The Rising – Part Three
By: Jeff R. Young

Weeks had passed since the friends returned to the Temple to bring the gem to Master Lucian. Of the four, Mace had made the most of his time by reading and learning about the various dark artifacts they still needed to find. Today was no different as he sat at a table in one of the smaller libraries paging through a book. Occasionally, he would venture out to spend some time with the others, often finding them in one tavern or another. Though he enjoyed the leisure time, he remained at the ready should Lucian call upon them to retrieve another missing relic.

Some considered him obsessed in his devotion in hunting down such wicked objects, but Mace cared little for the opinions of others. With all his studying, he knew the horrors the artifacts could unleash, and damned if he wasn't going to do something about it. He also knew that the gods of the Temple demanded the found relics be either destroyed or placed back in the vault for safekeeping. The items were created by demons or other wicked beings who craved power and destruction and were a scourge among the realm. The Temple had spent years gathering the artifacts at the expense of many lives, only to have the collection ripped from their grasp.

Ten years back, when Mace was still a priest in training, the Temple of the five had been attacked by the dark forces of Seteus, the god of chaos. The army of the Temple held off the attack, but many of the Temple soldiers died in the skirmish, and all but a few of Seteus's warriors survived. Unfortunately, the Temple could celebrate no victory as it was discovered the war to be a ruse set forth by the chaotic god. His real intention was the vault and using powers only a deity could wield, he slipped passed the protective wards to cast a spell of mass teleportation, scattering the artifacts throughout the realm.

Over the years since, many have attempted to hunt down and return what was lost. At first, the Temple hired sell–swords, paying them well for their services. But that proved disastrous as many of the mercenaries either claimed the items for themselves or sold them off to the highest bidder. So the Temple then looked to its own.

Mace was one of twelve trained for the recovery tasks. Seven men and five women whose sole mission was to find and return some of the most powerful and evil items known to the land. There were swordsmen, battle–priests, paladins, and even two wizards who made up the group. Throughout a single year and facing great odds, the crew proved they were right for the job.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, he heard someone calling his name, but so consumed was he by his thoughts, he failed to consider the source.

"Mace," Draven said for the third time, trying in vain to capture his friend's attention. He snapped his fingers a few times behind the priest's ear. "Hey, Mace, you in there?"

Again he got no response. "Ok," the ranger muttered looking around, determined to snap the man out of his daze. With a grin, he snatched up a book from the table and with both hands raised it high, he paused a moment, shrugged, then slammed it down on the table with an echoing bang.

Mace yelped as he jumped, his face masked in shock as he snapped his gaze up to Draven who easily ignored the dark and angry looks the other occupants of the library shot him.

Draven waved a greeting in his face. "Hi!"

Mace frowned as he looked about the library, noting the reactions and angry whispers of those around him before giving the ranger a stern expression, shaking his head.

"Was that necessary?" He asked darkly.

"You tell me," Draven snorted. "I've been trying to get your attention for a while now." When Mace didn't respond, he leaned in to whisper, "Was it a woman?"

"What?" Mace frowned again.

"You know, a woman, those beautiful creatures you tend to ignore?" Draven grinned as he straightened.

"What do you want," Mace said quickly, with no small amount of annoyance dripping from his tone.

"Ok," Draven said with a sigh. "You're grumpy, so it's not a woman." He paused, then his tone turned serious. "What is it Mace, you were pretty deep in there. Is something wrong?"

"No," he said, shaking his head slowly. This was Draven after all, a friend, "Just remembering the past, that's all."

Draven nodded, pursing his lips. He didn't press the issue further.

"What did you need, anyway?" Mace asked, closing the book he should have been studying.

"Oh yeah," Draven said, remembering why he came. "I think it's time. Lucian calls for us."

***

In less than a half–hour, all were gathered in the council chamber on the thirteenth floor where the high–priests and Grand Masters of the Temple sat twice a month to discuss various operations or other matters of importance. The room consisted of fifteen ornate chairs circling a meter high, round pillar of cut granite, which served as the rooms table and was one of the most remarkable creations in the Temple.

Over twenty skilled craftsmen, most of them dwarves, had engraved the realms most comprehensive map of the lands into the top of the pillar. Carved precisely to scale, the map showed every known forest, mountain, river, city, and towns depicted in their exact locations.

Lucian sat in one of the chairs, looking purposefully around the group before standing. Mace, Draven, Zythos, and Gwent stood scattered around the table curiously watching as the elder priest pulled a crimson, palm–sized gem from under his robe and set it on the edge of the table. The jewel was magically enhanced, allowing the user to record and receive messages from its sister stone. It was a convenient way of communicating across the realms, but also limited, as the gems were difficult to come by and the incantations only available to the more powerful spellcasters.

