Chapter XII: Refuge
Copyright © 1999 C.E. by Dustin Jon Scott
[Last Update: June 6th, 2018]
13th Month, 19th Day, 4,632nd Year
Note: All of this is going through heavy revisions.
Alyssandra and Llara sat by the small fire pit in the center of the borough of Krendor, the county seat of Lomshire. Less than an hour prior they’d finished an enormous meal of pork ribs, beans, potatoes, and maize. Such formerly exotic -- yet now commonplace -- meals were made possible due to Béowyn’s trade relations with the Dwarven, Human, and Ogren colonies on the western continent of Iyatee, mainly in the Vinland region; trade relations which were bound to suffer with Béowyn under the occupation of the Unseelie Court.
Alyssandra took a hit from the blue, stained glass hookah, pulling as much smoke as she could into her lungs. She struggled to hold it in as she passed the bong to Constable Galvyn on her right, who took his hit as Alyssandra released a puff of smoke from her lungs, coughing slightly.
“And by the time the battle was over,” said Sergeant Aelfsson, “there were only about six hundred of us left, including civilians and children.”
As Sergeant Aelfsson spoke, Constable Galvyn passed the narghile to Lord Bram of Krendor Borough.
“That’s really unbelievable,” said Llara, as Lord Bram took his hit and passed the hookah to Alderman Gregor. “I’m surprised any of you managed to survive at all.”
Alderman Gregor took a hit from the bong and then passed it along to Sergeant Aelfsson.
“You know it’s only going to be a matter of time before you’re attacked again,” said Alyssandra.
“I know,” replied Sheriff Bryan of Dellingdale, to whom Aelfsson then passed the hookah. He took his hit and then passed the bong to Thane Dempsey.
“Not to change the subject,” Galvyn interjected, “but we’ve arranged for the two of you to share a room with my daughter, along with that Kirsten woman we found you with.”
Alyssandra nodded. “Thank you, we really appreciate that.”
“Yes, thank you,” Llara added, watching as Dempsey passed the bong to Watchman Cadby.
Watchman Cadby then took his hit and passed the hookah to Bailiff Ronan, who did the same before passing the bong to Officer Borgleif, Chief Bailiff of Krendor Borough’s City Guard.
“So,” said Alyssandra, “about how many people are here right now?”
“About fifteen hundred,” said Lord Bram.
Officer Borgleif finished taking his hit and then passed the bong to Watchman Bodolf. “I sincerely hope that the Unseelie Court won’t condemn the smoking of Mary Jane,” said Borgleif.
“Not a chance,” said Gregor. “Not even the most evil and corrupt government in all of Borea, nay, all of Gaia, would make the Sacred Herb illegal. If they did that, why, they might as well make it illegal to smoke tobacco in taverns!”
Everyone fell into hysterics.
“Not even the Unseelie Court,” said Bodolf, passing the bong to Llara after taking his hit, “would be capable of that level of insanity!”
Llara took her hit and then passed the hookah along to Alyssandra.
“Well,” said Constable Galvyn, “I should probably show you two, to your room....”
“Let’s go then,” replied Llara, clambering to her feet.
Alyssandra hurried to finish her hit, drawing in as much smoke as she could, her eyes closed as she savored the mouthwateringly sweet, piney flavor of that wonderful, lip smacking herb.
“Aly, let’s go,” Llara prompted.
“Sorry,” Alyssandra said with a cough, releasing a puff of smoke from her lungs as she rose to wobbling stand, passing the bong to Gavlyn. “I just love that stuff so much.”
“Of course you do,” Llara returned, attempting to follow Gavlyn as he handed the narghile off to Lord Bram and began walking away from the pit. “A Witch who doesn’t love the Sacred Herb is like a fish who doesn’t know how to swim.”
Alyssandra and Llara followed Constable Gavlyn about half a block, which might as well have been a mile in their current condition. Along the way, neither Alyssandra nor Llara could’ve overlooked the scars of battle that Krendor Borough now bore. Most of the houses had nearly been burned to the ground, spatters of blood dappled the street, and at least three bodies were visible by a mere cursory glance.
Finally Gavlyn veered from the street toward his house. The two women followed him down the gravel path to his door, at which point he lead them inside.
“The two of you will be staying down in the cellar with Kirsten and my daughter,” said Gavlyn, rubbing his red, heavy eyes.
