It is the Seventh hour by the Shadow on Lanternglow, the 16th day of Shadowreach in the Year 625, and the night is cold. Though no rain falls from the heavens that watch over the ominous shadows of the Drakespine Mountains, dark and oppressive clouds still claim the sky as their own regardless, barring all starlight from the regions they control.
Yet amidst the seeping darkness that the overly atramentous night casts over a citadel that already holds the colour black close to it's cold heart, a beacon of ethereal light beckons from near to the forward Battlements of the Outer Court. A dusty-blue light, in fact, that remains the herald of items forged of Seraphite and blessed with attributes that are almost magical in their prowess.
The owner of this light would appear to be the only living soul upon these Battlements this night, stood alone against a bulwark of ebon rock and steel. None of the Drakeguard can be seen flanking the Archmage of Ebonhold as he waits for a certain Ranger, for it is unlikely that a man of such power even needs them. With eyes that glow with an inner fire all of their own, burning with shades of ice blue, Zanorin Drakes awaits the arrival of one he hopes has been summoned by now.
Sure enough, the waited for Ranger could be seen climbing a set of carved black stairs to the top of the battlements, the summons having been heard. And while the Archmage stands with a palpable aura of power about him, Vhramis Skinner seems almost unassuming, the hood of his ragged black cloak pulled atop head to cast shadow over his torn face. And while he's not exactly dressed in rags, it is clear that his clothing has seen plenty of use, and not frequent enough washings. He lifts a hand in tentative greeting to Zanorin as he reaches the top of the stairs, moving to approach.
The Archmage doesn't return the gesture of greeting; nor does he offer any formal words to that effect either. It might be noticed that he has no hands free to perform the former action either, for while his ebon-gauntleted right hand holds fast upon the shaft of the Obsidian Staff that usually accompanies him, the left - that of flesh - clutches the handle of a concaved item of Seraphite: A Warbow.
A Warbow that he promptly offers to Vhramis without any hesitation.
"Take this." he notes, his voice a neutral balance of compassion and superiority, "You will need it to guide you in the future."
There's a certain hesitation in the Ranger's actions as he reaches to take the weapon. While being surrounded by wildlings and clear displays of magic (as well as riding on the back of a Drake) has granted the man a sort of tolerance to the unusual, it's still difficult to throw off a lifetime of mistrust. "I don't follow," he informs the mage, gingerly taking bow in hand.
"No." The Archmage affirms, "You lead." It is not, perhaps, quite the answer that Zanorin's counterpart might have been expecting, but the sincerity in which those two words are spoken leaves no doubt as to whether or not he believes them.
With that long Magecoat fluttering slightly at the edges as it stands in defiance of the cold night breezes, the Archmage adopts a stance that permits him to stand with both hands clasped upon the shaft of his Staff, cutting a dominating figure against the natural backdrop of lightless sierra and aphotic plains behind him. "The Lady Kalath'aria is departing the Wildlands, Vhramis Skinner, and with shall fly all forms of protection against the Black Wildlings. Where they once scattered in fear of her wrath, they will now reunite and gather their strength once more. Though I believe Ebonhold to be more than equipped to deal with such a Horde, there are other places perhaps closer to your heart that..."
He trails off, considering his next words very carefully as he replaces pragmatic truth with the light of hope. "...may require your aid."
The arm holding the bow lowers to his side, Vhramis seeming quite at ease with such a weapon, despite the fact that it happens to fall into the area of 'very unusual'. "She's leaving?" he asks, though it's not quite in disbelief, but more from trying to digest the fact. The Archmage's tone left little doubt as to the truth of his statements. Licking cracked lips, the Ranger looks down from the battlements, towards the Lady's general favored resting ground. "Where is she going? When will she be back?"
As if on cue, a reverberation of epic proportions shatters the silence of the otherwise serene night that rests below the eternal aegis of the Drakespine Mountains; a thunder that begins as a paced beat. Distant at first, it escalates into castrophany so immense that one might believes the very heavens to be casting their wrath down upon the world below. There is no warning. There is no time. The Dragoness called Kalath'aria takes flight. There is only the etheral hue of her scales, and the graceful contours of her elegant form as the Instrumentalist sweeps into the amaranthine tenebrosity of the endless night.
