Fantastic World Ch. 02byLady_Blackhawk©
Callia spent the next ten days traveling by horse to Elverholme. Once she reached the Elven citadel, she inquired into directions to the home of Thanadar Shalazarn and soon found herself standing in front of an ornately sculptured home made out of a tree. It was one of the most breathtaking things she had ever seen. As she approached the arched entrance, she noticed the swirling designs of the carvings in the massive oak. She had seen many impressive dwellings in her time, but nothing so naturally grand.
As she touched the door, the sound of trilling birds filled her ears. Soon the door opened and a beautiful female elf with pale blond hair and large voluminous blue eyes appeared on the other side. "May I help you?" she spoke in soft flowing Elven.
"I am Callia Blackhawk-Darksbane. I have a letter from Archwizard Shalazarn. He bade me to come here. Is he available?"
"Yes, we have been expecting you. Please do follow me." She replied. "By the way, I am Arshae."
"It is a pleasure to meet you, Arshae. I am happy to finally be here."
Arshae led her to a library of sorts and called out to Thanadar. He rounded one of the columns and approached her, holding out his hand in greeting. "I am Thanadar. I am pleased that you have arrived."
"Greetings, Thanadar. I am Callia Blackhawk-Darksbane. I am happy to be here finally. It's been a long ten days."
"Would you like to rest?"
"No, I am fine. You have kept me in suspense ever since I received your letters. I would like to know more about what you contacted me for and what you need me to retrieve for you."
"Arshae, my love, would you have refreshments brought?" He asked as he offered his hand to Callia. "Let us adjourn to somewhere more comfortable."
He led her to a more private area in the library with a roaring fire and two wingback chairs flanking it. "Have a seat, my lady." He offered as he sat in the one opposite to her. "The treasure I seek is a very valuable book, but retrieving it will be extremely dangerous. From what I have divined, the tome is at the heart of a ruined underground complex. But to get to this complex, you must seek the ruins of a tower there within which lies the keys to obtaining the ancient volume. According to my research, three obstacles must be surpassed in order to gather the keys and unlock the way to the book. I believe the obstacles to be surpassed are the guardians of the keys."
"Sounds like a challenge." Callia remarked.
"I am surprised you did not bring anyone with you."
"I suppose I should have, but I needed time to be alone. I will be fine. Can you tell me where this ruin is?"
"Better yet, I have acquired a map. There is one more thing I must mention and you may feel free to back out if you wish."
"I will be the judge of that. Tell me what you have not."
"The ruin is on a whole other plane of existence." Thanadar stated.
"And what plane is that?" Callia asked, her brow furrowing. She didn't know a whole lot about plane hopping. She had been on one other before and that was not the best of experiences.
"It is called Aezaria. The ruin is deep within the Azure Mountains. Here is the map." Thanadar handed it to her for her perusal.
She studied it carefully. Aezaria looked like a whole continent of its own. "And how am I going to get there? I certainly can't ride my horse there."
"I will provide you with your way there. Fear not. I have taken care of the arrangements."
"Is there anything else I need to know?"
"Yes, there is. There is one other I know of who had this same map and may very well be searching for this treasure. You will want to be careful."
"That's an understatement." Callia scoffed. "One last question. What's in it for me? What do I get for doing this for you?"
"What is it you wish?"
"You're not serious, are you?"
"Quite serious. If you succeed, feel quite free to name your price. Whatever you want. Gold, platinum, magic items. Whatever you feel is appropriate is what I shall give you."
"Very well. I will keep that in mind."
"Plus feel free to keep anything else of value from that ruin."
The elven barbarian scoffed at him once more. "This almost sounds too good to be true."
"I assure you it is real. I have done my research well. Arshae will testify to that. If you hear her tell it the only time I left my lab was too eat. She feels I have neglected her, but how else is a poor archwizard to perfect his craft?"
"Very well. When would you like me to begin my journey to Aezaria?"
"As soon as possible if you are not tired."
"And what of my horse? Will I be able to take it with me as well?"
"To an underground ruin? It would be quite difficult for the horse. This ruin is no place for such a beast. I will have it teleported back to your home in Shepherdstown if you would like."