"This morning," Lucian began without prelude, motioning to the jewel, "the Temple received an urgent message from Ravenwood, a town down near the Black Pine Mountains. The communication was sent by a monk of Jotesis, and forwarded to me."

"Someone you know?" Mace asked curiously.

Lucian shook his head, "No, but the Grand Master assures me this Cora Danials is a legitimate member of the order and urges that I take her seriously."

"Have you heard the message?" Draven asked, nodding to the gem.

"I have, and her words are as distressing as they are curious," Lucian said, standing over the precious stone. He started to speak again but hesitated. "I think it best you hear it for yourselves. Perhaps you can make sense of the message."

Closing his eyes, the high–priest hovered his open hand over the gem, silently mouthing the spell used to activate the device. As he whispered, the gemstone began to glow faintly at first but pulsed brighter. By the time he finished the spell, it shined with an intense inner light that cast a red hue over the occupants of the room.

"Master Lucian," the message began. It was a woman's voice which sounded as if were spoken by two voices at once. "I am Cora Danials, currently of Ravenwood, and I seek the help and guidance of the Temple. As of three weeks ago, Ravenwood lost all contact with our neighboring city, Caelfall. We sent several messengers and scouts, but none have returned. We suspect the goblin–kin in the forest wilds are preparing an invasion. Without Caelfall, we lack the manpower to ward off a sustained attack."

The gem went silent. Several heartbeats passed before the voice continued.

"There is something else, which is the reason I sent this to you Master Lucian. An item has come to my attention. It was found for sale in the black market of Caelfall at a price no average person could afford. It is said to be a dagger of strange design…"

The stone went silent as its inner glow faded to nothing, leaving all standing there curious for more.

"That's it?" Draven asked bluntly.

"Yes, it ends there." Lucian sighed. "The magic of the jewel is limited to short communications I'm afraid."

Mace walked around the map table, studying the relief carefully. He knew the Black Pine mountain range was southwest of the Temple, so he studied the map around that region before pointing to a specific spot on the east side of the mountains.

"Here," he said as the others moved in to see. "Here is Caelfall, and this is Ravenwood."

"A day's travel or so apart," Draven noted, then tapped his finger over the greenish painted part. "The entire area is surrounded by forest, all the way to the base of the mountains." He leaned back, pursing his lips.

"Do you know the forest there?" Zythos asked, looking at the ranger.

"Once," he nodded. "Years back with my father. The lands around there are definitely wild, and there was goblin running free then so I'm not surprised they are now."

"Aye," Gwent added. "An' orc might be com'n down from the hills." His comment drew a nod from each of them.

Mace turned to Lucian, who stood with the others looking over the same region of the map. The young priest slipped his hands into the opposite sleeves of his robe and furrowed his brow in some confusion.

"So why call on us?" Mace asked. "Doesn't this fall under the directive of the defense force?"

"Yes," Lucian agreed. "But sending an army will take more time than I feel they have." He looked at Mace dryly. "And we can't just easily send soldiers without the consent of the council. They'd approve I'm sure, but it would take weeks for our forces to get there."

"So," he continued, "I thought to send you ahead to muster what fighters or militia they have and help coordinate a proper defense. Perhaps Caelfall has a territorial army. And while you are there…" he paused, looking over all three.

"The dagger," Mace caught on. "She mentioned some dagger was found."

Lucian nodded once. "Precisely. If this dagger is being sold on the black market and is as expensive as she claims, she may have found yet another relic." He tapped his lips thoughtfully. "Which seems to be why she sent this to me, instead of her order."

"Might'n it be just a regular dagger?" Gwent asked.

"Possibly," Lucian answered, "but my instinct demands we find out."

The four hunters looked at each other, nodding in silent agreement before Mace looked back at the map, studying it carefully.

"Still, it would take us more than a few weeks to get there ourselves," Draven commented.

"Unless," Mace started. He tapped his chin as his gaze moved over the map. For a moment he just stared, then snapped his gaze to Lucian. "Goldcrest is a vastly populated city and holds a Temple to the five, does it not?"

"Yes, a large one in fact, why?"

"Does it have a gate?" Mace asked. He remembered the extra–dimensional gateways the massive Temples housed. The portals allowed quick travel for a small group from one Temple to another. There were seven such gates located in the larger cities around the realm, all connected to the Sanctum.

