Phaedra blinked her eyes in the morning sunlight shining through the hole left in the wall by Mordack. She felt so much better after resting. Stiff, sore and uncomfortable from sleeping in her armor, but better none the less. Kneeling, she quickly sent her daily prayers of thanksgiving and petition to Naaru. Now, where was everyone?
Making her way to the mirror, she pulled it from the wall and strapped it to her back. Pulling a rope from her pack she secured it to the hook that had held the mirror and made her way down.
She ran back down the corridor towards the closed door at the end. Listening at the door, she felt tendrils of nerves blossoming in her stomach. Where were they? Were they alright? Mordack had followed her. He had let her companions be. Hadn’t he? She had left her brother in no condition to use his Hearthstone. Alimar, Locke, Norkel; they would not have left without him, would they have? Oh Mother, no.
The thought of finding her brother’s body beyond that door staggered her. Leaning heavily against it she waited for her pulse to stop racing. “Please, please no. Anything but that”, she whispered to herself. Steeling her nerves, Phaedra pushed the door open and found the room beyond empty.
Relief flooded through her body. Pulling the mirror off her back she asked it, “Where are my companions and my little brother?” The mirror swirled around her and pulled her into its vision once again. There they were. At Brightbanner Keep! Alimar, Norkel, Locke and Ande! He was alive! He was alive, he was alive! He looked very angry. Very, very angry. But he was alive!
Shaking off the vision, Phaedra strapped the mirror back in place. She had to return it to King Graham, and then she had to get back to her brother before he did something drastic. Phaedra rolled her eyes at the thought as she worked her way out of Mordack’s Keep.
Kothal woke to find that he may have enjoyed his new found merriment a little too much on the first go. After shaking off his wooziness, he waited outside Locke’s door.
Upon exiting, Locke found Kothal leaning against the wall, looking a bit worse for wear. “So I find I may need to build up a heftier tolerance to the drink if I am to experience more merriment. Aside from that, let’s agree to not play games with your dice nor my cards unless we find a fool who’s purse and pride are overflowing. It occurs to me that of all of my new friends you may be the most interested and aided by my particular talents. I’m told you are skilled at sneaking through the shadows hidden to all but the keenest observer. I can help you walk down the middle of the road through the market in broad daylight and be entirely unnoticeable. Should anyone need me, I’ll be finding myself some breakfast. With bacon preferably. Plenty of bacon.” Kothal turned on heels to leave. After taking a few steps his image began to blur, shift, and then disappeared entirely.
“Well now”, Locke said aloud to himself as he watched Kothal’s image disappear. “That’s a pretty fine trick.” Chuckling to himself, he went off in search of Lord Fordring, hoping to get their meeting out of the way early. He strolled into the great hall of the keep to see if the High Lord was about.
As he entered Highlord Fordring was waiting. “Come in Locke, come in. I trust that you got some much needed rest?” As Locke regaled the lord with tales of his evening, Fordring smiled. “Very good; well let’s get down to business shall we? Locke, this war has been going on for far too long. Our methods have been useless up to this point. It’s time to examine all options in order to end this struggle and bring peace back to the lands. I get a feeling you are a man who will do what it takes in order to get the job done. Am I correct in this assumption?”
Locke answered hesitantly, trying to suss out exactly what the High Lord was fishing for. "Well, you know my background. I think of myself as pragmatic above all else, if that’s what you mean.
“Take this business with the draenei. We defeated Mordack’s guardian, but were in no shape to fight the wizard himself. When he gave us the opportunity to finish our mission and go, it seemed to me the most practical thing to do. Not ideal by any means, but better than risking our necks any further. The draenei would beg to differ.”
The Highlord nodded. “Exactly; you did what needed to be done. The draenei, they have no concept of anything other than the light, which is noble and justice. I am honored to have them here, but I am tired Locke. I am tired of sending good men into a war and playing by the books, when the enemy has no rules to follow." Fordring looked at Locke. "I need people that are willing to do what it takes to end this war. I feel like you are one of those people. Can I count on you to aide us when the time comes? "
“Aye, m’lord. I stood in your hall when I got here and said your oath. My profession aside, I try to keep my word and honor my obligations. But I think any in the party would tell you the same, even the draenei when it came down to it.”
