As Tri-Nova turned to leave the magnificence of the drawing room where she had been conversing with her family, the door sized gilt framed mirror disappeared revealing a passageway behind. From the exterior, the farmhouse looked much as a grain silo made of river rock would look but the interior was large enough to house a small army.
The walls were hung with illusion mirrors such as the one she now stepped through. The long hallway was brightly lit with tallow stick chandeliers made of rock crystal which were set along either side, their many facets glowing with reflected light. There hung twelve beautifully woven tapestries from ceiling to floor for warmth and comfort. There were six on each side of the hall and each was twelve feet high and six feet wide. They showed the trials, tribulations and wars of the Wyvernites. The great dragon-like creatures were shown in such minute detail one could readily see the soft scale in the middle of their breast. That scale and their eyes were their only points of weakness.
The beautiful tapestries always fascinated her and she could not pass without pausing to admire them. As she gazed upon the one with the beautifully woven gnarled oak tree, peace began to descend upon her troubled mind. Concentrating on the graceful lines of the many limbed, tangled old oak, something caught the corner of her eye and she shifted her gaze slightly to better focus on the phenomenon. It seemed as though she saw a skull floating to one side and the thought of crystals flashed through her mind. Now it appeared not to float but be attached to an obscure hooded figure. The face was hidden but she imagined she could see eyes...that somehow... looked familiar.
"It's a wonder I've not noticed this before," she mouthed aloud leaning closer to better see the image. It was then she thought she saw a gem shining just above the hooded figure and it appeared as though the figure's hand was about to catch it or, suddenly remembering scribal fable, the hand was about to launch the scribal gem. No this cannot be she thought to herself. The image disappeared and she stood for a moment puzzling over the vision.
The tapestries were believed to contain the pictorial history of the Wyvernites and the Phantom Realms but this bit of history was new to her. She was not surprised for she often saw visions in the tapestries that no one else saw. After all, the tapestries could be viewed, admired and studied but never fully understood. Finally shrugging off the incident, she continued down the hallway.
The middle tapestry on the right was of her grandfather slaying the Wyvern dragon demi-god as it tore his right arm from its socket with its great yellow fangs. Her grandmother had told her of the maiming and the infection that had nearly killed him. The dragon demi-gods had no poison in their fangs but the horrid fevers that followed a bite were every bit as lethal if slower than poison. As she gazed upon this rendition, a slight breeze caused the tapestry to undulate as though the scene was coming to life causing a chill to run down her spine. She hastened toward the end of the hall.
"I hope it isn't true. I will hate to see those awful creatures in our land again," she mumbled aloud as she made her way down the hall.
The tiled floors were covered with many hued thick carpets woven from the wool of Ellipsem sheep and as she approached the end of the hallway a spiral staircase with golden rails appeared before her. She began ascending to the second floor where her bedroom and bath covered three quarters of the space available with the rest being devoted to the continuing staircae.
An overly large carved oak four poster bed set in the middle dominated the round room. It was piled high with finely embroidered pillows, beautiful furs and hand stitched blankets over the fluffy goose down mattress. The bed was so large there was a stepping stool on either side of the bed to climb onto it.
The oak cabinets and cupboards along the outer walls were constructed in a semi-circle so that they fit snugly against the stone wall and the carving matched that on the bed. A large oval mirror with beveled edges was hung next to the large wardrobe cabinet and framed with an ornately carved gilt frame. Again, the carving matched that on the bed and other furniture.
When Tri-Nova approached the oval mirror, it disappeared to reveal a sumptuous bathroom adorned with mirrors and gilt fixtures. There was a fireplace set in one wall. Over the fireplace a large recessed oven had been built that held a tub. There was a rope beside the tub that when pulled caused a trough to drop down and water to cascade into the tub. The fire beneath then heated the water for bathing and a series of wooden aqueducts provided the pathway for the hot water to run into the sunken marble lined tub in the middle of the round bathroom. There was a marble basin with a golden water pump set into another part of the wall and above that basin was another beautiful mirror.
One of the maids had anticipated Tri-Nova's need for a bath and with the fire blazing the water was hot and ready for her for which she was grateful. It had been a long dusty trip and the tubs at the Inn were just not as comfortable as this one. Her chambermaid poured honeysuckle scented oil into the tub and pulled the gilt handled chain that allowed the hot water to fill the tub into which Tri-Nova sunk exhaustedly.
Her mind filled with thoughts of the last days and she suddenly remembered the strange silver dwarf and his companion.
"Oh Derry, I met the most curious men yesterday on the way to the Inn," she told her maid. "There was a strange little silver dwarf on a donkey and a handsome man in a Loincloth of Innocence," she said laughing.
