Chapter 33: Drundor

"The warriors of Zek are not finished with you. The fires of War are eternal. I shall return."

The words from King Tormax echoed through Loral's head as he watched the frost giant lord die in the icy caverns of Kael Drakkal. For four years he had fought the giants of Kael. Loral had battled the frost giant general, Narandi, during the war of Thurgadin. He had destroyed the guardian of the church of Zek, Derakor the Vindicator. A hundred giants had fallen to Loral's companions. Still the spirit of war did not leave this powerful enemy. The Kromzek leader had fought a war on three fronts, battling Thurgadin, Skyshrine, and the Plane of Growth within the same year. Loral was no tactician but even his priestly mind knew how difficult such a campaign would be. All three enemies of the Kromzek continued to feel the sting of the giants' spears. Scores of Coldain were killed on the river banks of the Great Divide during Narandi's battle. Corpses of young dragons littered the Western Wastes, slain by the mercenaries of Kael. Loral had even found a spy deep within the inner halls of Skyshrine, cloaked and masked by the magic of the Kromzek priests.

King Tormax lay dead but the sense of dread did not leave Loral. Outside stood the war machines of Kael aimed at the Plane of Growth. The war would be delayed but Loral doubted it had been stopped completely. The priests of Zek were powerful and the giant king would return to his dragon-skull throne. Only one path remained for Loral to follow. There was only one way to protect Tunare. He must remove Kael's resolve to fight. He must remove the source of their murderous spirit. He must face Rallos Zek.

Ten years had passed since the battles of Kael. Loral sat at a small table in an inn of New Tanaan. Across from him sat a beautiful human female wrapped in red robes. Starkin the ranger walked into the bar and saw the venerable priest in his green robes speaking to her. She soon rose and walked out the door, smiling at Starkin as she left.

"Who was the woman?" Starkin said as he sat down at Loral's table. "I do not recognize her."

"Nor will you ever." Loral said with a smile. "I have met her perhaps a dozen times and each time she appears different. You could pass her again on your way out and not even know it."

"One of the spies of your vast network?" Starkin said teasingly. "Certainly the church would not approve."

"The Tier'Dal incorporate spies, my friend, I simply have contacts." Loral smiled and took a sip of wine from the crystal glass on his table. "Well informed contacts."

His demeanor changed though when he remembered the tale of his friend, the enchantress. "The kingdom of Felwithe sent me here to locate threats to the elven nations," he spoke sternly. "The tools I use to fulfill that role are not of their concern. Perhaps the Church would not approve of my methods but they have not seen the dangers I have seen."

Loral took two rolled parchments from his worn leather pouch. One held the wax seal of the Church of Tunare, the other the symbol of Healers United.

"Zek has commissioned the construction of war machines from the gnomish tinkerers of Innovation. He already has an army of warriors and with these new machines he plans to invade Norrath. The model of the metal beast in Innovation was destroyed four days ago but I do not think that will dissuade Zek from his attack on our world. The priests of Kael will open a doorway to Drundor, the Fortress of Zek, and his army will march across Norrath."

Starkin grew cold. He had seen one of his warriors, a Daiku it was called, in the desert of Storm. It took twelve adventurers to defeat the murderous beast. The creature appeared to be an ogre but with a speed, power, and sturdiness he had never seen in a mortal.

"A portal has been opened to Drundor from the caves of Tranquility and a raiding party plans to infiltrate the fortress," Loral continued. "I plan on entering with them." Loral handed the two parchments to Starkin. "Please deliver the first to Yeolarn of the Church of Felwithe. The other should go to Juror." Loral rose and embraced his noble friend. "I will return with news soon." Starkin looked at Loral for the truth of that statement. Himself a veteran planewalker, Starkin the Warder knew that Drundor would offer little chance of escape.

Two days later, Loral entered the Fortress of Zek.

Norrath was a world of balance. Each element helped to off-set another. The outer planes had no such balance. Stepping foot into Drundor sent a feeling of murderous dread through Loral's skin. Rough stone floors fed into the metal plates of the walls. Steel torches burned harshly, blackening the walls around them. The clashing of steel upon steel, the howl of wild animals bred for war, the roars of triumph, and screams of pain all echoed throughout the halls. Though fifty members strong, the raiding party Loral accompanied felt small. There was no doubt in Loral's mind that he had entered a hall of death. There was no purpose for Drundor other than war.

Two guards of the fortress, over 20 feet high and armored in steel stained with dirt and blood, saw the approaching raiding party. Without hesitation or nervousness, they drew shining blades from their scabbards and roared as they swung at the front lines, hoping to sever them in half. Thus began the many battles the adventurers faced in the Fortress of Zek.

All throughout the fortress, the party met the forces of Zek's army. Every guardian of Zek was covered in scars and each fought with the experiences of centuries of combat. Loral imagined the devastation that would face the cities of Norrath as hundreds of these icons of battle stormed through, mercilessly cutting down everything in their path. For these warriors there had never been peace. There was no concept of love or happiness. There was only the smell of blood and the rush of victory.

The party soon entered a large hall deep within the fortress. The torches burned low and Loral became aware that all had become quiet around them. A powerful warrior of the raiding party stepped in and drew his blade. From the quiet darkness soared a screaming arrow of flame. It struck the warrior and sent him flying through the air, slamming him against the back wall of the room. From the shadows stepped Tallon Zek, nocking another arrow into his ancient bow.

The raiding party charged in to meet the demi-god. Tallon's 15 foot bow creaked and he let another arrow fly, this one blazing with ice. A mage caught the huge arrow in the chest and immediately fell dead, the four foot arrow still smoking in his chest. Steel rang against the god's armor as the party hacked at the diety of battle. Overwhelmed, Tallon spoke a word of command and fired another barbed arrow. The arrow split into three dozen smaller ones, each finding the mark of one of his attackers. Those hit by the barbed arrows flew back and were pinned to the walls of the hall. The shouts of battle became the cries of the dying as arrow after arrow left Tallon's unholy bow. But the attackers were filled with resolve.

The healing energy of Tunare flowed from Loral's hands, mending the gaping holes of the evil arrows. Calling upon the strength of the Mother, Loral raised his hands and a shower of blue lights quietly embraced the raiding force. The light enveloped the adventurers near him, mending their wounds and renewing their spirit. The party regrouped and attacked again. This time Tallon Zek fell to their blades.

Loral stood over the body of the son of Zek. Many of the party tended to the injured and to those fallen in the battle. Others sorted through the treasures found in the hall. Loral could only look at the corpse at his feet and wonder when this would end. The fortress around them continued to bustle with activity. Zek's army was far from defeated. Loral felt old. How far he had gone in the name of Felwithe. How many enemies had he uncovered. How distant he was from his home.

Leaning heavily on his silver-headed hammer, Loral walked forward. His armor felt heavier than before, pressing deeply in permanent creases on his shoulders. The memories of Coldain blood staining the snow of Velious returned to him as he headed back into the depths of Drundor.