The floor of the cabin was shaking, while the garish light of the teleporting spell appeared. It only went on for another moment and then it was gone. Just like he was.
The hero was standing there motionless for a moment and started thinking about Xardas. The cabin seemed to have been left untouched by his spell, its luxury still untouched. Only a yellow cloud of dust stayed in the air, which piece by piece faded away.
Suddenly the door was torn open and Gornwas standing at the door frame with his “Fist of Fury”. The hero looked at him in a quizzical way, raising his left eyebrow.
Gorn didn’t wait to explain to him: “We’ve heard some rumble from this cabin here. We already thought it was about to hit the fan.”
Then Gorn looked irritated at the cloud of dust, that vanished completely afterwards and then turned to the hero: “Say … what were you doing in here? Cleaning service? Or where is all that funny dust coming from?”
“I …”, the hero tried to answer, as the voice of the captain came through to them from the outside:
“THE CAVE IS COMING DOWN!!!”
The two men stormed outside and saw, how parts of the ghostly grotto of Irdorath were collapsing, seemingly the center of the destruction was coming from the inside of the island and was now starting to reach the bay.
“HOLD ON!!!”, roared the captain. Half of the ship was already reaching out of the cave’s exit which was serving as the entrance last time. The hero sought shelter in the passage that led to the cabin, same as Gorn. Both felt a major impact, which shook the entire ship. They tried keeping their balance, before they dared going outside to check up on what was happening. A massive rock formation crashed near the ship into the water but the ship itself seems to have not been hit … yet. Instead, it floated further and further towards the outside, until …
“WE’RE OUT!! WE’VE MADE IT!”, the captain chimed in.
The entire crew breathed a sigh of relief. They started repairing the smaller damages on the ship. Taking on the army of the undead dragon was one thing. Take on a collapsing temple was another, however. After all, you could only defend yourself against one of those …
A few hours later they were back on sea in the meantime. Whether it was luck or the gods’ will, everyone was happy one way or the other to have survived.
“Where are you going?”, asked Gorn the hero who went towards the cabin.
“Catching some sleep, finally.”, he answered meagerly and went on ahead.
7 days later:
“He is almost nowhere to be seen since days.”, noted Milten who was sitting with his friends Diego, Gorn and Lester at a table in the kitchen, eating the hundred first bowl of fish soup, or so he felt. Slowly he started to feel annoyed at the notion.
On the other side there was another, bigger table standing, where the rest of the crew, Lee, Lares, Vatras, Pedro and the captain were eating.
“As if something was troubling him.”, agreed Diego with some nodding.
“Who are you talking about, anyway?”, Angar asked as he entered the room and turned to the stove, scooping up some soup on a plate for himself.
“Well, about our friend, the dragon slayer. He’s almost not coming out of his cabin anymore at all”, Diego answered him.
“I saw him a week ago the last time, that’s how rare he gets out.”, Gorn added, “Some kind of crap must have gone down in that temple.”
“And what would that have been?”, asked Diego.
“Well, maybe the undead dragon has manipulated him somehow. Just like Mario! Maybe he’s fighting against his influence in this instance …”, Lester thought in a worried tone.
“Ah, bullshit.”, Diego just waved off that notion. “He slapped so many Seekers on that island alone who tried to do the same.”, he added.
“But an undead dragon with the power to gather that many minions is a whole other thing.”, Gorn was eating noisily. Milten was getting sick every single time he had to watch Gorn slurping away another fish soup as it was nothing. A part of him was also jealous …
“Don’t you think you should just go and ask him.”, Lee sighed and was now looking at the friends. “I mean, you’re speculating wildly over here but maybe he has his reasons. Maybe he’s also just really tired after getting rid of all of them lizard people, orcs and cape wearing figures. Not to forget; The dragons!”
“Yeah, you’re right, that wasn’t easy.”
Everyone was now directing their look towards the door frame. The nameless hero was standing there but he just directed his glance at the stove at the end of the room. He released a sigh: “Again fish soup … Why does it have to be fish soup every time?”
“It has to be that way ever since a certain someone raided our supplies …”, Diego growled and was looking at Gorn. The latter gave him a look and played innocent: “I was hungry … and the supplies weren’t that great anyway.”
The hero replied: “Yes, but at least they were keeping us sated. More than these soups.”
