|1-22-10: I love you, I hate you, I can’t live without you, and now I’m done with you
||[Jan. 29th, 2010|04:58 pm]
The Chronicle of Aldencia: Saving the Kingdom
The journey from Stone Cove back to Aldencia was largely uneventful, to everyone’s relief. Due to their assistance to Red Wolf, the rebel group was able to broker passage for themselves (including their new recruits and horses) on a ship that dropped them, not at Cath or Mendoza, given the military situation in each city, but rather somewhat closer to Romdas. Heading overland, then, the party made their way back to their base of operations. Other than a few “heated” evenings between Bendigar and Nahla, everything seemed to be quiet. One evening, while on watch, Nahla noticed a band of soldiers dressed as regular travelers making their way through the area in almost pitch-blackness. Though the group did not notice the rebel camp not far from their position, their presence intrigued both Matthias and Nahla. But nothing seemed to come of it.
After several days of overland travel, the party arrived at Romdas, greeted, as always, by a force of sentries. They found all to be much as they’d left it, with the troops now drilling in various forms of “storming the castle” and siege techniques along with the usual training. General Connor, gratified to see Matthias alive, since both had feared he would not return from Irenia a second time, immediately caught the monk up on recent developments. Bendigar and Theodor, both impressed with the drills around them, immediately took up their positions to assist in the training. Nahla sought out her buddies amongst the various troops and recruits, happy to put Irenia behind her once more. Dora, met by Oertan, went to check on Elara. Unfortunately, the situation was not good. As skilled a healer as she was, Dora could not help but notice that Elara’s body was beginning to show signs of malnutrition. Despite the best efforts of all, her long unconsciousness was taking its toll – in effect, she was wasting away, starving to death as she slept. Dora put on a brave face for Oertan, but when Matthias appeared, she could not help but tell him the truth. Elara had but a few weeks left before they would not save her even with her soul returned. Matthias, the news hardening his will, set his plans into action.
Meanwhile, Keleroth had been researching, at Matthias’s request, spells for invisibility. Knowing there were none that he could see in the library at Romdas, he borrowed Elara’s spell-books. In one, there was a spell for invisibility, which, though difficult, seemed to work. Matthias met Keleroth in the latter’s room to test it, and they found that Keleroth could mostly cause the ring to vanish to the naked eye, an ability they hoped would be augmented by the ritual taught by Rumor if cast within the chapel in the castle. Thus, Matthias laid out his plans, bringing in his allies one at a time. Knowing full well that Lady Dahlia was likely already within Romdas, Matthias arranged for a few agents, Nahla included, to hide within the chapel before dawn. Then he would have Keleroth cast the spell and hide as well, though not as thoroughly. With Theodor and another guard flanking him, Matthias would wait for Dahlia to approach him. Outside, Bendigar and a trusted squad of officers and warriors would be ready to burst in at the slightest sign of danger. Dora would also be on hand for any medical emergencies. Matthias gave orders that his safety was not to be considered – that the first priority was to get the ring on Dahlia’s finger at any cost, even his own life. Though he admitted it to no one, Matthias assumed this would be his last stand, and that, successful or not, he would not live to see morning. Everyone had a restless sleep, knowing that more than one life might hang in the balance of the following day.
Before dawn, everyone was in place. Nahla hid within easy sprinting distance of Matthias while Keleroth worked his magic to make the ring invisible before retreating to a “hiding” place that was vaguely better than standing in the middle of the room. Matthias waited patiently, in prayer, until Dahlia appeared – she descended from the rafters with an unearthly grace. The two traded words back and forth, setting the terms of negotiation warily. Matthias tried to bargain that he would only give her the information on Andrew Wellin’s location after he had Elara’s soul, and that Dahlia would harm none under his protection, but this she refused. The eternal one seemed well-pleased to play with Matthias alternately taunting him with the hints of knowledge and threatening him with what they both knew could be an effortless attempt on his life. She commented on how infrequently she found men amusing and considered leaving the situation such that Matthias could continue to amuse and interest her for a while longer, which he declined as firmly as possible. The tension was thicker and colder than a glacier. But business was business, and Dahlia had more than one matter to lay to rest, so she eventually stepped within striking range to make the exchange.
The moment of truth arrived. Matthias waited to accept Elara’s soul, while skillfully running a double-game against Dahlia. In one hand he “attempted” to keep hidden the wooden ring he had been practicing with, and in the other he carried the true one. Dahlia spotted the false ring and slashed it away from him with her dagger, but failed to notice the other. As she drew a small sphere from a bag that clinked, holding it over his hands, Matthias struck, using every ounce of his fortitude and skill to catch her off-guard.
For an instant, time seemed to stand still. Then everything happened at once.
Dahlia began to scream, the ring seeming to burn through its invisibility with an unholy light. The sphere containing presumably Elara’s soul slipped through Matthias’s hands to roll on the ground, Dahlia herself a fraction of a moment behind as she crumpled to the ground. When she fell, the bag she carried spilled, and many similar spheres spilled across the floor. Matthias jumped back, careful not to crush any of them, and Nahla raced forward, able to see that Dahlia’s hand was perilously close to slipping from the ring. She jammed the instrument of destruction back onto the eternal one’s hand, and the screaming continued until it stopped suddenly.
Bendigar and his group burst into the room. Matthias halted him with his voice, fearing that the men might disrupt what was happening to Dahlia or step on the precious sphere that held Elara’s soul. A voice rang out and Rumor, like his counterpart, dropped from the rafters with easy grace. He eyed the fallen body and confirmed that the ring had succeeded – her soul was banished. Asking Matthias what sort of eternity awaited her, the monk replied that he had sent Dahlia to a place that was peaceful and beautiful, and entirely empty. There she would either find redemption or hell, depending on how she approached it. Rumor agreed, and removed the ring from the body’s finger, encouraging Matthias to see it burned with no one touching her (he said there were dozens of poisons on her and her weapons and they would do well to remember it).
Turning to leave, Rumor gave Matthias and his people one last opportunity to ask him questions. Nahla held up a shirt full of tiny spheres, all similar, with no way to know which was Elara’s. Matthias asked the obvious question, but Rumor called in the favor he had done Keleroth and refused to answer. His reasoning was twofold – firstly, he would be better served by Matthias continuing on the path before him, a path that led to Andrew Wellin, who would be able to help them identify the sphere that was Elara’s. And secondly, Rumor admitted that Elara possessed knowledge he did not yet want released into the world – that of his true identity.
He explained that, on occasion, knowledge could not and would not be known until it was asked of him, but never before had there been something he simply could not know. Yet Elara, somehow, knew the truth of Rumor, “who he really was” as he said, and this was terrifying. Rumor preferred to let that knowledge lay dormant for a while yet, and so would not assist. Though the others tried, they could not get him to help them further. Strangely, before taking his leave, Rumor kissed Dahlia’s forehead, then bid them farewell. He assured them that if all went well, they would never lay eyes on him again.
All in all, 37 spheres had been collected, which Matthias asked Dora to protect. In the meantime, he arranged for them to depart immediately to the northern lands where they could seek out Andrew Wellin. Matthias arranged for Elara’s body to come along on the trip in a cart, guarded by Oertan, and they rapidly explained their actions to Connor while preparing to leave. Dahlia’s body was burned as instructed (Keleroth got not a little pleasure out of the doing), and before the sun had even fully risen, the party was making the best time possible northwards to save Elara and Aldencia.