And then, nothing.
From his position next to Vhramis atop the Battlements of Ebonhold, Zanorin Drakesfire watches the departure of the Instrumentalist in solemn silence; a silence that remains so quiet that it speaks of a deep sadness even louder than word or vocal emotion ever could. That ice-blue gaze follows the Dragoness every step of the way, from ground to Empyrean Ocean, until the shimmering hue of her seraphic body, and the booming thunder of her sleek and powerful wings, finally fade out of view over the eastern horizon.
It is many moments before he turns back to Vhramis, his voice but a whisper as he recovers from the emotional turmoil brewing within his soul. "I do not know." he softly states in answer to both of the questions, "Her role here in the Wildlands is now complete. The Instrumentalist has restored the harmony of the Natural Order, and now neither side - be they Human or Wildling - has an advantage over the other. I can only assume that she has departed to weave the accord of balance in another region that requires it."
"Leaving us to forge our own destiny."
After the initial shock wears off from watching the Dragoness depart, and the spell is broken by the Archmage's speech, Vhramis slides the gifted weapon over his shoulder, it being all but forgotten. "That balance won't remain for long. Can it? Like you said...the black wildlings will regroup and prepare to attack Crown's Refuge. Possibly even Fastheld."
"If such a situation comes to pass - and you and I both know that it will before long - then that will be a mandate of the Natural Order, Vhramis Skinner. Namely, that we ourselves have carved out that destiny for ourselves. Lesser powers, fighting for lesser gains." The Archmage smiles a mournful smile, "The Great Drakes consider the future beyond what these minor notches in history will lead to. While monumental battles and the rise and fall of nations are epic events in our times, what are such trivial things to creatures that have seen the birth of death of mountains?"
Vhramis can't quite debate that fact, and so he doesn't. Though, still, a sigh escapes him, his breath clouding in the cold night air. "The green wildings...they don't hold any ill will towards Fastheld anymore, do they? There's much I don't understand about the tribes... and it's rapidly becoming much more important that I learn."
"The Green Tribe is sworn to Ebonhold, and an Alliance with Outcasts that has to be seen to be believed." Though the Archmage seems to be in a somewhat downtrodden mood beyond that which one might expect from him, there is humour in his stately voice as he offers that vital truth. "To be honest, I think they know more about "She Who Protects" than I do. How her departure will affect them remains to be seen, although they seem mildly calm about it..." He smiles; suddenly and without warning. "As the Black Wildlings have discovered weapons, the Green Tribe has discovered something far more powerful."
Vhramis' face falls somewhat at the mention of the Black Wildlings and their newfound weapons. "I believe I had something to do with that," he murmurs, reaching to his left shoulder, which bears his old shardwood longbow. Admittedly, it does look rather ordinary in comparison to his newest acquisition, the unsung history of it not evident to plain sight. "And what of Ebonhold? Will you wish to remain neutral? Perhaps...relations can be made between yourselves and Fastheld."
Zanorin can't help but laugh at that comment, adopting a one-handed staff-holding stance as he continues to regard his companion. "You believe the Church of True Light would /ever/ permit Fastheld to forge any kind of relation between itself an a citadel of Wildlings, Outcasts, and Shadow Touched Mages?"
"Well...desperate times," Vhramis answers in a mutter, before lifting his voice to a tone more fitting for conversation. "They did allow the Lady to be released by soldiers, as I've been told. And though I see your point... it wasn't exactly my question. Would Ebonhold be agreeable?"
"Perhaps." The simple word is all that Zanorin can offer, but with it carries the promise of hope never the less. The emotional maelstrom that was previously waging war upon his very nature seems to have mostly passed now, and thus his voice carries with it that authorative - yet compassionate - tone to it once more. "I cannot speak for every creature, Wildling or not, that inhabits this sphere of power. Nor can I predict what future events may transpire between the /now/, and the /then/. However..."
Again, the Archmage trails off, apparently considering his next words once more. "...I have a shipment of weapons and armor ready to be sent by caravan to Crown's Refuge. With them I shall deploy an escort of six of our Drakeguard to hold sentry over the outpost indefinitely. It's not much, but..."
