Chapter 28: Light

"And what of the heroic paladin lost to the Shissar? What ever happened to him?"

Loral had told his son the tale of his rescue in Ssraeshza many times but this was the first time Darlan had asked this question. Loral found it puzzling, not just the question but something else. A burning sensation in his hand interrupted his train of thought but a voice in the nearby woods took back his attention.

"Aye, old friend, what ever did happen to that broken down old knight." Stepping out of the brush to the grassy hill where Loral and Darlan sat with their picnic came Jolain Goldenleaf dressed in the traditional silver and gold armor of the Felwithe paladins. Resting over one shoulder was his legendary blade, Nature's Defender, and a green cloak fell lazily over the other. He held his golden helmet next to his hip. A lock of his jet black hair had come free from his neat pony tail and fell across his scarred face. Loral stood and embraced his old friend.

For an hour the two traded tales of their adventures. While Loral and Darlan had been traveling across Antonica, Jolain had been training Felwithe's newest recruits. This day his students traveled through the forest of the Faydark, keeping a watchful eye for orc invaders who, even two hundred years later, continued to pour forth from Crushbone.

Their tales shifted to their partnership during the plane wars, entertaining young Darlan with visions of the golden armies of elves and stout dwarves standing strong against giant and powerful demons never meant to walk Norrath. For ten years Loral and Darius had served together, fighting the unnatural horrors of the outer planes and pushing them back to and finally through the rifts to their own planes. Although highly entertained with such marvelous tales, Darlan's original question returned.

"How was Sir Goldenleaf returned from Ssraeshza?"

"Aye, friend, I have little recollection of the event. What ever did become of the vile Shissar?" Both Jolain and Darlan looked to Loral. The burning became stronger in Loral's hand, breaking his concentration on the question. Images of the Shissar flashed into his mind, jolting him suddenly and ringing his ears, but Jolain's questions continued.

"Did the elves know of the tunnels below? Were the cities of Norrath planning an assault? What of Katta Castellum or Sanctus Seru? What did those cities know of the threat of the Shissar?" Jolain's questions pounded inside his head. Gone was the sweet sound of birds chirping and crickets seeking their mates. Gone was the sound of the water passing down the rocky stream. All he heard was the hissing questions and all he felt was the white hot burning sensation in the center of his left palm.

Then it all became clear. Loral looked into the eyes of Jolain and raised his palm towards the knight. A beam of pure white light burst forth, turning the armored elf into ash. The beam continued, searing through the forest like paper and seeming to crack the very fabric of the world in half. The scene around him shattered like a rock being thrown through a mirror. Loral found himself in darkness.

Immediate was the pain he felt all throughout him. He screamed when he tried to move. His one eye opened, the other swollen shut, and beheld the great glyphed Shissar before him. To his right he saw the great golem pinning him to the walls of the dark temple with giant clay hands. Not a muscle in his body or a nerve in his head was free from the electrical energies the Shissar spells pumped through him. With a mouth capable of swallowing his hole head, the glyphed serpent hissed at him, exposing great fangs as long as Loral's forearm. The ancient beast reached forward, preparing to tear out the troublesome elf's heart when the room went silent.

Visions of battle and fire filled Loral's head. The glyphed serpent turned towards another smaller Shissar and hissed an intricate throaty command. The smaller snake replied and the two turned and slithered towards the great door at the other end of the large room.

A moment later, the great golem that pinned Loral's arms to the wall stepped away and Loral fell to the floor in a crumpled ball of agony. It thundered quickly out the door leaving Loral alone in the large room.

It took all of Loral's energy to remember how to breathe. His one open eye spotted a golden glimmer a short distance away. His left arm broken above the elbow, Loral shifted to his right side and inched across the floor, each move bringing waves of pain and blackness. Twelve feet and an eternity later, Loral found the source of the golden glimmer, a small idol of Tunare poking out of his five large packs. That golden glimmer turned into a glimmer of hope. Loral snaked his good arm through the straps of his worn leather packs and drew out the Faithstone of Nature. He whispered his prayers to Tunare and held the stone close. Thirty seconds later, the room flashed away and he was lying on the marble floors of the Church of Felwithe hearing the gasps of Yeolarn and the priests of the Mother.

Dog raised his large head from the thick grass as the voice of Mother filled his mind. As always, a great feeling of love and warmth filled him when he heard it, even if he knew it meant having to leave his games with Rex or his meals to help her. Dog trotted through the large woods, past the great tree where Mother stayed and past the walking trees that guarded her. He ran through the blue stream taking joy in the great splash and the feeling of water soaking into his thick fur. Soon he came upon four large pillars and an open marble floor. In the center was a small one, dressed in a light yellow robe. Dog had been asked to help before, mostly to show the small ones who appeared towards the great tree, but sometimes not.

Today, Dog had to point the small one away, back to the glowing tunnel that stood to the side of the large platform. Dog licked the small one's face rolling it over onto its back. Dog turned his head to the side and perked up his ears hearing the faint beat within the small one's chest. Another great lick and the small one bolted upright. Dog could smell the fear in the small one, but felt it leave when the small one looked into Dog's eyes. With his great muzzle, Dog pushed the small one onto its feet and pushed it back into the tunnel from where it came. When the small one had left, Dog trotted back to his original resting place, assured that he had done well and salivating at the smell of his sixth meal of the day waiting for him.

"It was as real as the life I have lived until now." Loral sat with Juror in the small bar of Shadowhaven and recounted his tale four weeks after his return to the temple. "Two hundred years I had lived, all illusions of the Shissar trying to tear open my mind." The large barbarian, much wiser than his great size imparted, sat and listened to the cleric's tale. It wasn't until the end of Loral's story, detailing a life that had never been lived, that Juror shared a piece of information that explained Loral's chance for escape.

"Lotus Cult killed the Glyphed Covered Serpent shortly after you left," Juror's deep voice said calmly. Loral looked at the barbarian for a long time. Although his head still swam with the false-life the Shissar had implanted, the relief of knowing the vile creature that fed it to him was killed took a great weight off of his shoulders. He looked to his friend again and became aware of the large barbarian's greying hair and lined face. How long the two of them had served their deities. How long they had worked together within the great network of Healers that spanned so many races and so many societies. While Loral had certainly aged less physically in his 110 years of service, he felt no younger than his friend looked.

Later that night Loral rested in the darkness, staring up at the ceiling of the small stone room of the inn in Shadowhaven. In two days he would be traveling to Katta Castellum to look into an unknown undead menace that could possibly be in the area. The church had sent word of the discovery and Juror gave Loral information to further the claim. Fellow members of Healers United would meet him in the dark city, and they would investigate and deal with the threat.

The unknown threat was not on his mind, however. Loral knew the Healers would be able to deal with such a menace, whatever it turned out to be. Instead Loral's mind went back through a life he never lived, mourning the death of a wife he never had. A tear fell across his cheek before he fell into a deep sleep.