave."
Father Almorhaz rises when he enters, and raises one eyebrow. "Well... you are still alive. The interview must have gone well. Will she help us then?"
Orion nods, "It went much better than last time. Tomorrow I will claim my tower."
Marcellus frowns. "You will claim? What about the rest of us?"
"I must do this alone. The keep has been taken by Hobgoblins, and they have an entire town surrounding the tower. There is a small clique of Sharrans that are vying for power, and I am going to go help. I have to challenge the leader to personal combat, and unfortunately I need to make a grand entrance for them to respect me."
"What are we supposed to do in the meantime? Just sit in this cave and pick lint out of our bellies?"
"You will come with us as far as the tor where we fought the trolls. Morna and I will continue on from there. I will only be gone for a few hours, once I have defeated the leader in battle, Morna will come and retrieve you all so that we may begin to get everything in order. Al, I will need any assistance you can provide."
"You speak of magical protections?"
"Or enhancements, anything you can provide to help"
"I will do what I can, but many of my best spells last only a few minutes."
"Surely you have something that will last a few hours?"
The priest looks embarrassed. "Truthfully, no. I have no spells that would be of use to you in a fight that will last for more than an hour."
Orion chuckles, "Well then, I suppose that will have to do." He seats himself on his mattress, and prepares to wait.
The time passes slowly, measured only by the gradual lightening and then darkening of the blackness beyond their torchlight. Marcellus is restless, pacing around the cavern. Father Almorhaz eventually draws him into a game of knucklebones to distract him. Greywolf spends his time examining his equipment to make sure it is in good working order. He sharpens his sword and dagger, and waxes his bow string.
Orion pulls out his spellbook, and flips through it for awhile. Then he sets it aside and pulls out the Tome of Shadows to read through it again. After some time he drifts off to sleep, the book resting on his chest.
Darkness surrounds Orion. An absolute darkness that deprives him of sight as if his eyes had been removed from their sockets. Blind as he is, though, he has an awareness of his surroundings. Like being in his bedroom on a cloudy night with no lamp, he sees what is around him in his mind and is aware of its location by long familiarity. Yet, he has never before been in the place where he now stands. There is a stone passageway before him. Bending around to his right with a confusing array of openings and branches. It is a labyrinth. The shape of it takes form in his mind, as though he looked down on a floorplan. It is octagonal in shape and the passages seem to spiral in towards an open area in the center. Voices call to him from that center. "Come to us, Lord. We call to thee."
He begins to walk forward, his right hand out to the side, feeling along the wall. He comes to an opening, and passes through it, turning about to walk back parallel to the way he came, until the passage ends and turns back on itself again. He continues on, a shorter distance this time, another opening, and he steps through, his hand keeping contact with the wall, and directing him back along a parallel path. One last time the passage folds back on itself, and then he steps out into the center room. The voices whisper all around him. He can see shapes, blacker than the blackness around him. they move closer, crowding around him, calling to him, reaching out to him. Their touch freezes his skin, causing him to cry out in pain. He feels his life force leaving his body, feeding the shadows that press in on him. A claw digs into his shoulder, tearing at him, shaking him... "Orion!" it croaks.
"Orion! Wake up!" He opens his eyes, and Father Almorhaz gives him another shake. "C'mon, it's time to get up. Morna is ready to go."
Orion glares at Almorhaz, then sits up quickly, shivering as he grasps his shoulder where the claw dug into it in the dream. He shakes the sleep out of his eyes and whispers to no one, "Again you call me, and again I will answer that call."
Almorhaz takes a step backwards, and surreptitiously makes the sign of warding with his right hand. "Morna awaits us on the rocks above," he says, shouldering his pack.
Orion stands, putting his books in his pack, and slips the straps over his shoulders, smiling. "Good. Today we will make history our own." Without waiting to see if the others follow, he clicks his tongue for Nico to follow, and walks out of the cave, making his way to Morna.
Morna stands on a rocky outcrop outlined against the pale silver-blue of the eastern sky. She greets him with a nod of her horned head, and motions for the group to mount up. They scramble atop her back by way of her foreleg. She launches herself into the air with a leap, and a mighty thrust of her wings. The trees around them are blown into violent motion by the force of the wind. She rises in a wide looping spiral until they are about 500 feet above the ground, and then she strikes southeast in a straight line, aiming for the Moor and the rocky tor where they met two days before.
While Orion has experienced flight before, it is nothing like the flight on Morna's back. He looks in awe as the muscles on her back ripple with strength and raw power, and considers just how lucky he was not to be killed on that first day. He grins with the irony and mutters, "Luck of the Shadows." He then winces in pain, and realizes that Nico is latched on to his shoulders with a death grip. He pets his fur and whispers soothingly, "Nothing to fear little one."
After an hour or so in the sky, the thrill of the flight begins to wear off. The steady rhythm of Morna's wings beating against the cold morning air makes him sleepy, but he dares not relax his grip on her back. The sun rises up over the Moor to the east, and the sun slowly climbs into the sky. Even with the wind blowing over him, he can feel the sun's rays beating down on him. His back begins to cramp from sitting in one position for so long, and he tries to shift around to ease the tension in his muscles.
The forest fades from view behind them as they fly out over the Moor. Several times he thinks he sees the tor coming up below them, but the Moor is dotted with rocky hillocks barely distinguishable from each other. After what seems like an eternity, he can feel Morna begin to drop lower. She banks and begins to spiral downward, and he can see the tor below them. As they sink lower, he can make out the black splotches of burned grass where they burned the corpses of the trolls. The dragon lands heavily upon the rocks atop the tor, and folds her wings beneath her.
