CHAPTER II

A SANTHARIAN FANFICITION

 
Adventure of the Northern Shadows   
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Introduction. With a new guide to lead them, the group of mages continue their journey north, heading into the treacherous Tandala Mountains. They are joined by an unlikely (and unwanted) minstrel.

 

n early light of morning, the shadows of six figures cast long shadows on the well-beaten path from Nyermersys to Astran. A dark-haired half-elf led the group, her bright green eyes alert as she leisurely scanned the familiar landscape of northern Santharia from the back of her dark horse. As she walked, she told stories to the group of her travels to the north, and they listened eagerly, asking questions as she spoke.

Two days had passed since the group left Nyermersys, and they were nearly half-way to Astran, making good time. The weather had been fair, and while the nights had grown noticeably colder, each was now equipped with clothes to bare the cold weather.

As they traveled, they suddenly heard a sound—something resembling the screeching yowls of a cat in heat. They figured the sound to be as much, but as they traveled farther, they saw that the sound was coming from a man: above them, on the back of a brown mule, was an Erpheronian yowling loudly and plucking what seemed to be a lute with only two strings. The sound he was making and the expression on his face led Rayne to inquire as they came upon him: “Sir, are you all right?”

The man, whose dark hair fell down to his shoulders, quickly quit his singing and peered at the elvish woman with clear blue eyes. “Why of course. I was simply exercising these glorious golden chords,” he said, indicating his vocal chords. “They are naturally a gift of the gods, and it is only right that I bless the world with song. After all, I am” (he paused a moment for effect) “Sordoc the Great.”
 

The group peered at Sordoc blankly, slightly confused at who this character was.

“Ah!” exclaimed the man. “The look of awe and wonder on your faces tells me that you have heard of me! Before you ask, Sordoc the Great will only sign autographs one at a time.”

The group looked around at one another, and finally Coren spoke: “Sir, I’m afraid we… uh… do not have quill or parchment, but…”

“Oh! No need to worry. Sordoc the Great knows how anxious you all must be to get his signature, and so Sordoc the Great shall provide it for you with his own parchment!” Here the peculiar man pulled out a collection of parchment and a pen, and began signing pieces of parchment and handing them to each member in the group. As he did, he spoke: “Sordoc the Great was just on his way to New-Santhala…”

“But, sir, you were going the opposite direction from New-Santhala,” Fox said. Sordoc didn’t seem to hear her.

“… to tell those talentless hacks at the New-Santhala Society for the Literary Arts that Sordoc the Great had just given a phenomenal performance at the Laughing Horse Tavern last night, to which his inspiring songs and magnificent poetry, and amazing arrangements of interpreted dance, caused Sordoc the Great to be ‘ooo’ed with such high praise. The crowd was so thankful that they even offered Sordoc the Great ripe produce for his grand performance!”

“The Laughing Horse Tavern is quite a ways away,” said Azhira, puzzled.

“Yes, well, Sordoc the Great happened to fall unconscious and awoke in the middle of a field. No doubt the fans had taken Sordoc the Great out to this field in order to better view his interpretive dance. Sordoc the Great must have had one too many drinks, because Sordoc the Great doesn’t recall even going out there, or how he got this welt on his head. Last thing he remembers, Sordoc the Great was on stage singing about the grand and noble paxen—the next thing Sordoc the Great knew, he was out in the field. Though, no doubt Sordoc the Great gave an amazing interpretive performance.”

The magi looked about at one another: the more the ‘poet’ spoke, the better sense they were getting about the man before them. Twen whispered to Silfer: “Why does he refer to himself in the third person?” Silfer shrugged his shoulders and shook his head.

Coren stepped in to fill the silence: “We are, um, mere travelers journeying northward. We must climb the Tandala Mountains, into dangerous territory, and must do so before the cold makes the mountains too treacherous to pass. We therefore must hurry onward, but it was a plea—”

“Grand adventurers! Well, I am well-versed in all things, and you will no doubt need both my extensive knowledge about everything to protect you from the dangers of wherever it is you are going, and my awe-inspiring music to give you hope and comfort in the darkness of wherever you might happen to be.”

“I’m sure we’ll be fine. Besides, you need to get to New-Santhala, remember?”