"But it's more than I could have hoped for," Vhramis bows his head. "I'm sure the guard will be welcomed openly. All able men and women are. I'm assuming they're not afraid of magic." There's a hint of a joking tone there, though his facial expression doesn't change to reflect it.
"Though I cannot gate those members of the Drakeguard, and the entire Caravan, to Crown's Refuge, I *can* return you there now, if you are ready to leave." Zanorin seems to be a little too reflective right now to pick up on the joking tone. Or maybe he's just been hanging out with Wildlings too much. Regardless, he awaits an answer.
"The Bladesman who was with me is about the citadel somewhere," Vhramis explains to the Archmage. "If you could send him back as well, that would be helpful. I doubt he'd much appreciate me leaving him here, you understand." He pauses, and only then seems to remember the glowing weapon on his arm. "...and thank you for the weapon."
The Archmage falls silent for a moment, and then merely inclines his head a little at the mention of the Seraphite Warbow. "A gift from the Lady." he notes, without elaboration, before considering the prospect of the Bladesmen. "I'll send him along with the Drakeguard." Zanorin finally decides, "I imagine they'll all enjoy each other's company."
Vhramis begins to immediately respond, before thinking a bit more about it. "Well... I suppose... I hope so, anyway. Maybe they can discuss tactics or some such." He nods his head and seems to engage in bracing himself, as if in preparation for a shock of some sort.
"Very well then." Zanorin asseverates, holding none of the apprehension so present in his lesser magically inclined companion. That said, the Archmage whispers something under his breath - an Oath to his Lady, it seems - and lifts the Obsidian Staff off the ground, striking the butt of the weapon upon the floor in a crackle of electrical energy...
Drake Breach Sierra <Wildlands>
- The Drake Breach Sierra: A rugged range of rocky hills that feature an irregular and jagged profile, distinguished by the ashen rise of the snow tipped Dragonspine Mountains to the far north, and the transformation of rolling plains into more somber auburn grasslands and bleaker lapidarian terrain that stretches between the northern face of Refuge Mesa in the south, and the barren expanse of the Ebonhold Approach in the north.
- As the terrain slopes ever higher with each step towards the north, the soft grasses of the aubern landscape quickly start taking on a rougher edge to them, adapting to the increasingly rugged terrain as firm soil gives way to slate and rock. Boulders of various shapes and sizes, and a few interesting geological formations, start to make an appearance, hindering any northern advance as the surrounding air takes on a ice-tipped chill.
- The Dragonspine Mountains in the north loom taller now; the comfort of Crown's Refuge to the south quickly fading into a fond memory as the harsh reality of the terrain meets with the harsh reality of the here and now. The ominously quiet landscape is occasionally shattered by the shrill call of a raven, or the forsaken bark of some highland fox that got too close to a grass snake.
- To the west, the shimmering surface of the Jadesnake River can easily be made out upon the vista of the Sierra, flowing uphill towards the northeast as it makes its way towards the Dragonspine Ravine.
...only to appear a good distance away from where he had planned.
Vhramis closes his eyes as the staff lifts. He's seen this before. Even experienced it. After a moment or so, after the teleportation is complete, he opens them again, glancing about with an expectant look...though that look promptly turns to one of curiosity. "Where?"
"Here." is the answer that is given in reply to that question; a pragmatic answer for a not-so pragmatic situation. Evidently, /here/ is not /there/, and - as evident by the fact that Zanorin seems to be holding his Obsidian Staff in a defensive posture, /here/ is undoubtedly not a good place to be.
A wrinkle of his nose is the Ranger's only response. The tension the Archmage apparently is feeling is communicated well enough, and the freshly gifted bow is lowered from his shoulder to be taken in hand. His other opens the cap of the quiver hanging at his waist.
"We should be in Crown's Refuge now." whispers the Archmage, lowering into a defensive crouch that, if this were a normal combat situation, would permit him to spring up and get a good few polearm strikes out before such a convention enemy had any time to react. However, there would seem to be only darkness. And silence. And nothing. "Something intercepted us." he continues, ominously.
