Fog crept in slowly from the east blocking out all from sight. With it came an eery stillness to the cool night air. Like an impenetrable barrier it moved, seemingly encompassing everything in it's path. First the forest, and then the city sable. Next came the small houses on the outer edge of town, and then it continued it's endless track towards the commerce section of town. It blanketed the small town of Ik'ith Naimor with it's suffocating embrace.
Larem watched this from the window of his tavern room lost in thought. How it did remind him of his past. The dense and dark presence that hunted him, vast unknown and the endless strangling grasp that from which there was no escape. So lost in his mirid of self revelation that he didn't notice his brother enter the room.
Not that many would be able to notice an elf rogue whom had been trained for decades on the tactics of stealth and stalking. Oshorin was good at what he did, and for that most people chose to stay out of his way. Not that many in this area of the world would dare look twice at an elf, for they were as rare here as was the fish of the great ocean.
Oshorin stood an average height yet was considerably shorter than his brother Larem. He has wide pale blue eyes with a tinge of a smokey color, and short blond hair lies closely cropped on his head. Smooth bones line the outer edges of his face with almost flawless beauty. He has a thin fine growth of hair growing on his chin, and also has a small almost unnoticeable scar on his neck.
Oshorin glided across the small room and placed his hand upon Larem's right shoulder, snapping him back from his hallucination with a jolt. Oshorin stared at his blood brother for a moment thinking back to the day when they had become what they are now, brothers in life and in death. So much of his father shone deep within the cold blue eyes that peered back at him. The longing for answers, and the frigid determination for revenge. He couldn't help but think that Larem too might end up with the same fate handed to his father Nerig.
Three decades had pasted since that day that Nerig set out to destroy that which had so mutilated his life, the vile dictator of Griffon's Nest, Kralgar Bonesnapper. All of which seemed to pass in the blink of an eye for the elf. One day Larem was but a babe without a care in the world, and the next he was a grown man harboring a twisted ball of rage bent on continuing his father's quest.
There had been days when Oshorin had regretted having young Larem around, times when it was not popular to have elves in circulation in regular society, let alone the fact that a grown elf traveling with a young barbarian boy made their stay in each new place shorter than the last. Not being able to live in each's rightful place because of the other. Times when as the years passed the growing lad had started many of fights over his elfin brother.
Nerig Frozencrow, the father of young Larem, had saved Oshorin's life, so he felt that it was his duty to repay his debt by looking after his son, and hopefully keeping him from making the same mistakes his father did. All in all, Oshorin was glad to have someone he could trust, someone with whom he could spend his passing days with.
"Brother," Larem said, blinking to ease his dried eyes. "Have you good news for me?"
Many years earlier when Oshorin and Nerig traveled together and fought the rogue whom had killed Nerig's wife, Oshorin had suffered a vicious cut to his throat, which left him almost speechless. The blow would have killed him had not Nerig used his magic to save him. It could not totally cure him however. But Larem could understand him since they had been together for as long as Larem could remember.
"I do brother," Oshorin choked out. "I have scouted ahead towards the town of waterdeep, and I cannot detect any signs that anyone is looking for us, I do believe that our rouse of backtracking has fooled them."
"Good," Larem replied. The thought of traveling without the threat of battle eased him some. For months upon end they had traveled and fought, traveled and fought, always did their pursuers find them and they would have to fight again. Being a barbarian, it was in Larem's nature to fight, and he enjoyed it, but the thought of a moments peace warmed his heart, for he had other reasons for visiting their next destination that Oshorin didn't know about.
Letting out a sigh of relief, Larem said, "Brother, when we get to Waterdeep, we must seek out Khelben Blackstaff as the sage of the river instructed. She said only he can give us the answers we seek."
"Yes," Oshorin said hanging his head in exhaustion. "How did Kralgar cheat death?"
With that, both brothers unpacked their concealed weapons and unstrapped their breastplates and other various armor and lay down to sleep.
As Larem lie in bed waiting for the sweet embrace of sleep to over take him, he dreamt of what lie ahead. A meeting with the high mage in Waterdeep, Khelben Blackstaff. Answers were needed, and hopefully would come easy. He'd heard the stories many times from his aunt before she died, and from Oshorin as he had recalled the tale of the battle for vengeance and peace. His father had left him in the care of Oshorin, and went to take out the wicked Kralgar. The fight had been a gruesome one and left many dead. The spirits to whom Nerig had called upon came with unmerciful wrath and destroyed Kralgar and his court. During the fight Nerig had also taken a fatal blow and didn't last the night.
