In the couple of hours since leaving the temple, night had fallen. I was determined to put as much distance between myself and the temple where I had been imprisoned as possible. The Serpent River could not be more than a half days walk ahead of me, and with luck I hoped to find my way to Bartertown and link up with my allies.
I had been jogging or walking now since leaving the temple, and I took a moment to catch my breath, cool off in the night air, and drink some water from my canteen. As I did, I looked into the sky and I will never forget that moment. The sky was clear and the stars bright like they are in the mountains. It was then that my eyes were drawn to the hole in the sky that I knew used to be the constellation of Rashomon, the Passion of my ancestors. That place in the night sky had been void of any of its stars since the Scourge. Yet, now as I gazed upon the stars that my forefathers had gazed upon in generations past, I saw a bright shining star where just yesterday, there had been none. The star seemed to be shining a light back in the direction from which I had come. I do not know how long I stared at that star, but it was some time for when I finally moved again my body had cooled.
I was going back to the temple.
Everything was suddenly so clear. I knew I must return to the temple. I knew my friends would find me there. I knew the temple was infested with a corruption and that I would need my allies to help me kill it so that the temple could be sanctified. I also knew that there, Rashomon would be waiting and he had a plan for me.
I quickened my step.
When I arrived back at the temple it was well into the night. I slowed to a walk as I approached, knowing that something was happening. I inspected the pillars outside of the temple, and I found that the one that was toppled had an etching of the constellation of Rashomon, which I remembered from the books I had been reading that we had gotten in the ruins of Paralinth. As I approached the entryway to the temple, I saw a bright light coming from below it. I knew who was coming, and I dropped to one knee.
Rashomon. The long lost Passion of Leadership, Tolerance, Perseverance and Rebirth. All traits in short supply among name-givers since the dark days of the scourge. He rose from the depths in the form of a phoenix made of white, pure light. How to describe what I saw? A great bird of the sky, flickering with white fire was before me. So noble, bold and powerful. I felt a wave of calm wash over me. I felt the presence of my father, my lost brother, my ancestors. I knew they were watching me, and I could feel their pride. Tears washed unchecked down my face as I stood.
The Passion said nothing, he did not have to. I knew my purpose and he knew why I was here. The phoenix before me seemed to pause, as if waiting my consent. I simply nodded, both of us knowing it was a formality. Suddenly I was awash in orange-white fire, and though it was burning me I felt no pain and suffered no injury, I only felt a power being absorbed within my soul. I knew then that I was a Questor of Rashomon, his only questor, his Prophet of the modern era. I also knew that the return of Rashomon would herald a new beginning. The leadership and tolerance he represented, not just among name-givers but among the Passions themselves, would change the fates of the world. But I also knew it was all in great peril, balancing as though on the edge of a knife. I now understood the purpose of The Unchained, and why Tago was so sure they were tied to my fate. Though I knew there was so much to do, for a lifetime of work lay before me, Konigsberg, the dragon, The Book of Tomorrow, the conflict between Thera and Throal, the Horrors… all of those things that had seems so daunting, so huge, so impossible before, now seemed smaller and obtainable, like the massive trees of a forest suddenly shrunk down to a bunch of children’s toys on a table.
The blinding fire that had engulfed me suddenly ended as quickly as it began, and I saw that the form of Rashomon was gone and the night was again dark. Yet, I could feel his presence within me, and I knew he was there. I smiled. It was a peaceful smile of the sort that I knew hadn’t crossed my lips since the day I left for Ore Mountain and the battle that would ensue there between the noble men of Konigsberg and Crystal Raiders of the Bloodlore moot.
“Chorack Bonecracker”, I thought aloud. Chorack was the troll who had killed my father… whom I had hated, whom I had wanted to kill maybe even more than my treacherous uncle Elfric. I now understood so much about Chorack Bonecracker… and I knew I must find him.
