Mark of the Fool - C.854: ’Walk Away’

Mark of the Fool

C.854: ’Walk Away’

“How can you wield Uldar’s power?” Merzhin demanded. “It’s…not yours! And you’re no priest!”

“Many energies can be manipulated if you know the right tricks and know the energy well enough.” Aenflynn’s earthen projection smiled at the Saint. “And I know the tricks, and became acquainted with Uldar’s energy during the thousands of years he stood at my side, ruling Thameland as I ruled Och Fir Nog. It did not take me long to truly become acquainted with the divinity focused on his throne. The exact mechanics of it…I think I will keep to myself. After all, should you choose poorly, it will cost you.”

“I would like to point out a flaw in your plan,” Prince Khalik offered.

“Oh?” Aenflynn looked at the prince. “And what is that?”

“You draw on Uldar’s throne for the power to strike down your enemies, but that throne needs Uldar’s faithful to maintain its strength. If you let the Ravener kill all the Thameish here and then…I do not know, find some way for its Ravener-spawn to leave this land and kill the rest, then wouldn't you deprive yourself of the fear and faith that powers your weapon?”

“Ah, we have one who thinks himself clever. Remember, I have struck down my foes,” Aenflynn chuckled. “I truly have little more need for the chair. If you take my pact, I will keep my weapon, true, but what good is a weapon if one’s enemies are already dead? The throne will become one of my many trophies in that case. But…why even consider that? Make peace with me. That way, I keep my weapon, your people are saved, and I might be persuaded to even use the throne to help all of you on your journey to find a new land. Uldar guided your ancestors, and his power will guide you…while I guide it. Think of it. The Ravener wins. You win. I win. Or…”

He spread his hands.

“…we could all start trying to tear each other apart like angry bears fighting over a piece of fish. You will lose, and—even if you do not—the battle will cost you dearly. So choose. And choose wisely.”

Alex glared at the Fae lord, projecting an image of hate and anger.

He wanted Aenflynn to think he’d gotten the better of him. He’d—

“Oh, by the way,” the Fae lord interrupted the thought running through Alex’s mind. “When we negotiate, you—” He pointed at Alex. “—will stay out of it. I am aware of how tricky Fools and Generals can be. And it looks like you all have come back into your full strength. I’d rather deal with someone a bit more honest. So you, Drestra, I will speak with you.”

“Why me?” the Sage demanded.

“Because, I have you to thank for all of this.” He chuckled. “If it weren’t for your suggestion to take Ravener-spawn instead of mortal children to reinforce my armies, I would not have started thinking outside of the little box I’d crafted for myself. Thank you! Now and then the young can teach us old creatures some new tricks!”

“Perhaps, but I think that the old can still learn from those even older.” A deep voice joined the conversation.

Aenflynn looked at Baelin sharply, as did the others.

“For example, divinity and fae magic can both view things from vast distances.” Baelin stepped forward. “It is how many pantheons view the daily lives of their followers.”

“It is how Uldar, my old friend, watched Thameland from his sanctum,” Aenflynn nodded contentedly.

“You are correct!” Baelin laughed. “As a matter of fact, I studied his viewing room. Including…” Malice dripped from his words. “How to track such power back to its source.”

Aenflynn’s smile dropped.

“Your palace was hidden well,” Baelin said. “But your tricks are old ones, and I know the old ways well. Interesting parley, by the way? Why don’t we conduct this discussion in person?”

The chancellor looked at Alex. “Find the Ravener. I will show you the way to Aenflynn’s palace. You will not be able to miss it. Happy hunting!”

There was a surge of mighty teleportation magic.

Baelin disappeared.

Then the ground began to shake.

“What?” Aenflynn’s image growled. “What did you bring with you? I will extract a blood price from your bones-”

Waves of fire bathed the effigy partway through its sentence, destroying it utterly.

Drestra—now in dragon form—closed her smoking jaws. “That felt better than you could imagine.”

Before anyone could respond, the earth shook even harder.

“Everyone grab onto me!” Alex shouted.

Many hands—as well as Brutus’ jaws and the tip of one of Drestra’s talons—touched the young archwizard, and he teleported the group a mile into the sky.

Far below—where the party had stood a moment earlier—the forest rose up, shaped in a titan’s hand, the ground trembled as earth and stone morphed into fingers on the colossal hand.

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In the middle of its palm was the fae gate, and the round table and chairs that Aenflynn had created. With an earth shattering noise, five titanic fingers abruptly closed, crushing everything in their grip.

“I’m glad I wasn’t down there!” Thundar called.

“But we are still not safe yet!” Merzhin shouted. “Divine energy is gathering around…wait…” He paused, looking around. “Uldar’s power was just filling the air around us, now suddenly, it is fading. Why? What could—” 𝓯𝘳𝘦𝑒𝓌𝘦𝘣𝓃ℴ𝘷𝘦𝘭.𝓬𝘰𝑚

“Look!” Therea shouted, pointing to the distance.

Far to the north, a blinding light, as brilliant as a living sun being born, flashed. It was followed by a crack of thunder. The earth bucked releasing a shockwave that swept outward, ripping apart tree branches, lashing the companions in a fierce wind.

“What in the world was that?” Bjorgrund shouted.

“I would guess that would be the chancellor!” Isolde cried over the wind.

“Well, I think I know why the divine energy decreased!” Merzhin shouted.

“Hell of a distraction,” Hart said, his voice dropping as the wind died.

“Yeah, and one hell of a signal too.” Alex blinked away the after-image of the blinding light and squinted into the distance.

“I sense wondrous violence for me to take part in.” Asmaldestre’s words cut into Alex’s ears. The others winced.

“We need you,” the young archwizard said. “We need to find the Ravener and we’re going to have to concentrate on that. We have to stick to the plan.”

