CHAPTER IV

A SANTHARIAN FANFICITION

 
Adventure of the Northern Shadows   
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Introduction. The travelers arrive in the forest of the Injerin, where they are given a gift and a riddle. As arrive in the Port town of Darooth, they find both answers and familiar faces. However, they realize that pursuit of the shadow is sending them into treacherous lands.

 

he group was silent as they wondered north toward Darooth, a rather large trading port on the Sea of Tears. While the group’s Kuglimz horse trainer had returned to Myt’ineira, the Injerin had been more than happy to lend their horses for the travel north. They were leagues now from the Shaded Forest, following the road past scattered villages strewn across the countryside like so many autumn leaves. And like autumn leaves the villages seem to become less distinct under the snow that marked the beginning of winter.

The last few days out had been introspective ones, the group contemplating what they had learned in the Shaded forest. While the elves had been of a most hospitable and generous sort, the knowledge given, and gratefully received, seemed to only deepen the tightness in the center of the chest.

As the injera began its descent into daywane, Twen spoke, her voice reflecting her distant thoughts: “Even among the magi of the Injerin...” She trailed off as her thoughts escaped words.

Fox sighed a little, and while brief, the words resonated with her. “Even here, so far from Xaramon--so far from Santharia.” While she maintained her cool and collected composure, there was something in Fox’s voice that seemed to echo how she missed home.

“These Injerin mages must have been some of the first, then,” said Silfer gently. “There must be hundreds in the forest taken with the Sleep.”

“And there are so many now that must be cared for by so few,” spoke Eldor, his voice rough yet gentle. “Bodies more youthful than mine, and yet they lie in bed and grow ever weaker.” The old man rubbed his rough beard, his honeyed eyes catching a shadow of sorrow.
 

It was at this point that Sordoc realized the group had begun conversing. He had been entertained for that last few hours by a small bug that had landed on his sleeve. If not for his horse’s natural inclination to follow the one in front of her, he certainly would have been lost. Before really grasping the topic of conversation, nodded his agreement to Eldor. “Yes. That is a shame, especially because they are so young and you are so very, very, very old.”

Eldor glared at him beneath his bushy eyebrows. “At least I have intelligence higher than a dung beetle.”

“Sordoc the Great has written a song about the dung beetle, and how they pay tribute to the pack-ox by worshipping their dung! It’s a truly amazing piece with outstandingly clever rhyme and a classic metrical pattern. Sordoc the Great shall sing it for you!”

“Ah! Sordoc. This cold air would not be good for your lungs. Perhaps you should wait until we get to town, to some place warmer and less taxing on your vocal chords. After all, we wouldn’t want you to harm those gifts to man,” offered Azhira strategically. “Perhaps you can quietly hum it, instead.”

“Fantastic idea!” Sordoc began to hum the song, and was quieted. As his song progressed, he journeyed deeper into a private fantasy world in which he gesticulated grandly and half-danced from his saddle.

Coren chuckled a little at the easily distracted poet, and then turned to Rayne. Out of all the members of the group, she had been the quietest since the group departed from the Shaded Forest. She had taken out one of the vials the Injerin potion-masters had given her, regarding it curiously. The vials were small and contained a strange liquid that shone dark purple through the clear glass. This one fit easily into her delicate elven hands, and she had been staring at it for some time, seeming almost to look through it or past it. Coren spoke to her gently, as though rousing her out of a sleep: “Rayne? Are you with us?”

Rayne glanced up to meet the eyes of the Nybelmarian, a little surprised to be taken back to Caelereth after so long a stint in her own thought-worlds. She smiled a little, almost sheepishly. “Yes. Sorry.”

“What is it the potion-masters said to you that has distracted you so?”

Rayne looked down at the vial, and turned it in her hand. “The dragon tears Kalina gave us have been turned into potions. And yet, I do not know what they do. The potion-master said they were not done.”

Silfer’s brows furrowed. “They’ve given you unfinished potions?”

“Yes. The potion-master said that she did not have the ingredients to complete it: that these we must find ourselves. When the correct ingredient is added, the potion will become clear.”

