October 17, 1999
The wooden floor creaked as he shuffled down the hallway to the stairs, although he felt as though it were his own aching joints resposible for the creaking. Peering over the railing to the common area, he noticed his friend Duranon, decked out in full armor, sipping a dark-colored brew, and staring up at him sternly.
"You're late," scolded the large man as his weary companion shuffled down the stairs. "You were to be downstairs and ready promptly at sunrise."
"Sorry," apologized Elisetal. "I couldn't sleep, I was up all night trying to do more reading about our adversary."
Duranon nodded slowly. "I suppose your lateness is forgivable then. Did your efforts meet with any success?"
"Not particularly," answered Elisetal, "just more detail about things that I already knew, nothing of real use. But I would have been awake anyway - I'm still nervous about this plan of yours, I question the odds of surviving a full assault on that necromancer's lair."
"If indeed he is a powerful spellcaster," spoke Duranon, "then stealth will only carry us so far. He will know we are coming, so I say we just march in headstrong."
"Speaking of which," chimed in Elisetal, "where is Turgin?"
A look of mild disgust suddenly crept across the paladin's face as he pointed a finger downwards and tapped the table slowly. Curiously, Elisetal peered under the table to find an unconscious dwarf blissfully snoring away on the floor.
"I am still waiting on this 'Siljin' character, so I haven't tried to wake him yet," said Duranon. "Not that I expected one of his ilk to be on time and reliable," he said with irritation in his voice.
"Well if he's as good as he claims, I think we can excuse some tardiness," spoke Elisetal. "Actually, I would guess that this is him now," he said as a tall, blonde-haired man dressed in dark clothing stepped into the inn and immediately began the process of sizing up the patrons inside. Duranon turned around and raised his hand, signalling to the new arrival, who smiled somewhat mischievously and slinked across the floor to their table. "Mind the dwarf," warned Elisetal, nodding his head downwards as the man pulled out a chair and sat down.
"Good to see you again, 'Duranon' was it?" he spoke, carefully scooting his chair around the slumbering dwarf. "I don't believe I've met your friend."
"This is Elisetal," answered Duranon. "And under the table is another of my 'companions', Turgin. What the dwarf lacks in social graces he more than makes up for in battle skill. Elisetal is a wizard, quite powerful and quite competent in his craft.'
The fair-haired man briefly sized up Elisetal, who was beaming proudly at the paladin's appraisal, then took a long look at Turgin with a slow shake of his head. "My name is Siljin," he said to Elisetal. "Though I'm sure you've already been informed. Your friend here seems quite thourough. So," he continued, turning his attention to Duranon, "are we agreed as to my fee?"
"Yes, we are, the treasure held by the necromancer is yours once we have defeated him, yours and yours alone," answered Duranon flatly. "So long as your skills are as good as you claim. But know that if you prove to be a mere charlatan, the consequences will be grave," warned the paladin sternly.
Siljin only glared at the large man, as though he were offended by the insinuation. "They are," he spoke grimly. "And what of the rest of your merry band?"
"There are two priests of my order at the church, praying for protection and favour on our journey. We will gather them up, then meet a man named Meric at the city gates. He is to be our guide through the wilderness to the swamp of Thanos," answered Duranon as he stood up from the table. Leaning over, he grabbed Turgin's boot and began dragging the dwarf out from under the table. With one swift motion, the paladin kicked the dwarf in the ribs, eliciting an immediate response as the diminutive warrior began flailing his arms and swearing loudly. "Get up, it is time to go," said Duranon when the dwarf paused to take a breath between expletives.
Turgin sat up with a confused look on his face and watched Duranon stride out of the inn, followed by Elisetal and Siljin. "Wot th' hell?" stammered the dwarf. "Now? Having a fine dream I was! And you have to go and spoil it by waking me up, a fine way to treat someone," he protested as he quickly gathered his things and trotted off after the trio.
An hour later found them at the city gates with two clerics, Jerred and Triele, in tow. The clerics were grim, yet tried to maintain a facade of hopefulness. They knew that they might die on this quest, but that they had no choice but to carry on with it. As the six of them silently prepared their horses, a raspy voice broke the silence. "Leave 'em here," the voice announced. "They won't have a chance in hell of surviving the journey, and the terrain is so bad that they'll only slow us down, ironically enough," it continued. Duranon turned from his mount to face the speaker, a tall, lean man dressed in leathers and dark, forest green clothing.
"Gentlemen and Lady," he spoke, regarding his companions, "this is Meric, he is to be our guide. Meric," he continued, "are you certain that leaving our riding and pack animals here is wise?" he questioned, turning to the ranger.