"That sounds interesting," replied Derry smiling at her mistress' laughter. It was not often Tri-Nova felt unburdened enough to allow herself a laugh. As the overseer of Ellipsem, the duties weighed heavy on her shoulders. "I suppose your sisters have their eyes on him then?" she inquired mildly, trying not to sound catty but thinking to herself that the twins were lazy and shiftless while Tri-Nova did all the work and worrying.
The handsome man with the bold eyes had sent a delicious shiver over her at the sight of him. "They didn't see him," she answered. "I wonder if that Loincloth of Innocence he wears is meant to fool the women? Well it certainly didn't fool me! It might be nice to get to know him better...," but worries about the news she had heard that morn drove the pleasant thoughts from her mind.
A dragon hoard ravaging Mordock. That was just too close for comfort with Ellipsem and Mordock separated by only a ridge of the Fyrestorm Mountains. She must go back to the Inn to hear the plans. She and Majesty would leave that very night and when she would be back was anyone's guess.
Having bathed and changed into warm rough-out riding pants and tunic, Tri-Nova bid her family a good night and went to the stables for Majesty.
They set out at a fast gallop the sooner to reach the Red Gryphon Inn and had gone only a short way when Majesty shied, reared on his back legs and let forth a frightened scream.
"Down Majesty! Down boy!" commanded Tri-Nova sternly all the while looking frantically to find the cause of his fright.
Red eyes hurtled through the darkness toward the ornicule and his rider. The snarling and gnashing of teeth could be clearly heard and Majesty's great front hooves smashed down catching one of the ugly monsters under it. The animal yipped loudly and cried out its pain as it tried to get out of harm's way with only its front two legs working properly. The hind legs dragged uselessly, the great hoof having broken its back, but more of the black monsters approached. Their eyes glowing red in the ambient light, their muzzles curled back menacingly with venom dripping from their great canine teeth. Snarling, snapping and growling they came forward slowly. It looked as though some of them were standing on their hind-legs. That could not be right she thought fleetingly. They are a pack of wild dogs or wolves at worst.
Tri-Nova pulled her dirk from her thigh holster and with true aim hit the large black leader that was now charging them between the eyes with her six-inch dagger, felling him instantly. His followers fell back, still gnashing their teeth but their cowardly streak showed with the loss of their leader.
Urging her mount forward as they jumped over the fallen animal, she reached down and retrieved her dirk. They were soon out of reach of the remainder of the pack. Never looking back, they raced through the dark of night to the safety of Karl Strange and the comfort of the Red Gryphon Inn.
Malef wakened slowly. His head felt as if it would explode and for the time being that was all he knew. After lying still for a while he gingerly tried to sit up. Great dizzying waves hit him and he was forced to lie down and wait a little longer. This gave him time to remember how he came to be where he was.
He had crossed a forest troll's palm with silver in exchange for a shrinking potion. The ugly troll was an unfriendly sort and Malef did not want to deal with him but it is well known among the dwarves that trolls have the most powerful potions. And he needed a powerful potion to make himself small enough to enter the Vent of Gloom in pursuit of Craven.
The gnomes of Mordock had told him of Craven's visit in their hamlet and his plans to move on to the Talos Valley via the shortcut through the Fyrestorm Mountain known as the Vent of Gloom. The Vent was ancient history among the dwarves and had been shown for hundreds of years in their mapology. Some elves and gnomes may have heard of it but it was believed that only dwarven eyes could discern the entry into the Vent.
"I had 'im!" Malef whispered in disbelief. "I 'ad 'im in me 'ands, throttling the life out of 'im I was...but...the man..." shaking his head to clear his thoughts Malef thought hard.
"The man in the loincloth. But 'ow could 'e 'ave got me down? 'e was but 'alf me size! It could not be. 'e couldn't 'ave got the best o' the likes o' me!" he said sitting up too fast which caused waves of nausea to wash over him. After a while he tried to stand but found he could not. His head wedged against the top of the vent and his shoulders touched either side of the passageway.
"I've got me size again," he muttered while trying to fish in his tunic with the fingers of his right hand for the vial of potion he bought from the troll.
Taking it from his pocket he eyed it banefully, "Nastiest stuff I ever tasted," he commented. Malef removed the cork stopper and grimacing mightily he quickly tossed the remaining potion down his throat trying not to taste it but he gagged anyway.