“Oh, no need to worry. I imagine that if I keep going north, I should eventually go so far north that I begin going south...”

“Sir, Caelereth is a disk, not a globe,” spoke Fox. Again, her words were completely ignored.

“…and which point I will get to New-Santhala in no time. And in the adventures we will no doubt have, I should gain more material for my amazingly clever and creative poems. This will work out splendidly.”

The group looked at one another nervously. “Give us just a moment,” said Rayne, and she turned to the group and whispered, “What should we do?”

“We either emerge from the Tandalas without him, or I most certainly will emerge without my sanity,” said Silfer.

Twen whispered back, “I’m with Silfer on this one. I think that, while Azhira will certainly be able to ensure our physical survival, this individual may very well be a threat to our mental well-being.”

“But look at him,” said Fox. “I surely doubt that, once he sees how difficult the climb is through the Tandalas, he’ll be eager to stay with us.”

Azhira nodded. “They are very treacherous mountains. Besides, the air is so cold and thin on the mountain that even he would not wish to sing. He simply won’t have the breath for it.”

Coren spoke up: “But how do we manage to keep him relatively quiet until then. That sound he was making before… we still have at least three days until we arrive in Astran.”

Rayne turned back to Sordoc the Great and smiled delicately. “We would be ever-so-eager to have one of your stature join us on our journey north, Sordoc the Great. However, we all fear a great deal for those golden chords of yours. After all, they so fill us with awe and elation that we become distracted from our task, which is, of course, to journey north before snowfall. Perhaps you might keep them silent as to better preserve them and to better allow for our full and complete concentration on the journey?”

“Oh, Sordoc the Great understands completely,” Sordoc said, winking. “Sordoc the Great is, after all, an amazing singer, filling people with such awe that they cannot help but to almost swoon at the sound. And perhaps the ride there may give me time to practice my skills on the lute!”

Here Sordoc lifted his instrument into the air a little, and a look of horror came over all their faces. In a swift motion of her hand, Twen caused the instrument to break into flames, and then exclaimed, “Oh no! And here I was so eager to hear your practicing! Oh well. Perhaps you can pretend to play so that when you get your instrument back, you will be prepared to perform magnificently!”

“Great idea, little girl!” Sordoc said, obviously estimating Twen to be far younger than she actually was. Twen glared a little, but Sordoc didn’t seem to notice.

“Uh. Let us carry on then,” said Rayne.

It would be three days before the group reached Astran. By some miracle, they had managed to keep Sordoc from singing, although occasionally they were subject to his poetry, and their first night in Astran, to his interpretive dance. In Astran, they spent one day collecting the last supplies needed for the trip into the Tandalas, and the following morning they journeyed into the northern mountains.
***

“It is rather cold here,” huffed Sordoc as the group of them, now numbering seven, climbed deeper and deeper in the Tandala Mountains.

They had been journeying through the mountains a few days now, and as the terrain became more and more rocky and steep, so the air grew thinner and chillier. They were now quite clearly in the mountains of the Tandalas: all around them loomed snow-capped peaks, and they were already reaching areas where snow and frost flecked the ground. The flora had grown scarce, and thus far no other living creatures had been seen but this group of young adventurers journeying through the rough landscape.

They had nearly reached the Rayne River, and despite the cold weather and harsh climate, the group carried on with relative ease, led by Azhira, who managed to maintain a pace that kept Sordoc, obviously unaccustomed to such harsh travel, from being able to sing. Despite the difficulty, though, the Erpheronian had not yet abandoned the group. While there was a slight fear that this man might stay with the group for longer than expected, his lack of singing seemed to increase the morale and disposition of the group significantly.

“We should be coming up to the Rayne River soon. Keep your eyes peeled for it.”

Eager at the idea of fresh water for their parched throats, the group scanned the landscape as they hiked. Fox, so sensitive to the influence of her element, was the first to know it: “It’s ahead—just around this bend.”

The group increased their pace, and as they walked around the bend, the sight of flowing water came into view, glittering clear and cool as it cut its way through the mountain and rock. Sordoc, eager to drink, his throat significantly parched from the days of climbing to which he had already been subject, rushed to the river.

