Terin’s mind raced as he tried to recall all the questions that had come to him while the spirit was speaking through Redwulf. This could be an unforeseen opportunity to learn whether or not an elf really was living amidst the mountain clans, and if so, what it’s motives might be. If the loremaster could see and learn so much of Terin from afar, what else might he know of?
Terin took the time to organize his thoughts with care. He knew this chance was too special to waste, that he had to cut to what was important and leave the rest behind.
Just like a battle. Don’t let yourself get bogged down, use what you have the best you know how, seize any opportunities chance puts in your path and be properly grateful for the gift.
Just that fast, Terin balanced duty to Duke Arneghast against what the spirit was asking of him, and decided on what was most crucial to ask first.
He held the spirit’s green eyes with his own, and asked, “Once I face them, how do I fight the wizards? What are their weaknesses? Will I have time to get within reach, or do I have to engage them at range as soon as they see me?”
Redwulf’s jaw dropped in a very canine grin as the spirit of the loremaster spoke through him. “Baron, you cut to the heart, as I expected. There is no time for vagueness, no time for games. Have patience with me, and I will arm you with the knowledge you will need to be the wielder of the weapon, and not the tool in others hands.”
“My name was, is, Bala’duin. In the histories you’ve studied, I am indeed what the legends call a loremaster. I won’t waste time with stories, you’ve read what the legends ascribe to us.”
“Those you call wizards have read the legends as well, read them with envy and lust. They care nothing for why we did what we did, only the how, seeking to duplicate what they think were our great works. They strive always for greater control, a clearer focus, any means that will allow them to seize more power from the world around us and shape it to their desires. Even so, the strongest willed amongst them cannot come close to matching our efforts in legend or song.”
“We of the Called serve Gaia directly. We do not seek to rip power from the fabric of the world, or impose our will on others. We were chosen by Gaia for her own reasons to serve as her protectors against threats from outside the celestial sphere and from unnatural influences that may grow from the world within. We often wondered what single trait was the strongest reason for being Called, and over the years, I have come to believe that it was empathy. We who were chosen were in general more sensitive to the lives around us, and able to feel them as if they were a part of ourselves. We did not seek power or crave it; it was forced on us, in some cases literally. Power so great that without a conscious act of will, the risk we faced was not that we would lack power for whatever task we undertook, but instead that we would burn ourselves to ash and dust by using too much, too swiftly.”
“The wizards share with us an ability to feel the presence of power, power within us and all around us, power in all it’s shapes and forms. They have discovered how to touch the power that they find in abundance all around them, to shape it and focus it into a tool to bend to their wills.”
“What they do not grasp is that the power they can sense, and touch, and that they take and bend to their will is fabric taken from the living soul of the feeling world. When the wizards are reaching out and taking power, they are ripping it from Gaia’s soul.”
“In the days before the last battle, there were many loremasters traveling the world, sensitive to exactly such violations, and quick to hunt down those who injure Gaia in that way and destroy them. To protect themselves from our sensing their actions, those who craved power would instead take the soul of another living person, or even of themselves, and use that as raw power to fuel their desires. It’s nothing new, it’s one of the oldest evils that keeps being rediscovered, and grows and spreads until rooted out and those who use it are destroyed. You would find mention of it in your oldest legends as necromancy.”
“With all of the other loremasters dead or outside the boundaries of our world since the last battle and the Empire’s fall, there have been none to sense the first fledgling steps the wizards took in turning the arts of necromancy towards raping the soul of the earth. With the vast soul of Gaia to draw upon, they are limited now only by how strong their will is to grasp and tear loose what they can hold.”
“Even still, it is not enough for them. The wizards have the legends of the loremasters to compare their own works against, and to goad them on to greater effort. They can see the craftings we made that still ensure, know the limits of what they can manage, and seek feverishly to learn what secret we must have had to draw the power we used. They cannot conceive of a mutual pact, of power given freely and used only sparingly, and at great need.”
“For the duration of the diaspora the wizards sought in study for the key to our power. They are the ones that pushed hardest behind the scenes for the retaking of Felwaithe, and it is they and their agents that have often been in the forefront of the expansion, searching all ruins and structures for signs of our work.”