Amazing as it might have seemed that one man could defeat the leader of Griffon's Nest, his spiritual advisor and seven of his closest bodyguards, it was not as amazing as the last words from his father. "Kralgar has cheated death," Nerig had gasp. "We all are doomed."
True to his words Kralgar had cheated death, for he still reigned in the barbarian town. After several days he was seen once again in town, and his grip became tighter upon the people of Griffon's Nest. He hung men for little or no reason at all daily, he taxed the hard working people into poverty, and forced many into slave labor. Times had grown hard and no one could explain how he had died and yet still lived, and those who asked would find themselves the next to die. He had spies everywhere and no one was safe.
Kralgar himself seemed to be stronger and younger than he had been in the days before his battle with the enraged shaman that and sought revenge for the death of his wife. He also had seemed to have stopped the aging process entirely because he had not aged a day since.
So many questions needed to be answered. How did he do this? How do you defeat him? How can one man be so evil? Khelben hopefully could answer these questions for the duo of brave souls.
Next he started to recall the journeys of the last couple years him and Oshorin had shared. The battles they had fought in and the endless track of misery that seemed to emanate from Kralgar as he began to take over the outlying territories and villages surrounding Griffon's Nest. It seemed no one was safe, and those who thought they could defy him became the next to be hung from town walls or to have their heads placed upon poles along the roadways.
Many places had they searched for answers, and it wasn't until recently that they got their first break. A demented mage had sent them to a secret location to confront the sage of the lake. It was not an easy trip and even harder to get answers from the greedy sage, but she did point them to Waterdeep and Khelben. Hopefully the price they'd payed for it was not in vain.
Larem rolled over onto his side as his mind again shifted to his other objective in Waterdeep. A very beautiful young elf named Alurissi. They had met about a year ago in a far away town that was bent for destruction by the hand of Kralgar.
She worked to heal the wounded and to try to keep the forces of the barbarian horde at bay with her magical powers of nature. She commanded massive oak trees to uproot and move to surround the horde and the town. But her powers were still weak for she was only a novice druid, and in the end she had failed to save the town from demise. Larem and Oshorin had fought with the town's folk in this little war. For three days straight they battled the minions of Kralgar. Not all of the horde were from the barbarian race, but many human mercenaries intent on the spoils of war and with pockets full of gold had joined the battle.
As the town fell, Larem and Oshorin were once again forced to flee in order to continue their quest to find the answers Larem so desperately needed. Larem had been so captivated by her beauty that he offered to take her with them, though he knew that the presence of another elf, and especially a young inexperienced one would greatly jeopardize their mission. She had refused however, and instead set out on her own for Waterdeep. Of course Oshorin was in the dark about these things, Larem knew he had enough on his mind as it was. Not to mention the fact that he felt a tad embarrassed being a silly boy with a crush on an elf.
He envisioned her face, her large luminous silver eyes, her long silver hair, her smooth pale skin. He knew elves were the embodiment of beauty, but Alurissi seemed to him to be the very thing beauty was based upon. He couldn't wait to see her again, to touch her face, to hold her in his embrace. And then he drifted off to sleep.
Just before sunrise the fog had cleared and once again the town and the surrounding forests could be seen. Larem felt as though an immense weight had been lifted from upon his shoulders, and he was renewed with strength to face the day long trek that would lead them into the town of Waterdeep.
Oshorin seemed to be in rather good spirits today also. He gladly trudged out of their small room they rented and down the stairs to pay the innkeeper before Larem had fully packed his belongings in his satchel. He next went to the stables and retrieved their horses and was standing outside waiting for Larem when he emerged from the tavern.
"I am ready brother," Larem said taking the reigns of his horse and mounting.
"Let us be off then," Oshorin replied doing the same.
The sun shone down upon the roadway through a cloudless sky making the day very warm. Only the occasional forest upon the path could provide them with shade to escape the heat. Neither seemed to mind the heat very much, for they both were intent upon their goal, and never before had they been so close to finding the answers to the riddles that would bring about peace for them.
The day passed rather quickly and they were upon the gates of the town by sunset. Not once upon their trek did they come across any of Kralgar's hired mercenaries intent on killing them for a bounty. For this both brothers were happy.
Upon entering the town, they found a room in the Selune's Smile tavern and decided to wait until morning to rendevous with Khelben. Oshorin treated them both to a meal of fried potatoes and a rather tasty ale from the bar. After several helpings of each, he decided he wanted to check out the town a bit, and left Larem in the tavern.
Larem on the other hand decided to head out in search of the elven woman whom had stolen his heart. He left the tavern and headed south upon the Street of Silks until he came upon the town bazaar. Quite shocked was he to see an angry mob rudely shouting insults at a slender figure whom stood upon a bucket in the middle of the square.