"Zan'setharan..." Like a rumble of thunder on the distant horizon, and a whisper of a storm brewing far over the horizon, that one word sibilates through the cold air of the vast reaches of the surrounding sierra.
Vhramis squints into the darkness as the word is spoken, attempting to locate the unknown source. There's a quiet exhaling of breath, a hisses curse. "Can you get us out of here?" he asks, drawing and fitting an arrow.
There is no reply from the Archmage. The question forsaken under that screen of nothingness as he stands there, all pretense of defense dropped, all colour drained from his features as that word - that /one/ word - was uttered. The Archmage of Ebonhold, Master of the Arcane Weave, and Steward to the Lady Kalath'aria, seems utterly shaken.
"Zan'setharan..." That whisper inquires once more; the single word dripping with power.
"Zan'set..." Vhramis mutters, looking over to his companion as no answers if forthcoming to his previous question. He frowns and nudges him sharply with an elbow as he sees him in the apparent trance. "It's not the time for the stares," he hisses. "Wake up!"
There's often a feature of theatric plays, akin to those that frequent the many theatre houses and private balls of the Fastheldian Nobility, that dictates that somewhere within a plot the protaganist will find themselves in a situation in which an evil of unfathomable magnitude manages to sneak up behind them without them realizing that it's ever there, regardless of how big that evil might be. At which point - much to the pleasure of the audience that revels in the oblivious nature of the situation that flys in the face of all perceptual logic - it becomes the task of those watching the play to shout out that such a thing has, in fact, snuck up behind them.
However, amidst the perpetual darkness of the Drake Breach Sierra, there is only reality. Amidst the perpetual quiet of the Drake Breach Sierra, there is no prewritten ending. Admist the ominous reaches of the Drake Breach Sierra, there is no audience. No actors. No drama. "Behind you." Zanorin whispers...
For there, behind the duo, against all fathomable logic, and against all natural possibility, something very big has, indeed, snuck up behind the unlikely pair. Something covered in crimson scales that glimmer and shine in the darkness as they refract whatever moonlight manages to fall upon them like well polished metal. Something with deep amber eyes that suggest a power and wrath as great as any force of nature. Eyes that judge without evidence. That have seen the birth of countless millennia. That shine like gemstones against that backdrop of metallic red.
A Crimson Drake.
The Ranger's back stiffens at the whispered warning, the undetected presence suddenly quite noticable once pointed out. Vhramis' breath begins to quicken and grow more shallow, as cold waves of drake-induced panic begin to surge through him. And though a glint of crimson scales from the huge mass is detected from his peripheral vision, Vhramis' eyes remain frozen on Zanorin's profile. He attempts to speak, though words fail him.
Those amber eyes regard Vhramis for a few moments - an eternity, perhaps, for he that those draconic orbs consider - before dismissing him for the moment as the great crimson drake looks upon He Who Was Intercepted: Zanorin.
"Zan'setharan." it purrs; if one can call such a sound a purr, for the sheer power of the tone places it more akin to a deep and amused rumble. "Zan'setharan the Equivocal." it continues, taking a stalking step close to the duo, though apparently more than mindful of the Ranger as the 'Red paces take care not to step on him. "Zan'setharan the Violet. Zan'setharan the Singer. Did you think I could permit you to remain in this place after Kalath'aria restored the Natural Order?" His wings, furled as they are upon his back, move little.
Zanorin, in contrast, has found a measure of composure as he turns to regard the vast Dragon. His hold upon the obsidian staff has tightened into a deathgrip now as he stares the large creature down, eyes ablaze in glorious hues of violet; the ice-blue having long been dismissed, it seems. "Val'sharax." he offers by way of greeting, motioning for Vhramis to get behind him.
Vhramis seems rather rooted on the spot, finding himself squeezed between two such overwhelming presences. Though, despite the almost suffocating fear, the Steward of Crown's Refuge forces himself to begin moving through sheer force of will, if a bit woodenly.