"I know my craft, and don't presume to tell you yours," he answered. "Leave them at the stable. Take what you can carry, leave the rest. And make it quick, because I'm not waiting on you," he said as he turned and began walking southwards, out of the city gates.
The rest of the heroes stood dumbfounded for a moment, but quickly gathered their things. Bowing his head and uttering the words, 'Vas Kal Por', Jerred intoned a prayer for speed and lasting breath that would allow the others to keep up with the swiftly moving ranger. Meric displayed his skill as a guide and woodsman quite often during the day-long journey, leading them around encounters with foul spirits and horrid abominations of the forest. As night was falling, the party found themselves at the edge of a thick wood, impassible as near as any of them could tell. "These trees have grown so thick that they form a wall around the swamp as sturdy as any made of stone, we will have to find a way around," spoke Meric as he gazed up at the entwined trees.
"Strong as stone my arse!," bellowed Turgin as he hefted his battle axe and strode fearlessly up to the edge of the wood. With a fierce yell he swung with all his might, his axe cutting into the tree with a satisfying "Thwack" sound. Several more such blows followed, but to the dwarf's dismay, the cuts he inflicted began to heal as soon as he could make them. "Dorrin's beard!" he cursed as he backpedalled. "There's sorcery at work here!"
"Indeed there is," sneered Meric. "I would have told you that had you given me the chance. I certainly hope your solution to every problem isn't to just run up to it and whack it with your axe," he said, admonishing the dwarf.
"Worked fine so far!" answered Turgin, looking as though he were about to whack a certain ranger with his axe at any moment. "If you've a problem with it, we'll be happy to discuss it!" he growled, hefting his axe again.
"Silence!" commanded Duranon. "Turgin, you were not brought along on this journey to threaten our guide! Now for one moment, please stay silent and let him do his job!" the paladin said angrily.
Turgin muttered a good many choice phrases under his breath, but held his temper in check as he began following Meric around the perimeter of the wood. An hour later, as night had closed in on them, they noticed what appeared to be a campfire in the distance, roughly in the direction they were headed. "Who would be camping out here?" wondered Elisetal aloud.
"No-one friendly I'll wager," answered Meric. "Approach very slowly, I will scout ahead to see who it is," he ordered as he slipped silently into the swamp. With a shrug, Duranon began to lead the rest of the party after him, only to meet up with Meric halfway to the campfire. "The campsite is occupied by a lone woman," he said as he strode out of the darkness. "She is a wielder of magic, I can tell as her campsite was shielded, but that is about all I could tell without risking her noticing me."
"A lone woman? Out here?", exclaimed Elisetal. "That must be the sage's daughter, Ilvana. We were told that she would try to meet up with us along the way," he explained.
Meric nodded his head. "Well we will approach openly then, if she is not who you think she is, and she means trouble, we have the numbers to deal with it. Prepare yourselves, just in case," he warned as he stalked off in the direction of the campfire.
"Hail, stranger!" announced Duranon as the party approached the campfire, a shimmering distortion visible in the air ahead of them. The lone figure seated at the campfire turned towards the group and lowered the hood of its cloak, revealing a beautiful female face framed by long, flowing red tresses. "Are you Ilvana, daughter of the sage of Aradhal?" asked Duranon in his typical forthright manner.
"I am," she answered with a smile. "Come, join me. There is room for all within the shield," she said. "I've been waiting on you, what took you so long?" she said teasingly.
"We were told you were in Ruellia and would probably not make it to us in time," said Elisetal. "How did you get here so quickly?"
Ilvana smiled coyly at the wizard. "Come now, you should know that distance is not a factor for people of our talents," she purred. Elisetal smiled sheepishly as he sat himself down beside the campfire, joined soon by the rest of his party. "I wouldn't make yourself too comfortable," she said, "I only made this fire so that you would be able to find me," she explained as she rose. "We need to get inside the swamp itself quickly."
"Now?" asked Duranon. "Wouldn't it be safer to go in the morning?"
Ilvana chuckled at the paladin. "No," she said patronizingly. "It's just as dangerous during the day as it is during the night. The creatures within do not discriminate, nor do they have a preference. We need to get moving before our presence is detected."
Duranon nodded his head. "Then move we shall," he announced. Speaking the words, "Vas Bet Ex" and praying in unison with Jerred and Triele, the trio cast a spell that relieved everyone of their fatigue, then began the process of casting protective and preparative spells upon themselves and their companions. Taking a deep breath and looking northwards through a gap in the tangled mass of trees, he said simply, "Let's go" as he began to stride boldly through the entrance to the swamp of Thanos.