Yet there was much to do before then. Many of the children’s toy trees on the table lay between us and our goals. The first thing I did was check on the two orks I had thrown into my old prison cell down in the temple. As I went down there, I could feel the cold, evil presence of the horror who dwelt beneath the temple. I could see that both Orks were unconscious. The bigger one, Grodnag, had moved and was asleep in the corner. He looked miserable. Ned, the head jailor, was snoring loudly and still bloody from the stone I had clobbered him with. I began to collect the weapons and equipment that was down there. I did not know how far away my allies were, but I planned to collect everything we could possibly use and store it away from the camp and the temple in case Trejack and his men came back. We could put it to use on the Dashing Stag at some point if my friends made it here before Trejack. As I began to strip the armor off of one of the dead ork guards, Grodnag woke up. He looked at me with surprise.
“I thought you were long gone, hummie.” He stated this with a touch of amusement in his voice.
I ignored him and kept working. Ned woke up at that point and groaned as he got to his feet. I had taken his armor and sword during my escape, both of which I was now wearing. The first words out of his mouth were orkish curses directed at me. He acted like a childish bully who didn’t know how to act after getting beaten up for the first time. After his monotony of curses were completely ignored, he followed up by calling me a thief. In my younger days I would have killed him for such an insult, but now I simply did not have the time, nor did I care. I simply glanced at him with a cold stare, and seeing nothing but death in my gaze he fell silent. Grodnag smirked at Ned’s discomfort.
Without warning, the dead ork beneath me stirred. He was clearly dead, I had slashed his throat in a lethal hit using Ned’s broadsword. The eyes in the orks head, dead and unseeing flicked toward me. Shocked, I scrambled backwards. Ned began shrieking, a long wailing sound that was unnerving. I stabbed down at the corpse as it tried to rise. My blade sunk deep into its body but it continued to rise. I ripped the blade out and brought it back down again, slamming it square into the top of its head. This time the undead ork collapsed to the floor. I remember at some point Ned collapsing to the floor in a heap while Grodnag backed into the corner in fear. The other orks in the building also rose from the dead. The fight with them was short and brutal, as none were particularly strong or agile. Mostly, it was just bloody, gruesome work.
Once the last of the undead guards was slain, I carried a load of supplies outside and stored them about a half mile away in a copse of small but bushy trees. I was satisfied with their hiding place, thinking that only a trained scout or huntsman like Dremnin would be able to easily spot them there. I then went back into the temple to gather up some more things. When I got downstairs, things had dramatically changed with the two ork guards.
In the corner Grodnag sat looking fearfully at Ned. Ned, the look of bitter anger long gone from his face now was awake and looked crazed. He was sweating and staring at Grodnag, muttering under his breath to himself. Then blurted out loudly; “But I know him, must I do it?”
I knew immediately what had happened. Whatever demon lurked beneath the floors of this area had marked Ned. He was now under the influence of a horror, and was moments away from killing his former underling, Grodnag. I quickly pulled the keys to the cell off of my belt and opened the door with my shield hand and brandishing my sword at Ned with the other.
“Come with me if you want to live.” I said to Grodnag without taking my eyes off of Ned, who was slobbering like a loon and still staring at Grodnag. Grodnag needed no encouragement and with a deft move leapt to his feet and ran for the door. Ned’s eyes went wide as he saw his victim escaping and he leapt to his feet and charged for the door his hands out in front of him with his fingers curled up like claws. I stepped forward and kicked Ned in the chest, knocking him back onto the floor in a sprawl. Grodnag dove through the door, and I stepped back threw it and slammed it shut, locking it. Ned jumped up and howled like an animal, reaching through the bars at us. I ignored him and picked up Grodnag, who looked stunned seeing Ned act as he was. I led Grodnag out of the temple by the scruff of his neck.
Once outside, I told Grodnag that Ned was horror marked and that the only chance of saving him was to slay the horror. Grodnag looked at me in amazement. I glared back at him. “I will kill the horror that defiles this temple, for Rashomon has returned and I am his prophet. I will also bring Trejack and his men to justice. ”
Grodnag just stared at me, in awe. I then made Grodnag perform his skill, for I was unsure if he too was horror marked. Grodnag reluctantly performed his skill, which was actually quite astonishing. He sang a great ballad in Orkish, a language I did not understand. I must say, his deep voice was quite impressive. After he was done, he looked down at the ground and said nothing. Much later in life, I would learn that the song was an orkish love story.
