Thirteenth Rain

The Ashen Blade Chronicles - Epilogue

"Mercenaries unwittingly become traitors when Barrakas is shy..."

There was a wrap at the door…

The sound echoed through the rooms of the little cottage hidden in the small copse that travellers on the road to the Great Crag called the Windy Wood. The half-orc named Garn rose from a wicker chair in the large reception room and unlatched the door. Six figures loomed in the doorway but Garn knew well who they were. It had been three days since the excoriate, the disgraced scion of House Tharask had led the Ashen Blades back into Graywall to face their former master Karkillian and he was relieved that all of them had made it back.

A soft wind, accompanied by a light drizzle, whipped through the door as Garn opened it wider to let the company of mercenaries through. The half-orc nodded broodingly at the company’s leader, a former man of Breland. The grey-haired man nodded back and set his shield at the doorway as he led his men into the cottage. Garn gestured at the company, raising his arm in the direction of the back room, indicating that they were expected.

The Brelish man who called himself Wrogar looked towards the back room. A soft light rolled out of the smaller area at the back of the cottage and the air carried a sweet singing. The six mercenaries of the Ashen Blades passed through the archway which divided the small house and, one by one, knelt at the feet of the hag named Sora Teraza, a seer of untold power and one of the three leaders of Drooam.

“My Lady…” Wrogar began, bowing his head and raising a clenched fist to his chest.

A faint voice replied from beneath the cowl hiding the seer’s face – “Is it done?”

“Karkillian is dead. The one you call Ravanna is gone from Greywall,” Wrogar answered.

The hag started to laugh softly. “I very much doubt that…” she whispered. “Still, for now Greywall is safe and you, my Sons of Droaam, have brought us a step closer to vanquishing this threat to our nation.”

“Forgive my ignorance my Lady,” the Brelish man piped up, “but where did this name we have earned come from. Who decided that we would be the Sons of Droaam?”

Once again, all of the Ashen blades could hear sweet singing echo through the air. Some turned their heads and looked towards the dark corner of the cottage from whence the notes came. Emerging into the light was Sora Teraza’s aide; a young changeling she called Gem.

“Sons of Droaam, hear the call.
You represent the demon’s fall.
They rout us now o’er hills and dales.
Rise up and drive them from our vales.”

“That name was decided by fate long ago Master Colworn. I merely drove you towards something which was already predetermined.”

Wrogar was confused, although he didn’t show it. He was a soldier, a good one at that. All this talk of prophecy and fate was beyond him. For most of his life he had felt that his fate was bound to one thing and one thing alone – the steel of a good blade.

That said, his mind had been opened a little over the last few years within the strange company of mercenaries he led. The Valenar elf often talked of prophets within the order of druids he called the Siyal. Another, the Aundarian man, spoke of life after death and rebirth at the hands of the Keeper. Perhaps there was truth to what the seer had to say.

He looked around the faces of his fellows and contemplated what they must be making of the situation before them. He darted a glance towards Cabal, the weighty warforged. He resolved to consult with him later. Wrogar appreciated the constructs unwavering loyalty as well as his innate sense of the shape of things to come.
________________________________________________________

Cabal winced as a thought of his old artificer friend popped into his head. For the last few years, the image of Haze-of-Death, the undead dragon of the Mournland, bearing down on his friend had been burned into his mind. The dwarfs parting words to the warforged soldier, while nothing more than a simple phrase, had been more complex than any instruction the soldier had ever been given – “Change everything.”

Cabal thought of his friend’s notebook. The dwarf had been scribbling in the simple leather-bound jotter for years, taking note of what he called threads – lines which seemed to connect the key events in Khorvaire’s troubled past. Cabal stopped and corrected himself in his own mind – Khorvaire’s troubled future. The artificer and his contacts in the group who referred to themselves as the Cabal had started looking for these threads not long after the start of the cataclysmic war between the dragons of Argonessen and the demon lords of Khyber – open conflict between the Light of Siberys, the vanguard of the dragon armies and the forces of the Lords of Dust, a coalition of fiends. The two had been tied in cold war over the draconic prophecy for millennia so it seemed like a foregone conclusion that it would boil up to militant action at some point. Initially, subtlety had been the only option for the Lords of Dust – they simply didn’t have the power to conquer Khorvaire through strength of arms. Instead, they manipulated and twisted people, governments and, at times, whole countries into do their bidding.