He didn’t see what the rest of them saw: a few peds down the river was a colossal figure with dark brown skin and raging yellow eyes. It turned as Sordoc rushed to the river.

“Sordoc, watch out!” yelled Twen, just as the enormous ogre roared loudly, almost throwing the man back, the terrifying sound resounding on the mountains, and all at once the creature lunged at Sordoc.

Rayne, quickly increasing the influence of earth ounia in the air around Sordoc, created a protective shield that the beast bashed itself against. Fox was also quick to act, and in a flash the beast was stumbling backward, distracted. A static bolt and a fire bolt rushed toward the ogre from Silfer and Twen, and in a howling scream, the beast fell dead to the ground.

Coren moved to help Sordoc to his feet, though the man looked visibly shaken. “Wh-what…?”

“An ogre,” said Azhira. “A Ban-Yuk ogre, to be specific. Giant, strong, nasty creatures with short tempers and fierce dispositions. You should be careful, and not move ahead of the group!” She chided.

Sordoc stared at the guide for a moment, and then looked at the magi. “What ARE you?!”

The magi all looked at one another. The five magi of Ximax had assumed that the ‘poet’ would have left the group by now. If he had known who the magi were, his leaving and spreading news about who he had met might have been dangerous. If anyone knew that only two archmagi still protected Ximax, the Academy might have been more likely to see an attack by its enemies, particularly those wishing to utilize the powers of the great Ximax Orb.

But now they were several days into their hike, and the man still had not left the group. At this point in the journey, it was too dangerous for him to try to trek back out of the Tandalas alone, and it seemed as though he would be with the group for the long haul.

Rayne stepped forward, meeting Sordoc’s uderza blue eyes with her own of deep indigo. “We are magi of Ximax.” Sordoc stared at the dark-haired elf with an expression of awe. “I am known as Rayne, Archmage of the Xeuá Tower.”

Silfer then stepped forward. “I am Silfer, Archmage of the Wind Tower.”

Twen smiled at Sordoc. “Twen, Archmage of the Fire School.”

“I am the Archmage of the Water School,” said Fox, nodding softly to Sordoc. “I’m known as Fox.”

“I am no archmage of Ximax, but hail from the far-away lands of Nybelmar. My name is Coren, and I am a mage in the Tower of Foreign Magics and Culture.”

Sordoc looked at each of them in turn. It took him a moment to process the information given, but in an instant seemed to return to himself again: “Finally! It has been a long time since Sordoc the Great met individuals almost as amazing and wonderful as he! It is a pleasure to make your acquaintances.”

All the magi rolled their eyes, and Rayne smiled, shaking her head a little. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, too, Sordoc.”

“Naturally!” said Sordoc sincerely.

Azhira could not help but chuckle at the situation. “Well, we should be moving on. And quickly. The sound that ogre made will arouse curiosity in the other inhabitance of these mountains, and I can guarantee you that there are far more dangerous and clever creatures living here than just our friend there.” She nodded toward the smoldering, smoking body of the dead ogre.

The group nodded and moved to fill their canteens with water before moving on. Azhira looked up at the sky and the surrounding mountains. “We have a few hours of daylight. Hopefully we can gain a little distance before settling down for the night.”

The group, led by Azhira, hiked alongside the river, and the near-death experience seemed to invigorate Sordoc with a new kind of zeal. He walked beside Rayne, asking her all sorts of questions, not about the intricacies of Ximaxian magic, or what it was like being an Archmage, but rather, what it was she could do.

“Can you make people float in the air?”

“Yes, though Silfer would probably be better at that than I wo—”

“Can you toss fire bolts?”

“It takes me a while, but yes, though Twen can do it qui—”

“Can you transport yourself from one place to another?”

“In theory. It’s a high level spell that’s never been attempted by a mage, that I know of, since the Chos—“

“Sordoc the Great would love to be able to transport himself around—think of all the places Sordoc the Great could play: Barvados in the morning, Nyermersys in the afternoon… so many individuals could be inspired by the greatest songs and poetry ever written! Could you teach Sordoc the Great how to do this?”

“No, Sordoc,” said Rayne with a sigh.

“Well what kind of Archmage are you!”

