Chapter 23: Lady of the Heart

It was the darkest day for the elves of Tunaria. For hundreds of years they had known a great prosperity and a great peace. The high elven city of Takish-Hiz was known across all of Norrath as a pillar of strength and honor. Outside, the wood elven glades of Eldarr Forest held the greatest wonders of nature, a true monument to Tunare. But the jealousy of a demi-god destroyed it all. Solusek Ro, the Burning Prince, twisted the spine of the lands, turning forest into desert and mountains to dust. The elves fought valiantly but poverty, plague and war broke their spirits. The great demon, Ixiblat Fur, killed thousands before the great wizards banished him back to the Plane of Fire. The elves watched as all they had known and loved turned to death and sadness. With the loss of hundreds of years of prosperity, they built ships of their remaining trees and sailed across the great blue sea, known years later as the ocean of tears.

Loral sat in the sulfuric baking caverns of the late Lord Nagafen. Now assisting the priests of the Triumverate, Loral had tracked down the last of those who wished to once again release the demon-god, Solusek Ro. In a great battle, Loral prevented the release of Ixiblat Fur and broken the Sarnak circle of sorcerers who attempted his summoning. Now only a traveling merchant, Zordak Ragefire, remained. Loral had heard of the merchant's passing through these corridors, and traveled to the underground lair of the dragon, Nagafen, to confront the agent of Ro. A week earlier, Loral had infiltrated the compound of fire giants that protected the lair and now he camped in the cavern itself, surviving on the sustenance his powerful armor of the draconian priest, Akkirus, provided. The great gasses of the rivers of lava stung Loral's lungs and clouded his mind. He wondered if he would even have the strength to battle Ragefire, should the time come. For days he fell in and out of consciousness, dreaming of wonders and horrors alike.

Loral woke to the strange light glowing in the center of the cavern. His eyes had grown accustom to the red glow of this hall, so this new blue light grabbed his attention immediately. He sat up, reaching for his shield and grasping tight his warden symbol of Tunare. In the center of the room stood a figure, armored in violet and carrying twin blades sparkling with energy. She was a wood elf, shorter than Loral in stature but carrying herself with an air of authority and nobility Loral had never seen. Loral found it hard to breathe, and when she turned to behold him, he had no doubt of her divine nature. She was an angel of Tunare, the Lady of the Heart. She called herself Zhia.

Zhia smiled and sat with Loral for a short while, discussing the matters of Solusek Ro's plots as though she had witnessed the history herself. Her voice was that of a perfectly tuned harp, it's sound soothing the aches of this place and clearing his clouded mind and spirit. For a short time she stayed with Loral, but eventually stood to leave. Before he could stammer out his thanks at the visit, she drew a small wrapped package from a belt pouch. Loral accepted the package and watched as she touched one of her jeweled rings and disappeared in a burst of energy. Loral opened the small package, smiled, and bit into one of the tasty gnome shaped cookies.

It had been five years since Loral and his friends had broken Ragefire's ruse and defeated the hidden dragon. Loral had just returned to the forest of Greater Faydark after one of his adventures in Luclin to hear the announcement of a great contest of casters and priests to be held in the Arena. Loral never found much interest in these contests, but something drove him to travel far to the planes of the Karanas and to ride Illumina south to the great Arena of Antonica. During his ride, he tried to find the source of this drive. Was it simple curiosity, or some darker splinter from Innoruuk's previous hold on his spirit?

A few days later, Loral found himself inside the great arena. Around him stood the mightiest priests and spellcasters Norrath had ever seen. Loral found a group of his friends from Lotus Cult and they quickly prepared to work together in the chaotic contest to follow. With some short instructions by the organizers of the great event, the gates slammed shut and the horns of battle sounded.

The bolts of lightning and bursts of fire could be seen fifty miles away. The powers of the greatest casters tore open the fabric of space and time, bringing down hails of ice and tearing the ground open to swallow it's victims. Loral quickly ran for cover as tons of rock hurled itself through the air and waves of plague blew through the crowds. He stepped off of the central platform and moved towards one of the outside spires when what he beheld knocked him to his knees.

Walking casually through the crowd was the visage of the Burning Prince, Solusek Ro himself. The sounds of the explosions around him drifted away as a thousand years of history filled Loral's mind. He beheld the twenty foot avatar and remembered the stories his father had told him of the plight of the elves and the sorrow of leaving their great homeland of Tunaria. He remembered the cruelty of Ixiblat Fir burning the armies of noble paladins into ash. Loral gasped for words and stood on unstable legs as his anger built. Suddenly, Loral felt strong arms pull him aside as a column of fire burst from the ground where he had stood. Under one arm of the barbarian shaman, he was carried behind one of the great claw-like spires of the Arena as the battle raged around him.

The great battle raged around his party as they defended their small alcove. The mighty Lotus Cultian wizards sent great shards of ice tearing through the arena while the healing powers of the shaman and druids closed gaping wounds and soothed charred skin. Loral's mind was still clouded with the image of the burning prince. Of all loral had expected at this barbaric display, he had no idea he would come face to face with the focal point for the end of the great elven nations.

The minutes stretched as long as days under the stress of the great battle. Great horns had blown, signaling a final battle in the center of the arena. Loral and his remaining partners moved quickly to the raised platform. Loral could not find the avatar of Ro, but what he did see shocked him almost as much. There, walking casually through the final strife of the great war, twin blades glimmering with a life all their own, was the Lady of the Heart. Waves of fire rolled over her without even a blemish on her soft skin. Her eyes flashed as bolts of lightning broke open the ground in front of her, though she didn't even blink. Her green elven eyes turned and beheld Loral's pale blue. His heart stopped and he fell to his knees in humility and reverence. Zhia winked and smiled.

A week had passed. Loral had traveled back to the lands of Luclin, far above Norrath, but each night he spent in the small room on the second-floor inn he thought of that day. Many dangers Loral had heard rumors of during his travels, many possible threats to assess and deliver to the Church of Felwithe. But that day, he had been driven to witness the calling of the dark god, Solusek Ro. That day he had seen the angelic protector of the elves, as he had while hunting the agent of Ro, Ragefire. What purpose for the event was still unexplained, but Loral would not take lightly what he had seen. His eyes would be open for possible signs of further explanation. And he could only hope and pray to see the vision of Zhia, Lady of the Heart, once again.