Join Date: Apr 2006
Sven rubbed his eyes as they crossed the turn of the road and came across Karazhan. The black stone spire reached upward from the bottom of the valley, as if trying to compete with the surrounding mountains. It did not reach higher than them, but it was impressive on its own right. The balconies and parapets stuck out at seemingly random places, and the top of the tower was shaped oddly. It was not a beautiful structure, but whoever had built it probably hadn't meant for it to be beautiful. Imposing, though, now that was getting somewhere.
Petting the mane of his horse, Sven eyed the mountain path leading into the valley. Grandfather Åke had once told him that a lot of people used to live down there, and even grew their own food. If they had, they must not have travelled out often, because this road was not convenient to use...
“Everyone, be cautious. If the Scythe is here, then so are the Dark Riders”, Eric said loudly. Sven was the only out out of the reach of his inside voice, but the two of them had been making a point of not speaking directly to each other since last night.
Sven nodded his head the slightest bit. A cold wind from down in the valley caught him, and he realised that his ears were freezing. Turning around, he pushed his hand into one of the bags hanging from his horse's saddle and pulled out a wide-brimmed hat. With it on, he continued downward.
Throughout the way down, he could feel the others staring at his back. He hadn't had much chance to talk to Eric's companions, but they seemed like decent enough people. What Windfarer had said about burying the alliance soldiers had been especially moving. However, right now they were sticking with their friend, which left Sven alone. Except for the horse. Sighing, he once again patted it.
In the valley lie the ruined remains of a town, and a dried-up river splitting it in half. Karazhan itself is located on an island between two banks of the river, and has ancient stonework bridges leading to its two gates. “I think we should leave the horses here”, Eric says in a much softer tone than before. His allies seem to agree. Sven pulls over next to a mouldy stable and dismounts.
The orc, Kra'osha, clears her throat. “I think we also need to leave someone to guard our mounts and possessions. We're still not sure there's anything inside there, but there are all kinds of types moving past this land, who wouldn't mind a few free horses.”
“Good point”, Eric says seriously while getting off his horse. “You should stay here. If something serious happens like... I don't know, the Dark Riders come down into the valley down the road we came, just run into the tower and use a strong enough spell to get our attention.”
For some reason, Sven kept forgetting that the girl was a magician. Not a wizard, mind you, but... He shook his head and grabbed the essentials with him to go explore the tower, but left his hat behind. For some reason, he really didn't feel like there was going to be anything there. Something about the mood just wasn't right. It was hard to imagine facing the Dark Riders and finding the Scythe of Elune today.
He walked off toward the rusted gates at the tower's base. He heard the others exchange something hushed behind his back, and sighed.
By the time he reached the gates, Eric and Windfarer had caught up with him. “Well, do you sense magic abound with this place?” He asked. If they expected to sense the orc walking into the entrance and casting a spell, it figured they'd sense in advance if this place was the headquarters of some evil group of... whatever the Dark Riders were.
“Hmm... no”, Eric said. Sven walked on. Figures that the eggheads would not sense anything. He fingered the pommel of his sword sticking out over his shoulder and entered the tower.
“Excuse me”, a familiarly artificial voice said behind him. “Where did you get that sword? It is enchanted. Powerful.” This Windfarer seemed to have curiosity aplenty, but he never really seemed to get nosy. When he asked to be told something he didn't yet know, he was in his element.
Sven crossed under the open gate and watched the identical one on the opposite side of the entry yard. It was hanging in a dangerous-looking way, like it was going to fall down any moment now. “This is the blade of one Morgan Ladimore”, he said without looking back. “I personally took it from the hands of his undead corpse.” Neither of the men behind him spoke in response. Ladimore wasn't exactly famous, but Sven figured Eric at least remembered hearing of him and his tragedy.
There were two great doors leading inside the tower proper, one at the left and one at the right. Sven picked one at random. It was already open, probably left so by the previous visitor. “This place has been looted at least fifty times since the last inhabitant died”, he said and pointed at the damage in the masonry and furniture as they entered. “First by orcs seeking to discover the secrets of human magic, and then by humans looking for something valuable...”
