It had only been a few short months since the old prophet Tholakim had told them about the existence of the mythical castle of Stonegate, and already Joriahs was bound and determined to find it. Since the completion of their journey to Trellor, he and his companion, the ever-cautious sorceress Diann had been searching for the castle every day.
It started out easy enough. When they returned to Medievia, they perused through the entire library, searching for any tidbits of information about the whereabouts of the castle. They followed lead after lead, usually only to find that they ended up where most of the treasure hunters ended up when looking for Stonegate: absolutely nowhere. Occasionally they would find a promising lead that nobody had yet checked, but every time met with disappointment. Diann wanted to give up many times, but Joriahs insisted that they continue the search. He was certain that when he found Stonegate, he would gain his Knighthood from the quest.
The search led them to the dense wilderness near DeRah, where they once again found themselves empty-handed. As usual, since they were near an old town they decided to mingle among the townsfolk and inquire about the castle. If it existed, someone must know about it. So, at daybreak the two entered DeRah and began their usual inquisition, and finding their usual disappointment.
After questioning nearly everyone in the streets and in the inn, they still had not found out anything they didn't already know. Diann sighed. "I don't know what else to do. We've exhausted all of the leads we found in Medievia's library and Wytherwind's records. Stonegate simply isn't meant to be found. Now, can we please go home? I haven't seen my family in months."
Joriahs smirked. "No way. We keep searching. Somebody has to know something we haven't already learned. We can't give up now!"
"Joriahs wake up!" she screamed. "We're no closer to finding the answer than when we started. For all we know, that old prophet could have been just telling one of his stories. And even if it is true, the only person we know of that knows anything about it is Tholakim himself and he's nowhere to be found!"
A sudden silence gripped the room as a glass shattered on the floor. Joriahs turned his head to look at the woman standing before a shattered cup of tea. His stomach churned. There she was, Madam Zash, peering straight into his soul. She pointed a bony finger at Diann and whispered, "You have met Tholakim?"
The two companions nodded their heads in unison. This was a new turn. Nobody they had spoken with over the last few months had ever heard of Tholakim.
Madam Zash was silent for a moment before asking another question. "Tell me, what did he look like this time?"
Diann pondered the question carefully before answering, "Just an old man in travelling clothes. We shared a fire with him for a few nights near Trellor. Do you know him?"
"Indeed I do. Since you are here, I assume he put you on a journey of some sort, eh? Of course, of course. Otherwise you would not be here. Most of the people he visits end up dead, or worse. But not you. Then you must be on a quest. Stonegate you say? Hmmm... If my memory serves me, and sometimes it doesn't, I believe that is the castle in Velures City, is it not?"
Joriahs recalled reading something about Velures in one of the texts at Wytherwind. The Velurian Empire predated Medievia by many centuries and ruled much of the eastern lands. Which is why they didn't come to DeRah until last. Stonegate stood at the center of the Velurian Empire's capital city, which would be somewhere on the other side of the world from here. Although some had thought that Velures itself wasn't located on the mainland. A few rumors suggest that Mahn-Tor built his keep on top of Stonegate so that it would never be found. Needless to say, the Minotaurs weren't very cooperative in letting Joriahs and Diann search through their lair for the old castle. Still others think that the Temple of Bloodstone was once the majestic castle Stonegate, but there is no city around it and it lies even further away from the Empire than DeRah. Their best guess had been a small island that was used by pirates off the eastern shore of Medievia. Joriahs spent a week on dragonback before finding the island. Although there were the remains of a city, there was no castle.
Joriahs nodded at the woman and became curious as to what she may know about it.
She seemed to have read his mind. "I know nothing about it," she spouted, and left the inn.
Joriahs and Diann looked at each other in confusion. They leapt from their table and Joriahs threw a few coins on the table before they bolted for the door. They caught up with the old woman and began asking her questions about Stonegate.
"I can't tell you any more than you already know," she exclaimed. "If I do, he'll kill me too!" She tried to run but Joriahs' grip on her arm kept her in place.
"Who will?" he inquired. "Tholakim?"
Zash nodded reluctantly. "I dare not interfere with your mission. If I do, he will exact retribution from me. He is kind and gentle, but he warned me not to ever interfere. I have seen his wrath poured out on others that did not heed his warnings, and I will not suffer their fate. I will not anger him!"
Diann was puzzled. "Why would an old prophet seek retribution on an old woman? Why would he put us on a quest to find Stonegate?"
"I cannot answer, save to say that Tholakim is not what he appears. He is not merely an 'old prophet'."
Joriahs winced. "He is a god, then?"
"I do not know. Perhaps. I know he is not a man. But I truly do not know that answer. Please, let me go."
Joriahs could sense the fear in her voice as tears welled up in her eyes. She was terrified of Tholakim, whoever, or whatever, he was. He released her and she turned to run. Suddenly, she stopped, and turned.
"I can say this only," she added, "Tholakim always leaves you exactly where you need to be. And do not think that he is evil. He is merely, shall we say, rather short tempered. I consider him a friend, and I prefer to stay that way. The gods speed you on your quest." With that, she departed.
Joriahs grumbled. "Great. We finally find somebody who knows something about our goal and she's afraid that the one who put us on this quest will turn her into a frog or something if she helps us. 'He always leaves you exactly where you need to be'," he mocked. "What kind of clue is that?"
Diann smiled. "The perfect one. I know where Stonegate is at!" she quipped. Before Joriahs could respond, she had already summoned a dragon and was slinging her pack onto her shoulders.
"Well, that's great! Umm, care to enlighten me as to where we're going?"
"We're going to Trellor, silly, now come on." Joriahs watched at she gracefully swung onto the back of her awaiting dragon and bolted into the morning sky.
Joriahs mounted his own dragon and muttered under his breath, "How did I fall in love with that annoying woman?" The giant beast turned to look back at him, almost mockingly. "I didn't ask you," he barked, "now fly, you smelly lizard!" The beast snorted at him and took to the sky, soaring eastward toward Trellor. He hoped Diann was right. After this, if they came to another dead end he was going to agree with her and head home.
He could not possibly fathom what was about to happen next...