Chapter 20: Vindication

A warm breeze glided through the quiet tree limbs, rustling leaves and sending a wave through the tall grass of the grove. Loral sat at the top of a small hill looking down at the wonders that only the presence of the Mother could create. Four tall white unicorns gently grazed upon the thick grass. Their wise and patient eyes beheld Loral as they chewed and for a moment all of Loral's past troubles left him. For a second he felt the true beauty of this place. He placed his hand on the earth below him and felt the energy of life that spread out from the tower, gateway to the Plane of Growth a short distance away. The energy spread through him and he exhaled feeling his tention flow out through him. Loral hadn't felt such peace in years. The sights, the sounds, the feelings, all blended together into one perfect experience.

The far away clash of metal against metal brought him out of his trance and he remembered why he was here. A short few kelometers away, the Frost Giant war machine was in full production, preparing for a war with the minions of the Plane of Growth. Loral had scouted the area a few days earlier and had seen the enormous structures and great outposts that were being built. He knew that action had to come soon if the war was to be stopped.

A half hour later, Loral stood outside of the eastern doorway to Kael Drakkal. Two guards stood outside the great stone cavern, their large weapons resting against the walls. Loral's thoughts turned around his plan for defeating the enormous foes, no easy task by himself, when he noticed a number of scarlet lines down the neck of one of the guards and a large dark puddle around it's feet. Taking out his gnomish scryer, he zoomed in on the giant's and saw the source of those trails. Dozens of arrows had the giant pinned to the wall behind him, it's lifeblood spilt to the ground below. Knowing the carefully planned deception would not last long, Loral hurried into the city.

There was a great commotion just inside the city gates. Adventurers from all the great cities in Norrath stood ready, donned in the most spectacular armor and brandishing the greatest weapons in Norrath's history. Though the races of the hunters ranged from tiny gnomes to huge orgres, they all shared a symbol of a white flower upon their breasts. Loral recognized the symbol for the Cult of the Lotus, a powerful guild of hunters. Loral had battled beside them when their paths had crossed before and knew their great strength in such matters. The skill with which the giant guards had been slain was no longer a surprise to him.

As Loral passed through them, he spotted Azile, dressed in the red robes of the Icicle, talking to a sharp eyed gnome mage. Azile turned and smiled at Loral. Loral suddenly felt the sting of a blade jabbed into his side. Turning quickly he beheld the slender figure and wide smile of Aleustria the Ranger. With a shout of excitement he embraced his old friend having not seen her since their travels in the lands of Kunark many seasons earlier. From the incredibly fine chain armor and the glowing blades in her hands, it was obvious that life had been good for her since joining the Cult. Before they could spend any more time reminiscing. The attack began.

Loral had never witnessed such an attack. Giants were confronted and slaughtered before he had time to speak one prayer. Kromrif guards burst into ash from the powerful spells of the great wizards. Within minutes, the team stood outside the northern arena of Kael, lair of the great Clerics of Zek and pathway to the Church of the war god. With little delay the clerics that had caused Loral such concern were dragged out into the courtyard and cut down. They were of little concern to the Lotus Cult who had only two targets in mind for this attack.

An agile monk of the party, known for his ability to draw out attackers from any position using many arts of deception ran to the north down a long icy bridge. The warriors stood ready, their healers behind them prepared to heal the great wounds they would soon face. Seconds later the monk returned and on his heel was the sole guardian of Zek himself, Derekor the Vindicator.

Three weeks later, Loral was back in Felwithe in the chambers of his teacher, Yeloaren. Loral described the fall of not only the priests of Zek and even the mighty Vindicator, but also of the very king of Kael himself, King Vlantious Tormax. The Vindicator was only half of the goal of Lotus Cult that day, Loral explained. In one single attack, the entire political structure of Kael from both the religious sect and the royal court had fallen. Thurgadin was safe and the war against Growth had been quickly forgotten.

"This is a great victory, my friend. It is these selfless actions you have taken that has led to this day. Tunare has smiled upon you and upon us all. It is your action in these matters that has led the Church and the Court of Felwithe to ask once again for your service in another matter." Yeolaren spoke carefully, Loral noticed. "The wizard Al'Kabor has released a gateway to the moon of Luclin. As we speak, agents of all known empires are traveling to these unknown lands. The Court is concerned with what may be found up there and what may find us should it choose to travel back down. We need those faithful to the Church to learn more of these lands. Your skills in the matters of Velious show you to be the perfect choice."

Loral knew there was more not being said. While his victory in defending the Plane of Growth was not in doubt, his past actions had placed them in an uncomfortable situation. The Court of Felwithe was never comfortable with his alliance with the Claws of Veeshan and the Church of Tunare had not forgotten the death of Idoru and his fall into the hands of Innoruuk. Sending him so far away was a perfect situation for them. They stood much to gain from the new world and little to lose should he fail.

Loral quickly dismissed much of these thoughts when he remembered his reason for being here. Had Felwith thought so little of him there is no way they would give him the gift he was about to receive. Should he still be dark to Tunare's eye, She would simply not allow it. He took in a deep breath to reduce his nervousness as he and Yeloaren walked down into the main halls of the Church of Felwithe. Together they stood at the large oak doors that lead to the first church of Tunare. Yeloaren put a hand on his shoulder, as he had done decades earlier when Loral first swore his oath to Tunare and became an acolite in her service. The door opened and at the head of the church stood the council of the Church, the chancellor of the Court of Paladins and King Tearis Thex himself. Loral stood straight and prepared himself to swear his oath again, this time as a High Priest of Tunare.

Cold ice blew against the cliff that overlooked Cobalt Scar. On a large rock nearby, the sorceress Azile mediated. Loral, holding his cloaks tight against him from the chilling wind, climbed the rock and sat next to her. She wore a golden robe this day, adorned with the symbol of a white lotus. Though somewhat concerned by the unknown motives of the Cult of the Lotus, Loral was still happy for Azile's acceptance into the selective group. Likewise, Azile smiled when she saw the symbol of a High Priest of Tunare that hung around Loral's neck next to the tooth of Trakanon. The brightness of the moon of Luclin above them seemed to grab their attention at the same time and they both turned to gaze upon it.

"The world will never be the same now," Azile said coldly. "Who knows what evils that meddling megalomaniac Al'Kabor has done to us."

Even with her distaste for the well known wizard, Loral could feel her excitment of exploring whatever wonders were unveiled within that alien land. In a few short days, they would travel to the Nexus for the first time, and as Azile had stated, the world would never be the same.