Loral walked down the streets of Qeynos. Each step he took closer to the temple of Life added another weight on his heart. Cool winds blew over the city's stone walls from the northwest, whipping at Loral's green robes. A circle of gold held his neat pony tail in place. His eyes, eyes that had seen one hundred and twenty years of adventure, matched the light blue of the sky.
Loral turned the corner and the temple of life came into view. The huge saucer-shaped temple floated and slowly rotated on a pillow of magical energy. Loral stepped onto a runed plate of strange metal, a gift from the Erudites, and transported in a crack of magical energy into the core of the Temple of Life.
Loral smiled when he saw his friend and mentor, Ciric of Quellious, walking towards him but Loral's eyes spoke of great sadness. The blue-robed Erudite embraced the Loral.
"How are you, my friend?" Ciric's deep voice brought back old memories.
"As well as can be expected. We fight on many fronts and I fear treachery within the Felwithe council, but other than that..." Loral smiled but it fell quickly. "How is my father?"
"Better." The word took much of the weight off of Loral's shoulders, but not all. "He gains weight. He is not sick. We do our best to prevent further weakening of his muscles and bones." Ciric paused. "He has not awakened."
"I would like to sit with him," Loral said.
Tarlin lay in a bed of goosefeathers and wool blankets. He rested, eyes closed and breath steady. Someone had cut his hair and it flowed neatly over his shoulders in rivers of silver. The same person had shaved the old ranger's beard, making him look less like a prisoner of Torment and more like Loral's father.
Loral picked up Tarlin's hand and held it tight. Though the demon, Xuzl, had showed Loral a peek of Tarlin's torment, Loral knew that even that painful glimpse was but a taste of the eternal torment and loneliness of the dark hells that Tarlin had faced for over 100 years.
What had Loral accomplished in those hundred years? The priest traveled to Kunark and Velious and the moon of Luclin. He had traveled to the outer planes and the depths of the lost crypts of Mistmoore. He fought in two wars and saw the scorched lands laying in waste behind the armies of the Muramites. What progress had he made? A dark cloud hung heavy over Loral's city of Felwithe. It seemed every rock unturned revealed a new horror.
He must regain perspective and learn what he must. His life was unimportant. His reputation was unimportant. There were resources available. Felwithe's council already found these resources questionable but their results were not. Loral needed information and he knew where to get it.
Loral kissed his father's hand and left Qeynos that evening.
Rough waves rocked the large ship as it pulled into the gulf of Gunthak. Dark clouds sent a cold drizzle on the ship's travelers. Large tattooed ogres pulled thick ropes and drew the ship to the wide docks.
Loral stepped onto the docks of Gunthak. His face hidden by his gray hood and flashes of his golden armor peeked from the folds of his cloak. Narrowed eyes watched the elven cleric as he walked to the tavern. Tattooed women wearing far too little clothing hid only their daggers under boots of leather and tiny swaths of silk.
Few patroned the tavern this wet afternoon. Three gnomes in enormous hats roared in laughter at one another. Two erudite women, not the nobles of Erud but hardened war wizards of the deep seas whispered two each other in a strange dark tongue. In the corner, a lone dark elf sat relaxed and observant.
The dull roar of confusion and indecision left Loral as he sat down at the dark elf's table. Though surrounded by spies, thugs, and assassins, Loral felt a peace he had not known in some time.
Xarrak smiled one of his subtle smiles that hid a thousand secrets and ran a hand over his shaved dark head. Without a word, Loral took a small leather pouch from his belt and slid it across to the dark elf. Xarrak took the pouch without a word and tucked it into his own belt, not looking at its contents.
"Is it safe to speak here?" Loral noticed that no one kept an eye on the pair of elves.
"This is a safehouse. Anything that happens here stays here. This is a house of business. Those that violate this unwritten law end up in the shipwrecks one hundred feet below us." Xarrak smiled and Loral shivered.
"Tell me what you have learned," said Loral.
"The lack of support from Felwithe drives a wedge between your home's council and the refugees from Firiona Vie. The survivors moved north east to the ruins once possessed by Sather's lycanthropes, the Drolvarg. They hope to keep pressure on Lanys's forces and make the witch pay for every inch she holds in blood.
"Felwithe sends adventurers west to Taelosia and through the Discord Rifts to Kuua but fewer and fewer adventurers meet their call. They began to realize the futility of such a war. The council is now locked in in-fighting.
"Some of Felwithe's generals and more progressive supporters broke away from the council and now act independently in th service of Norrath and Tunare. They call themselves 'Norrath's Keepers'."
Loral pondered the dark elf's words. "I believe I shall seek out these Keepers."
"I thought as much. They hold their headquarters in the caves of north Lavastorm. They investigate the new lands beyond the northern mountain walls discovered by the gnomes."
Loral stood to leave. As he reached the door, the chaos returned to his mind.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN?
The voice of Xuzl crashed in upon Loral. He began to replay the conversation with the dark elf but stopped. Surely Xuzl had seen what occurred, why did he need it repeated. Unless ... the demon never saw it. Loral turned and sat back down with the dark elf. Again the chaos left his mind. Xarrak smiled.
"What magic do you possess that blocks telepathy?" Loral tried his best to keep emotion out of his voice. Xarrak slipped a thin leather cord from under his fine chain tunic. A small shard of black shaped like a curved dagger hung from it on a tiny ring of steel.
"During the war of Fear, the Shissar came up with many new weapons and armor to protect against Thule's demons. The mental powers of such demons is beyond even the Shissar to control so they chose to block it completely. This is an artifact of that time."
"I must have it." Loral's eyes blazed.
"It is not for sale. I will keep my eyes open for another but it will not be cheap."
"I will pay any price."
"Be careful what you offer, Hand of Tunare." Xarrak's smile left him. "There are some prices you will not wish to pay."
Loral stood again and again the chaotic telepathic crush of Xuzl filled his mind.
WHAT DID HE SAY.
Loral did not answer. He must never recall the information Xarrak relayed to him as long as Xuzl burned in his head. He must focus and bury it like a treasure in a sea of sand. He must focus on something even stronger. Loral thought of his father.
A thousand miles east and north, across the seas, over the mountains of the Raithe and the plains of Karana and the ice flows of Everfrost, two gnomes changed the face of Norrath forever. They giggled as their exploding mechanical spiders blew rock apart and further uncovered the enormous skull of an ancient dragon.
From deeper under the rock and molten metal, ancient beasts long asleep began to awaken, opening eyes of fire and baring teeth as long as swords. The old wyrms of Norrath awakened.