They arrived in a small corridor leading to a great dining hall, with a staircase at the left and a large blood stain on the right. “So... do we just look around randomly and hope one of them jumps out from behind a corner?” He asked without directing it at anyone in particular, and then finally turned to face his current companions.
Windfarer dug a pouch at his belt for a moment and produced a blue crystal. When he held it aloft, it started to glow. “This will reveal hidden entrances. Let us search each room. Will take time, but we are not in hurry.”
“Yeah, I guess”, Sven said and sighed as he let them walk ahead into the dining hall while he stuck behind...
"So far away from my home, sweet home
Day by day, from land to land I roam
Though told by the wind which way to go
Oh, how I long for my home, sweet home"
Laterbrus finally lost his temper when Sven started singing that song. Since last night, the two of them had been coolly ignoring each other, making sure the business between the two of them didn't get in the way of this expedition. Now, though... that was just baiting. Sven knew that even as a kid, Laterbrus couldn't stand his singing. “Cut that out. It's annoying.”
Sven did quit singing, but instead glared at his brother. “Okay, Laterbrus. If hearing something that reminds you of your mother is so bad, I can stop." Once again, he said Laterbrus' name with disgust.
The young mage threw up his hands and turned away. "Oh please. Can't you stop whining about that for two seconds? We're trying to find out clues about the Scythe of Elune and the Dark Riders here and your singing is really inappropriate."
Mother... I hardly even remember what what she looks like.He saw that Dab'ra was busy ignoring them and circling around the room, checking all its corners for hidden things with his sensestone. "There's nothing here either, let's move on”, he said with his speech spell.
As they turned to return to the door and enter the hallway once more, Sven said: ”I have the right to sing if I want to.”
”No you don't. Your singing voice is dreadful”, Laterbrus said irritably. He felt his magic coil. He wanted to strike at something again, like he did to that tree last night.
Sven just shook his head. ”There's nothing here. I'm going outside.” He headed to the staircase, his footsteps echoing in the corridor. Laterbrus stared at him, and for the shortest time felt an impulse to hurt his brother. Badly.
If I pushed him down the stairs, right now, I don't think Dab'ra and Kra'osha would make that big a deal about it...He restrained himself until Sven was down the stairs, and then counted to ten before turning and unleashing his force at a table standing nearby. It split neatly in two halves, which were sent flying in opposite directions, and then broke to pieces upon hitting the walls.
Dab'ra raised his hand to his mouth. Laterbrus shook his head and said: “No, please. Let's talk about anything else. Pick any topic.”
The undead wizard hesitated before raising his hand all the way and voicing: “He is right. About there being nothing here. Is is suspicious. A place of great magic can not naturally become so sterile.”
Laterbrus exhaled and let his hands fall to his sides. He made himself think about the tower. “Yeah, it makes no sense... even if all the artefacts and whatnot were long-gone, all the spells worn out or dispelled, there would be some kind of residue. Yet... nothing. The tower is cold, dead stone. I can't imagine what could have done this sort of thing.”
“And when it happened”, Dab'ra said enigmatically. Laterbrus shot him a questioning gaze and sat down on a mouldy chair. His old friend crossed his arms over his chest in a cocky way. “I read a book about Karazhan, once. This place was very thoroughly searched by Kirin Tor agents after the Second War. They saved all of Medivh's items that the orcs had missed. However, they never mentioned that the magic residue was missing from here. Whatever did this, it happened at some point between then and now.”
Laterbrus was amazed. Dab'ra normally only spoke short sentences, and got straight to the point. This was the first time he'd gotten conversational. It was almost like old times. He had to try to keep this up. Coughing, he stood up again. “I know, it's really weird. If the Dark Riders were hiding here, though, why would they do this? It just makes any passing-by mage suspicious.”
Dab'ra shrugged and headed to the nearest unchecked room. He kept his laid-back, talkative nature, seeming unaware about how different it was from his usual bearing. “Once we are done with this spire, I have something to tell you. It may be a long shot, but it's still a chance.”
