Chapter 19: The Test

Loral remembered vividly the day his neighbors brought him to the church of Tunare and introduced him to Yeolaren. He and his father had often gone to the ceremonies that Yeolaren preceded over which had always intrigued the young lad. That day he felt nothing. The night before, while the rest of Felwithe slept, a demon came from the pits of Hate and stole his father away in their own house. Standing there on the cold marble floors of the church, facing the silver armored high priest of Tunare, Loral had never felt so alone in the world. Loral felt that exact same way when he stood deep in the Temple of Veeshan buried under millions of tons of rock and ice and looked into the large yellow eyes of Lendiniara the Keeper.

Two ancient white wurms and two smaller red drakes flanked the Keeper. Each one of these guardians held enough power to burn Felwithe to the ground in a matter of minutes but they were dwarfed in size and in power by Lendiniara. The ancient dragon of the western halls stood fourteen meters tall and more than fifty meters from tale to horn. Great winds blew Loral's green robes against him as Lendiniara stretched her great wings and quickly retracted them back to her sides. The fast movement of such a large creature seemed wholly impossible and Loral found his mind had trouble grasping what he had just seen.

Images and words poured through Loral's head in a flood that soon relaxed as Lendiniara found the level of communication that Loral's mind was capable of handling. Loral saw a black stone doorway to the east of the ancient temple. Behind there, Lendiniara explained, Loral would be tested. He should expect to be tested in mind, body and spirit, the internal voice of Lendiniara continued, the testing halls had forged the mightiest warriors, priests and spellcasters that had ever dared to walk in front of the dragonkin, but most found only death or insanity.

As Loral walked slowly to the main halls of the Temple of Veeshan, past the wurms and drakes that had been guarding the halls since before the Elven nations had crossed the Ocean of Tears, he tried to remind himself what was at stake. Meeting the Coldain dwarves had shown Loral the tyranny of the giant nations of Kael Drakkal and luckily had revealed their plot against the Plane of Growth. Knowing of the long-standing wars between the giants and the dragons, Loral had hoped to seek their wisdom and strength to help him protect Tunare and her children. Loral's greatest wish would be to see a formal alliance between the Claws of Veeshan, guardians of this temple, and the Guardians of Tunare within the Plane of Growth. The combined power would be enough to defeat the giants for good and perhaps bring peace to many of Norrath's people. As Tunare's hand on Norrath, it would be Loral's greatest accomplishment to be the vehicle for this alliance. Perhaps then the pain of his actions would be removed.

These thoughts left Loral's mind completely when he faced the black stone doorway that led to the Halls of Testing. Loral couldn't imagine what led past that door. Memories of Innoruuk's tug on his spirit and Trakanon's lifetime of solitude flowed past as he looked towards the ancient standard of the Claws imprinted on the door. For another few moments Loral stared at the symbol, then he placed his hand on the door and entered.

A blast of hot air and smoke blew past Loral as he stepped into the halls of testing. The smell of sulfur burned his nose and the screams of claws scraping on stone sent chills up and down his back. Loral was in the center of a large U shaped room. The stone floors and walls had been blown smooth over thousands of years of erosion. Two stone staircases on either side led down to a large sunken room with three doors. Large gusts of hot wind blew against Loral, but one sight pushed him harder than any physical blast. Standing at the top of the south staircase was Sever Doomreaper.

Loral was very familiar with Sever's reputation and had even seen the shadowknight compete in a barbaric contest in the Arena in South Antonica. Sever was a mercenary of Innoruuk, offering his services to a variety of groups against a variety of foes for a variety of prices. His power both as a swordsman and as a practitioner of the dark arts were known to every regular drunk in every bar of Norrath. Loral had no doubt that these tales were true. Held loosely in one hand, blade pointed into the ground was Sever's blade, Innoruuk's Curse, a gift by the dark god for only his most faithful and powerful followers. Blackened armor covered in runes adorned his slender frame. Tucked under his arm was the mask of a demon, it's appearance alone a thing of nightmares. Seeing Loral's discomfort, Sever smiled.

Loral was baffled by the confrontation. While he had no doubt in his faith to Tunare or the powers bestowed upon him, Loral also knew there was no way he would be able to defeat the dark knight. As if in answer to this thought, the voice of Lendiniara once again filled his mind.

"All who choose to walk our halls are tested equally here. You, a cleric of light and this one a minion of darkness are two halves of a whole. Only while acting as one will you survive the tests"

All became clear to Loral. Though the thought of such an alliance still disturbed him, he must work with Sever in order to defeat whatever beasts roamed these halls. Loral would have to use the powers of Tunare to heal a weapon of Innoruuk. Loral was aware that he and Sever were not alone. All around them, adventurers from all over Norrath stood and prepared to be tested. Before Loral could finish the thought, one of the three great doors opened and out stormed the first of hundreds of ancient guardian wurms that Loral would face with his new allies over the coming weeks. Loral placed his hand over the warden symbol of Tunare around his neck and whispered a prayer just as the first wave of fire hit the party.

Two moons later, Loral stepped out of the tower that separated the dragon city of Skyshrine from the gulf of the Cobalt Scar. His dark blue/green armor, forged and enchanted by the powerful Leoch sorcerers of the Claws, reflected the water in the gulf below. Though the battles had been more difficult than he could describe, Loral had gained much from the dragons during the testing. The trials had made enemies of friends and friends of enemies. He had found protection where he least expected and where he once had found solid ground had now become a vacuum. Loral had learned a valuable lesson, a lesson he had heard many times from his mentor Ciric but never fully understood until these recent battles. There was a great balance in the worlds of Norrath. A great balance that Loral must learn to utilize rather than to fight. Only by working within this balance could Loral hope to protect his friends and his God. It was a lesson that changed Loral forever.