"Very well. Everything I had planned to take with me is on my person. I left nothing on my horse. Send me away."
He ushered her to a room off of his laboratory that held a teleportation circle. He bade her to stand in the middle and concentrate on the map while he cast the spell to send her away to Aezaria.
A wave of vertigo washed over Callia as she landed in a forested area beside a slow moving stream. She dropped to her hands and knees, riding out the sensation of dizziness. She would never get used to teleportation. She shook herself as she stumbled to her feet. Why was that always so unpleasant?
As she gathered her bearings, she glanced around at her surroundings. Where am I? She scanned the trees and took note of the stream beside her. Kneeling, she cupped her hands into the water and drank of the cool sweet water, then splashed some onto her face. That would help clear up any lingering effects of the spell. Drying her hands on her cloak, she reached for the map and studied it. Callia hoped she was in the Azure Forest. Thanadar had told her the ruin was in the Azure Mountains. She studied the depiction of the mountains on the map and noted the markings on the map. The ruin was located at the southern end of the Azure Mountains. She figured if she headed east she would reach the mountains. She looked up at the sky, attempting to peer through the dense canopy in hopes of spotting the mountains, but the foliage was too thick. Dappled sunlight sprinkled the forest floor with hints of its shining. She concentrated on the shadows of the trees, examining the direction in which they fell. She figured it was mid-afternoon here in Aezaria and the shadows lengthened to the west. She smiled as she concluded she should travel the opposite direction of which the trees shadows were pointing. That should be east.
She hoped she was moving in the correct direction. She needed to get to the mountains as soon as possible. She needed to reach that ruin before the other person did. She only hoped that waiting to answer the letter from the archwizard wouldn't prove to be her downfall in this quest. She hoped whomever else it was that was searching for the treasure hadn't beaten her to it.
Callia looked around her before she set off in the easterly direction. She picked her way through the dense foliage as she searched for the easiest path to take through the forest. She scrambled over large fallen trees and picked her way passed thickets of spiny vegetation unlike any she'd ever seen before. As she climbed over another large fallen tree trunk, she began to take note of how quiet the forest surrounding her was. Besides the sounds of a few buzzing insects here and there, she heard nothing else besides her own breathing and the wind blowing. She immediately thought it odd that here in a forest she had heard no forest animals rooting in the underbrush. There was nary a bird, either. How very odd! She missed the trilling songs of the birds from back home in Shepherdstown. She even missed the sounds of the farm animals, the braying of the donkeys, the bawling of the milk cows, and the horses and pigs as well.
She smiled as she thought of the centaurs that occasionally came to Shepherdstown from their village of Fairwind. The half-man, half-horse beasts were always a sight to behold. It was nice to think of home. She already missed it. She thought of Verrshaun and how she could surely use his Ranger skills right about now, but she left him back in Shepherdstown to take care of business there.
Callia walked and walked for what seemed to be hours, scrambling over and under obstacles in her path. As she glanced up at the sky through the trees, she could tell it would soon be dusk. She knew she would have to find someplace to camp for the night. One of the trees would probably be the best place to spend the night. She smiled as she scanned her surroundings and found the perfect one.
It was a tall tree with flattish limbs. She climbed half way up and crawled onto the largest limb she could find. Pulling a rope from her pack, she anchored herself to the trunk of the tree to prevent herself from falling from it as she sought her reverie. Closing her eyes, she slipped into a dreamless trance.
Callia woke several hours later as light began to break through the boughs above her. After removing the rope that bound her body to the tree, Callia climbed down and rummaged through her pack. She pulled out a waterskin and a loaf of elven waybread. It would tide her over until she could hunt for some fresh wild vegetables and some meat. As she chewed on the bread and took a few small sips of water, her thoughts lingered not the task at hand, but the situation she left behind. She knew this quest could become extremely dangerous and she mentally kicked herself for coming alone. She should have brought Verrshaun along with her. Yet she knew she needed someone she could trust to monitor the situation in Shepherdstown. Perhaps she should have invited Cayden to come along. Her sister's skills as a scout could have been valuable to her. Cursing softly, she gave herself a mental shake. It was too late for what could have been's. She was here in Aezaria all alone. Best she made the most of it.