While they checked the room, Laterbrus furrowed his brow and wondered what it could be. He didn't want to press the issue, though, so he switched topics. “Do you ever think it's weird that you were always the prankster and I was the teachers' pet, and yet you made it as a wizard and I... didn't?” He knew it was a bad pick the moment he started talking, but for some reason, he didn't stop.
Dab'ra hesitated, and suddenly lost his energetic nature. His speech spell sounded more artificial than a moment ago. “I am sorry about what happened. I was weak.” He was avoiding meeting Laterbrus' eyes. Shaking his head, the warlock tried to think of something to say.
“It wasn't not your fault”? It was. “I forgive you”? I don't think I do. My own best friend is the one who had me kicked out of Dalaran in his stead. What does that say about me?“I... just forget I mentioned it. I'm so tired, I shouldn't have...” He trailed off and idly kicked a little pewter cup on the floor.
Dab'ra held the sensestone aloft and asked: “You slept badly again?”
“Yes”, Laterbrus answered. “I don't think I've had a real, good night's sleep in half a month.” He rubbed his eyes idly. He envied his friend, who didn't have to sleep at all.
The undead wizard put a hand on his shoulder. “I worry about you.”
“Me too, pal. Me too.”
Sven walked out of Karazhan, shaking his head. Pointless. So utterly, completely pointless. There wasn't a rat in that tower, much less a bunch of Dark Riders. No one would pick such an obvious spot as their hideout, anyhow.
These mountains were full of old, ruined forts and watchtowers, and abandoned mines. There were dozens of places where the riders could be hiding, if they were even here.
As he crossed the bridge, Sven saw that the orc warlock had already set up a campfire next to the stables. She was feeding the horses, patting their manes and saying something. He slowed down his walk, looking at her curiously.
When he was about ten paces away, she turned to look at him and asked: “Where are the others?”
Sven hesitated before answering: “There's obviously nothing there. Might as well not cramp my feet with all those stairs.” She seemed to accept his answer, and turned back to the horses. She no longer spoke, though. Sven sat on an old crate she'd set up as a seat next to the fire. “You speak excellent Common, by the way.”
“I learned it as a child, alongside Orcish. In the concentration camp.” Her answer made Sven freeze. He had heard of those things, and never thought of them any deeper, but somehow the idea of a child there, among prisoners of war... She continued: “Some of the prisoners at my camp were found to be holding onto valuables they'd smuggled in, so the guards suddenly got very interested in keeping a close eye on us. Mostly they just held random raids, but a few pretended to be our friends. When they discovered we didn't have anything, though, they would get violent.”
Something about her voice told Sven that she had never spoken of this before. Yet, the wording sounded like she'd rehearsed it. “That was how I got into demonology in the first place. On the second-to-last year of imprisonment, I was growing old enough that the guards could suddenly threaten me in ways they couldn't threaten my brothers. When I was told that I could wield powers that would keep them away, I jumped at the chance. I never got to curse any guards, but I can't say that being the apprentice of a warlock didn't come in handy during the rest of my days at the camp, as well as during the voyage to Kalimdor.”
Sven realised that she was still looking at the horses, petting them, while she spoke. She had practised this tale on them. Probably more than once. “Of course, when my brothers found out, they stopped talking to me. Thankfully, they didn't tell anyone. However, by the time everyone settled down and Durotar was founded, I realised I was stuck. I had been a warlock for so long, and partaken in so many illegal actions, that if I left my master's service, he could easily make me an outlaw without endangering his own self.”
She seemed to stop there. Sven warmed his hands over the fire and hesitantly said. “So, you're not here by his behest, then?”
“No”, she answered. “He sent me to Silverpine to gather information on the warlocks among the Forsaken, under the pretence of fighting Archmage Arugal. That's where I was swept along Laterbrus and... well, all the chaos that took place was a convenient excuse to vanish.”
Sven felt the cold wind on his ears again, and walked over to get his hat. “So... you can't return home?” Putting the hat on, he made sure to fasten it well.
She simply shrugged, finally taking her hands off the horses and turning to face him. “I think I can show up and say that I got caught up in craziness and it took me this long to get back. Though, then I'll be a prisoner once more...”
He looked into her eyes for a while before turning to return to the box. “If you don't mind me switching the topic, you seem good with the animals. Your companions treat theirs like machines.”