“How old is your daughter?” asked Alyssandra, squinting slightly.
“She’s twenty. She’s actually one of the King’s ... former King’s Knights. In fact it was mostly her leadership that kept our little borough here from being overtaken in the attack. She normally lives in Sterling, but considering recent events....”
“What’s her name?” asked Llara.
“Corrigan. Well, Dame Corrigan. Or is it Dame Gavlynsdottir? Whatever. I’m a side on the little inebriated right now. A little side on the inebriated right now. You know what I mean. I’m mullered,” said Gavlyn, shaking his head. “The family just calls her Corri. You want that door right there. Just go straight down the stairs. At the bottom there should be a cellar. Once your down there, stay, because that’s just where you need to be. Corri and Kirsten are probly down there. I need to get some sleep.”
Llara and Alyssandra proceeded to the door, opened it slowly, and stepped inside, closing it behind them. They could see at the bottom of the short flight of stairs a rather large room illuminated with several candles, as well as a huge, canopied bed and many piles of blankets and clothes. Sitting on the bed were two women, obviously Corrigan and Kirsten.
“It’s times like this that I truly despise stairs,” said Alyssandra.
“Who’s there?” Corrigan responded with a start.
Llara and Alyssandra began descending the staircase.
“It’s just us,” said Llara. “Your father told us you’d let us board here tonight.”
“It’s those two women I told you about,” said Kirsten. Both she and Corrigan arose from the bed and came to meet Alyssandra and Llara at the bottom of the stairway.
“I’m pleased to meet you, Dame Gavlynsdottir,” said Alyssandra, bowing her head to the Knight.
“And I you, Priestess. Your name is...?”
“Lady Phoenix Lazarus, Fanarra Clan, Coven of the Morning Star. But you can call me Alyssandra.”
“And your name?” said Corrigan.
“Come sit,” the Knight offered, nodding in the direction of the bed. “We were just toking up.”
“Sounds great,” said Llara.
The four women traveled over to the Knight’s bed and sat cross-legged in a circle upon it. Corrigan reached over to her nightstand, near where her sword was propped against the wall, and gathered in her hand a brass pipe and a small pouch of hemp buds. She pulled one of the larger buds out of the baggy and carefully plucked a small green nugget from the mass, and then loaded the nug into the bowl of the brass pipe.
“So,” said Kirsten, brushing a few limp strands of brunette hair from before her left eye as she tucked them behind her ear, “you’re a Witch?”
Llara laughed. “You didn’t notice the black mantle, or her Paladin escorts in the bar last night, did you?”
Kirsten’s cheeks grew red as Corrigan searched for her flint and matches.
“It’s alright, Kirsten,” said Alyssandra. “What did you want to ask me?”
Corrigan found what she was looking for, struck a match against her flint, and then lit the bowl as she closed her lips around the mouthpiece, drawing the smoke into her lungs.
“Well, I was wondering if you could tell me how magick works.”
Corrigan then handed the pipe to Kirsten, who began to take her hit.
“I’m sorry,” said Alyssandra, “but we really can’t discuss the intricacies of the Craft with cowans.”
“I’m not asking you to reveal any Craft secrets or anything,” said Kirsten as she handed the pipe to Llara. “Just give me an example.”
Alyssandra pursed her lips, thinking of something she might be able to tell the inquisitive bar wench without telling her too much. “I can tell you that contrary to common belief, an invisibility spell doesn’t actually make someone invisible. It just makes others overlook you. If you are the only person in the middle of an open field, or if you walk up to someone and punch that someone in the face, you’ll still be seen.”
Llara then offered the pipe to Alyssandra, who took a hit, and then passed it back to Corrigan.
“Basically,” Alyssandra continued, “when you perform an invisibility spell, you focus on your self, and visualize yourself becoming invisible. Your mannerisms and behavior will naturally change in such a way that you become effectively invisible. You’ll blend in, and people will overlook you entirely. In that respect, it’s a lot like a glamour.”
“So why do so many spells require herbs and things if all you have to do is visualize?” asked Kirsten, before taking her next hit from the pipe passed to her from Corrigan.
“No, I’m not explaining this right. Magick is interactive, just like everything else. It’s like air. Air has substance. If you put a cup upside down underwater, the inside stays dry, because the water can’t rise up into the cup since there’s already air there. The reason we breathe is because there’s something in the substance of the air that we need to live, which is why people can suffocate and drown, right?”