“Did she supply you with any sort of hint? Anything to tell us when or where to start looking?” asked Twen, her stormy gray eyes reflecting curiosity.

“She said, ‘When a friend of a friend gives to thee like Nakashi gave the Silkel tree, this gift from one so kind and dear will turn the potion crystal clear.’” Rayne shook her head, and one of the dark ringlets of her hair brushed her cheek.

Coren could not help but smile a little. “Injerin--such knowledgeable elves, they even know of the Aeoliren myths of Aeruillin.”

“Yes, but what could it mean?” asked Fox curiously. “How did Nakashi give the Silkel tree? Freely? Openly? Graciously? Perhaps we must be given the gift in such as way? And what ‘friend of a friend,’ I wonder.”

Rayne shrugged. “I’m not sure. It’s very obscure.” She sighed and tucked the vial into her pocket. “Perhaps we’ll find some answers in Darooth.”

“And hopefully a boat north,” added Azhira. While the Prominent Mountains would be a more direct path north, they were dangerous. Under the advice of their guide to the north, the group had decided that passage north would best be achieved by sea. “We are still several days off, but for now, I recommend we settle down. It’s growing dark, and soon there won’t be enough light to see by.”

The group nodded their assent, and began settling down for the cold night. They started a fire to keep away the cold, and soon were all in bed.

That night, Azhira could not sleep, and tossed and turned anxiously. She sat up and glanced at the group, all of whom remained asleep, finding warmth from the last glowing coals of their fire. But one bed was empty, and silhouetted against a sky that played hide-and-go-seek with the moon, Eldor sat staring off across the countryside.

The half-elf rose and wandered over to him. “You, too, huh?”

Eldor glanced at her and nodded, and she took a seat next to him. It was a few moments before either of them spoke, and then Eldor, his eyes still scanning the darkness, spoke in a voice that hinted concern. “I have lived many years in this land. I can feel the shadow. The dreams... they have not ceased. Each night I see the shadow taking the land. And now, every day, I feel it. As the winter settles in, and the days grow colder, I feel a darkness closing its grip on the land and its people.”

Azhira nodded, still but for the churning storm in her heart. “The dangers have only just begun. We are nearing a place into which I have not journeyed, and would not journey freely. Not because I do not know it, but because I know it too well.”

Eldor turned to her. “Where is this?”

“We are approaching the Mists of Osthemangar.” Azhira caught her heart as it rose into her throat. “It is a place where great evil lurks, where the beasts of the netherworld enter the world of Caelereth, where there is no light to stave off the darkness. And based on our path right now, we seems to be heading straight for it.”

“But do not people go mad there? We would never be able to leave with our sanity intact.”

“The Gibbering Madness. Yes.” Azhira bit her lip and stared at the ground, her green eyes anxious and uncertain. “And even if we could enter, there are beasts and horrors none can imagine. There are terrors that would forever haunt our dreams. I can imagine no place of greater peril.”

Eldor shook his head a little, sighed, and glanced back to the group of sleeping mages, and snoring Sordoc. Azhira did the same, glancing from face to face. Eldor spoke. “Those are some of the greatest and most powerful magi on Caelereth. They have incredible willpowers, but I wonder if they would be able to keep their sanity.”

“And,” added Azhira, “what would become of Caelereth if they lost it.”
***

It was mid-day when the group reached the outskirts of Darooth. The port city was bustling: traders, sailors, merchants, artisans, and factotums crowded the streets. Many of them had the definitive features of a Kuglimz or a Remusian, but a great deal of the population seemed composed of Arthyron elves. After giving over their horses to an Injerin elf who had agreed to return them to the Shaded Forest, the group met to discuss their strategy.

“Darooth is a sizable port town,” Azhira informed the group. “We need to find a place to stay the night, as well as a ship that can take us north.”

“What do you suggest?” asked Coren.

“In this case, I think it’s better if we split up. “Coren, Eldor, and myself will head toward the south. Rayne, Fox, Twen, and Silfer, head north. We’ll meet up along the middle port and--”

“What about ME?!” asked Sordoc plaintively, like a child. Everyone turned to look at him, and he paused a moment, then, standing up straight and clearing his throat, said, “I mean, which party shall Sordoc the Great join? Sordoc the Great shall happily provide wonderful musical entertainment during this tour through the great city of Doorgoof.”