“The wizards that serve the bloodline of your Duke Hope knew that the Fastness of Mountainfall was once the home of a loremaster, though they knew not my name. They are the ones that supported the Hope bloodline in the passion for conquest, and encouraged the founding of Mordant Keep right at the very base of my home to begin their explorations. They have used the power they take from Gaia to extend their own lives, but as the years go by they are finding it harder to resist the natural order, to purge themselves of the toxins and corruption, the breaking down that is a normal part of things. They are growing desperate.”
“They have spent years encouraging the continual excavation of the lower chambers of Mordant Keep, digging ever deeper into the mountain’s heart. When workers broke into a passage that finally led to the wellspring, they sealed off the passage and have claimed it for themselves, telling not even Duke Hope of their findings. They believe they have found our secret at long last, a secret that will give them the key to true power over the land and eternal life. And they might be right.”
“The wellspring is, essentially, a place where the soul of Gaia has been focused, concentrated and refined. To be within it’s presence is to be immersed in the distilled essence that are all the natural gifts that being at one with Gaia can bring.”
“The wellspring was intended to strengthen the few remnants of the Imperial armies as they journeyed on their way to the final battle with Korontec’s Avatar, Lord Steffan. The armies were of course nowhere near my fastness, but I created a stepping stone that could bring them quickly across the miles directly to a chamber I hollowed out especial for the purpose, and from thence back to their line of march.”
“When the exhausted survivors of the war, the few men and women who remained of the Army of Light and the household guards of the five kings passed through the wellspring, the actual effects were… more than I anticipated. Much more.”
“Worse yet, the effects bred true. Most of the Army of Light perished at the last battle, as you know, but some of the household guards survived to serve as guard and escort to those refugees that fled to the north. Those of you that are descended from those survivors still sometimes are born with gifts that come from the Wellspring of Gaia. The Scout bloodline is what you thought of first, I know, but there are other gifts. The keen eyesight you possess comes from the gift of Gaia. One of your own ancestors once stood within the Wellspring of Gaia before marching off to face Lord Steffan and his Nine Steel Generals.”
“When I crafted the wellspring, I never dreamed… I never thought that such changes would breed true. It was my last desperate attempt to give your people a chance to survive, when I and the other loremasters could not be there to stand beside you. We had our own war to fight, as we struggled to defend the world from Dearclanus, he and the horde of demons he unleashed upon the world at Lord Steffan’s bidding.”
“Here is the final part. The wizards have found the wellspring, yes. They believe it to be the true source of magic in the world, perhaps coming through a portal fro another celestial sphere. They are certain that, if they can but find a way to touch and use the wellspring, they would have all of the power of a loremaster, and perhaps more, for in our age there were many of us to share it and few of them. So they believe.”
“For months they have been engaging in experiments, using the arts of necromancy to find the secret that will let them touch the power directly, to bond to it, and to shape and use it. They still do not understand that it is designed to transform others, it is not the raw power itself. They still do not grasp that what they touch is not some raw power from another world spilling into ours, but the living soul of the entire world, all that is born that has no individual soul of it’s own. The lifeblood of the grass, the trees, stone and sky, wind and rain.”
“No matter what happens next, whatever they do it won’t be of benefit to the world. At best, they will learn how to harness the results of the transformation, and be able to shape the living creatures of earth into whatever form they wish. How long after that would it take such men to create their own monsters to fuel Duke Hopes’ war machine?”
“What I dread is how far they might go in their ignorance to bind the power of the wellspring to them. My greatest fear is that one of them will find a way to bind their own soul to the wellspring, linking each to the other in a permanent bond.”
“If even one of the wizards were to attempt such a thing and succeed, I cannot imagine what consequences there would be. The soul of Gaia is vast beyond imagining, and she has no true memory or consciousness, but she feels, she feels very deeply, and we all of us are a part of her and dwell within her presence at all times. If a wizard were to bind his soul, possessed of all of his malign intent, envy and greed directly to Gaia, and to still possess a living body with a conscious mind to focus and direct his will, it could very well poison the soul of the planet. I just… I cannot imagine what would happen then. I’ve faced a fallen loremaster driven by a mad god to destruction and ruin, but even then what happened was limited to what power mortal flesh could withstand. The greater destruction by far was caused by the demons he unleashed without constraint upon the world. What it would be like to live in a world where every living thing was possessed of evil intent… my imagination cannot grasp the scope of such horror. It’s too big for me to see.”