“Right,” said Kirsten, passing the pipe to Llara.
“We take what we need from the air we inhale, and then breathe out the same substance, slightly altered. Plants breathe in that slightly altered substance, and then breathe out the very substance we need. And a horse does the same thing we do. Not only that, but it eats grass, and from eating that grass, produces manure, which helps produce more grass as well as feeding fungus and insects at the same time.”
“So everything’s connected?”
“That’s right,” said Alyssandra, taking the pipe from Llara as she finished her hit. Alyssandra then took a quick puff and passed it back to Corrigan. “Magick works the same way. A lot of people who think they know how to use magick believe that their power comes from within them, while a lot of others would like to think that they’re tapping into something outside of themselves. It’s actually both. Just like our physical bodies are intimately linked to the physical world that we live in, our spirits are just as intimately linked to the spiritual world we live in. Performing magick is a simple matter learning how the magickal and spiritual forces within you interact with the magickal and spiritual forces around you, sort of like learning how to walk. When you learn how to walk, you have to figure out how the physical properties of your own self interact with the physical world around you. Learning magick is the same sort of thing.”
“It’s hashed,” said Llara, handing the pipe across to Corrigan. Corrigan quickly began loading another bowl.
“But we naturally walk on two legs anyway,” said Corrigan. “Our instincts tell us how to do it more than anything else, don’t they?”
“The same is true in magick,” Alyssandra replied. “At least with most races, anyway. See, most races have certain natural magickal abilities that they take to just as naturally as walking, but they don’t necessarily have an aptitude for magick in general.”
Corrigan lit the new bowl, took a couple of puffs to make sure it would stay lit, and passed it to Kirsten.
“My people,” said Llara, “can stroll up the side of a tree just as easily as we could walk on the ground. We can do other things too, but that’s probably the most noticeable.”
Kirsten finished her hit and passed the pipe along to Llara. “So, could someone ever actually become invisible?”
“Theoretically, yes,” said Alyssandra. “But, could you ever lift a horse off the ground with one hand?” The Priestess was then handed the pipe.
“What do you mean?” asked Kirsten.
Alyssandra took her hit, and then handed the pipe off to Corrigan. “Well,” said the Witch, “in the physical world, the more dramatic the effect, the more effort or skill is required. To lift a horse, you’d either need a lot of people working together, combining their brute strength to lift it, or if you were to do it by yourself, you’d need a complex system of levers and pulleys. Magick is sort of the same way. Actual invisibility is a really dramatic effect, just like lifting a horse, so being able to pull it off would require pretty extreme magickal measures just as lifting a horse would require extreme physical measures. Of course, a creature with extreme magickal strength, such as a God or a higher-level demon, could make itself invisible rather easily, in the same way that a creature with extreme physical strength, such as an Ogre, could lift a horse rather easily.”
“And spells are like the pulley thing, right?”
“Exactly. Creatures that don’t have a lot of magickal strength can use their magickal knowledge to make something happen anyway, just as a creature that doesn’t have a lot of physical strength could use its physical knowledge to rig up a lever and pulley system to lift the horse. But the stronger you are, the less complex the lever-system needs to be. That’s why some demons only have to say a few magickal words to become invisible. But to milk the analogy for all it’s worth, I suppose it would be possible for a large number of Witches all working together to make someone invisible, just like it would be possible for a large number of Humans all working together to lift the horse off the ground.”
“Do you know any true invisibility spells?”
“Well, no,” replied Alyssandra. By this time, the pipe had made its way to Alyssandra once again, and so she quickly took her hit and passed it to Corrigan. “Unfortunately, unlike pulleys and levers, magick isn’t something right in front of you that you can see and touch. It’s intangible. That makes it extremely difficult to chart progress and measure successes when trying to figure out how to attain a desired effect. Sometimes you can perform a spell and have it work just fine, then repeat the spell exactly and get a completely different result, or no result at all. Most magickal theorists are of the opinion that this has to do with unseen variables, just like how weather patterns could be altered by the flapping of a butterfly’s wings. I doubt if even a handful of Humans have ever managed true invisibility, or even anything similarly dramatic.”
“If that’s so, why is it Wood Elves can walk up the sides of trees?” asked Corrigan.