“Very well, Grodnag.” I said to him. “You are not horror marked. Now, tell me your story… how did you become a guard for lowly slavers?”
Grodnag raised an eyebrow, then nodded.
“In all of my life, nobody has ever asked me what my story is. I shall tell you. Before I do though, I have a request.” He looked at me seeking permission to continue.
“Go on.” I said. I did not like Grodnag, for he was a slaver and I had that made me despise him.
He nodded again. “Trejack keeps some of the finest ale in his tent. I have always wanted to try some of it. Allow me to show you where it is, and I will tell you my tale. I’ll need the ale to get through it.”
I agree to his request and we made our way to the camp where Grodnag showed me Trejack’s tent. I had already been through that tent, and had taken a journal of Trejack’s from it. Gronag poured a mug of ale from a large keg on a pedestal. He then told me his tale and I understood then why he wanted the ale to tell it.
Grodnag was from a nomadic tribe of Orks somewhere on the plains near Travar, and his father was an ork Scorcher. His father’s band of Scorchers and cavalrymen were responsible for protecting their tribe of orks. As a youth, Grodnag was invited to participate in his first raid against a different tribe of orks. That ill-fated raid would see the death of all of his father’s band, including his father who he saw die. He alone escaped death, having been knocked unconscious and left for dead by the enemy tribe. He got himself up and began to wonder back toward where he thought his tribe of people had been. When he found them, their camp was still smoldering. All had been slain or, in the case of women and children, taken into slavery by the opposing tribe, as slavery was still a common practice among such tribes. He began to make his way to Travar with nothing but the clothes on his back. There, starving and haggard, he he was recruited to be a guard by an ork named Thren. Thren was mysterious, and only would say that the job paid well and would require an airship ride to the location where he would work as a guard. Having nothing else to do, and no money even for food, Grodnag agreed and swore an oath to serve Thren. That was four years ago and though he admitted he had not lost much sleep over his job, he knew he had made a bad bargain and was ashamed. His only dream had been to become a Scorcher like his father.
Grodnag suddenly offered to start a fire and I responded flatly.
“Start one if you need to. Me, I have spent much time recently with the troll moots in the Twilight Peaks and this night is balmy by comparison to the cold there.”
He looked at me again with surprise. “The Twilight Peaks? Trejack seems to be the lamb who captured the wolf. ”
I smiled at that. The wolf had always been the symbol of my people, the people of Knonigsberg. I doubted Grodnag, a simple Ork from the Travarian plains could know that. “I have allies that will be here soon Grodnag, and we must prepare for their arrival.”
Grodnag looked at me again with a slight smile. “Ah, so that is how you plan to defeat the horror and Trejak!”
“Yes.” I said. “When my allies arrive, these things will be done. Now, tell me when Trejack will arrive.“
Grodnag told me a lot more than that. He knew when Trejack would be back, how many crewmen he would have, where they would pull in to drop anchor, how strong Trejack’s men were. He gave me so much information about Trejack’s operation and coming, that I felt an ambush of Trejack was not only possible, but almost garanteed to take him completely by surprise. As far as Trejack was concerned, this was his home groud and I was harmlessly locked up in a cell with my friends thousands of miles away. The information Grodnag had given us would practically ensure Trejack’s defeat.
When he was finished, Grodnag took another long pull of ale. “You know, most lords I have known don’t fight horrors, they don’t lead men, and they don’t concern themselves with the stories of a lowly ork guard working for slavers.”
I did not look at Grodnag, my eyes were transfixed to Rashomon’s returned star. “I am not most lords.”
Then I spoke for a long time about honor, about doing something that is greater than oneself. When it was all said and done he seemed eager for a chance at atonement, and he wanted to help bring the passion of Rashomon back into the world. I agreed to let him help us clear the temple, and I made it clear to him that for a non-adept, it would be very risky. He looked at me solemnly. His words were simple. “We all die. I have much to atone for, and if what you say is true, the return of Rashomon is something I would be proud to fight for. I will follow you into the temple.”
For a dirty slaver, Grodnag had impressed me. I would give him his chance, and I hoped it would not result in his death.