Then it burst out of Milten: “Where were you, my friend? We were all worried …”
“I heard that. As well as your conspiracy theories.”, the hero took a deep breath. “Xardas probably betrayed us.”
“WHAT?!”, erupted Milten, Pedro mumbled: “Oh, Innos …”, Vatras looked up to the hero and asked just as surprised: “How do you come to that conclusion, son?”
“That’s a long story …”, answered the hero to which everyone gave him a glance. He hastily added: “Yeah, yeah, I’ll tell you already …”
And he did that. He told them everything, what Xardas did with the corpse of the undead dragon and what he told the hero in the cabin. Once he was done, there was a unusual silence occupying the room. Some seemed to think, others seemed worried. Milten and Vatras had both of it written to their faces.
Diego broke off that silence after a while: “So … Is the necromancer standing with Beliar now?”
“No. At least he assured me he wasn’t.”, answered the hero. “So, what’s next?”, he looked through the crew. “First you think, something’s wrong with me. Now you know everything, but you don’t say anything.”
“Well, we’re as clueless as you are. But this isn’t good.”
“Och! Really?”, the hero replied in sarcastic manner.
“The question is, what did he do exactly? To me it sounds like he took the power of the undead dragon or … his soul.”, spoke Milten with a confused undertone.
“Took his soul? Come on, Milten …”, Diego said sceptically.
“The young firemage is right.”, Vatras’ voice now chimed in. “He is probably bearing the power of Beliar inside of him.”
“The real question is what he’s planning to do with it. If the necromancer isn’t Beliar’swillless servant, then what is he doing that for? For power?”, asked Milten.
“No. He said, that was the Avatar of Beliar … And it’s possible that the sleeper was the same thing. At least that was what the undead dragon was hinting at during our short talk …”, the hero added.
“What? But … then Xardas probably wanted to stop that cycle. Before Beliar would call for other servants and give them his power.”, Milten thought.
“That’s a possible motive.”, Vatras nodded in an agreeing manner. “But what will he do with it now?”
“We’ll probably only see that, once we’re on the mainland. I doubt he teleported himself back to Khorinis.”
A while there was again silence. This time Gorn was the one to break it: “So … to the mainland then?”
“On to the mainland then.”, the hero spoke determined.
3 days later:
“Hey, Lester!”, Milten called out to him as Lester was coming through. He raised his hand and waved Lester to him.
Lester stepped closer: “Yes?”
“No, no, you need to hold the weapon with BOTH hands on the grip. The way you’re doing it, you’re just losing your swing unnecessarily to polish someone’s mug.”, Gorn roared to Pedro in the background. The two of them were training together with Girion on a calm day on sea, to not get out of practice. By now almost everyone had accepted the fact that Pedro was controlled, similarly to the possessed people on Khorinis, after Milten and Vatras had checked him out. There was still some mistrust, but everyone thought they could use all the help they could get if they had to fight the orcs or Xardas, once they arrive on the mainland.
“How are you? Your headaches really seem to be gone, just as you said.”, asked Milten and started inspecting Lester a bit.
“Yeah, you’re right. Ah, I haven’t felt so good in a long time … If you take away the fact that I’ve already smoked my supply of swamp weed.”, he sighed.
Milten grinned: “It wouldn’t be the first time, my friend, would it?”
Lester too couldn’t hold back a grin: “Yeah, that’s right. Hopefully the guys on the mainland have the same quality stuff as on Khorinis. Although I doubt that anything is going to beat the weed from our swamp.”, he laughed.
Milten’s facial expressions darkened: “That is … what I wanted to talk to you about. I’m not sure if you should continue consuming swamp weed.”
Lester frowned: “Why is that?”
Milten hesitated for a moment: “Well. Come with me. We’ll talk about it with Vatras.”
Lester followed him somewhat confused, the two arrived in Vatras’ room. The latter seemed to be waiting for the two of them. There was a brief silence before Milten continued:
“Well … It is not entirely certain, and it is only a theory, but … One thing is certain: According to our sources, many of the seekers, especially on Khorinis, are former members of the Brotherhood.”
“Have you never wondered how that happened?”
“Well, we worshipped the Sleeper. For many years. What else?”
“Yes, yes.”, Milten nodded. Then he let out a sigh. “But you are forgetting something: you were called to the swamp by the sleeper. And you stayed there and received visions from him. And that’s because of the swamp weed, for example.”