Terin leaned back for a moment as he tried to memorize all that had been said, and was surprised to discover that all the while the spirit had been talking, he’d been retreating all unknowing until his back was almost pressing against the door.
“I can see that this is good to know, but I still need something I can use to fight the wizards. Who leads them? You said Duke Hope was unaware of what they do, are you sure of that?”
The golden glow emanating from Redwulf seemed to brighten again, nearly as strong as its first appearance. “I tell you true, Baron Trendel, Duke Hope has no knowledge of what his wizards do. He is the true power in Mordant, stronger than all of them, and that is one of the goads that drives them on. They none of them have a single leader. There are five of them, and they call themselves the Circle of the Ebon Flame, a name taken from the legends of, irritatingly enough, one of the working circles I had once been a part of. The five of them each work together, none trusting the others, and none will bow to one of the others as a leader. They are not the only wizards in Felwaithe by far, Malvoris in the next room is as foul as any of them, but these five have been more successful than any others in empowering themselves.”
“I have watched you for a long time, Baron. I know you as well as anyone could. I cannot touch anyone with my power directly unless I act through one with a pure soul that has been blessed with Gaia’s touch, such as Redwulf, but I can see from my crystal chamber. I know you well indeed. From what I have told you of the wizards, what are your thoughts on how to approach them in battle?”
Terin had already been turning things over in his mind, and answered absently as he continued to work it out. “If they don’t have the power unless they use force of will, then they must concentrate. They have to focus, as well, and have a clear vision of exactly what they intend to do. And if the power itself fights them, then they must not be able to improvise all that well. So, they don’t move much, do they? And I’ll wager that anything that might break their concentration will interrupt whatever they’d been starting, force them to begin again.”
The dog nodded it’s head, a strangely human gesture. “Very good. That’s true. They also can only bind into objects what power they can hold themselves, and if they do the binding themselves at the same time that weakens what they can do even more. It’s one of the reasons the five began working in a circle together in the beginning at Argent’s Landing. Still, the power they can seize and bind is enough to burn a man to a crisp if he were to touch it unawares, and breaking a prepared reliquary could unleash enough power to shatter stone. Given enough time, they can make of any place a fortified deathtrap.”
Terin blinked, and said, ‘They can’t improvise at all, can they? They have to rely on previously prepared, painstakingly practiced craftings. That, or bind power into an object to be used at need. Don’t they?”
Redwulf’s jaw dropped open again in an unmistakable grin. “Exactly right, Baron. They cannot improvise. When startled, their first instinct is to reach for an object that has been prepared… and who can prepare for every eventuality?”
“Baron, time is truly short. I have given you my best understanding of what is happening, and what is truly at stake. Redwulf can guide you to the place where his escape took him. Once I am no longer with him, he will gain in health and strength. The earth mother’s gifts will aid him in a swift recovery; he will not delay your journey. Your destination is the ancient stepping stone that I crafted to bring the Army of Light directly to the Wellspring, one small strike force at a time. It is still there, and though overgrown and long forgotten by everyone else, it still works as it did the day I crafted it. All it takes is one who is held close within Gaia’s blessing to open the way, and Redwulf can do so easily.”
“There is one last thing that I can offer you, but it may give you more trouble than aid. I offer this as my last gift to you, to take or not as you choose.”
“When I pass on, I will never again be able to walk upon this world I love, not even as pure spirit. I will be barred from ever again returning. What I can do, however, is share with you some of the images of my life, visions of events I have been present for, trials and changes that I have witnessed.”
“I know your deep thirst for knowledge of the history of your world, and your many reasons for it, but I hesitate in offering this to you. If you accept, what I share with you will rise up during your dreams, but there will be no context to aid in understanding. What you see and hear will be what I saw and heard, but I will not be there to tell you when such events happened, or how they might fit in or even contradict anything that you already think you know.”
“But it is your decision to make. For what is to come, I know that I have given you enough background on what is happening that you will have the chance to work your tactics out to your own satisfaction well before the time comes that you will need to use them.”
“Make your decision swiftly, Baron of Mosley Vale. My grip on this world is loosening rapidly, and when I am gone, the shields I am holding that are preventing Malvoris from listening to us will fall.”