Smiling, Fordring stood. “Very good, Locke. I do believe that this band you have found yourself in could be useful. If you would gather them and meet me in the planning chamber, I have some ideas for how we might be able to launch an assault on…”
From behind the Highlord walked the High Inquisitor, her hood drawn over her face. She began to stare at Locke. Then a soft voice spoke. “You, Recruit, have a dark curse upon you. Your aura is that of the darkest nights. What have you done to acquire such hatred?” She continued to stare through Locke.
“Begging your pardon, m’lady, but if my aura’s any darker than when I arrived, I’m not certain what I might have done to make it so. I mean, surely that Mordack character from Daventry doesn’t hold me, any of us really, in high regard. The draenei aren’t too fond of me right now either, but I think that’ll blow over. A couple of Daventry witches didn’t much like me, but they’re no longer breathing, so no worries there.
“Strange how I feel a compulsion to confess my transgressions to ye. What else? I cheated Kothal at dice last night, mostly to practice my sleight of hand, but I’m pretty sure the rascal cheated at cards, so we’re copacetic. I made a promise to a ghost that I’ve yet to keep. I caused some rat-men feel poorly about themselves. The usual self-touching. Oh, and I killed a bunch of creatures that were trying to kill me, so there’s that. But otherwise, I don’t know what it could be.”
The Inquisitor paused for a brief moment. “The locket around your neck? Where did you come by this? It is full of sorrow and darkness.”
Locke raised a hand to his neck, where the locket sat under his armor. "Ah, that’d be the ghost I mentioned. We met a spirit in Mordack’s castle, and I promised to return the locket to her family. Unfortunately with our hasty exit from Daventry, I didn’t have time to keep my promise. I was going to ask his lordship for another one of the hearthstones to fulfill my obligation, until I heard him tell Andren it might not be possible. I was planning on bringing it up again once things had quieted down a bit.
“Funny thing; I awoke last night to find the locket around my neck, even though I’m sure I left it with my gear. I didn’t think much of it, to be honest.”
She nodded. “Well, I am afraid things are a bit more drastic now.” She motioned her hand across the armor where the locket sat. “It would appear you are cursed in two ways. In one week’s time you will turn into a wolf. The wound on your arm hasn’t gotten much better has it? That I can cure. However this locket, it is different. Much sorrow and rage lies within it, and now it has decided to take you as payment.” Again the inquisitor stared at Locke seemingly gazing into his soul. “The chain will tighten around your neck and by this time next week you will be dead.”
Locke looked confused for a second. “A wolf? Oh, right, the werewolves! In all the excitement I forgot about them. But back to the locket; dead by next week, you say? That’s not ideal. I don’t suppose there’s any way around that?”
She nodded slowly. “There is, but I will need a rare ingredient in order to make the cleansing potion needed to remove the baneful locket. It is called sorrow moss, and the last known location of it was held by a merchant noble. However contact with him has been lost since the start if the scourge war. His manor house is on the coastline deep within the scourgelands. If any moss remains that is where you may find some. A pinch of it is all that is required.”
“Is there time enough to get there and back again before…?” Locke pantomimed being strangled by the locket.
“Yes , if the regent is still there and you don’t waste time. It will take me some time to look up the recipe to ensure the potion works. I can gather the rest of the ingredients while you get the sorrow moss. You will need to speak to Fredrick Gains; he is a cartographer from Stratholme. He will be able to give you the location of the manor house. He is due to return from his trip to Durnholde tomorrow morning.” She turned to leave.
“Before you go, m’lady; two things. One, I wasn’t the only person injured in our fight with the werewolves. If you haven’t checked out the rest of the party for the wolf curse, you probably should.
“And B, will the others be able to accompany me, or will I need to go alone?”
“The cartographer is here like most refugees. He has a small shop in the village that surrounds the keep. He should return tomorrow morning . Send the others in and I will examine them as well.”
Andren woke early, physically whole thanks to the healers, but still suffering from a sense of grief and guilt for leaving his sister. After dressing, he made his way to the chapel and prayed to Naaru. He prayed for guidance, and for peace but mostly he prayed that his sister would return, unharmed.