Never had these tactics been so clear to Cabal as it was in Droaam. This one fiend who Sora Teraza called Ravanna had tried to throw the entire nation into revolution through four minor acts – a revolution which the demon had hoped would spread to the borders with Breland and beyond, striking deep into the heart of the continent. Had it not been for the seer’s intervention, Ravanna’s plans might well have succeeded.
Still, one thing bothered Cabal. The old dwarven artificer’s notes had spoken of a thread in Droaam. His notes pointed towards the mercenary group of which the warforged had become a part. The threads, however, were vague and ambiguous. They only revealed times, factions and places which were important and not necessarily why they were important. It seemed good that the Ashen Blades had prevented chaos in Droaam but it was impossible to know the wider repercussions of their actions. When they first met, Sora Teraza spoke, with defiance in her voice, of Ravanna’s plans to bend the prophecy towards the will of the fiends but, as Cabal reasoned, was she not doing exactly the same thing? She had thrown the Ashen Blades into the mix to shift the prophecy away from Ravanna’s end. She was manipulating events just as much as the demon.

Cabal had a certain amount of respect for the Daughters of Sora Kell. They had forged a nation out of chaotic, monstrous warbands and that was no mean feat. Still, they were not heroines. He did not recognise them as a force of good in the world. Quite to the contrary in fact, he recalled the tales which angry Cyran parents used to tell their children of Sora Maenya. They said that she would trap the souls of those she devoured, spitting out their bones and decorating her halls with them. While he was sure that some of the details were embellished for horrific effect, he believed that there was likely to be some truth to the stories of these three hags. Anything they did was for their own advancement and Cabal wondered what exactly they sought in all of this. Yes, they had created a nation to rule over but what was their end game? What did they have in mind for the future? What would be their next move?

Cabal couldn’t help but wonder – did the Ashen Blades need to defeat Ravanna’s plans and side with Sora Teraza to change everything or was this new alliance with the Daugther of Sora Kell the very thing that he should have been preventing?
________________________________________________________

Wrogar cursed the warforged silently. His face of metal and machine was unflinching and impossible to read. He had no idea what was going on in his mind.

Then the Daughter spoke once more – “Ravanna is gone from Graywall but some of those loyal to him have made their way to the Great Crag.”

Wrogar had never been into the heart of the Great Crag, only admiring it from afar on a few missions which took him close to the capital of the new nation of Droaam. Still, he knew some details about it. The Great Crag was the seat of power in Droaam – the largest city and the place where the Daughters of Sora Kell ruled over the nation. It was carved into a large mountain jutting up from an otherwise flat landscape. During the Dhakaani Empire, The Great Crag was an important city and a gateway to the west of their empire. Wrogar had heard more than one goblin savant speak of legends which said that the mountain pulled up through the ground during an ancient war which reduced the Dhakaani Empire to ruins.

“They seek the information in my library,” the hag continued. “They look for books of wisdom but they shall find nothing but empty shelves there.”

“Forgive my ignorance Lady, but I do not understand,” the Brelish man replied.

Again, while he had never visited himself, he had heard rumours that Sora Teraza kept a library of knowledge in the Great Crag. While it was just murmurings from the odd sage, druid or chieftain passing through Graywall, he was fairly convinced that it had to be founded in some kind of truth. The sister’s words were baffling to him.

The young changeling named Gem moved, almost skipping, towards one of the shelves adorning the walls of the back room of the cottage. There were four in total, each harbouring a fair layer of dust. Each of the shelves bore a little glass orb which shed the soft glow around the room and one also had a weighty tome sitting on top of it. Gem brought the heavy volume over to the hag who patted its cover.

“This is my library,” she began, “a collection of the knowledge the cosmos has afforded me.”

“Incredible…” Thalaen whispered.