“For the same reason birds can fly and fire flies can create light,” said Llara, passing the pipe to Alyssandra. “Only those are physical abilities, and the vertical stride is a magickal ability. A Human performing a vertical stride would be like a Human creating light from her own body, or flapping her arms and flying like a bird.”
“Well, yeah,” said Kirsten, “that’s sort of what I always figured.”
“Same here,” added Corrigan. “Why don’t Humans have any inherent magickal abilities like that?”
Alyssandra passed the pipe to Corrigan. “They do,” she said. “Humans have a rare sort of ‘intuition’ when it comes to magick, and an unusually wide range. Many Humans can see and speak with ghosts, for example, even when those ghosts don’t necessarily wish to be seen. Most other races are incapable of seeing ghosts unless the ghosts intentionally manifest before them. The same goes for incorporeal demons, who often have to take certain measures to keep Humans from seeing them. Humans have a knack for being able to create new spells and to intuit things about the workings of magick that members of other races might have a much more difficult time learning. Humans are also probably more skilled at divination than any other earth-bound race. What we lack in dramatic inherent abilities, we make up for in sheer versatility.”
“So much for not revealing the intricacies of magick to cowans,” Llara quipped.
“Oh, I haven’t even touched the intricacies. I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of a vague overview.”
“Do you know of any Humans that have managed really dramatic feats of magick?” asked Kirsten.
“There’s only been a few that I know of,” the Witch answered. “The most famous is probably Pope Chthonicus the Black Mage. He and the Warlocks he employed managed to create a host of magickal weapons and artifacts for Rha Kai Tan to use, and defensive items to keep Kaitan’s concubines safe from harm. One of his last projects was a golem made to be the vessel of the demon, Baelzathoth. Fortunately for the world, Chthonicus died before he could complete that project. He was also supposed to have been working on a talisman whose wearer could command the Tyraque, a slightly larger, winged version of the Tarasque. But, again, luckily for us he died before he could create such a devastating device.”
“I remember hearing about him,” said Corrigan, puffing on the pipe, as it had made its way back to her. “Wasn’t he trying to find a way to resurrect Mortifer?”
Alyssandra nodded. “I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what this invasion was all about. Chthonicus believed that Rha Kai Tan was the prophesied Harbinger who would pave the way for Mortifer’s return. He believed that Kaitan was destined to use the four elemental scepters to travel into the elemental realms and retrieve the four keys that would unlock the Gateway to Purgatory. Kaitan died from old age before Chthonicus was able to learn the locations of any of the scepters. Chthonicus wrote everything down in his grimoire in the event that a ‘new’ Harbinger, a direct reincarnation of Rha Kai Tan himself, should arise. His grimoire was called the Black Grimoire of Pope Chthonicus the Mage, or simply the Grimoire of Chthonicus.”
“So where’s the grimoire now?” asked Kirsten.
“In Necropolis, purportedly buried under the Temple of Mortifer that was built atop the Centaurian Catacombs about three thousand years ago.”
Llara looked to Alyssandra, slightly puzzled. “So that’s why Lodin and the other Paladins in his brigade were sent to Necropolis? To keep the Blackguards and the Unseelie Court from getting that book?”
Corrigan blinked. “Who’s Lodin?”
“Alyssandra’s fiancé,” said Llara. “He was supposed to convene with Alyssandra in Talenburg after he returned from his mission to Necropolis.”
“He actually should’ve been in Talenburg at least a few days before I made it there myself,” Alyssandra added. “We were supposed to meet last night at the Talenburg Inn, but he never showed. We were going to go search for him. We were going to leave for Necropolis this morning, but that’s when Talenburg was seized by this ‘New Sovereignty’.”
“Why didn’t you just stay there?” asked Kirsten. “He could’ve just been late to show. He might’ve gotten held up.”
“No, I know my Lodin too well. He wouldn’t have let anything keep him from me. The only way he would’ve just been late is if something happened on his way to Necropolis, in Necropolis, or on his way back from Necropolis. That’s why we were heading to Necropolis.”
“Well, what if it just took him a while to find Necropolis or to get out or what have you, and was already on his way home?” said Corrigan. “You could’ve missed each other entirely.”
“Well I admit it was a desperate plan,” replied Alyssandra.
“More than desperate,” said Corrigan; “‘imbecilic’ is more like it. You should’ve stayed where he’d be likely to find you, because if he is alive and well, that’s where he’ll be looking for you.”