After a light breakfast of a rasher of bacon, a dozen eggs, a loaf of bread, ten pancakes, and a small salad, he gathered his damaged gear and headed to the blacksmith’s to do some repairs.
Alimar woke up in a haze “Where am I he thought” for a few moments until memories came flashing back from the night before. Memories of dice games that just wouldn’t go his way and enough drink to knock over a dwarf. “I wonder where the others are?” he said out loud. He headed to the smith hoping to catch Andren at his craft and to pledge aid in finding poor Phaedra.
Locke strolled into the keep’s mess hall to find Norkel and Kothal sharing breakfast. Locke told Norkel he needed to see Lord Fordring immediately after breakfast for a ‘vermin check’, then asked about Andren and Alimar. Told they were at the blacksmith’s, Locke bid the pair farewell and headed to the smithy.
He entered to find Andren just beating the snot out of his damaged shield with a blacksmith’s hammer while Alimar looked on. Figuring the blue guy was taking out his frustration and worry over his sister on his gear, Locke was loath to interrupt. Instead, he relayed the message to Alimar that he and Andren should report to Lord Fordring as soon as they were done at the smith’s.
With his errands taken care of, Locke set off to explore the keep and the surrounding castle town.
After enjoying breakfast with his new found comrade, Kothal went in search of the castle’s library to peruse the books and return to the research he had recently been neglecting. He remained there engrossed until he began to hunger, and realized it was evening and he had forgone any midday meal.
After completing repairs to his gear, Andren headed to see High Lord Fordring. Having had the chance to pray and contemplate, and take to heart Locke’s words from the previous night, he was in better spirits than he had been the day before. She’s not dead. I would know it if she were. I’d feel it.
Arriving at Fordring’s chamber, he let the guards know he had been summoned.
Later that afternoon, Andren walked around the keep looking high and low for his companions before finally locating them gathered together in the keep’s hall. “Greetings my friends. I’ve heard rumor that I missed a… lively evening last night at the tavern. I find myself in need of a distraction and wonder if you would be game for an ale or two?”
Norkel’s ears perked up. “Did I hear someone say ale? I would enjoy passing the time at the tavern.”
Norkel looked at Kothal. “I hope Locke leaves those dice in his room this time”, and proceeded toward the door heading for the tavern.
Hoisting the pack filled with electrum bars over her shoulder, Phaedra made her way up the castle steps. The sun setting on the horizon made quite a picturesque view. It had been a long, weary day of traveling. Her arms were tired from rowing, her hooves sore from walking, and her pockets empty from settling up everyone else’s tab at the Fairies’ Song Inn.
Approaching the doors, Phaedra nodded to the Polar and Grizzly Bears standing guard. “Well met sirs. I seek audience with King Graham. My name is Phaedra Sedai of Lorderon. I believe the King is expecting me?”
The Polar Bear led her into a sitting area as the Grizzly left to announce her. She fell heavily into the first chair she came to after gently resting the mirror on the floor by her seat. The wound on her side was still bothering her greatly. She would have to have Ande inspect it when she returned.
She leaned her head back and closed her eyes. It felt like only moments had passed when the Grizzly Bear returned. “King Graham will see you now. Please, leave your weapons on the rack outside the throne room.”
Entering the throne room, Phaedra made her way towards the king. Standing in front of him, she bowed deeply. “Your highness. We have accomplished the task you set before us. Here is the mirror, retrieved from Mordack’s Keep as you requested.” She placed the mirror in his hands. “We believe these also belong to you. Possibly they were stolen? They were found in Hagatha’s lair.” The bag of electrum dropped heavily at the king’s feet.
Smiling, King Graham stood and walked to the young paladin. “My dear lady, you have done me a great service, of which I cannot repay easily. If there is something I can do for you simply name it and I will, if I can, make it happen.” He placed the mirror gently on the wall. “Please bring the rest of your company in, I will hold a feast in your honor. " He looked at the bars on the floor. " Allow me to start my repayment by giving you half of the those bars. I admit my heart wishes to grant you the full amount, however my coffers are quite barren and I could use these.” He sat on his throne smiling.
“King Graham, I regret we wouldn’t be able to stay for a feast. My brother was gravely injured in battle and we thought it best to get him back to Brightbanner Keep as swiftly as possible. I was left to complete the task and then return as well. I am anxious to return to him and make sure he is alright. When Lord Fordring sent us here, his orders were for us to request the use of your mirror to answer a question to help him combat the scourge attacks in our land. So, if I may? Ask your mirror his question?”