"Good people of Waterdeep, you must believe my words, that after he is done with the north that Kralgar will turn his sights this way, to take over this town, I have seen what has happened to the proud whom think they are above his reach," Alurissi said. "We must band together and start a militia to head out and stop him before he can get here."
"The barbarian cannot take such a great city as Waterdeep, we fear him not," a man in the mob shouted and began to throw rotten vegetables at the elf. A roar erupted from the crowd and they all joined in on the plummeting of the elf.
"You do not know the power he possess!" Alurissi shouted.
"We do not listen to your kind elf, begone from our town!" another man in the crowd shouted. The mob then began to advance upon the defenseless elf with fists raised and some weapons drawn.
Larem was quick to react, he pushed his way through the crowd and sprinted towards the elf. A shocked look crossed her face as Larem grabbed her around the waist and flung her over his shoulder. He continued his sprint down an alley and away from the mob that was bent on removal of the elf. For many blocks he ran, and neither said a word. It wasn't until the sounds of the townsmen died that he stopped and set her down.
"Quite a way with people you have," Larem said between breaths.
"Kind sir, it is good to see you," Alurissi said curtsying politely. "Yet it is sad that they would not listen to me. They do not realize the horror that advances every day closer to their gates."
So lost for words about the truthfulness of her words and her radiating beauty he did nothing bout stare at her for a minute or two. Then realizing he was staring he recovered himself and said, "You know you look like a spoiled garden, let us get you cleaned up."
Blushing Alurissi replied, "I do, don't I. Such a rude thing to do, throwing vegetables I mean." She turned from him then and started off down the alley towards the road. Larem stared after her for a moment and then started off to catch up.
After they had left the alley Alurissi led Larem to the small cottage she was staying in. The owner was a small man who sold scrolls and maps of the areas. Alurissi explained that they had met on her journey towards Waterdeep when he was out mapping the fog forest to the north. So delighted was he to have company on his travel that he offered her a place to stay while she was in town.
It wasn't much, three rooms separated by a thin wall of small stones, and two windows. It served the owner well it would seem though because he wore expensive velvet clothing and maintained a prominent position in the community. When Larem asked him why he didn't buy a bigger place, his only reply was he is gone a lot surveying and mapping the areas that he didn't need much while he was in town.
Alurissi cleaned herself up while Larem set in the main room of the cottage and sipped from the tea she had brewed for him. She emerged from the joining room when she was done, and Larem's mouth fell open, she was even more beautiful than he had remembered. She wore a thin gossamer gown lined with white lace, and had a yellow flower stuck in her hair above her left ear.
"What is it?" Alurissi asked.
"Um, nothing, I had just forgot how beautiful you were," Larem replied sheepishly. Inside he scolded himself for being so blunt and for staring at her like a spoiled school boy with a crush.
"Surely you jest," Alurissi said blushing. "I am not beautiful, and I do believe you are spilling your tea."
Larem looked down and realized that in fact he was spilling his tea, so caught up in her he had forgotten about the cup in his hand. He quickly righted the cup and blushed. He knew this was going bad already. But being mostly a loner and always on the move, he had never seen the way men deal with women they love.
"So what brings you this far south brave warrior?" Alurissi said. "Has Kralgar gained more land in the past months than I had assumed?"
"No, it's not that," Larem said. He then went into the tale of his travels with Oshorin since their last meeting, and how the sage had sent them to Waterdeep to seek out the council of Khelben Blackstaff. Alurissi listened intently and then began to cry.
"What is it?" Larem asked.
"It's just that this whole war of his is taking it's toll on me," Alurissi wept. "I had hoped that the people would listen to me and mount a force to strike out and stop him before he could destroy anymore. For weeks now I've preached to them about the threat that sulks closer with each passing day, but they will not listen to me. They are either too proud, or too stupid to realize that this threat is greater than the mighty town of Waterdeep."
"Kralgar must be stopped," Larem growled. "I will stop him, and free the people, and bring about vengeance for my father's death."
"If your father could not stop him, how can you?" Alurissi asked.
"I do not yet know, but I'm hoping Khelben can provide the answers for me."
"I hope that for us all, that he can," Alurissi said earnestly.
"Come with us tomorrow to see him, I know your presence would set my mind at ease," Larem said staring hard into her eyes. He hoped she would accept, not for love of the people or love of the forests or anything other than for him. If only she would tell him she liked him, he would be able to move mountains.
"I'm afraid I cannot," Alurissi said. "There are other matters that require my attention, and are none the less important."