“It doesn’t matter now, anyway. Once Lodin realizes that Béowyn’s been invaded, he’ll head straight for his Paladin camp in Hathor. He’d assume that I’ll have gone there for safety.”
“We’ll have to go through Hathor on our way to Grandshire, anyway,” said Llara. “Instead of turning around and going all the way to Necropia, we can just head back to Hathor after we rescue Riley and Will. That is, if they haven’t escaped and headed to Hathor on their own.”
“That’s going to be difficult,” said Corrigan. “From what I’ve heard, all the railroads in Northern Béowyn are temporarily down. You’ll have to trek through the Azure Mountains on foot. The only way into Grandshire is through Hel’s Pass, which I can almost guarantee will be heavily guarded by Glacier Orcs, Snow Orcs, and Frost Ogres.”
“We could always go through the fiords of Trondheim and hit Grandshire from the west, circumventing Hel’s Pass completely,” Llara suggested.
“You’re mad,” said Corrigan. “I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but the Sovereignty has an army of Saurians numbering in the thousands -- and you want to travel through one of the largest swamplands in all of Borea, right next to the heart of the Sovereignty itself?”
“The fiords are nearly frozen this time of year, and the Saurians are cold-blooded,” Llara rebutted.
“The Salamanders are cold-blooded,” said Alyssandra, “and so are the Nagas. But the Troads, the Rahvs, Pteranyds, and the Lizardfolk are all warm-blooded. Besides, even the dumbest of the Saurians can build a fire.”
“And let’s not forget about Swamp Orcs,” added Corrigan. “Besides, you’d still have to find a way through the Azure Mountains in order to get to the fiords.”
“Not if we went south into the gulf of Skagerrak and then followed it to the coast, and then traveled up through the coastal fiords. We could slip into Grandshire from there by sticking to the rocky lowlands between the fiords of Trondheim and the Azure Mountains. We’d still be close to the Ice Swamps, but not too close.”
“No, Llara,” Alyssandra contested, “that would take far too long. Why don’t we just sail to the Swalbard Islands while we’re at it?”
“You’re right,” said Llara. “Of course, you’re right. I’m just not particularly looking forward to traveling through Hel’s Pass.”
“Alyssandra,” said Corrigan, “why don’t you just order five or six Paladins to escort you through the pass? That would greatly increase your chances of survival.”
“Can you spare any?”
“I can spare five or six,” replied Corrigan. “They don’t really listen to me anyway. I don’t think the Paladins care much for taking orders from us King’s Knights.”
“Well authoritatively speaking, you should really be lateral to one another. The King’s Knights answer to bureaucratic branch of the government, which answers to the Crown of Béowyn, whilst the Aradian Knights answer to the theocratic branch, which in turn is answerable to the High Priesthood down in Stregheria. That’s how it’s been for the past eight thousand years. Since the Paladins don’t answer to the Crown, they see no reason to answer to the King’s Knights.”
“I don’t care who answers to whom,” said Corrigan. “The Crown is gone, and our nation belongs to the Sovereignty. Until we have our Kingdom back, we’re all fighting on the same side. If I’m leading the battle like I was last week, I expect them to listen.”
“Well, I’ll just have to order them to listen, now, won’t I?” Alyssandra said with a smile.
“Who has the pipe?” said Llara.
The four women then began searching around on the bed.
“I do,” answered Kirsten, handing the pipe to Corrigan. “It’s hashed.”
“Oh well,” said Corrigan, who then began loading another bowl.
“I think I’ll pass,” Alyssandra declined. “I’ve already had quite a bit and I should really watch how much I smoke now that I’m toking for two.”
“Oh my Gods!” Llara shouted, throwing her hands over her mouth as her eyes grew wide. “Oh my Gods, Alyssandra, I’m so happy for you!” she exclaimed, throwing her arms around the Witch. Alyssandra did not return the embrace, however, but merely sat, there silent, still, and detached.
“What’s wrong?” asked Llara, withdrawing from the Priestess. Alyssandra’s head lowered, and her bloodshot eyes began to well with tears. “Oh,” said Llara, “Lodin....”
Alyssandra nodded her head as she wiped a tear from her cheek. She then turned to Llara, her big brown eyes sodden with angst and woe as she faintly wept. “Yep. Lodin.”