“Najyah can see what is happening over there, but not very clearly,” Khalik cut the others off. “There is a thick mist in the distance, but she can see Baelin’s magic breaking through the mist. Behind it is…a castle. Perhaps the Ravener is there.”

“Um…my friends…” Claygon interrupted Khalik. “Look around us…all around us…”

The companions tore their attention away from the distant battle.

“Oh shit,” Alex muttered.

They’d been so tunnel-visioned on Aenflynn, they hadn’t noticed the gathering Ravener-spawn.

Thousands of monsters, moving through Och Fir Nog, marching along the fae roads and pouring through the fae gates.

Dungeons had formed near the gates, and many were different from those found in Thameland.

These were not grand complexes buried underground like immense ant nests. These dungeons were open to the air: yawning holes in the earth that looked like craters of throbbing flesh. From the centre of each crater, Ravener-spawn were being birthed—dozens at a time—clawing their way to the nearest fae gate soon after.

“Look at that!” Thundar cried, pointing to the west.

In the distance, an immense crater shuddered, birthing a titanic humanoid monster like those in Alex’s vision. The creature rose to its full height—towering above all else—then purposefully stepped into a nearby fae gate and vanished from Och Fir Nog.

Through another fae gate, Ravener-spawn transported dozens of dungeon cores, bringing more of the monster-spawning black orbs into the material world.

“They’re endless…” Drestra’s voice crackled. “And they’re coming from everywhere…”

“I had hoped we could simply follow where the Ravener-spawn were emerging from, and use that to lead us back to their master…” Khalik scowled. “But it seems that the construct is clever: it is not creating a clear path for us to follow.”

“Bloody hells, what’re we supposed t’do then?” Cedric cursed. “Search all o’ Och Fir Nog? How big is this bloody place?”

“Very,” Drestra said. “It’s not as big as Thameland, but we’d still be searching for a long time, trying to find a single dungeon in a big enough realm.”

“We don’t have a long time,” Hart remarked, looking at Alex. “What do we do, fearless leader?”

The world slowed down around Alex, streams of consciousness focusing on different clues and pieces of information they had.

What did they know?

They knew for sure that Aenflynn had the throne. He’d said as much…but what hadn’t he said?

He didn’t say that the Ravener was with him.

He hadn’t said where the Ravener was.

And he hadn’t said where Uldar’s body was.

What else did they know?

Baelin had found Aenflynn’s castle, so they had its location. They had a map of the fae roads, which they could use to guide them through Och Fir Nog.

They did not know what dangers this fae realm would hold…or if the inhabitants would be hostile to them. They did know that breaking Och Fir Nog’s laws would be a problem for Drestra, Cedric and Hart, though they didn’t know exactly how.

Where did that leave them?

A plan formed in Alex’s mind.

The world sped up around him.

“Alright, we need to split up for a bit,” Alex said. “Cedric, Hart, Drestra? You could be in a lot of trouble if you break any of this land’s laws, so we need you to avoid harming any fae or destroying anything that’s not Ravener-spawn.”

“Right, so what does that mean exactly?” Hart asked.

“I want you to take Merzhin, and teleport, then fly around Och Tir Nog while our Saint here tries to sense any traces of Uldar’s divinity.” The General looked at the Saint. “Aenflynn said he had the throne, but he didn’t say he had the body. There’s a chance that the Ravener has it.”

“A good thought…perhaps Aenflynn even secured the Ravener’s aid by giving it its creator’s body,” Merzhin proposed.

“Yeah, good thinking: even more reason to assume the Ravener has his body. And if it doesn’t? Then we still need to find that body: it’s still a focus for Uldar’s divinity and we can’t just leave it in enemy hands.”

“So we go around, stick to the sky, and look for the old bastard’s corpse,” Hart said. “Sounds good to me. Should we kill any Ravener-spawn we find that’s airborne?”

“Yeah, we should,” Alex said. “Just try not to use too much mana and stamina.”

“Aye, sounds like a plan then,” Cedric said.

“Agreed,” Drestra’s voice crackled.

“What about the rest of us?” Theresa asked. “Are we with you?”

Alex shook his head, pointing at a nearby fae gate. He looked at Khalik. “My friend, do you think you can bury those gates with your earth magic?”

The prince looked down at one appraisingly. “With ease.”

“Good.” Alex looked at his companions. “Then I want Khalik with Najyah, Theresa, Brutus, Bjorgrund, Thundar, Isolde, Grimloch, Claygon and Asmaldestre, to go around and destroy as many fae gates as you can find. We need to cut off the Ravener-spawns’ routes to Thameland and bottleneck them as much as possible. That won’t stop Aenflynn’s fae from taking Ravener-spawn through to Thameland, but it’ll slow the enemy down.”

“Heh.” Grimloch grinned. His armour—a massive suit taken from Uldar’s armoury—gleamed. “We didn’t make no pact with this Aenflynn, so we don’t have to worry about any laws.

“Exactly,” Alex said.

“What about…you…father?” Claygon asked.

“I can teleport the fastest and the most out of all of us,” Alex said. “So, I’m going to turn invisible, summon a lot of astral engeli and spread them out throughout Och Fir Nog. I’ll be trying to find the Ravener and Uldar’s body.” The archwizard squinted to the north. “I also want to take a closer look at that battle. If there’s a way I can get to Uldar’s throne past Aenflynn and do something to it…anyway, well that’s the plan. Let’s start moving. The Ravener should be having some problems any time now, and I want to take advantage of that before it finds a way to adjust.”

“What?” Drestra asked. “What do you mean? Did you do something to it?”

“Not directly.” Alex smiled.

Hobb’s words returned to him.

“But it’s making a lot of dungeons…which means it should be getting a nasty surprise soon.”