“I can manipulate the links in your car’áll to keep you from being able to move, and leave you in this exact spot as food for the next beast that passes by.”

“Ah. I see. You know, Sordoc the Great has great respect for you magical-type individuals. You are OK in his book.”

“Thank you, Sordoc.”

“We’ll sleep here for the night,” announced Azhira, conveniently ending Sordoc’s conversation, which was beginning to give the Xeuá mage a headache. The green-eyed half-elf motioned to a craggy overhang large enough for at least ten people, and the group, weary with the day of travel, settled into the cave with relief. That night, Sordoc questioned the other magi until, wearily, they all fell asleep.


It was late when Fox awoke to find Twen standing near the edge of the overhang, staring out into the dark mountains of the Tandalas. She moved to the fire mage and whispered carefully, as not to wake the others, “Can’t you sleep?”

Twen glanced at her companion and smiled a little in a way that did not hide her anxiety, and stared back out at the cold scene. “Something’s out there, Fox. There’s something or someone in these mountains. I feel as though perhaps we are not alone.”

“We have among us some of the most powerful magi in Santharia, and there is no individual more versed on the north than Azhira. Whatever’s out there, I’m certain we’ll be all right.”

Twen smiled and nodded. “Yes. You’re right.” The two women turned to return again to sleep, but Twen could not help but to look out once more: somewhere among the snow, there was a creature with a high fire influence roaming, but she could not tell if it meant them well or harm.
***

Two weeks into the trip, and the party still hiked along the winding Rayne River. The snow that had at first appeared as flecks of white across the stony gray ground had become thicker, about a fore deep, slowing the group’s pace at they trekked farther north. They hiked between mountains where the wind blew hard and fast, and each member tightened their warm coats about them.

They walked in a single-file line, with Azhira taking the lead as the guide. Behind her were Coren, then Rayne, Silfer, Twen, Fox, and finally Sordoc, trailing behind.

Azhira turned around to view the group, her cheeks reddened from the wind and hike. She called to Sordoc: “Come on, poet! Hurry up!”

Sordoc looked up miserably and, leaping in a way that conjured images of leaping frogs, hopped up to catch up with the group, but tripping, fell face-first in the snow. The group waited as Fox turned to help the bumbling poet to his feet. They walked on, and after a few hours, Azhira led the group to a cave out of the wind.

She inspected the cave carefully before dropping her equipment and turning to the group. “It seems we might need a little rest.”

The group nodded. Twen lit a fire, and they all collected around it, blowing on their hands and nibbling on rations.

“We’re lucky to find an unoccupied cave. Usually they’re home for trolls—a race we certainly don’t want to meet out here. They’re not the most pleasant creatures,” Azhira was saying.

“Are we making good time?” asked Rayne.

“So far. It will get more challenging now, though. We’re getting into the harsher areas. It may still be autumn in Santharia, but winter comes soon on these mountains. We are lucky the snow isn’t worse.”

“It’s lucky we haven’t met worse than weather thus far on the mountain,” spoke Silfer.

“Yes. There are a lot of—wait. What’s that?” said Azhira, and she stood to look out of the cave. Silence passed over the group. They sat in silence, watching as Azhira’s green eyes scanned the snowy landscape, the mountain wind howling outside the cave. After a few moments, she shook her head. “I could have sworn I heard something.”

Fox looked uncertainly from Azhira to the group and back. “Perhaps we should move on.”

Azhira nodded. “Let’s hurry. I have a bad feeling.”

The group gathered their things quickly, and filed out of the cave. Just as Azhira, bringing up the back of the line, was leaving, an arrow went whizzing by her head. She turned to see what looked like an army of green goblins, armed with shields, axes, and swords, coming at them. “Gob-ocs! Run!”

And the group ran, rushing as fast as they could in the snow. They turned here and there, past rocks, around crags, when all at once they came to a dead-end where the mountain soared upward horizontally, and the group was trapped against the rock. Rayne created a shield by increasing the earth ounia in the air around the group. Silfer charged a static bolt while Twen formed a fire bolt. Fox linked her car’all to the surrounding snow, preparing to manipulate the snow to defend the group. Coren took notice of all details, noting what possibilities he might be able to manipulate. Azhira’s own car’all flared a little as she prepared to lessen whatever damage the party might sustain. Sordoc hid as best he could behind the group.