“Because of the swamp weed?” Lester raised both eyebrows, then released a short laughter. “You mean the demon wanted us to run around stoned while we praised him?”
Both Vatras and Milten seemed less amused. Now Vatras spoke up:
“As ridiculous as that sounds, my son, yes. The swamp weed has a special property: It opens your mind and lets magical or spiritually receptive people … Well, how do I explain this. Although these can reach a new spiritual level, they are just as vulnerable to corrupting influences.”
Lester nodded: “Yes, the Baals said that too, that the weed made it possible for them to get in contact with the slee- …”, he paused, then looked shocked at Vatras and Milten: “Oh no.”
Milten nodded slowly: “Unfortunately, yes. That’s why I … WE advise you to stop using the herb. “
“But my friend, I am no longer susceptible to the teachings of the sleeper. To be honest, it’s never been that special to me anyway. “
Vatrasswayed his head: “That is true. That’s the only reason members like you or Angar survived the fiasco. In contrast to the rest. And even if the undead Dragon seems defeated, don’t forget that the demon summoner now has the power of Beliar in him. You have to close your mind off, son, because otherwise … Only Adanos knows what will happen to you then. “
Lester was silent for a moment, then he waved it off: “I understand your worries, but trust me. This will never happen to me again. I’ll take care of it. “
“Milten, please.” Lester interrupted him. Although his voice remained calm, it now had a seriousness about it that Miltenrarely experienced.
“I don’t want to think about it anymore. Believe me … it’s not easy to forget that sort of thing. And I plan to learn from it. The weed is the only thing that will help me cope with it. So please, don’t worry, my friend.”He then turned around without a word and turned back outside on deck.
Both Milten and Vatras exchanged both worried and thoughtful glances before Milten nodded goodbye and went back on deck as well.
One month later:
The hero stared at the sea that was raving before his eyes. He watched the waves hit the port side. But his mind was elsewhere. Thinking about the nightmares he’s had lately. Where his companions lay dead in a black haze of fog and at the end of the corpse path he was standing.
There was standingXardas. It always ended the same way, with him saying, “You may have destroyed the barrier and defeated the dragons and their would-be general, Raven, but you won’t get any further. For your help to bestowupon me the power of Beliar, I will give you a quick death. And now DIE! “, Xardas‘ voicethundered, as was the mighty lightning bolt that was heading for the hero.
Was he really responsible for it? The same way he brought death and destruction upon Khorinis just for his own freedom?
No, that is not true. He defeated the Sleeper, whose awakening would have meant the end of the world.
But without him, Cor Kalom and his followers would never have found him. He would never have been close to his awakening. Only through his banishment did the dragons come, and with them the deaths of innumerable people in the mine valley of Khorinis. And if the orcs have managed to break through the pass, possibly many lives on Khorinis too.
Is it only getting worse now, seeing asXardas has that power now?
In all of these lines of thoughts, a few snippets burnt themselves into his mind:
Not even the gods know what fate has in store for us …
You will return … but you won’t … find peace …
One single prisoner changed the fate of hundreds …
Darkness hauls through the lands … Evil will triumph …
Brave companions … You will have to CHOOSE …
BELIAR HAS CHOSEN ME …
And I have taken his power …
The king … is going to LOSE the war against the orcs …
“Argh, damn it!” Growled Gorn. Two dices showed 6 once again. “Again passed 20. How do you get 20 every time, huh?”, He now turned to Diego. Lester and Milten also looked over to Diego, the former adding: “Yes, something is wrong there!” And the latter asked: “What trick are you using, my friend?” Diego raised both hands in innocence and grinned at the same time: “Hey, guys, come on. What do you think of me, I won fair and square, fate has decided.”And with one move of hishand, he took the wallets of his friends and Lares’, which were in the middle of the circle, and now started to count them.
Lares saidlaughing, “Oh, guys. Should I reveal something to you? Even IF Diego uses tricks, he will never admit it, let alone – … “
A loud shout from the captain interrupted him: “LAND IN SIGHT !!”
Finally, everyone was thinking. Been at sea for weeks but not once reaching land. Everyone was fed up with the sea voyage, most of them were already more exhausted compared to their trip to the Beliartempel.
One by one they arrived on deck. The captain turned to Lester: “Hey, you just take the wheel … I have to look at the map with the sextant so I know exactly where we are on sea.” And turned away before Lester anything could reply. Milten patted him on the shoulder: “Come on, my friend, I’ll be by your side.”