She finished her meal and set herself onto her path once more. She wouldn't reach the ruins if she dawdled here.
Two more days passed before Callia reached the eastern edge of Azure Forest and started into the foothills. This place puzzled her. She found little in the way of small animals, having to subsist of her own trial rations for substance for the most part. She knew something wasn't right about this place, but as to what she couldn't put her finger on it. What kind of place had that archwizard sent her to?
Yet she traveled onward. This quest was important. She had to be the one to reach the ruins. She had to recover the keys to the treasure first. She had to recover the book that the archwizard needed. And most of all, she had to find a way back home. None of this would matter unless she found her way back home.
As she set her feet on a trail that led up into the foothills of the mountains, the hair on the back her neck bristled and she scanned her surroundings. The feeling that she was being watched washed over her. Something or someone was out there. Callia readied herself to attack if needed. She knew not what was watching or following her, but she had a feeling it wasn't friendly.
She stopped momentarily and did a quick once over of the rocky landscape with her eyes. She blinked and squinted as she thought she caught a blur of something humanoid sized moving to the south of her. So something was there, or someone. She turned and headed toward it, summoning her large mercurial greatsword. She readied herself for the fight she knew would come if she caught whatever it was that followed her.
"Show yourself, you coward. I know you are out there and I am prepared to fight you if you plan to do me harm." Callia called out in the common language.
Pacing back toward the outcropping of rock where she caught sight of the movement, she peered behind it but found no one there. She let out the breath that she'd been holding and looked all around her. Had she imagined that she caught a glimpse of someone moving? She tapped her foot and checked the ground for tracks, but found none marring the surface of the rocky outcrop.
"Damn!" Callia swore aloud.
She huffed off in the direction she came from, mentally chastising herself. She must be imagining things. Being alone had done a number her.
"I should have brought someone with me," she muttered, talking to herself. "At least then I may not feel so lonely and be imagining things. And I wouldn't be talking to myself. By the Gods!"
Yet the uneasy feeling came again as she continued to scale the foothills. Craggy outcroppings of rock formed an endless labyrinth, now virtually barren of any plant life. The starkness of this place bothered her more than she cared to admit. Its desolate crags beckoned her to feel the bleakness, as if all her sorrows had emerged within her all at once. It made her uncomfortable.
Consulting her map, she noted her apparent location. The foothills seemed to be aptly named. They were called The Sorrows. She knew she must continue on until she reached the mountain pass that led to the ruin. She had to make it. And so she trudged on as the day passed and night approached.
Her mind began to wander rather aimlessly, dredging up memories she would rather forget. She dwelled heavily on her family. Callia had long been the 'black sheep.' Most of her days were spent idolizing Karowyn and trying her best to be as good as he. While she often proved to be the fastest runner and the greatest at many games of sport her clan competed in, Callia always felt second best. Regardless of what her accomplishments were, the reminders of her older brother were constant. It was those inadequacies that lead her to a different way to get the attention she desired. She openly sought the affections of Karowyn's warriors. She became addicted to the attention they gave her.
Yet she knew that had been the wrong way. Karowyn frowned upon her behavior. His lectures took on an edge of anger and disappointment. She gave him no other choice but to send her on a mission to benefit her clan. But she had failed. She arrived too late to save Karowyn's betrothed from death. At that moment, she knew she couldn't go home. She feared for being the bearer of bad news. She did not know how Karowyn would take it.
Fear of Karowyn...and dealing with the knowledge that she had shamed her mother. Her mother, she sneered contemptuously. The woman who loved children so much that she had adopted as many as she could... also the woman who could not abide living with a man whose tarnished soul overshadowed the love they shared. Her father had chosen to leave and with him went Cayden. Callia felt an aching sadness like none other over the loss of growing up without her twin.
Shame colored her cheeks and she fought back the tears that threatened to fall. Don't think about it. But it became hopeless. Her many deathly experiences haunted her. She felt utterly crippled by the lives she had taken and choked back a sob. So much death. So much blood on her hands.