Wrogar darted him a look but knew that it was neither the first, nor that last time that the elf would speak out of turn. Truth be told, he admired his tenacity.

“I wish to share some of this knowledge with you now,” the Daughter continued. “You may ask three questions of me and if I can answer, I will… to an extent.”

The young changeling stepped forward again and Wrogar couldn’t help but think that even in speaking, her voice was dulcet and hauntingly beautiful.

“Knowledge… Truth… Power lies therein,” the shape changer started, “but ask with caution. Consider only questions you need answers to… and answers you are sure you wish to hear.”

“Take some time to think on it,” the old hag chimed in. “Garn, set a fire and let them warm their bones.”
________________________________________________________

The mercenaries huddled on the floor of the reception room as the half orc set about lighting a fire in the simple mantelpiece engraved into the side of the cottage.

“What do we ask?” Wrogar said to his men.

“How about ‘Can we leave yet?’” Thalaen offered, with a wry smile Wrogar had come to know all too well.

Wrogar rolled his eyes and looked around the rest, hoping to find some inspiration among them.

“What of these other players the hag spoke of when last we met?” replied the Aundarian man named Riven.

Wrogar nodded with approval. When they had sought Garn’s help half a week before, they discovered for the first time that he was in the direct employ of Sora Teraza. This was presumably the conflict of interest for which he was excoriated from his house. When they met the sister, she spoke of the Ashen Blades as just one group who had a part to play in the future of Khorvaire.

The first she mentioned were a collection of adventurers travelling throughout Breland with one Orryn Wyrdsmiff. The second group were from the distant continent of Sarlona – a place Wrogar knew little to nothing of, led by a man named Nevitash.

At the time, the hag had suggested that he send his journal, chronicling Ravanna’s Droaamish plots, to each of these men in the hope that it would draw their attention to plays of the Lords of Dust.

Riven raised a valid point. Perhaps if they knew more of these groups and what they were, or what they should be trying to achieve, they could better inform them. There was a little discussion amongst the Ashen Blades but it was eventually decided that those were two worthy questions. That left them with one.

“We must ask of these Lords of Dust,” Tuaranak suggested.

Wrogar nodded but with an air of caution. He wanted to see what everyone else thought before he agreed. Tuaranak was potentially biased in this decision. The Mul was a Sage of the Mountains – he revered nature and its cycles and believed that it held the balance of power in its hands. At one stage, Wrogar had encountered Tuaranak arguing with Cabal over the fate of the fallen nation of Cyre. Cabal, who had apparently fought for Cyre during the War, maintained that it was the foolishness of House Cannith which had brought about the cataclysmic end of the country. Tuaranak offered that it was simply nature, checking the power of the sons and daughters of Galifar who had thought themselves beyond arbitration. These Lords of Dust, these princes of the Demon Wastes were an affront to the natural order of things. Wrogar knew that Tuaranak would gladly give his life to lock these monsters into the vaults of Khyber to stop their taint from spoiling the land.

Still, the rest of the company seemed to be in agreement. If they were to fight these Lords of Dust, then they should know what they were up against. It was decided that they would ask the Daughter where they could find these Lords of Dust.
________________________________________________________

Wrogar ambled back into the back room, followed by his men and once again kneeled before the hag who was flanked by her two aides.

“Do not be so nervous Master Colworn,” the hag began. “You are not the first human I have afforded my wisdom to.”

“There was one who came before you,” she continued, “an envoy from Lady Lyrris of Sharn who sought the Blade of Dol Azur.”

Wrogar was about to launch into question but the Daughter of Sora Kell raised her hand and gestured to all of the mercenary company.

“You have your questions Sons of Droaam?” she began.

“Indeed my Lady,” Wrogar answered.

“Then Speak…”

“Tell us first of these Lords of Dust whom fate has deemed that we should wile away our years in conflict with. Where do find them?” the grey haired man asked.

The hag didn’t even look down at the book on her lap. In fact, she seemed to flick to a page almost arbitrarily. As the book fell open at that page, a bright light flashed through the room – so much so that all of the Ashen blades, with the exception of Cabal, shielded their eyes.

