Loral knew pain. He had seen suffering and felt both physical and emotional pain many times in his travels. None matched the pain he felt when he saw his father.
Ciric had told Loral that his father was in a coma. Loral expected to see his father prone, eyes closed, in deep sleep. What he saw was a man in pure agony. Tarlin, his skin hanging loose over atrophied muscles and bones, writhed on the bed. His mouth opened and closed in silent screams. His eyes rolled back in his head as his head shook from side to side. Loral always remembered his father as a tall proud elf, well muscled and a head of thick blond hair. How his hair hung stringy and loose and his body lay broken.
Tears rolled down Loral's face. He sat down next to Tarlin and put his hand over his father's hand. He felt heat radiating off of him. Tarlin's skin was yellow and glistening with sweat. Loral felt his father's hand twist into a pained claw tearing at the bed. Loral closed his eyes and whispered a prayer to Tunare. Warmth flowed through him and he channeled it into Tarlin. It rolled off of the broken figure like water over stone. His father's state did not change.
Loral heard a light rapping at the door and Ciric entered. Loral looked to his mentor, his eyes begging for help from the old Eruidite.
"Heal him." Loral's voice cracked and fresh tears rolled down his cheeks.
"My friend. Your skills far surpass my own but there is nothing you or I can do for him." Ciric's spoke in a voice low and even. "He is not sick." Loral looked dumbfounded. Ciric continued. "No poison flows through his veins. No disease eats at his organs. There is nothing physically wrong with him that four months of hot meals and exercise would not solve. Something eats at his mind. His body and mind grew used to Torment; as used to it as any mortal mind can. He faced horror you and I cannot ever dream of."
"How can we heal him?" All of Loral's power and experience did nothing to take away the helplessness he felt.
"We can feed him. We can keep him as comfortable as possible. We can pray."
Loral looked at his longtime friend. A feeling of helpless rage burned through him. He looked at the Erudite and spoke two words sharp and powerful.
Ciric turned to leave. He closed the door and Loral heard his sandals on the hardwood floor of the small church. While Ciric understood Loral's need for privacy, he did not understand that "us" meant "us three".
You can speak to him can't you?
Loral opened his mind and closed his eyes. His mind expanded outward to the edges of the room.
The word filled Loral's head with red fire. It was the voice of a thousand mouths, a voice of a thousand years.
What do you see?
Laughter fell upon Loral sharp as glass and heavy as stone. Veins broke out on Loral's forehead.
Channel me to him. Open his mind to me.
Silence greeted Loral's request. Loral felt the burning shield on his back. He felt the thick burning presence of the demon-lord, Xuzl within it. He could feel the burning green eyes tearing holes into his back. The laughter came again.
The world exploded. Loral felt cold wind rip across his skin. A claw dug into his neck. His vision turned outside of himself and he saw a cloaked face, skin of blue and teeth like a shark. Red eyes flashed and Loral felt a black jagged dagger rip through his chest. Blackness filled his mind and he fell through the black stone floor under his feet into a sea of blood. A world of blood awaited him. Huge muscular arms covered in thick coarse hair picked him off of the ground, one of Loral's arms in each huge three-fingered hand. He saw the face of a huge tusked boar, black saliva dripping and death screaming in the demon's eyes. The demon pulled his arms apart. Loral felt his muscles rip in his chest and shoulders. He heard bones pop. He felt skin tear. Loral screamed.
The morning sun and a chilled breeze awoke Loral. He sat up on a small bed and saw his robes and boots on a chair in the corner of a small room. Outside the sounds of Qeynos set a contrast from the horrors of his visions. He dressed in the green robe and stepped out into the halls of the church. Ciric waited for him at a wooden table, a meal already prepared and waiting for the elven cleric.
"I don't know what happened to you but it knocked you unconscious for two days." Ciric poured a cup of tea into a plain glass. "Whatever you did, don't do it again."
"I had to try something." Loral's weak voice brought concern to Ciric's eyes. "He had been there before." Loral sipped his tea and grimaced as it burned down his throat. "To Hate, I mean. I saw it. Sometime during the first battles of Kelethin, my father fought Innoruuk's hoards." Loral fixed his firey blue eyes on his old teacher. "My father was a demonslayer."
"I tried to help him but I could not. Saryn's torture-masters broke him under their cloven hooves. I don't know if he will ever feel peace again." Loral's head dipped. "Until he dies."
The words hung in the air. The implication made Ciric's shoulders sag. He lifted a parchment sealed in black wax and handed it to Loral.
"This arrived for you yesterday. It came through the sewers." Loral looked up at the tone in Ciric's voice. Both Loral and Ciric knew what it meant. For years, rumors spoke of a cult of Bertoxxulous infesting the sewers of Qeynos. Dark rites and the disappearances of children fed these rumors to the people of Qeynos. "You have shady friends, Loral. Be wary."
As a young acolite of Quellious, Ciric traveled by foot from Erudin to Kaladim in a journey that took three weeks. He traveled over two oceans, a half dozen forests, two mountain ranges, and dozens of open planes. Two hundred years later, Loral made a similar journey in less than an hour.