They just kept coming—more and more Gob-ocs, their beady eyes glaring at the group, their swords and axes drawn—and the confidence of all members of the party began to wane. Coren looked about at the forming army, and shook his head a little, never letting his eyes wander from the scene, “There are so many of them. We’re horribly out-numbered.”

“Something’s coming,” said Twen, almost prophetically. The group looked at her, but her eyes seemed distant. “Something’s coming.”

All at once, the mountains shook with a loud roar, coming from behind them. High above them, an enormous dragon with great horns all over its body was perching on a crag. It spread its wings magnificently, and in blaze of red and orange, it breathed fire out over the army of gob-ocs.

The army back away slightly, fearfully, and then the dragon roared again. The gob-ocs fled, and the dragon took wing again, this time landing right in front of the party, its horned back to them, and it breathed fire on the path of the gob-ocs, now retreating out of sight.

Then, the dragon turned, and its eyes peered at the group curiously. No one spoke, and no one moved, staring at the giant beast with smoke rising from its nostrils. Suddenly, from behind the dragon, a woman appeared: her long white hair, the color of cyhalloian snow, fell over her shoulders, and her eyes shimmered in shades of Korwyn gold. She spoke in a soft, almost musical voice: “Do not be afraid. He will not harm you.” She smiled, looking up at the dragon, and then turning back to the group. “My name is Kalina Merenwen. I have heard of you from the dragons—they have been watching your journey through their mountains.”

Azhira smiled and nodded to the woman. “I am Azhira, and these are my friends: Rayne, Silfer, Twen, Coren, Fox, and Sordoc.” Each person nodded and smiled at the woman as Azhira introduced them. “We do not mean any harm. We are simply trying to pass through this mountain range.”

Kalina nodded, and turned to the dragon beside her, and spoke to him in an ancient tongue that none of the party had ever heard before: draconic. The dragon looked at the group a moment, then spread his wings and took to flight, disappearing behind the mountains.

The woman turned back to the group. “You have been journeying through such harsh country. There is but little light left in the day. If you would like, you can stay with me tonight, and continue your journey rested tomorrow.”

The group nodded, and followed her through the mountains. As they walked, the group inquired of this strange woman who lived among dragons, and she told them who she was.

“I have lived among the dragons for many years now. As a child, I was fascinated with their stories, and I have come here to learn more about these old, strange, and enigmatic creatures.”

“And you can speak with them?” asked Silfer.

“Yes. It took me many decades to learn. Theirs in an ancient language, and one they do not teach easily. It took a great many years to earn their trust, but quite worth it: they are generous and wise.”

The party listened with fascination, and in no time they came to Kalina’s mountain home: she lived in a rather elegant and comfortable cave in the mountains, the entrance covered by brush that kept out the cold, and though it was small, there was quite enough room for everyone to sleep.

She made everyone some tea, and they spoke in soft but friendly voices as the night winds blew just outside.

“That was a horned dragon, wasn’t it?” asked Azhira.

“Yes. A very good friend of mine, and still rather young. He is a bit small for a dragon. His mother is quite a bit larger.”

“THAT was SMALL?” asked Sordoc, who was still a bit taken by the events of the day.

“Yes. Horned dragons grow to be very big.”

“Have you seen any Golden Dragons in these mountains?” asked Azhira.

Kalina smiled. “The dragons guard their secrets well. If they are here, the other dragons think it best to keep their presence a secret.”

“What about the last Adamant Dragon?” asked Rayne, taking a sip of her tea. “The myths used to say that she lived in Dragon’s Maw, I believe, which is not too far from here.”

“Ah, and even greater secret,” said Kalina. “The adamant dragons are all cloaked in myth. Even if I knew, it would not be right of me to say.”

“It’s getting late,” Silfer said. “It might be best for us to be heading to sleep.”

Coren nodded. “And we still have quite a ways to travel before we’re out of these mountains.”

Tired from the day’s events, then, the group lay down in the warmth and comfort of Kalina’s mountain home, and all fell asleep.
 


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