“Darooth,” corrected Azhira, sighing and rolling her eyes a little. “And you can come with me, Sordoc, but no musical accompaniment needed.”

“Sordoc the Great does not mind at all. After all, Sordoc the Great cannot let down his admiring fans.”

Fox offered gently. “Perhaps you can list your songs for us, Sordoc? So that we might choose one, as well as learn of your great repertoire.”

“Yes! Well, let’s see. There’s “Ode to the Pack-ox, The Pack-ox Ode, O Noble Pack-ox, Hail Thee Pack-ox...”

With Sordoc now harmlessly listing songs, occasionally repeating song titles, the group made arrangements for meeting up come evening, and separated. Fox, Twen, Silfer, and Rayne wandered into the north of the city, while Azhira, Coren, Eldor, and Sordoc headed south.

The north was bustling with merchants and traders. The four mages wandered through the cobblestone streets, past shops that displayed the furs of tareps, shir, and even bears. Peddlers called out their wears, and people moved like fish in a crowded stream. From somewhere ahead, the four heard a familiar voice asking people, “Please move. You’re in the way,” and saying, “I’m trying to get by!” and “Please don’t poke Swing: she does not like that!”

From the crowd emerged a familiar face: a woman with dark hair gleaming in the frigid rays of the north, dressed in Shendar clothes. The warmth of her grey eyes and her pirate smile seemed to echo the warmth of a distant country. Beside her, an Aj’nuvic stood, its calm eyes looking about the crowds. Twen was the first to recognize her: “Talia!”

The woman caught sight of the crowd and smiled. “What a surprise!” Fox, Rayne, Twen, and Silfer all embraced the woman. “What are you all doing this far north?”

“Chasing a shadow,” Silfer said, half sarcastically, half sadly. “It’s a long story. Though we should ask the same of you! A woman of the sun and sands, what draws you so far into this snowy land?”

Swing, recognizing the group, nuzzled Fox’s shoulder. The water mage smile and gently stroked the creature. Talia smiled and responded, “Compendium business, and a bit of trade. One has to make a living, after all,” she said with a wry smile.

“Still trading? I should think you would be retired, done with travel, enjoying the warm southern weather,” spoke Rayne.

“Ha! When roses cover the Yar’Dang. Though I don’t mind the travel,” Talia said. Despite her age, Talia had all the resilience, strength, and mental prowess of those half her age. When it came to games of wit, she was rarely bested. The years had done nothing to quell her vivacious spirit. “Come, let me buy you all a drink. Perhaps you can tell me of the shadow you’re chasing.”

The group of five ducked into a tavern, and Talia tied up Swing outside, giving her Aj a kiss on the nose. “I will be right back, my dear. I promise.”

The five took seats around a wooden table, and once settled, the five mages relayed the story of their journey so far: the occasion of the Sleep stealing consciousness from young magi, meeting Azhira in Nyermersys, and the bumbling poet they had picked up on their way to Astran. They spoke of their dangerous journey through the Tandalas, and their flight on dragons thanks to the help of the dragon lady Kalina. Then they spoke of their passage through the Kuglimz land and introduction to Eldor, an old earth mage, and the visit in the Shaded Forest, the vials, and their journey to Darooth,

Talia listened as the story was relayed, fascinated. “It sounds as though you all have had quite the adventure.”

“And it’s not even done yet, it seems,” added Twen.

“Yes,” said Fox, nodding at Twen. “I believe there is still much to come.”

“So many mysteries still to unravel,” said Rayne. She had pulled out the vial in retelling the story of gaining the potion, and the enigmatic clue to finishing it. She whispered allowed, “When a friend of a friend gives to thee like Nakashi gave the Silkel tree, this gift from one so kind and dear will turn the potion crystal clear.”

Talia leaned back in her chair, thinking. “I am not expert on Aeoliren myth, but was not the Silkel given by a tear Nakashi shed? The tear fell, and from it arose the Silkel tree.”

“So we’re looking for a tear?” asked Silfer.