Lucian nodded as he caught on. "As a matter of fact, it does!"

"Goldcrest is about three days hard ride away," Draven chimed in. "through the wilds."

"We've handled worse before," Mace countered. Draven shrugged, conceding the point.

"Eh, ‘bout this gate," Gwent started, his face and tone apprehensive. "Tis the gate yer talk'n ‘bout that magic one we walk through, ‘cause ye know I hate those."

"Awe, suck it up, iron pants," Draven said lightheartedly, slapping the dwarf on the shoulder. "No one's ever died running through the portals," then added for good measure, "yet."

Gwent shot the ranger a nervous look, to which Draven just winked back.

"It's settled then," Lucian said, turning to leave the room. "You four prepare to travel. I'll speak to the council then contact Goldcrest and this Cora to let them know that you are coming."

"We'll be ready within the hour," Mace called to him as he left, then he looked at the other three. "Prepare yourselves accordingly, my brothers. This may be more than just about a relic; we may be going to war."

***

It took less than the hour Mace had promised for the four to gather their things and prepare for the mission. They now stood ready for the moment the priests open the gate. It took a considerable amount of magical power to control the portals, and they needed to ready themselves for the ritual.

The entrance itself was shaped like a giant doorway, tall and rounded at the top. Runes of various design decorated the obsidian stone surrounding the opening to capture and enhance the magical energy which created the extra–dimensional doorway. Mace watched two priests kneel to either side, their heads lowered and hands folded. All knew they were buried in prayer, and thus beginning the ritual.

He stood first in line, waiting for the door to open. He no longer wore his typical robe. Instead, he was dressed in a magnificent suit of armor. The heavy plate armor, black with hints of red, covered every inch of his body from the neck down and sported inch long spikes around the areas of his knees and elbows, as well as the top knuckles of his gauntlets, giving the suit a wicked look. He no longer wore his exotic weapon off his hip. Instead, the Katana lay sheathed across his back. Along his waist were many different compartments, and the carved symbol of Ubus, his revered deity of the dead, hung from a clip.

Next to Mace stood a nervous and anxious Gwent, wearing a suit of armor no less remarkable. Only the dwarf's plate was a deep bronze, forged by the best blacksmiths of clan Clubthumper. He held his hammer tight in his right hand, his left hidden by his finely crafted shield which now displayed a pointed spike protruding from the center.

"So that was your idea," Draven stated more than asked, grinning and pointing to the new addition on the shield. He looked from Gwent to Zythos. The elf merely shook his head and smiled faintly.

"Aye," Gwent grunted, "Be tackling me enemies good ‘an proper now!"

Draven wore a less extravagant, but no less effective suit of leather as armor, which allowed him more freedom of movement than an ensemble of metal would. It was dyed a dark brown, almost black, which helped the ranger blend into the shadows when he needed to hide. Strapped to his back was a quiver full of arrows for the master crafted silver–oak bow he held in his hand. Along his belt, his long and short swords were sheathed on either side.

Last came Zythos. He wore a suit of leather as well, but his was emerald green and elven made, allowing a perfect fit for his form. It was designed for improved movement versus more substantial protection. Like Mace, Zythos wore his elven swords across his back, the handles sticking out behind either shoulder.

It was a closely guarded secret that the items owned by each of the four warriors were magically blessed with the holy powers of their respective gods and goddesses, making the armor more protective and the weapons more deadly. With the mystical energies added to the armaments and the skills with which each could use them, they were a dangerous group indeed.

The priests, kneeling on either side of the doorway, began chanting louder, reciting the final incantations of the spell. From the middle of the door, a small spot formed before flowing outward. As it filled the doorway, Mace turned to his friends and nodded. Zythos nodded back and walked through the gate, seemingly being swallowed by a wall of water. Mace followed quickly. Gwent should have been the next, but he stood mortified, staring into the gate.

"Hey," Draven yelled, "Go!"

Gwent's feet were frozen in place with the irrational fear he had over the gate's magic. He shook his head wildly as his body indicated he was gathering the strength to turn and run.

Draven was quicker; he lifted a leg to Gwent's backside, and half kicked, half shoved the dwarf forward, but the dwarf's weight was too much, and he barely budged. The gate could only be held open for a few moments more, so Draven backed up then sprinted forward, throwing all his weight into the dwarf, sending them both flying through the opening in a tumbling heap, just as the gateway went dark.

To be continued…

-

Rate Jeff R. Young's The Rising – Part Three

Let The Contributor Know What You Think!

HTML Comment Box is loading comments...