She turns her head towards them on her long snake-like neck. "Get down quickly. My back is aching from carrying you all."
Orion jumps down from her back, and waits for the others to follow suit. Nico jumps from the pouch and relieves himself in the grass, and then scratches the ground to feel it underneath his nails.
Marcellus walks over to the nearest tree, while Father Almorhaz slips behind a pile of rocks for several minutes.
Orion chuckes, and looks up to Morna, "Thank you for the ride, shall we rest until morning, or would you like to go now, so that we may do this under Shar's watchful eye?"
"I need to rest for a bit, and then we will continue. I do not wish to spend the night out here on this exposed rock. We are two hours from the tower, so we have plenty of time to get there for the evening meal. I will let you know when you should prepare yourself for the battle. "
Nodding, Orion pulls the Tome of Shadows from his back, pacing back and forth along the tor as he reads it, to stretch his legs. Nico finds a huge beetle walking along the rocks, and contents himelf with his new toy.
Greywolf spends the time walking around the tor, looking for tracks and staring across the moor. Marcellus sits down in the shade beneath a boulder, pulls out his dagger and practices throwing it at the ground between his boots. Almorhaz joins him in the shade, and makes an effort at conversation before lapsing into silence. The group seems restless, and not particularly happy.
Orion looks at the group and their restlessness, and turns to Marc, "What is on your mind Stinky?"
Marcellus looks up at Orion, balancing his dagger in his hand. "Going to be long night sitting out here on this rock waiting to hear from you. What happens to us if you don't win? We'll be stuck out here on the Moor with no horses... surrounded by those god-cursed trolls, and no way to get home except walk. I don't like it, Skinny Legs. I don't like it at all."
Orion nods, "I understand that." He turns to Morna, "Morna, if I die, will you come tell them and take them at least as far as the border to the moor?"
"Surely Shar does not allow for the possibility that her Chosen One will fail?"
Orion laughs, "No, but my friends don't seem to be as confident in my success as I am."
"They should place more faith in the Goddess..."
"Morna speaks the truth," Almorhaz chimes in. "Shar has led us here for a reason. We had a mission to perform. It is difficult for all of us to sit on the sidelines while Orion completes that mission--perhaps the hardest thing we have done so far. We must be patient though and place our faith in Her. She will see him through this trial, and he will not fail. Tomorrow night we will dine in the Tower of Ebenfar at his table."
Orion claps Almorhaz on the back, "Well said friend, tomorrow there will be a feast fit for kings."
Marcellus stands up abrubtly and looks at the others with a scowl. "I do not doubt that Orion has Shar's favor and is destined to succeed at whatever he undertakes. That doesn't mean that we too are destined to succeed. The three of us might die out on this tor after he leaves, and tomorrow while he feasts in the tower, our bones will lie bleaching in the sun, being picked by the crows and gnawed on by trolls."
A low chuckle comes from Morna.
Father Almorhaz stands up and places a hand on Marcellus's shoulder. "Do not doubt your place in the Dark Goddess's plans. You have played an important role from the beginning, and there is still much that you must do. I say this to you with certainty. I have forseen it."
Orion nods at Al's words, "Yeah Marc, you've been with me since the Dock Ward. "I'm not going to let you sit here and rot on this god-forsaken Tor. If I didn't think it would make me look weak you would come with me now, I am flying into a hornet's nest. Just like we always dreamed as kids, we'll be sitting on top."
The thief looks at Orion with a glimmer of hope in his eyes. He extends his hand, "Do you give me your word on that, Orion? You'll come back for me?"
Orion grasps Marcs hand firmly, "I do, friend. And you know I am good to my word."
"Alright then. Good luck, Orion." He chuckles. "In case you need it."
Orion smiles, "Thanks Marc, good luck to you guys also. Hopefully this won't take too long."
"I hate to interrupt this touching scene," Morna rumbles, "but it's time we were going. Have Almorhaz cast whatever spells you think will help, and let's be off."
Orion looks at Morna, shaking his head, "He's got nothing, do you have anything you will be able to put on before we get close that will help?"
"Nothing," she hisses. "Cast your spells and let us depart."
"I do have a few spells that I think will help you," Almorhaz says. "They are not much, but I will cast them for you." The priest lays a hand upon Orion's robe, grasps his holy symbol, and intones a prayer to Shar. "Shar, grant this your servant the favor of your protection that he may serve you the better. Turn the weapons of his enemies and keep him from harm. By the Darkness, I beseech you." Orion's robes are bathed in shadows that seem to turn them to smoke for a moment before they coalesce.
Almorhaz nods with satisfaction, and then bends down and picks up a small stone from the ground. He covers it with his fist and intones another prayer to Shar, calling upon her to embue the stone with the essence of Shadows. He then places it in a small pouch. For a moment, blackness leaks from the open pouch and blots out the sun. He cinches it tight, though, and hands it to Orion. "If you need to hide from your enemies, draw the stone from the pouch and you will be covered in shadows.
"This last spell will not help you in the battle, but it will allow us to know how you are doing--whether you are injured or near death. If we know that you are alive but hurt, we can perhaps come to your aid. It will also reduce the anxiety of waiting for some of us." He glances at Marcellus. "Will you allow me to cast it on you?"