Loral sat in the heavy wood chair running a finger along the grain of the worn table. A gray vacancy filled his eyes; his mind was a lifetime away.
The cold northern breeze slid in the tavern's window, bringing strange smells to Loral's nostrils. It had been two years since Loral last visited Qeynos. Even the air was different.
Black blood from horrors beyond the world of Norrath stained and tarnished Loral's golden armor. A string of leather tied back his grey hair. His dirty left hand circled an untouched goblet of wine, the black scar of his palm a deep contrast to his pale skin. On his back sat the burning shield of Fire, the phylactery of Xuzl. Loral felt the demon smile even now.
A wave of the cold northern wind blew in as a dark-skinned figure cloaked and hooded in blue opened the door and entered the tavern. He stepped towards Loral's table on soft hide sandals. A small silver medallion cut in the shape of a crescent moon hung around his neck and three red dots sat below his left eye. His skin had wrinkled and he walked with a slight limp but otherwise he was the same priest Loral met decades ago in Felwithe.
Ciric sat down at the table, his eyes fixed on the golden-armored elf.
"Your father is alive. Death will not find him for many years." Loral let out a breath he hadn't realized he held in. Ciric continued, his voice even and calm. "He is severely underfed. His muscles are weakened. He cannot stand. His left eye is blind."
Loral's eyes filled with tears. He couldn't imagine what his father faced in the depths of Hate and Torment. No mortal ever survived for so long in places like that.
"He hasn't spoken. He doesn't yet seem to recognize this place." Ciric put his hand over Loral's wrist. "We are taking care of him, my friend. We will take care of him as long as we have to."
"Now tell me how you found him."
Loral looked up, light streaks of pale skin drawn from his eyes down to the side of his mouth.
"Xuzl told me." Loral let the words hang in the air while he watched his mentor's reaction. These three words could have the priest excommunicated from the church if not executed as a heretic. If any one man understood the pain behind these words, it was Ciric. Loral reached into a pouch at his belt and drew out a small leather-bound book.
"I found this in the library of Tanaan. It is my father's journal." Loral kept his hand over the small journal. "He began writing it when he joined the Emerald Guardians of Telethin over four hundred years ago.
"It seemed my father had many of the same problems with his kingdom that I have with mine. Many were slain by his hand under the order of loyalty and valor. He quickly lost stomach for it.
"During the wars of Telethin he drew his blades again. When the elves reached Faydwer he fought with the armies of Kelethin against the goblins and orcs that wished to send the elves back into the sea. His tale ended but I have more journals to discover.
"Xuzl learned of my father as he invaded my dreams. He sent his agents of Fire far and wide to find anything he could use against me. He found much.
"Over one hundred years ago a plane-walker broke into a church in the Plane of Hate and stole an artifact of the dark priests of Innoruuk. The rogue returned to Norrath with the artifact and hoped to sell it but the danger of the artifact grew in his mind and he sold it to my father for copper.
"The dark priests called fourth a creature of Hate, filling a cauldron with their own lifeblood and once released, this agent of Rancor began hunting down this hammer.
"Tall and covered in leathery blue skin, the agent of Hate hunted across the lands with burning red eyes under his black cloak and hood. He carried a long jagged shard of metal from another world. Leather from the skin of a wyrm wrapped its handle.
"The cloaked agent strode past the guards of Felwithe like a cold shadow. My father never stood a chance.
"My father found himself in the shadowed world of Hate, hearing whispers of paranoia that blew through the iron city like a chilled wind. The demonic hunter smiled over jagged pointed teeth when he saw the pain and fright in my father. The agent of Innoruuk plunged his long dagger into my father's heart.
"Death is strange in the Planes. With so many ways to travel, death comes differently to all. For my father, death was exile. The hunter threw his broken body into a pile of others that rotted on every street corner of the dark city of Hate.
"Some, when they face death, are judged by the even hand of the Tribunal. Some, however, find themselves lost in the chaos and horror of Saryn's cells in the Plane of Torment. There is no justice there, no judgment. There is only pain and misery. That is where Xuzl found my father.
"Xuzl is old and his spy network is vast. There is little information he cannot find. He was surprised to find my father alive, deep in the cells of Torment. He was surprised and delighted.
"Even the twisted horror-masters of Torment didn't know why my father was there. This didn't stop them from breaking him apart and rebuilding him every day for one hundred years. Xuzl's spies found him there, broken and drained of every ounce of life.
"Xuzl saw the state my father was in and knew the pain it would cause me to see him that way. He also knew it was the only way he could get what he wanted."
"What is that?" Ciric's voice sounded strange after Loral's description.
"Release." Loral's eyes stayed on his drink. "He wants to be free upon Norrath again. He wants to feel the ground die under his feet. He wants the air to scream in protest against his very being." Loral looked up to his friend and mentor.