Loral's mind stretched across the webwork of power that fell over Norrath like a net. Thin lines of ethereal magic stretched from the cities to the hub of New Tanaan, a pocket universe in the center of the Plane of Knowledge. Many of these thin lines crossed the hundreds of miles between distant cities. One of these lines stretched far across the skies to the moon of Luclin. Some lines, tainted with darkness and filled with black poison, pierced through the thin fabric of Norrath's world and into into the pits of the lower worlds.
The stones of Knowledge anchored the beams to the hub of Tanaan while the books of Knowledge, material icons or metaphors of the vast distance one traveled along the cords of etheria, anchored the thin beams to the material worlds they connected. It was the line from Qeynos to Tanaan and from Tanaan to Shadowhaven that Loral sought this day.
Loral looked at the strange book and stone pillar that sat like a splinter of another world through the green earth of Qeynos. He imagined the thin lines stretching through a black universe of emptiness, a void of chaos. Creatures beyond mortal comprehension whispered within those voids, threatening to slice the cords and send travelers into the waiting arms of a cold black hell. Loral remembered a time not so long past when rumors spoke of the lines snapping. The protective currents of the streams of knowledge snapped like threads. Some awoke hours from their destinations. Some awoke buried half within the earth, their organs burst and legs shattered from the earth and stone around them. Some poor souls never returned at all. To travel in the outer worlds risked the worst forms of death or banishment imaginable.
These grim thoughts followed Loral as he approached Qeynos's book of Knowledge. The book shimmered in front of him. He never liked using these strange artifacts, but like all of Norrath's adventurers, they quickly became too useful to pass up. He read a strange book describing this planar travel, a book that described it in one word: Todash.
The otherworld word sat on his lips as he placed his hands on the book and felt the world shift and shatter around him. The cord pulled and a thousand miles passed by in seconds.
Minutes later, Loral arrived at the city of Shadowhaven deep within the moon of Luclin.
It was quiet in Shadowhaven's most popular inn and tavern. The opening of the paths to the outer worlds sent most stout adventurers away from the mysterious lands of Luclin. Chairs sat upside down on the large thick tables. Five or six patrons drank thick strange drinks after hard battles in the nearby hostile caverns of Paludal. Their young age never ceased to surprise Loral.
"I was never so young," Loral whispered to himself.
A single figure sat in the corner of the bar where the shadows grew thickest. The figure pulled back a black hood revealing the smooth bald head of a dark elf. The dark elf gave Loral a smile that made the priest's skin crawl.
As he approached the dark elf, Loral became aware of how quiet it became. It felt like a deep buzzing that quivered subconsciously in his mind ceased to buzz. A clarity filled his mind.
The dark elf lifted one of his high soft leather boots and pushed a char out with its pointed toe. Loral saw the short blade that hung low from the rogue's wide leather belt and a pair of dagger hilts sat comfortably in the tops of both boots.
"You look tired." The dark elf's low guttural voice sounded like the hiss of a lizard preparing to strike a wounded animal.
"I've little time for chatter, Xarrak. What do you have for me?" Xarrak stretched his arms behind his back and Loral saw two more daggers strapped hilt downward on Xarrak's wrists. Loral imagined that the rogue could send those two daggers twirling through the air before an eye could blink.
"Much has happened in your soft elven kingdom. Mordin Rasp's agents stretch far, even into the circle of the council." The thin rogue tipped lightly back in his chair, balancing only on two of the thin legs. "The Wayfarer's attention strayed from the five lost dungeons. Mordin Rasp commissioned a marvelous ship, huge and expensive."
"How did he fund it?"
"A year ago Rasp stumbled upon Nagafen's lost hoard. It took him months to extract it all but once he did he had enough for his network of spies, his coven of magi, his five Wayfarer camps and the treasure they reward to the hapless adventurers who follow this barbarian like cattle to the slaughter. Now he uses it to fund this ship."
"What does he want?"
"The Wayfarers sail west. They found a new land, a land that sits between worlds. There, a race of small elvish folk known as the Taelosians fight a hoard of powerful out-worlders called the Muramites."
Loral rolled his finger in the air beckoning the rogue to skip ahead. Xarrak stopped speaking, letting the silence sit between them.
"He has the Grozmok stone."
Loral's eyes widened. A chill flowed throug his veins like ice water. Visions of the stone's dark power filling the Trolls of Grobb with their dark powers, twisting the Frogloks of Guk into horrible malformations of their once noble selves, and breaking open the pits of vampires that now infested Faydwer like an infected wound. The stone was responsible for death and destruction and horror for a thousand years. And now it was in Mordin Rasp's hands.
"Where." The word slipped out of Loral's mouth in a low whisper. Xarrak smiled. The rogue sat silent until Loral's patience was at an end. Just before the cleric exploded in rage, Xarrak spoke.
"On the ship. Rasp uses it to find these new lands."
"The fool!" Loral's shout sent the few eyes of the tavern his way and he quieted.
"The stone should be broken apart and scattered across the pits of the lower worlds. It is an artifact of evil for evil. The barbarian will bring ruin on us all." Loral's shoulders sank. "Who knows what horrors lurk in those dark lands, horrors awakening to the stone's dark wail."
"Indeed." The dark elf slipped a long fingered hand towards Loral, a folded parchment magically appearing from the shadows of his palm. "Your orders from the church. I took the liberty of bringing them myself. Those messengers of Felwithe are born into incompetence.
"And what do the orders say?"
"You will travel west with Rasp's crew. You will travel to Taelosia."