“I would guess so,” said Talia. There was a moment of pause before she went on. “Are you all staying here the night?”

“Yes. We will hopefully find a ship to take us north. We may be here a few days, though, depending on when, or if, we can find a ship.”

“I know of a wonderful inn run by a Kuglimz woman. She knows me, and I can perhaps get you a deal on a room. There are eight of you, yes? I’m sure she’ll have room and board for you all. There isn’t particularly a lot of traffic in this season.”

Silfer smiled. “No, I don’t suppose there would be.”

“I really should check on Swing. She does not like to be left alone.” Talia rose and paid the fee for the drinks.

“It seems she does not seem to mind the cold. She does not mind coming so far north with you?” asked Twen as they left the tavern.

“Oh, she gets grumpy occasionally,” chuckled Talia as she gentle petted her aj’nuvic. Swing regarded her with warmth and love, nuzzling her affectionately. “But I could never leave her behind. She has a wonderful companion. Blessed is she who called the Aj her friend.” Here she kissed Swing on head.

Raynes eyes caught a sparkle. “Friend...” The elf pulled out the vial from her pocket. “Talia, perhaps you might catch one of Swing’s tears in this vial?”

Talia regarded the elf a bit strangely at first, but upon remembering the Injerin potion-masters word, nodded, and took the vial. After cooing a few soft words into her aj’s ear, she let fall one of the creatures tears into the vial. The dark purple hue began to swirl. It grew lighter and lighter until at last it became crystal clear.

Rayne smiled. “Aha. Perhaps you would not mind sacrificing a few more tears, Swing?”

Talia helped catch an aj’nuvic tear in each of the vials. As she did, she inquired of her friends’ journey. “You are planning on journeying north by way of sea, then?”

Fox nodded. “I don’t suppose you would know of a good ship to take us around the Peninsula of Kr’uul, towards the Eight Winds Bay, Miss Talia?”

Talia shook her head. “I caught a ride on a trader’s ship, but this is as far north as they go. They will stay here a few days, and when they return, I will return with them. I’m afraid I cannot help you.” Swing whined a little. “I know, my dear. I’m sorry. Just a few more. You have been so good.”

“I certainly hope the others are having more luck,” said Silfer. He paused a moment, then smiled. “Though I suppose we did catch a bit of luck ourselves.”
***

The south of Darooth filled with smells of sawdust and fish. Large buildings housed unfinished boats--everything from small skiffs to larger sailing ships. Coren, Azhira, Eldor, and Sordoc journeyed through the streets, passing men carrying planks of wood over their shoulders. Sordoc was still in the midst of naming various songs. At one point, he had seemed to be done: then Azhira expressed an interest in hearing a list of songs about the Pack-ox, and he had begun again.

The other members of the group watched the ship-building with curiosity and slight bewilderment. Azhira caught this in their eyes:

“It’s ship-building season,” explained the half-elf. “During the winter, the seas can grow horribly cold and sometimes violent. Most do not sail during this season, instead opting to repair and build sailing vessels for the spring.”

“Ah, my back hurts,” spoke Eldor. “So many days of travel. Let’s get a drink.” The mage turned into a tavern, never turning around to check if the others were following--though naturally, they were. As they entered the tavern, Eldor turned to one of the barmaids. “Drinks for me and my friends.” With a nod, she scurried off.

Sordoc was in mid-list when he suddenly gasped. “Look who it is!” He spoke so loud that everyone in the tavern looked to see who this peculiar fellow was. His companions turned to see him walking toward a young man with red hair sitting at a table near the back. The man’s eye filled with something like horrified surprised, then let his head fall into his hands.

“Why is it I can never seem to get away from you, Sordoc?”

“Deklitch, good friend, how can you say that to your inspiring and amazing friend, Sordoc the Great, who has been kind enough to bestow upon you amazing poems for your company entries!”

“Compendium entries. And Sordoc, you are no friend of mine.”

“How can you SAY that? Sordoc the Great is so disappointed in you!”

“Sordoc, do you remember what happened two years ago, outside Salsair?”

“I performed great poetry for you, accompanied with my amazing interpretive dance!” Here he did a preview of his interpretive dance, which looked a bit like a fish trying to waltz.