Val'sharax, as he is apparently named, watches Vhramis once more as the Ranger begins a backwards retreat towards the Archmage; again taking no action towards the expatriate other than to watch, almost curiosly. Still, that sharp amber gaze again falls upon Zanorin, as draconic ears perk and then fold back once more, the Crimson Drake's expression turns grim. "You know why I am here, Zan'setharan. If the Natural Order is to be maintained and permitted to unfold of its own accord," he rumbles, each word alive with power, "then you cannot be allowed to remain here, in this place."
"And you can?" Zanorin - or perhaps Zan'setharan - calls out, his own voice dripping with commanding tones, evident of an innate power that seems to go beyond his human visage, drawn from a source much deeper. Those eyes, violet and clear, shine like a mirror of Val'sharax's own. Amber reflecting Amethyst.
"I am here to banish you, Zan'setharan the Equivocal." The Crimson Drake states, dismissing the challenge in the Archmage's question, "With the departure of the Instrumentalist, this realm requires an Arbitrator. Not an Advocate. There is no longer an allowance for /two/ Drakes."
The glowing blue bow in the Ranger's grip lowers. It would do him no good against such a creature, even if he wished, or were even able, to use it. It seems his role is spectator in this exchange. And perhaps he even prefers it, for the moment.
"We shall see." The three words, spoken softly and with great and dire determination, spill forth from the Archmage with enough sting to bring down an entire host of Wildlings. But a Crimson Drake? Checking to make sure that Vhramis is (relatively) out of danger, Zanorin decides to make the first move: With a single word of power, spoken in a tone of such a guttural and arcane nature that it can /only/ be Draconian, the Obsidian Staff he holds *flares* with blinding electrical energy of the like unseen by any human before. It shines and crackles and hisses with such a radiance that the immediate region of the Sierra is cast in an unnatural daylight. Nocturnal creatures glare at the unexpected dawn and quickly depart in fear. Birds that were once set on sleeping through the night awaken and chirp in panic. Somewhere in the distance, a pack of Wolves howl at this unusual moonlight...
...but it is no comparison for the single word of power that the Crimson Drake utters in counter to the buildup of arcane power. A single word, spoken upon a rumble akin to thunder, that dismisses the light, the energy, and the power, in but a single heartbeat.
There is no sound.
There is no time.
Val'sharax has spoken.
There is only blinding light, and then...
- Meanwhile, in Fastheld...
- Far to the North, beyond even the Aegis, a flare of light beyond any comparison lights up the darkness of the cold night sky in such a magnitude that it can be seen even from within the farthest corners of Fastheld. An artificial dawn that sets the northern reaches ablaze in a blinding white light, before just as quickly dissipating into darkness once more...
And the sudden flare of light snaps Vhramis out of his stupor, sending the Ranger into a dive towards the rocky ground in an attempt to take cover from something he can't even comprehend. And at the silence that follows, he lifts his head, and gradually climbs to his feet before looking about curiously...and once again freezing at the sight of the Red Drake. "...where is he?" he asks in a voice hardly over a whisper.
"Forsaken." Val'sharax offers, the voice of the Dragon a rumble of a whisper now as the celestial creature of crimson and amber regards the Ranger. It would seem that, at some point in the intervening moments between the exchange and now, the Drake has adopted a sitting posture; one akin to that of a Wolf, it should be noted. Only much, much, bigger. And somehow more graceful. "Zan'setharan will return when the Order permits it. Of that I am sure. Perhaps he will have found himself by then."
Vhramis squeezes his eyes closed, swaying on his feet as he's spoken to directly, looking ready to collapse. "He...was as you are? Like the Instrumentalist?" he asks again, once he gathers enough of his courage. "And... what is the Order?"
The Crimson Drake inclines his head in affirmation of the first question, those amber eyes seemingly lighting up in amusement as the questions are asked, as if - regardless of everything that just took place a few moments ago - Val'sharax is actually enjoying the questions, and the concept of the biped that asks them. Enjoying as an owner might enjoy the company of a pet cat. His wings, as vast as the Dragon himself, unfurl for but a moment, fan to full stretch, and then fold behind him once more, draping over his sides like a leather blanket of red.