“Yes M’Lady , you may ask the mirror whatever you need. I can leave you some privacy, if you would like?”
Chewing her lip, Phaedra nodded. “Yes, please if I may have privacy.” She waited patiently as King Graham made his way out of the room and asked the mirror Lord Fordring’s question.
When King Graham returned, Phaedra smiled graciously. “Thank you for all your help my Lord. Your help and service to Lorderon is much appreciated. If I may be so bold, would you be able to send me back with something? A missive or letter of sorts, declaring Daventry’s good will towards Lorderon? I am but a humble paladin of Naaru, and not a diplomat, but Lorderon has fought so long and hard against the undead scourge. I know it would lighten Lord Fordring’s heart to know he had such a worthy alliance.”
King Graham looked at her puzzled and then smiled. “I can have a letter drafted with the royal seal if you wish my lady.” He nodded to his royal magistrate. “It is the very least I can do."
Phaedra shook her head. “Of course your majesty, that would be much appreciated. If I may sit while we wait?”
Not waiting for a response, Phaedra made herself as comfortable as she could on the stone stairs leading up to the throne. A small part of her brain hollered about properness and courtesy, but she was just so weary and her exhaustion won out over politeness.
Leaning her head back, she looked up at the man sitting on the throne. “King Graham, what else can you tell me about Mordack? Your mirror labeled him a lich. It showed his heart in a jar beneath his keep.” She grimaced. “We were not able to dispose of him, simply chase him off and retrieve your mirror as promised.”
She shifted her hooves into a more comfortable position, as she remembered. “He is a very powerful and seemingly fearless spellcaster. He knew so much about myself and my companions. Where we were from, how we had traveled here and our means of returning. We found correspondences in his library from…” She shook her head trying to clear the cobwebs. “I can’t remember who they were from, but he seems to have powerful allies, and something about the dwarves?” She looked up at the king with a tired smile on her face. “I’m sorry, I am rambling. It has just been such a…long…day. Please, what can you tell me? The more information I have, the better, should we ever face him again.”
Before the King could take a breath to speak, Phaedra remembered something else. “Mordack’s keep was haunted. The first night we encountered a young ghostly girl. I think Locke said her surname was Anderson? It appeared as if her family was killed there in the keep and her ghost was trapped there. Does that name mean anything to you?”
The King listened intently to her words and then sat back on his throne. " Mordack is evil we have not seen here in Daventry for a long time. I am not sure what he truly is, other than evil. If the mirror showed you something you can take it to heart that there is truth there somewhere, perhaps not the truth you may want to know, but its truth none the less. I am sorry; my kingdom is large and we have many families. I don’t know of a family named Anderson. However that doesn’t mean they don’t exist or have existed. Mordack has spies everywhere, they even say that birds and beasts work for him. It’s not surprising that he was aware of your presence. But enjoy your victory m’lady and not trouble your mind with what ifs." Graham gave her a comforting smile and stood, then walked down and sat on the step with her. “I was a knight, much like you, before I became King. I understand the weight you feel. But for now rest; the world will need your strength in the future I am sure.”
Phaedra smiled at the king. “It’s nice that you understand. So few people in my life do.” She sat there in amicable silence waiting for the magistrate to arrive. Once she had her letter and half the electrum bars hefted on her shoulder, she again thanked King Graham. “I believe Lord Fordring will be honored by this,” she gestured towards the letter. “Thank you for the use of your mirror. You have done Lorderon a great service.” She looked out the window at the now starry sky and pulled her Hearthstone from her pocket. “Farewell King Graham. Rest.”
The blue light swirled, Phaedra’s stomach lurched and when she opened her eyes she found herself standing back where she started in Brightbanner Keep. She smiled at the guard whom she had so obviously startled. “Permission to speak with High Lord Fordring?”
The guard blinks and jumps back. “Um… Yeah sure, um… is he …expecting you?” The guard chuckles lightly at his question as he opens the door.
Phaedra walked towards the open door. “Thank you sir.” She thought for a moment. “Honestly, I’m not sure if the High Lord is expecting me or not. I believe the rest of my companions arrived yesterday?”