Larem nodded his head at her answer, and a strange quiet fell upon the cottage as neither spoke again for quite some time. Did she not like me? Larem thought. What could be more important than finding the answers needed to defeat the beast of the north?
"It's getting late," Larem said breaking the silence. "I should be getting back to our room, I'm sure Oshorin is getting worried about me by now." He had too much on his mind right now to stay with her any longer. The visit had not gone like he had hoped, and now he feared the worst, that she didn't want anything to do with him.
"I should be getting some sleep myself," Alurissi said as she walked him to the door. "Until our paths cross again," she said as she closed the door.
He walked slowly back down the Street of Silks towards the tavern, thinking hard about what had just happened between him and the woman he loved. Even slower did he climb the stairs inside. When Larem entered the room he had rented in Selune's Smile he seen Oshorin was already there waiting for him. With only a glance at his face, Larem could tell he was mad.
"Did you get what you sought?" Oshorin asked.
"Huh? What?" Larem replied dumbfounded.
"Did you get what you were after, or did she turn you away?" Oshorin asked.
"You were spying on me?" Larem said.
"I wouldn't call it spying, I would call it my duty. Your father trusted me to look after you, and that is what I do."
"I don't like to be spied upon," Larem fumed. "And for your information she doesn't seem to be interested in me."
"It is to be expected," Oshorin said matter-of-factly. "She is an elf, and you are a barbarian, the two do not mix."
"Well then how do you explain us?" Larem asked defiantly.
"We are different, and you know what I mean. Enough talk, we have an important day ahead of us, now we sleep."
Larem was too caught up in his mixed emotions and thoughts to argue, so he lay down and went to sleep, hoping that the events of the night were just a passing dream.
Waking in a stir of motion Larem rolled out of bed onto the floor and grabbed his sword. Someone was in the room. Oshorin too had sensed this presence and had assumed a similar move and was on the other side of the bed with daggers in each hand. They both stared at the figure in the middle of the room. It was early morning and not yet had the first rays of sunlight graced the horizon so both were waiting for their eyes to adjust to the darkness to see whom it was who had intruded upon their slumber.
With a few soft spoken words in a language neither understood a brightly glowing ball sprung to life in the room revealing the figure whom stood before them. He was a tall man clad in dark colored robes. He carried a staff at his side and his face was hidden in shadows underneath the hood of his robes.
"Hello Frozencrow brothers, I'm told you seek counsel with me," the man said.
"Who are you?" Larem asked.
"I am Khelben Blackstaff, the mage whom the sage of the lake sent you to find," the man replied.
"How did you know that?" Larem asked relaxing a little bit from his fighting stance.
"I know many things. Such is the way of my order." He sat down upon a chair that appeared from out of nowhere by the simple gesture of his hand and continued, "I know why you are here, and I have the answers you seek. You want to know how Kralgar cheated death and lives to this day to destroy all that he can."
"Yes," Larem said while placing his sword back with in it's sheath. Oshorin too returned his weapons to the hidden pockets of his tunic. Both brothers sat down upon the bed to listen to what the mage had to say.
"The answers you seek you already know. Answer me this master rogue, how could one man kill so many in a single battle alone? How could he call upon fierce spirits to feast upon Kralgar and his guards when he could not do so to destroy the rogue that had killed his wife?"
"I do not know," Oshorin said searching for answers to the riddle the mage and flung at him.
"I believe you do know. How could one man live for so many years without aging a single day? How could he gain in strength so much in a short time? Why does he kill at least one person himself everyday?"
"No! It can't be true. It is only a rumor spread by school children to frighten their classmates," Oshorin gasp.
"It is true my elfin friend. Kralgar has a bracelet enchanted by a lich with which he steals the life force of others to keep himself alive. He has invoked the curse of Akrurth," Khelben said.
"What's the curse of Akrurth?" Larem asked.
"This curse is one in which he can steal the souls from individuals and embody himself with. No one can stand up to such a devastating power. Anyone whom he touches gets the life drained from them and dies. This would be the case of the bodyguards whom your father was given credit for slaying, and such is the case of each and every person he kills everyday. With each life he grows stronger and younger."
"How could he come upon such a vile artifact?" Oshorin asked. "I thought all were destroyed centuries ago."
"It would appear as though a certain lich has found the formula to create them once again," Khelben said shaking his head in despair. "The price Kralgar paid for such an artifact is even worse than the actual use of such an item."
"And what price is that?" Larem asked feeling a little out of the loop of the conversation.
"The price he paid is the only ancient artifact that was strong enough to give the wearer the protection needed to fend off the attack of the curse, and in doing so was able to slay the wearer of the bracelet."
"Then if he has paid the lich the artifact then there is no hope left," Oshorin stated.