A mountain of regret rested firmly upon her shoulders. Regret for the loss of life, and torment for the faces she could see when she closed her eyes. Callia lamented the hours spent in a drunken stupor, the hours spent wallowing in carnal lust, and for the friends she had pushed away with her coarse behavior. She knew certain ones had often ridiculed her behind her back. She was the laughing stock, the slut whose feelings did not count.
The sob she tried so hard to hold back escaped her lips. And as her mounting uncertainties began to wreak havoc on her, she grew less and less aware of her surroundings.
She let out a wail as she entered a small clearing in the rocks. Thousands of animal and humanoid bones littered the ground along with bits of broken armor and weapons. This wasn't good. The hairs stood up on the back of her neck once more and she let out a scream as something launched itself at her, slamming her to the ground. She hit the bone-covered surface hard and gasped for a breath as the air was knocked from her lungs. She screamed and struggled against her attacker as soon as she recovered her breath.
"LET ME GO!" She screamed as her eyes adjusted to the darkness and she could make out what her attacker was. It was a lithe humanoid with two arms and two legs and glowing red eyes peaking out from the cowl that covered its face.
Callia let out a shriek of pain as a dagger slammed into her shoulder. "Please let me go!" She cried as tears streak down her face and strangled sobs wracked her body. Continuing to struggle against her red-eyed assailant, she thrust her arms up between them and gave a mighty shove against its chest, hoping to dislodge its body from hers. Yet her attacker held fast and brought the dagger back down, piercing her other shoulder. She let out a tortured howl as she felt it sink into her flesh. "Stop please! Who are you? What do you want from me?"
"Your life," A husky growl issued forth from her assailant.
"You have something I want, you sniveling bitch."
The cloaked figure ignored her, jerking her head back cruelly and baring her neck. "Die now!"
Callia watched as he brought the dagger back down, aiming for her jugular. She let out a howl of fury as her rage gripped her and shoved against the chest of her attacker with all the strength she could muster. She rolled to her feet after throwing the cloaked figure off of her. She let out another howl of fury as she summoned her sword and charged towards the crouching cloaked figure. Twisting the sword to the flat edge of the blade, she swung fiercely and connected with the assailant's shoulder. A deep guttural hiss of pain issued forth from its lips as the sounds of bones snapping filled the air. She swung a second time with the same intensity and hit the being again, knocking it off its feet. As it stumbled and fell to the ground, Callia pounced, pinning the cloaked being beneath her to the ground. She drove her sword down into its shoulder, eliciting a high-pitched scream of agony from it.
"You picked the wrong elf to mess with. Who are you? Who sent you?" She screamed down into its covered face. She could see the eyes had changed from glowing red to cerulean blue and were glaring up at her. Its eyes were bright and glistening from the pain she'd inflicted with her sword. Ripping the cowl of the cloak back, she tore off the assassin's hood, revealing a male with stark white hair and polished obsidian skin. A dark elf!
Studying his features closely, Callia let out a gasp. "You thrice damned spider-lipped demon loving, ill-tempered, flea-bitten whoreson, I am going to make you rue the day you were born! You fucking bastard! What in the name of the Nine Hells are you doing following me and attacking me? Gods damn you, Jaz'rin! Who sent you?"
He let out a pained evil chuckle. "The same person who sent you, my sweetness, is who sent me. Whoever returns with the treasure gets the reward."
"And who would that be?"
The dark elf male named Jaz'rin merely chuckled at her. "If you do not know, then far be it me to tell you."
Callia jerked her sword out of his shoulder, hearing him hiss from the pain. "I thought dark elf males were submissive to females."
"To female dark elves yes, but to a surface female, not likely," he quipped.
"You were the couple times we were together." Callia pointed out.
Jaz'rin let out a mocking snort. "That was an act for your benefit. I was asked to be submissive to you."
"Damn that Amakiir!!!" Callia growled.
"Yes, may he be damned. I always thought him an odd one. You see, I've known him for a long time. His cruelty made me wonder if he was really a dark elf at heart. It certainly made me curious as to why an obvious intelligent power hungry drathir darthirii would willingly stay amongst the zhas darthien. He could have left at any time. His power is great, but you already know that. Then I realized why."