Phaedra got to the main hall and noticed the High Inquisitor looking over a book in the main chamber. She stood and turned to greet Phaedra with a slight nod. “If you are looking for Lord Fordring, he is in preparations. How might I help you recruit?”
“With your permission to speak freely, High Inquisitor. My companions and I were unintentionally separated on our journey home from Daventry. It is my understanding that Locke acquired the information Lord Fordring was seeking. I wanted to be sure that the information was indeed delivered and also to give him this.” Phaedra reached into her bag and pulled out the letter.
“The King of Daventry is good, kind and noble. The mirror he now has in his possession is very, very powerful. I know Daventry is very far away from here, but think about it! Future access to an item like that could potentially turn the tides of this war! The possibilities are endless!” Her face flushed with excitement.
She looked down and noticed the High Inquisitor’s scarred and stoic face. “Forgive me, my lady, I am rambling and I forget my place. If you could please, give this to High Lord Fordring. It is a letter from King Graham of Daventry. Please, if you could tell me, did my companions meet with Lord Fordring already? If he already has the information we were asked to retrieve, then I could leave you to your work and go search out my brother and our friends.”
The High Inquisitor smiled briefly and then returned to a stoic glare. “Indeed, the possibilities could be endless. However the decision doesn’t lay on my shoulders. Last I heard your friends were partaking at the local tavern. I am sure they would be happy to see that you are safe and returned in one piece.” She bowed slightly and returned to her book.
Blushing hotly, Phaedra returned the High Inquisitor’s bow. “I shall include you in my daily prayers to Naaru, my lady.” With that, she turned on her heel and made her way out of the keep and towards the local tavern.
Attempting unsuccessfully to master her own stoic glare, Phaedra started grinning instead. Then she rolled her eyes. “Ande’s at a tavern,” she thought to herself. “I wonder how drunk everyone else is?”
The group soon arrived at the tavern and managed to find a table in the far corner from the door. It was a busy night and it was several minutes before the barmaid came to their table. Glancing at Andren – all 7 foot, 300 pounds of him – she took their order. “I remember the rest of you from last night, but we don’t get many of you drany around here. What can I get all of you?”
Andren looked at his companions and smiled. “I want the biggest, strongest ale you have, and a round for my friends.”
When she returned with their drinks Andren lifted his to his face and sniffed it, crinkling his nose. “Smells terrible. Does all ale smell like this?”
Entering the small tavern, Phaedra took in her surroundings. A bard sang and played her lute in front of a roaring fire. Scarlet Crusaders and recruits took up many of the tables.
She picked Andren out right away. It wasn’t hard. His back was to her and he seemed rather engrossed in some story that Locke was telling. The half-elf’s hands were moving almost as quickly as his lips were.
Weaving her way through the crowd and grinning from ear to ear, Phaedra came up behind Andren. Placing her hands over his eyes she leaned over her little brother’s shoulder. “Guess who Ande,” she sang as she smiled widely at the rest of her companions.
If there had been anyone else at the table that was paying attention (they weren’t), or even anyone else at the table who wasn’t three sheets to the wind (they were), they would have seen it: a fleeting look of immense relief followed by a beaming smile that spoke volumes. Phaedra saw it though, and that’s all that really mattered.
His voice cracking just a little bit Andren welcomed his sister in typical Andren fashion. “How many time have I told you not to call me that?”
Knowing there would be no answer forthcoming, Andren pushed out the empty chair next to him. “I got you a drink. You know, just in case. Want to tell us what you’ve been doing for the last day? Locke has been sharing a tale about a noblewoman he met once, but I’m sure he won’t mind.”
Norkel, full engrossed in Locke’s tale, doesn’t see Phaedra approach. As she made her presence known, Norkel sunk in his seat just a little as he almost choked on his last swig of ale. “Ph…Phaedra! Glad to see you have returned.” Norkel swallowed hard and then smiled at the draenei.
Locke smiled at Phaedra. “It’s good to see you, girl. This lot was out of their mind with worry, myself included I might add, but Ande here kept us calm. ‘I know my sister-’, he says, ‘-and after she kicks Mordack’s ass she’ll insist on returning the mirror and treasure to King Graham before she returns. You just wait; we’ll see her in the tavern tonight.’ And damned if he wasn’t right! Welcome back.”