Retching and coughing he could feel the passageway around him growing or so it seemed to his befuddled mind. He was actually shrinking which is what he had paid to do but he was too confused and dismayed to think clearly about that right now. Turning around he began to retrace his steps to the opening of the Vent of Gloom, which he felt he entered a lifetime ago. "I 'ad 'im in me 'ands!" he continued to lament as he made his way back to the opening.
Muttering and cursing to himself, Malef had worked up a full charge of anger by the time he exited the Vent which he did none too soon as he had began to regain his size a few paces from the opening. If he had dallied in his return to the opening, he might have been stuck there forever because the passage was seldom used.
Breaking into the light of day, it took him but a short while to locate the trail that led through the pass of the Fyrestorm Mountains and into the Talos Valley. It would take him a day or two longer to reach the Red Gryphon Inn but he was sure he had heard the man and Craven discuss going to the inn. He would go there! He would take revenge on Craven for the murder of his betrothed! He would have justice at any cost!
Majesty and Tri-Nova arrived breathless and in disarray at the steps of the Red Gryphon Inn where Karl Strange came out to greet them.
"What has befallen you?" asked Karl with concern for he could clearly see that something was wrong.
"We were attacked by a pack of horrid animals on our way here," she answered. "They bolted out of the forest and took a run at Majesty but he broke the back of one and I killed the leader with my dagger. They lost their fight as soon as the leader was down."
"What kind of animals were they?" he asked frowning with concern.
"It was too dark for me to be sure but they looked black and had glowing red eyes. They looked like large dogs or wolves or a combination of both but like nothing I have ever seen before! And...I know this can't be right, but...it looked as if some of them might be standing on their hind-legs," she blurted quickly.
"Were you or Majesty bitten?" asked Karl forcing a calmness to his voice and manner that he did not feel.
"No, not bitten only frightened," she replied.
"Well, come then girl. The stable boy will see to Majesty's needs. Come in out of the cold and let's get some grog into you to warm you up a bit," putting his arm around her shoulders he led her into the inn where he pulled out a chair at the first empty table they came upon. After she had drunk all of the first mulled grog and had started on the second Karl looked intently at her and said, "Now, can you give me a better idea of what you were up against? How many, how big and anything else you can remember?"
"Well, they were black...and furry...their eyes glowed red in the dark," she wrinkled her brow in concentration. "They were as big as a large dog...or...the ones that looked to be standing on two legs?" she looked beseechingly at Karl for understanding, "they appear to be about half the size of a Bristle Bear," she finished looking up again into Karl's kind eyes.
"And...I just remembered..., it looked like venom dripping from their long teeth, kind of syrupy if you can picture it. Majesty broke the back of the first one to attack and the others backed off some. Then the leader came charging in and I threw my dagger and hit him between the eyes. He dropped like a rock," she said loosing a big sigh.
"I assume you braved the dangers of the night to attend the meeting that is to take place here tonight?" he asked.
"Then stay where you are because a seat will be hard to find when all have arrived. In the meantime, I will send a band out to patrol the highway for more signs of these marauders," he assured her. "We don't want anyone hurt because if what we hear is true about Mordock, we'll be needing every able body we can find," as he rose from the table he patted her arm reassuringly. His size alone was a great comfort.
Malef lay on his side with his arm pillowing his head. He had traveled hard that day and was extremely tired. Too tired even to heat water for gruel, he had eaten only a few berries he foraged from the bushes near the trail and some dried biscuit Lunaire, his mother, had put in is rucksack. A few mouthfuls of Lignonberry wine had topped off his meager meal and sapped the last of his energy. Shrinking and growing was not only tedious but extremely tiring. He was too tired to even continue to feed off his anger and hatred for Craven Justice this night and was soon deep in a dream-filled sleep.
Malef Meets Alofu
By: Craven Justice
In the deep of sleep she came to Malef
To warn of trouble but his ears were deaf
I know more than you know I know she said
But she might as well have talked to the dead
The dragon's skull with black candle alight
Threw scattered shadow imps over the night
He watched her closely for a clue
Of what she wished for him to do
Go help Craven she commanded him
But the chance of that was mighty dim
For it was Craven he wanted to kill
To help him now would be a bitter pill
"You..., Oaf!" she said appearing to Malef out of a smoky cloud. The dragon's skull in front of her held a black candle that was giving off the noxious smoke.
"'ho are ye to address me like that? You don't even know me," he exclaimed hotly.
"I'm a lot more than you'll ever be. That's who and don't be uppity with me or you'll rue the day!" she retorted. "I know that yer after the bard. I know that you nearly got kilt today but fer his inteference on yer behalf! I know that yer not nearly so bright as yer blood brother and ye'll be hard pressed to outsmart him!"
"Ow do you know all this?" he asked more calmly.