She reached a hand and ran it through the mane of Eric's horse. “Well, your brother may have grown up on a farm as a child, but after that he's spent his life in cities, libraries and cellars, while Dab'ra probably didn't visit the countryside until he was a full-grown man. Compared to them, anyone can be a good equestrian.”
“I see...” Sven said. He was sort of awestruck. This orc had been nothing but a face and a voice to him before, an extra in a play. Finding out that she had a past, goals, was slightly overwhelming.
She walked over to the campfire and squatted across from him. “My turn to ask a question. Do you have any friends in Darkshire, or in the other farms of Duskwood?”
“Well”, he started awkwardly, torn out of his thoughts by the sudden query. “Many people whose families have been around since my grandfather's time have died, or moved away, but I also made some new pals in the past few years, fighting the undead. There's my partner Lars, and his cousin's family the Torssons, and...”
Half a dozen questions later, Eric and his wizard friend emerged from the tower, and Sven closed his mouth. For some reason, he didn't like the idea of his brother seeing him having fun, socialising with the orc. He gave her a little apologetic cough and fastened the hat on his head.
“We've searched the tower. There's nothing there, no room to hide anyone, and no magic to hold a portal elsewhere”, Eric said, looking at Kra'osha, speaking past Sven. “However, apparently that's not all of Karazhan.”
She frowned, alternately looking between the two men. “What do you mean? The tower... is Karazhan.”
Dab'ra put a hand before his face. His artificial voice sounded a little less emotionless than usual. “I read a book on Karazhan once. In Dalaran. They had interviewed Khadgar for it. Before he went to Draenor. They wanted secrets, but he was tight-lipped. Didn't say where he fought Medivh, but said that he carried the body up to bury it.”
“Up?” The orc asked. “And there's no cellar?”
Eric smiled a little. He looked anxious, antsy. “No obvious cellar, but a hidden one, yes. We just found the entrance.”
Sven just barely held himself from standing up and exclaiming in surprise. Kra'osha blinked her eyes in disbelief. “What? How? Where?”
“Well, we knew it had to be in the first floor, so we just explored that level extra-carefully”, Eric said in a proud tone. “The tower itself is as dead as stone, but a cellar is another thing entirely. I say we all head down together. There's no telling what's down there.” He was very definitely not speaking to Sven, and yet including him as one of them all.
Sven stood up and set his hat down as Kra'osha agreed. “I think we can leave the horses unsupervised for a little while.” She looked torn for a little bit before adding: “Before we go, I need to talk to Sven alone for a moment more.”
Eric and Windfarer shared a look before hesitantly walking toward Karazhan. When they were out of earshot, the orc turned to Sven. Her eyes looked abnormally small, this close. “Look”, she began, considering every word before speaking it. “You have every reason to hate your brother, going by what I've heard of you two. However, I want you to know that he's still a good man. Months ago, he saved all of Dalaran... if not all of Azeroth, from something.”
Sven shook his head. Something was awfully vague, but he didn't feel like asking for more detailed information. “Let's talk about this some other time, all right? We've got bigger issues right now.” He walked past her, toward the tower, and to his relief he heard her start to follow him. He was afraid she wouldn't let him dismiss the topic that easily.
As they approached the bridge where the other two were waiting, Kra'osha asked: “Why are you taking off your hat whenever you leave camp?”
Sven blinked his eyes. He hadn't thought of the matter. “Well, we're going into the tower.” She remained silent, obviously not understanding his point. Sven felt his cheeks blush a bit as he muttered: “Father always said to take off my hat when I go indoors.”
Thankfully, Eric didn't hear the last part, and the orc didn't continue the discussion after the whole group started walking together again. She did smile in an amused way all the way into the entrance hall of Karazhan, though.
Inside, Sven immediately saw the entrance to the cellars. It was where that large arc-shaped blood stain had been. He couldn't quite figure how it had been opened. Probably with magic. Behind it was a dark staircase. Very dark. He looked around to get a table-leg and an old cloth to make a torch, only to see the undead wizard create a glowing orb that would illuminate his surroundings. Magic came handy at times, Sven had to admit in his head.