Beneath the cowl of Sora Teraza, Wrogar noticed two eyes, inflamed with some unnatural light – both beautiful and terrible at the same time. It sent a shiver running through his body.
The Daughter spoke although her voice was not the same. It was deeper in tone and sounded almost slurred. It was as if the hag was channelling someone else through her body.

“The Lords of Dust have been playing games with the common races for thousands of years. They hide in the shadows of Khorvaire, plotting to free their ancient masters from the depths of Khyber, scheming to use them to gain greater power, or spreading pain and suffering among the common races. The Lords of Dust have little interest in complex hierarchies. The most powerful fiends occasionally gather in the ancient capital of the rakshasas – the city of Ashtakala in the Demon Wastes. There they discuss their current schemes and goals, but they have no leader. Membership is earned and kept through cunning and personal power. The organization also includes a host of weaker fiends, lesser rakshasas and other demons content to serve the scheming lords. The Lords of Dust are immortal, and their motivations are difficult for creatures of flesh and blood to understand. Sometimes their actions serve a clear purpose; other times they seek to cause chaos for its own sake, toying with the common races like pawns on a chessboard. These games can continue for centuries. Some say that the destruction of Xen’drik and the collapse of Galifar were ultimately engineered by members of the Lords of Dust—fiends subtly unravelling the threads of civilization to watch the suffering and pain as societies collapse… but I will say no more of this lest I reveal too much.”

The bright eyes beneath the cowl faded away to little more than that of smouldering embers and she closed the book which sat on her lap.

She sighed and addressed Wrogar again.

“What is the second question.”

The Brelish man revealed the Ashen blades second question, still mesmerised by the display of power he had just witnessed.

“This Nevitash of Sarlona, what should we tell him?”

The hag took a deep breath and repeated the process of turning up a random page in her book. It was once again accompanied by a flash of light, the emblazoned eyes and the terrifying voice from beyond.

“Nevitash is not a man but a Kalashtar. The Kalashtar started life as monks, possessed by incorporeal entities from the alien plane of Dal Quor, the Region of Dreams who merged with human bodies and spirits to form a distinct species. They were once a minority among the quori, the native race of Dal Quor, hunted and persecuted for their religious beliefs. The evil quori spirts invaded Eberron eons ago and had it not been for a tentative alliance between the dragons and the giants of Xen’drik, they may well have succeeded. The arcane technologies gifted to the giants by the dragons shunted the plane of Dal Quor away from its rotation so that it could never again become coterminous with the material plane. The kalashtar were the first of the quori to discover a means to reach the Material Plane once more. Fleeing persecution, they transformed their physical forms into psychic projections that allowed them to enter the Material Plane and merge in a willing partnership with humans. It took centuries for the other quori to discover a similar means to psychically project their spirits out of Dal Quor to possess human bodies. Today the majority of the continent of Sarlona is controlled by The Inspired – humanoid vessels specifically bred for Quori possession. They control the lands of Riedra. To those who look on Riedra, it seems like it is an almost utopian society. There is no inner conflict or strife and the people are kept placid and obedient by the will of The Inspired. There are others, however, who see this control as a travesty and view the inhabitants of Riedra as slaves who need to be free. Adar is the mountainous region southeast of Riedra, and east of Syrkarn. To its inhabitants, Adar is mostly known as a refuge from the dictatorship of Riedra, and many of its residents can trace their lineage to refugees and dissidents of the Riedran state. To this day, Riedra considers Adar a danger to its enforced stability, and regularly sends troops to attack the borders of the region. Nevitash leads a resistance force in Adar and seeks to free Riedra of The Inspired. His task is great but he is fighting a bigger battle than he can manage. Riedra has started to make contact with the wider world of Eberron, sending high ranking diplomats to the nations of Khorvaire. These diplomats harbour dark secrets which they carry from Dal Quor. They are emissaries of Quor Tarai, the spirit of the age of nightmares. If you wish to tell Nevitash something, tell him this – Look to the obelisks for they carry the will of the Circle of Night.”