"I am Alofu the seeress and I know all," she answered in a lulling tone peering through the smoke at Malef.
"Then tell me where 'e is!" he shouted angrily.
"In good time," she answered. The smoke parted revealing the deep wrinkled texture of her face dominated by her hooked nose which, she reached up with a yellow cracked nail to scratch. "If ye want my help, show some respect!" she sharply ordered.
Malef, seeing the true vision before him quelled his natural temper because she did look like a witch who could hurt him. "Then ye know why I need ter find 'im. 'E killed my betrothed," he replied more calmly.
"So ye say," cackled Alofu. "What ye know and what I know are two different things," she added. "What do ye know about yer blood brother outside of knowledge gained while growing up together?" she demanded catching Malef by surprise.
"Why, 'e was a ward of the priests. No one knows 'ho left 'im on their door. Not even the priests know that!" he replied with confidence.
"I know," she answered quietly. "It might surprise you to know too," she said with a toothless grin.
"I don't care!" retorted Malef again showing signs of his anger.
"Careful Oaf! I have had enough of your bullying!" she said ominously. "One more disrespectful word from you and ye'll get nothing but trouble from me! Here's a taste of the trouble ye can bring down on yerself and yer family."
The smoke got thicker, completely obscuring the vision of the crone but Malef wished he could see her ugly, wrinkled face instead of what he was now seeing.
He saw the dragon hoard descending on Gayeré, breathing flame on all the denops and buildings as they smashed and broke whatever object they came across. With yet another shift of the noxious smoke, he saw his sisters being torn limb from limb by two large dragons. The girls were being devoured alive and screaming for mercy the whole while. The vision changed and now he saw his father, Almen and his mother, Lunaire in their denop at Gayeré. Almen had his arms around his wife and was trying to pull her from the denop that was burning ferociously. Lunaire was resisting Almen and trying to get to the back of the denop where Malef's sisters could be heard crying for help.
"Stop! Stop it!" cried Malef closing his eyes tightly and turning his head from side to side trying to rid himself of the visions.
"Do ye not want to see more?" she asked cackling with laughter at his pale face. "Still feeling like a bully? Are ye?" she demanded.
Malef could see, she meant every word she said. He had never seen such a grim countenance before and his anger evaporated becoming fear instead.
"Now you will learn what Craven Justice himself does not know and you will tell no one of it! Is that understood?"
"I don't want ta know," whined Malef for he sensed he did not want to hear this.
"You will hear it anyway," she replied firmly.
Malef cringed but said nothing more as he watched the smelly smoke wreathe around her face and head, first obscuring one eye then her mouth so that her words seemed to float out of the blackness. The shadows cast by the black candle skipped over the dragon skull and her gnarled hands with their claw-like fingers tipped by long tarnished nails.
"Craven Justice is the son of a pair of Digenisis dwarves who held dominion over the Digenisis Dwarven Clan for a number of years until the Dragon Demi-gods made themselves rulers of the world. Digenisis lore and legend said there would be born to a ruling couple a silver babe who would be called Myontadu which, is ancient dwarven for the orphan. He would go forth and cause happiness and change in the lands known as the Phantom Realms although, he would not be particularly happy until his four-hundredth year."
"Yea, well 'e caused change alright but no happiness," grumbled Malef.
"Listen oaf!" Alofu commanded sharply. "I haven't much time left as the sun will soon rise."
"Shortly after his birth, the silver babe's parents were slain by the Digenisis Dragon Demi-god but he remained unharmed as they had secreted him away in the forest where a wood-elf found him. Not knowing what to do with a babe, the wood-elf took him to the steps of the Priests of Gáyere for them to rear. The babe's parents had hidden within his swaddling clothes a gem-star, which had come to them when they were newly married. They had no idea what a weapon it was, only that it was beautiful to look at and comforting to hold and they wanted to give their babe as much comfort as they could because they knew they were abandoning him to the world."
Alofu droned on. "Craven does not have possession of the gem-star because it was taken by a priest who was drummed out of the monastery for his infractions of their vows. It is imperative that Craven Justice get possession of the gem-star and that you help him get it."
"I'll not 'elp the likes o' 'im! Not after what 'es done to me," was the surly reply.
"Yes! You will help him. If you do not, your whole family will perish! So if you can't help yourself, you will help him save them!" she finished.
The smoke was growing thicker and her face more obscure. Malef could still hear her saying, "You will not tell Craven Justice of his heritage, only about the gift that was in his swaddling clothes when he was deposited on the steps of the monastery...," the vision of her faded to nothing as Malef began to come up out of his deep sleep.