“You forced me to listen to one of your performances, and then after you were booed off stage, you went around back and stole my horse.”

“No, no. I merely borrowed your horse.”

“Then you traded my horse for gambling money in the next town.”

“Sordoc the Great was about to win big!”

“You lost it all.”

“Sordoc the Great ran into some bad luck.”

“And three months later, you stole three silverbard from me.”

“Sordoc the Great appreciates your generous donation. You can be assured that your money went toward the betterment of entertainment across Santharia, and will continue better entertainment in spite of those hacks at the New-Santhala Society for the Literary Arts.”

“You spent it on a bunch of rabbits.”

“They were cute!”

“You killed them all.”

“Well, Sordoc the Great wanted a dog, and the dog was hungry.”

“Yes, a big hunting dog. And where is the dog now, Sordoc?”

“Sordoc the Great is very sad that Fluffy ran away.” Here the poet look down dejectedly.

Deklitch rolled his eyes and glanced to his companion: a quiet, solemn individual with what appeared like a scar running down his face. “Let’s get out of here.”

It was at this point that Coren spoke up. “Deklitch? Deklitch Hardin? Your a Compendiumist, aren’t you?”

Deklitch glanced at the Nybelmarian curiously. “Yes. I just joined the team a little while ago. In fact, I’m on my way to the Eight Winds Bay to do research for an entry. Who are you?”

“My name is Coren--Coren Frozenzephyr.”

“Lord Coren Frozenzephyr? Ah, yes, I know of you--you are from Nybelmar, and serve as a lecturer at Ximax Academy, in the Tower of Foreign Cultures and Magics.” He smiled. “Do you know--?”

Here the solemn man moved forward, and before Deklitch could finish the introduction, spoke. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Lord Frozenzephyr. And you, too, Azhira.”

Azhira stepped forward. “You know me?”

“I journeyed far into the north to find the Tear Frost Flower. I was so wrapped by your description of it that I was intrigued to look upon it with my own eyes. I had to immortalize it in painting, as you had done in words.” The man smiled mysteriously.

Azhira’s eyes grew wide. “You are the famed Seeker! I’ve seen a great many of your paintings. They are beautiful. Whatever did you learn to paint like that?”

“That is my secret,” Seeker said.

“To each their own,” smiled Azhira. She then motioned to Eldor. “Do you know Eldor? An earth mage we found living among the Kuglimz.”

Eldor grunted his hello as the barmaid arrived with their drinks. Feeling worn and weary from all the hullabaloo, he took a seat nearby.

Deklitch spoke up. “Well, I’m not surprised to see you here, Azhira. Your research as been some of the more thorough ever done on Northern Sarvonia. But Lord Frozenzephyr, you have come a very long ways.”

“Yes, but not alone. Somewhere in Darooth are four mages of Ximax. We’re chasing a darkness that has stretched across Sarvonia, causing magi to call unconscious and not wake. We’ve come to Darooth seeking passage into the north by boat.”

“Well, you would not be likely to find a ship to take you there this season,” said Deklitch. “But I have a man who said he would be willing to take me to Silven. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind sailing farther, if you’ve got the money to pay him. How far north are you going?”

“Probably at least to Kant’ram” replied Azhira. “We can follow the Gothkin River north. I’ve heard of a pathway through Mount Osthen, though I suppose we will see if it’s still there.” She chuckled a little in a way that only mildly hid her dread.

“You’re journeying into the Mists of Osthemangar,” said Seeker in a way that only mildly hid his surprise.

“Yes.”

Seeker shook his head a little. “You are an expert of the north, and know the dangers that you will face.”

“People lose their sanity in the mists,” said Deklitch, puzzled by this decision.

Eldor spoke up from where he sat with his mug. “We’re journeying into a land of horrible creatures, hideous monsters, and nightmarish netherbeasts.” He grinned almost sarcastically. “I’m not sure if you could say we have any sanity to start with.”

The two groups reconvened before sunset, and after some moments of introduction and reunion, made their plans. Tomorrow they would get the supplies they needed and, in a few days time, head north into darker lands.
 


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