Prologue: The Man On The Mountain
Chapter 4: Return to the Bluff
Sadie quietly followed as Kobe led them all back to their things and then took off to take the lead, far ahead of the group. He prolly doesn’t want to be around the rest of them right now. She thought. I don’t exactly blame him. That wasn’t easy to see or allow. I can’t imagine what they are all going through. From what she gathered in talks with him before, she is sure he blames the Duke for allowing this.
The group walks in silence through the rests of the day, all of them seeming to be lost in thought. Sadie is torn on what to feel. She got see and interact with a real speaking dragon, but was also witness to a horrible murder of a man not much older than herself. The ill feeling in her stomach proved her current state was leaning more towards reaction to the latter. …But it was a real live dragon.
There were no words Sadie could think of to describe how Althea looked. Her eyes were open, but there was nothing behind them. It was like she was dead inside. The extent of the sadness and anger in those eyes was heartbreaking to the point that Sadie couldn’t keep looking at her. Even the occasional glance at her struck like a knife in her own heart. She knew better than to disturb this woman in any way until this look changed.
It wasn’t until they set up camp that night that any of them really said more a single word. Althea set her bedroll away from the camp and seemed to try to sleep. Sadie assumed it was not so easy for her. Drall sat watch, also a short ways away from the rest, but not right next to Althea. The rest sat around the campfire and shared drinks and some bread. Kobe joined Sadie at the fire, but like her, said nothing.
James took a drink from his skin. “He was too new to have gone like this.”
“He did what none of us were willing to do.” Darth replied.
“He was the best of us.” Dragavan spoke solemnly and then a small smile crossed his lips. “Even if he was still a worthless scrub.”
“Oh, that goes without saying.” James too cracks a small smile. “Still, too green for any of this, but the best of us nonetheless.”
“You remember the time he mistook Althea’s surcoat for part of his new uniform?” Dragavan’s smile firmly in place now.
“Yeah.” Says James. “And he started to take it in to make it fit him better.”
Dragavan starts to chuckle. “We could have told him.”
“But it was too much fun to watch.” Darth says, also smiling now.
“If it wasn’t his second day with us she would have torn him a new one.” James glances towards her apparently sleeping body. “She almost did anyway.”
“You sure could see it in her eyes.” Dragavan’s voice lowers and Sadie sees a sadness seep into his eyes. “Nothing like what she is now.”
“Remember when he brought those flowers to Katie down at the Green Dragon?” James obviously tries to keep his tone jovial.
“Silly kid.” Darth shakes his head. “Not that he was the first to take her flirting as more than what it was.”
“Or the shield thing. I couldn’t believe he tried to fit the…” Dragavan starts to chuckle and chokes a little on his drink.
“The WHOLE thing.” James says over Dragavan’s choking. “I thought I was going to die with laughter.”
The lot of them all laugh heartily at the memories, and Sadie can’t help but smile at the stories and love from these men towards their fallen comrade. Over the coming hours the tone mostly stays jovial, with occasional moments of solemn refrain. It makes her feel good to learn all about the man she watched die, helping her deal with happened in the cave as much as it seems to be helping them. Kobe doesn’t smile, but seems to relax over time, eventually being the first of them to go to sleep. The rest fade off eventually, leaving Dragavan to sit lone watch as Sadie falls asleep for a relatively restless night.
Her dreams are filled with dragons and death.
The next day’s journey is not nearly as tense and quiet, but the mood remains somber. Althea seemed to wake in a better mood, but still remained silent and distant. Nobody made eye contact with her nearly at all, except for Drall, who almost seemed more like an extension of her than an entity of his own. Kobe leads them from far ahead, rarely coming back to join the others. Sadie stayed in back with the guys and listened to more stories of their days in Howling Bluff.
As they approach the base of the mountain trail Althea has them set up camp early, as to avoid staying at the Fort Donovin and dealing with all the questions. Early the next morning she has them make their way there and arrange to retrieve her horses and leave before too much official questioning can be done. The General never even comes down to see them off. By evening they are back in the Bluff and on their way to the Duke’s manor.
Sadie looks back on what just happened and stares at the walls of Ravendorn Manor. Good be back. Not exactly home, but I sure am glad to see it. I still can’t believe this is what Master had in mind when he sent me here.
Duke Fredrick Ravendorn was sitting in front of the fire in the sitting room reading a little about the history of the Min Frenal, hoping to find a clue to what he needs. Sure, he has read just about anything he could get his hands on in hopes of finding something, so he his hopes weren’t too high for this one either. In the distance he head the main gate opening and a smile crossed his face. Sounds like they are back. That must mean they have it. This could be it. The time could be growing close.