Norkel pulled himself together and grabbed his mug, lifting it into the air. “A toast… to the return of Phaedra!” Norkel turned his ale up and drained the mug. Placing the mug on the table a little harder than he had intended he signaled to the barmaid, “Another round for my friendsh!!”
Kothal was only vaguely aware of the situation, and remained quietly sipping his drink. With a slight nod of acknowledgement at her presence, he waited for an opportune time for introductions.
Phaedra slid into the chair next to her brother. “It’s good to see you too, Andren, and looking so much better, I might add!” Turning to address the others gathered around the table, Phaedra smiled. “Thank you all so much for ensuring my brother’s safety. It was such a relief to see him—and all of you—safe and sound here at Brightbanner when I looked in the mirror.”
Her face falling momentarily, she continued. “I wasn’t quite able to kick Mordack’s ass as you so eloquently put it Locke. Only chase him away, retrieve the mirror, return it and the electrum bars to King Graham..” She ticked off her accomplishments to the rest of the table.
“He’s still alive and out there somewhere. I believe I have made myself quite an enemy.” She paused and shrugged, “but on a lighter note, I brought presents!” She plopped her knapsack down on the table and proceeded to pull bars of electrum out of it. “Two for each of us, for a job well done. Compliments of King Graham of Daventry!"
After emptying her sack, Phaedra looked up and for the first time noticed Kothal across the table from her. “Oh, hello. Forgive my manners; I didn’t see you there. My name is Phaedra Sedai, paladin in the service of Naaru, whom you know as Morwyn. I am this big lug’s older sister.” She glanced affectionately at Andren and, smiling happily, extended her hand across the table. “And who might you be?”
“I am Kothal. I was a book keeper in the City of Mages, and have left to acquire books of power for their library. My paths have lead me closer to the scourge lands than anticipated. I’ve been granted asylum here for a while and have been asked to aid in your current quests. I am pleased to meet you.”
Locke slid the two electrum bars back across the table to Phaedra. “I appreciate the gesture, but these belong to you. Right or wrong; you stayed, I left. This is your reward, not mine.” The rogue smiled blackly. “Heh, I got a different kind of reward.”
He opened the top of his shirt to show the others the locket from the Anderson girl’s ghost around his neck. It fit snugly; almost as tight as a choker. “This is not a fashion choice; it appeared on my neck last night. I can’t get it off, and the Inquisitor tells me it will continue to tighten until it chokes the life from me by the end of the week.”
Norkel trying to focus looks at Locke in amazement, "How did yoush hic get two lockets? More importaly…why are there two Lockes? " The druid rubbed his eyes, “I shthink our new friend ish playing tricks on me!” With that Norkel finished yet another ale before blacking out.
Andren looked across at Locke and then the locket, with a troubled expression. “This is foul magic indeed. Is there nothing that can be done? Surely there is some way to remove it…”
“There is, and we can talk about that tomorrow. For now, we’re celebrating Phaedra’s return.” Locke raised his hand to get the serving boy’s attention, holding out all five fingers and pointing to the table.
“When it is convenient for you, I would like to take a look at it. There should be a way to remove it. Hopefully it won’t come down to trial, and most certainly not error. I fear I’m a little too far in the drink to be of use now.” Kothal turned to Norkel. “Not as far as some it would appear.”
“Isn’t that the locket that you promised to return…..oohh,” Phaedra stopped mid-sentence. “You seem to be handling your situation admirably Locke.” She looked at the half-elf with confusion on her face. “I would be a bit more panic stricken if I were in your shoes.”
She handed one of Locke’s two bars to the serving boy who had just arrived. “Here, keep them coming till this runs out.” Picking up the ale in front of her she sniffed it. "Did they put poison in this or something? What is wrong with Norkel?
Andren shrugged and gulped down his tenth ale of the evening. “They’ve all kind of been acting that way – talking funny and such. I don’t know why.”
Phaedra chuckled as she took a swig. “How odd. It’s good to see your face again Andren. I was…” she pinched her fingers together in front of her face, “…just a little worried about you.”
“Tomorrow should be interesting.”