"No, there is still hope, for the artifact is not yet in the hands of Kralgar to give to the merciless lich. It won't be too long though before he will have it, and all of mankind will be doomed to his whim."
"Where might we find this artifact? And how much time do we have?" Larem asked.
"The artifact was said to lay within the fog forest north of Waterdeep," Oshorin said.
"Aye, that is where it lies, and the time you have to acquire it, I'd say about five minutes time lies between now and when the forces of Kralgar lay their hands upon it," Khelben stated.
"Five minutes? Then we are all doomed, for the forest is half a days journey from here," Larem cried out.
"Half a day for a mere mortal, but I have control over magical forces with which we can be there in an instant. One has already found it though and is attempting to keep the forces of Kralgar at bay. It won't be long though before the evil horde becomes too numerous for her."
"Alurissi!" Larem exclaimed
"Yes, being the wise elf she is, she set out early in the morning for it. She did not believe that the tales of the ancients were mere rumors, and she recognized what had become of Kralgar. She came for my aid at first, and I fear I could not give it to her. Next she tried to convince the citizens of Waterdeep to form an army to fight back the forces of Kralgar while she stole the artifact so that Kralgar could never acquire it."
"Will she, die?" Larem asked.
"She will die," Khelben replied. "She is alone fighting an outnumbering horde of enemies all loyal to Kralgar and with one intent on their minds, to acquire the artifact and return it to their master."
"I won't let her die!" Larem exclaimed.
"I won't let you go alone brother, I am to watch over you." Oshorin turned to the mage and said, "Master mage, please send us to her to aid in the struggle."
"I will gladly do this, for I am going too. Now that I fully understand who is behind this and what his intentions are, I can not stand aside and watch. The fate of so many depends upon this that I must go to help make sure that it doesn't fall into the hands of the lich whom would most certainly destroy it." Khelben rose from the chair, which disappeared as soon as he was standing and said, "We fight now, prepare yourselves." He then uttered a complex magical phrase that sent the three flinging through space and time into the very heart of the battle.
Feeling slightly dizzy and disorientated, Larem regained his composure and glanced around at his surroundings. True to his words the mage Khelben Blackstaff had transported all three into the thick of battle. Warriors and mercenaries were all around closing in upon them, and beside them stood the slim elfin figure whom he had adored.
"Look out!" Alurissi cried as a volley of arrows sliced through the air towards them. She quickly uttered a few words and a magical barrier sprung forth in front of them deflecting the arrows before they could reach their mark.
"Alurissi," Larem said, "we've come to aid you, you should have told me what you planed. I would have helped you."
"Talk later, fight now." Alurissi gestured in the air and a massive tree fell over upon some advancing mercenaries crushing them.
Larem drew his sword and started to hack and slash his way among the relentless assault that hurdled itself at them. Oshorin fought at his side stabbing foe after foe. Magical rays of light shot over their heads and struck down many men from the hands of Khelben. Alurissi cast her magic too, protecting the quartet from volleys of arrows and destroying those whom were close enough to take the full blunt of her nature enchantments.
For a time it seemed as though there would be no end to the fighting and dying. And then they broke free, the path towards their east was open to escape, and all were glad to have this avenue with which they could safely turn their backs. Yet still the horde advanced and pushed them back.
"This fight cannot be won," Khelben said between fearsome spells.
"I agree," Alurissi said. "I had hoped to beat them here and escape before their arrival, such was not the case."
"We cannot give up," Larem said as he struck down yet another attacker.
"Right you are young Frozencrow," Khelben said. "Take the artifact and go, we will hold them off until you have escaped."
"I won't leave you here, there are too many of them," Larem snarled.
"Go brother, we will cover your escape, you must get the artifact to safety, and then use it to slay Kralgar." Oshorin circled around his closet foe and struck a fatal blow into his back. "Go brother," he said.
"Yes, go. You must survive. It is your destiny to finish what your father started," Alurissi said. She cast yet another magical spell to ward off flying spears and arrows from the group. She then handed Larem the ancient artifact and turned back to the battle.
"I will not leave you, we can defeat them," Larem cried.
"There are too many, go now," Alurissi said. "You must live, for you are the last hope the people have left, as long as you have the artifact you have the power to withstand the curse and defeat Kralgar."
"Go now brother, we will hold them off for as long as we can," Oshorin said. "Do not look back, run and find Kralgar so that this battle was not in vain."
Feeling like a total fool for leaving his friends to the fate of such overwhelming odds, Larem turned and ran from the forest. He ran from the battle, and he ran from his friends. He had to find Kralgar. He was the last hope of the people Alurissi had said. He wasn't about to let them down.
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