He puts the book down on the end table and calls back to Eric, his butler. “If that’s them bring Althea and Mr. Blain directly here.”
“Yes sir.” And he is out of the room, leaving the Duke alone.
Moments later the door opens again and he sees Althea and Mr. Blain walking in. He can’t help it as a big smile crosses his face. “Welcome back.” He says as he waves them towards the other chairs by the fire.
Mr. Blain slides over and stands beside one of the chairs, as is his norm, using it as an armrest. He never sits if he can help it. Althea, on the other hand, gladly takes a seat in the nearest chair, but doesn’t look all that glad as she looks at him with weary eyes and a stoic face. She looks tired. Must have pushed to get here so quickly.
After gazing at the two of them, he settles his gaze on Althea before speaking. “So, did you get it? And the name of the temple?” He does his best to keep his voice even, trying to keep the excitement from seeping out too much.
Mr. Blain extends his hand from his robe and an amulet on a chain drops from it, dangling before the Duke. It hangs there, slowly swinging and spinning in front of his eyes, sparkling in the firelight. The crystal in the middle seems shine with beams of light, firing in random directions, as it spins. Dots of light appear on the walls around the room, appearing and disappearing with the motion. That’s it. It’s real. It’s perfect.
He can’t help but let his eyes light up as he looks at it. Uncontrolled he lets out an almost inaudible sigh. He can’t hide the excitement on his face any more as he looks up at Althea. “What about the temple? Do we have a name?”
Althea tenses slightly and locks her face into an expressionless state as she speaks. “Yes. Moorpam. The beast said it was far east, near the base of the Crescent Moon Mountains. But…”
Not meaning to cut her off, but unable to contain himself, he gasps loudly. “Excellent! More than I expected. We should be able to pinpoint it in no time.” He turns to look at Mr. Blain, who has not moved other than to pull his hand back inside his robe, but doesn’t get the chance to speak.
Speaking louder, letting a little of her anger seep out, Althea continues her previous thought. “There was a price beyond what we expected to get these. A price I am not comfortable with. We lost a man to it. That monster took Morgan Dragg as payment. Killed him right in front of us. Required we witness this before he would give us the name.”
Duke Fredrick Ravedorn’s face dropped. Damn it. His excitement was still there behind the surface, but he felt the hit hard. His eyes showed the sadness and he slumped his shoulders. In a lower voice he says, “I should have known Gran-Dar-Rik would pull something like this. Damn dragons. Can’t really trust them to treat an honorable debt the same as the rest of us. Cruel greedy bastards.”
He sighs deeply and looks down for a second, leaving the room silent except for the sound of the fire. When he looks back up he doesn’t make eye contact with Althea. “Nothing we can do now except honor his death by moving forward. We have even more reasons to succeed now.”
Althea nods, but he can tell she isn’t completely comfortable or sold on it.
“But now we have some research to do.” Ravendorn says, looking up at Mr. Blain. He then looks back at Althea. “We can’t risk the others talking too much or getting involved in anything before I need them together again. Tomorrow I will have a little delivery job for the lot of you, just to pass the time while Mr. Blain and I head the research. Should give us the time we need and keep you all together and busy.”
Althea nods her acceptance, but has a question. “What about Kobekoon Minasela Roontasa and Mercedes Windsmith? They are not part of my unit, but they were at the cave with us. I know Kobekoon has a debt to fulfill with you, but Mercedes has no such need to come.”
“Take them with you anyway. They may not be needed for this delivery, but they will be needed for what follows. I just can’t have them running around and running their mouths around town. Sorry, it’s just two more you will have to baby-sit on this trip.”
She nods again and starts to rise, but then looks at him with a slightly confused look. “Two more? I assure you I do not see my men as being baby-sat, so two more of what are we talking about?”
He waves his hand, as if to shoo her question away. “I’ll explain everything in the morning. Right now Mr. Blain and I have a lot to go over and discuss.”
Althea seems to accept this and heads out of the room, closing the door behind her.
As soon as she is gone he rises and reaches for the amulet, which Mr. Blain already has out again. It feels cold in his hand and the edges are nearly razor sharp. He holds it towards his face, with the fire behind it and examines the craftsmanship closely. In a nearly inaudible voice he speaks his internal thoughts. “The time is close now. This one is real. I can feel it. Soon it will finally be over.”
Mr. Blain nods and the two of them head towards the room to start their work in the table room. Right before they pass through the door the Duke stops and jerks his head, remembering something. He rushes back and grabs the small stack of books sitting on the table next to his chair, carrying them out of the room with him. Handing the top one to Mr. Blain he says, “This one should come in handy. It’s about the dogs’ land.”
The end of the Prelude… but not the story.