“You seem so worried,” remarked Lester.
“Oh … much going on at the moment.”
“On the one hand, the fact that we’ll be there soon, but rumor has it that the orcs are win the war. On the other hand, …”
“Yes?” Lester asked as he put his hands on the steering wheel.
“I haven’t been able to work my magic lately. My runes … they are useless.”
Diego and Gorn approached the hero, who was leaning against the railing and looking west. The hero then pointed to the gloomy land mass that was emerging. In addition to the fires and the destruction of the capital of Vengard, which was visible even from a distance, the sky, which was colored golden by the sunrise, did the rest to paint a rather gritty picture.
“What happened here?!” asked Diego.
“I have a really bad feeling about this …” Gorn mumbled in a worried tone.
“You don’t say … Crap …” Diego nodded in agreement.
The hero was silent for a few moments before he said resolutely: “Let’s find out!”
“We shouldn’t all go to the shore. Attracting too much attention is not the smartest thing in times like this”, Diego advised him.
“You’re right.”, The hero nodded, then he called through the ship: “Diego, Milten, Lester, Gorn and I are going to the coast in a boat and …”, he was interrupted by a mighty thunder. Everyone listened up and looked at Vengard, where a huge, blue ball was turning visible now.
“A barrier?!” Milten uttered in shock.
“It doesn’t look so good there if they dare to take the step.” Diego commented.
“They will never learn.” Gorn grumbled
The boat docked on the beach far off from the capital, on the beach of the fishing village of Ardea. The friends jumped out and onto the sandy ground. Everyone seemed a little relieved, but Gorn made his relief known in a loud manner: “FINALLY, real ground under your feet. It became unbearable on the ship. “
“You don’t say …” Lester seemed just as relieved.
The hero raised his hand and waved everyone forward: “Come!”
The friends went up the steep path to the village. Gorn looked around several times when he started feelingwatched: “Something is wrong here.”
“You don’t say …” replied Diego and let his gaze wander around. “We are being watched.”
“By whom?” Asked Milten and looked around as well.
“By fishermen, it looks like. Or … whatever that emaciated scoundrel there is supposed to be. I SEE YOU!”Gornshouted towards him.
“Shut up,” the hero said and drew his sword. He approached a boulder and jumped in front of the emaciated young man in the white linen shirt who had hidden behind it. The manwas startled and started covering his face using his hands. Completely pale and scared, he looked up to the hero:
“Please, master, I didn’t mean to … I’m just … the orcs …” he whimpered, hiding his face in shame and cowering.
Lester put a hand on the hero’s shoulder: “He’s had enough. Let him be. He is just afraid.”
The hero nodded and put the blade back into its sheath, remaining confused. Then he followed the path up to the village and stopped at the entrance with the 4 friends.
“ByInnos …”, Milten mumbled softly.
It was a strange sight in front of the friends. And one who would have made every other person’s heartbeat faster who hadn’t gone through the same experiences as them.
It had to be slaves. Humans, at the very least just as thin and messed up as the last one, who were being pushed around by the orcs. They seemed to be different types of orcs than the ones on Khorinis but no one had the nerves or the time to think that through.
One of the orcs eyed the friends. They didn’t seem to attack immediately, but the situationbetween the friends and the orcs was far too tense to worry about it too much. The orc commented amused:
“You look strong …” whereupon Gorn spat out.
Two orc warriors stood at the table in the middle of the village. In the middle another orc in heavy armor and a cloak, apparently the leader. The latter looked up at the newly arrived humans, grimaced in disgust, but also seemed surprised, and raised his voice:
“Xardas has ordered ALL Morrasto be brought to the excavation sites.”, The orc general let go of the table.
“And YOU look like MORRAS to me!”, The voice of the orc started to vibrate now. He raised his hand and pointed his finger in the direction of the friends and especially the hero in the middle.
“Only a dead orc is a good orc!”, shouted Diego and drew his sword. The other friends also drew their weapons.
The orc colonel looked at them grimly: “Submit yourselves!”
The hero looked gloomily at the small orc army: “Let’s hunt some orcs …”
And so, the prisoners from the former prison colony, the companions, who have desecrated the summoning temple of Irdorath, returned after so long. Returned home. Or what was left of it. And once again I was entrapped in a new conflict. And this time I had to decide … in one final adventure.
But that … is a story for another time.
Author and translation: Gregox