"You are quite perspicacious for a mortal, Vhramis Skinner." he rumbles, tilting his head a little to the left as he regards the Ranger. "Or is that Vhramis Kahar? No matter. You are correct, regardless: Zan'setharan is a Drake of the Violet Dragon Flight. The last of his Flight, much as I am the last of mine, and Kalath'aria the last of hers. He is a Song Dragon, and the mate of the Instrumentalist... although I do not think she realized this, considering what he has become. As for the Order... look around you. You are part of it."
Vhramis decides he may just be pushing his luck, though it's clear there is much he does not understand. And wishes to ask. "You know of my blood?" he murmurs, dropping to his knees before the Drake and opening his eyes again. "The Natural Order. He... didn't know what he was? How did that happen, Lord? He once told me of another like him, who was turned to stone trying to become... like yourself."
"He knows who he is." The Red Dragon states, the metallic sheen of his scales capturing a thousand pinpoints of starlight upon their surface, and casting them back in glittering hues of refracted granduer. "Yet it has been all too long since he was that which he is. Zan'setharan once made a pact with an Obsidian named Kas'arath, back when the Dragonspine Mountains were young. That was before he fell in love with Kalath'aria, however... but this is an ancient tale beyond the limits of your understanding, I fear."
"Suffice to say that Zan'setharan has not yet discovered how to return to his former self. As for your blood, no. Your name, however, is clear to me. I am a Keeper of many things, and names are one of them." The Drake bows a little at that; though the source of pride is perhaps as vague as the statement itself. It seems to make perfect sense to Val'sharax, though.
"Keeper...of Balance?" Vhramis ventures to ask, bowing his head deeply...and not looking up. Unfortunately, this levels his gaze with Val'sharax's rather formidable claws. The sight unnerves him once again. So much so, it sets him furiously talking to himself. "No. That was what the Instrumentalist did. The balance is restored, and she left. The archmage banished. He said he's an Arbitrator..."
The Ranger abruptly looks up, eyes wide. "You're here to Judge?"
"Indeed." the Crimson Drake states, the harsh Draconic tones resounding across the landscape like distant thunder. He stands in one fluid movement that defies all physical expectations; the agility of a feline upon a creature the size of a fortress, sinuous tail swaying behind him with deadly intent. Yet for all his size, he seems to leave no imprints upon the ground beneath him. Indeed, not even the dry grasses of the Sierra seem to be sundered beneath his talons, merely springing back to life as and when he moves.
And Vhramis attempts to back away, while remaining on his knees in the process. Which probably results in a faintly comical shuffle. "...how are you judging us, Lord?" he asks, his voice lowering again, laced with more than a hint of obvious fear.
"We shall see." Apparently, Val'sharax has grown tired of the question and answer session, and the interest in Humans - Rangers or not - has dissipated to a point at which he no longer feels that he needs to indulge them further. Still, this one /is/ interesting, he has to admit. To himself. "The stage has been reset. The Instrumentalist has brought Harmony to the region. All those involved are now on equal footing. So it shall be maintained."
The Crimson Drake turns, apparently setting himself up to stalk off; not by any magical means, it seems, but just by walking. It would appear that the Dragon fully intends to remain in the region. "I am not your enemy, Vhramis Skinner. Yet make no mistake: I am not your friend, either. Should the Black Wildlings employ weapons that displace the balance, then I shall smite them to even the balance once more. Should your friends in Fastheld do similar, then they too shall feel my wrath. The Natural Order must be maintained, even if the balance of power is not, and it must be done BY the rules of the natural order. Not beyond it."
"...no magic, then?" Vhramis asks, daring to push one more question. "There are those of us..." And then his voice falters. Why exactly is he trying to delay the Drake while it's walking away? He's managed to avoid being devoured, after all.
"If it is part of their nature." Val'sharax rumbles, his form shimmering into something less substantial and somewhat ghostly, akin to that which Zanorin used to do, only on a larger scale, "Then it is part of their nature..."
And thus, after a few measured paces, the insubstantial crimson drake vanishes back into the deep darkness of the Sierra.
Vhramis is left alone in the dark, shivering from a mixture of the cold, and something far deeper...
Return to Season 3 (2005)