“Let's go”, Eric said and walked in first, making his own light source. His was reddish, where Windfarer's was pale blue. Sven felt a bit curious what Kra'osha's looked like, but the light given by the two was quite enough, it turned out. She went in second, Sven after her, and Windfarer last.
It was hard to see one's feet at times, but everyone made it down the cirular staircase without tripping. Below, they arrived in a large hall. It appeared untouched by thieves and adventurers. There was little to no furniture, but all of it was carved from dark grey stone. All the walls were so smooth, they reflected light despite being black. Sven couldn't help but smile and reach a hand to touch his sword at the sight. Now this looked more like something that might hold the hiding place of the Dark Riders.
Everyone spread out lightly, approaching what looked like a large doorway at the end of the hall. However, when they got there, they were met with a surprise. “These aren't actual doors”, Kra'osha said, leaning close to look at the wall. “The wall has been carved to look like there's a door here, but it's actually solid stone.” It was hard to tell in the faint lighting, but after some peering, Sven saw what she meant. It was most peculiar.
They turned around and went to the other end of the hall, past the way up. There, they found two stairways leading further down. Windfarer furrowed his eyebrows and mumbled something past his tongue, looking at the two stairways. However, Eric pointed at a bluish line in the stone, running above the entrances and down into them. “I'm pretty sure that used to be a magic conduit before this tower's magic was all removed forcibly. The fact that it's dead now means that whoever or whatever dispelled the whole tower knew of a basement...”
The group went further down one of the staircases, and explored the second subterranean floor. It was full of mostly empty black rooms and long corridors. There was a stairway leading even further down, and another going up. Checking that one out took the group to a room almost identical to the first hall of the cellars, except without a way to the surface. There was no sign yet that anyone had been here in the past twenty years, but Sven felt like he was being watched constantly. He wished there was more light.
When they were about to descend to the third floor of the cellars, Windfarer stopped everyone and used the spell which allowed him to speak. “At first I was not sure. Now it is clear. This cellar is the same as the tower, only upside down.”
The others took a moment to think of this. Sven had to admit that it made sense. The first floor of Karazhan was split into two entrance halls on either side of the courtyard. Similarly, there were two great halls in the first floor of the dungeon under it, with those fake doors standing out for the exits of the actual tower... Eric and Kra'osha nodded their heads, also seeing it now.
“Keep vigilant”, the wizard said and shook his rotten hair a bit. “We have many floors to go...”
He was right. There were more empty, black corridors and slightly less empty rooms here than Sven had ever thought he'd see in his whole life. At first the group explored them all, just to make sure they didn't bypass something, but by the time the ninth floor rolled by, their focus started to lapse and they only checked the larger rooms. All the while, those blue lines Eric had pointed out ran through the ceiling, into every room.
They found nothing noteworthy until they arrived to the very bottom of the reverse-tower. By then, the air had grown very cold, and Sven told himself to bring his hat with to the next dungeon he'd be exploring. The bottommost room of the cellar was a large reverse-dome, with a flat ceiling but a curved floor. “This is the astronomy dome on the tip of the tower”, Eric said as they slowly walked to the bottom of the thing. It was empty, except for a very dark stain on the floor. “You don't think that's...”
“Medivh's”, Windfarer gravely said. He looked around, and increased the illumination of his sphere momentarily to make sure there wasn't another exit from the room. “There is nothing here.”
“Wait”, Sven said, his eyes going wide. “Do that again. I think I saw something...” He had barely gotten the words out of his mouth when both Eric and Windfarer's light orbs grew three times brighter. He had to cover his eyes to prevent them from stinging. Thankfully, both of them regulated their light to make the change less radical.
The increased illumination showed to the others what Sven had seen in a glimpse. Circling the walls of the room, there were three great paintings, showing a chain of events.
The first picture showed a large group of people, humans, walking away from a castle on a cliff, their heads downcast. Only the four people at the lead, all painted with the utmost detail, seemed optimistic. Their heads were bent close to each other in discussion, and each one's left hand was pointing away from the castle, toward a floating figure. The floating being was depicted with an aura of light, and appeared larger than the humans. It was a large man with talons at his feet and claws in his hands, with an inhuman face and three horns growing from his forehead, and a large mane of grey hair.