The book on the seer’s lap closed once more and her hands grew limp, almost letting it slip out of her hands. Gem bent forward and lifted the book back firmly into her lap. There was a moment of silence and Wrogar could hear heavy, almost laboured breathing coming from beneath the hag’s cowl. A decrepit hand waved the young changeling girl away.

“What is your final question,” Sora Teraza began, “and speak quickly!”

Wrogar noted the distinct change in her voice – she was angry. He thought it best to proceed as quickly as possible.

“Our final question is about this Orryn. Tell us what we should advise him to do.”

For a third time, the book was opened and the hag’s transformation began again.

“Orryn is a gnome of Zilargo though he has made a home in Breland over the last few years. He travels with an odd collection of companions – an ebon skinned elf from Xen’drik, one of the eladrin of Thelanis, a man from Cyre and one of Karrnath and a lycan who has plegedd herself to the Penitent Brethren of the Silver Flame. They carry with them a prophecy mark, seared into their flesh four years ago but they have not yet uncovered the power which lies therein. They think that they have been wronged – their memories taken from them by a being who does not belong on this plane and who is now fighting an accidental war. They have left the city of Hatheril to seek more answers though fate may yet take them back there for that is where she has been anchored until the connection with Shavarath is severed. She is, for the meantime, an ally. They follow a trail to Wroat, led there by the very thing that their ally was trying to protect them from. They may yet find the answers there but they should consider carefully whether or not they want to find the answers they seek. It will lead them down a dark path – targets for those who lurk in the shadows of The Twelve. They are a coalition; a trust of Dragonmarked heirs who operate outside of their houses. It is through this trust that the Lords of Dust will strike.”

Wrogar looked deep into the seeming void below the hood of the hag and stared deep into the blazing eyes beyond. He noticed that they had started to glow all the brighter.

“There is more,” she continued, “but I cannot…”

There was a pause of a few seconds but to Wrogar, it seemed like minutes passing as he waited on the seer’s next words.

“…and yet I must…” she started again.

The hag rose to her feet, holding the book in one hand and reaching her other withered hand out towards Wrogar.

“You can tell them…”

She stopped. Her deep breathing was audible above everything and every in-breath seemed to be accompanied by a low rumble on the air. Then she cried out, almost as if in pain.
It was reactionary, but each of the Ashen Blades rose to their feet and some of them even twitched their fingers at the side of their weapons. Garn and Gem, by contrast, who had been standing the whole time, now fell to the floor, planting their faces into the wooden floorboards as if to hide their eyes.

The low rumbling became louder and louder and when it reached its crescendo, bright light erupted from within the Daughter of Sora Kell. It was the same hue as the light which accompanied each opening of her book but its intensity was unmatched by anything Wrogar had seen before. He shielded his eyes but desperately tried to glance beneath his arm to see what was happening to the hag.

Sora Teraza’s cloak had been cast off and the full horrid visage of the dust hag stood uncovered before the Ashen Blades. Her arms were wrenched backwards as if some force behind her was pulling at them. The bright light poured from her eyes and from her mouth which was agape as if crying for help.

She looked towards Wrogar and started to speak. The tone of her voice was lower than it had been at any point before. There was no hint of Sora Teraza in it – it was like a completely different person speaking.

“The child of the Qabalrin can save his friends but to do so he must give in to that which he fears the most – that which dwells within…”

“Do not listen to the stories of High Walls. None survived the cataclysm for those who walked out of the fallen nation are not the same as those who lived there before…”

“There are two voices within the Flame. Beware the second for it seeks only misery for all…”

“The wyrds of the Fading Dream seek to release a cataclysm of nightmares upon the world – penance for their years in exile. Their tower hides in the lands of the Rhiavaar settlers."

“Evil stirs in the Pit of Sorrows, corrupting those who watch over the prison there. Be vigilant, for the same fate awaits Vulkoor’s chosen who guard the gates to the Demon-Web.”

“Eight gather at Krona Peak and that which was gold has now become platinum. Look to her fingers for they will unveil the Shadow Cabinet.”

With those final words, the book slipped out of Sora Teraza’s hand and the hag fell to floor unconscious.

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