The second picture depicted the four leaders standing on a hill, with their still-glowing patron floating above them. The followers were down below, gathered around a river, building a great, black tower. One of the leaders was holding a parchment with the tower sketched on it, and it appeared that the spirit above them was pointing a finger at the sketch, as if giving them instructions about the building plans.
The third picture depicted the leaders kneeling down, looking defeated. They were clearly in this bottom room of the Karazhan cellar, and all the floors above them were drawn with surprising detail, though much smaller in comparison. A beam of light was shooting out from the middle of the four figures, and running through all the rooms of the tower. It was blue below ground, and red above ground. The glowing spirit looked at the leaders' failure, whatever it was, in disgust, his body half-vanished.
After watching at each painting in turn, Sven opened his mouth to speak, only to find that Eric, Windfarer and Kra'osha were all staring at the glowing figure in each picture. Eric looked concerned, while the other two looked surprised. They recognised that thing, whatever it was. Sven cleared his throat, but didn't say anything.
“This is big”, Eric said and finally turned his eyes off the paintings. “Karazhan was built for a reason. Look at the third picture. The whole tower, both above and below the ground, is a schematic for a summoning spell to bring that... thing into this world. And it failed.”
Windfarer used his speaking spell without bringing a hand to his mouth. He was too agitated to do that gesture, or to speak shortly, apparently. “Yes... the magic conduits running through the corridors down below... the wizards of Dalaran noted that the layout of Karazhan's rooms looked like a spell schematic, but they concluded it was probably a coincidence because there were no magic conduits anywhere and the schematic would have been incomplete. These people must have removed the above-ground conduits before the tower was discovered...”
“No”, Kra'osha interrupted and pointed at the painting. “Look, the magic in the tower itself is red. That's blood magic. It's like a summoning circle drawn in blood, but at a larger scale.”
“What?” Sven asked in shock. He hadn't understood most of that, but this much he thought he did. “They killed people and painted the whole tower's inside with their blood?”
The orc laughed a little and flicked a hand dismissively. “No, no, no. Blood magic doesn't work because of the violence of letting blood. Blood is good for summoning spells, because it holds the very being of the world in it. Take an Azerothian's blood, and you have the perfect reagent to summon something into Azeroth.” Sven blinked his eyes, not understanding. In a more straightforward tone, she explained: “They didn't have to kill anyone. Just having people walking the corridors works as a blood conduit, on this large scale.”
“Yes”, Eric said and rubbed his chin. “It makes sense. Two identical half-schematics. One with regular conduits, one with blood magic. Judging by the picture, the spell was activated in this room... so why didn't it work?”
There was no answer uttered. For half a minute, everyone just looked at the paintings. “This is all nice and good, but I don't think it helps us find the Dark Riders and the Scythe of Elune”, Sven said, sorry to burst the others' bubble.
“Well, not quite”, Windfarer said, still not putting his hand in front of his face. “This creature they tried to summon is related to the Scythe in some way. We're not quite clear on how, but we can be sure that any information on it can come useful in finding the Scythe.”
Sven nodded a little. “I see. I hope that is so. However, I think we should check all those rooms we skipped on the way, and then go back to have lunch. I'm starting to get hungry, already.”
“I'm afraid we can't let you do that”, a voice suddenly spoke from the entrance of the room.
Everyone spun around to look at the circular staircase. Sven felt his hand fly to the hilt of his sword on its own accord when he saw half a dozen men in dark cloaks walk down, their heavy boots shaking the stairs as they descended. Past the flowing, dark fabric, he saw a skeletal hand grasp the handle of some weapon.
He hadn't found the Dark Riders. The Dark Riders had found him.
Wow, this chapter sure turned out long.
Co-creator of UFS, a joint urban fantasy setting.
Originally Posted by Pliny the Elder
True glory consists in doing what deserves to be written; in writing what deserves to be read; and in so living as to make the world happier for our living in it.
Last edited by Kerrah; 10-17-2011 at 12:12 PM..