| Almyen, the city of trees was an amazing city. Built using a mixture of Elvish and Human archetechture, parts of the city were on the ground under the shelter of huge green branches. Other parts were nestled within the leaves of the same branches. Five heroes had been summoned here by her Most Gracious Magus, Regant of Voldor, Her Grace, The Duchess Ellys.
All were directed to The Duchess' Arms, the finest inn in town. Here, they could stable their steeds, relax in the common room, arrange rooms for the night, and recover from their journeys until called to the Duchess' manor. All at the expense of the Duchess herself.
They arrived one after another, separated by a matter of seconds, minutes at the most. The first to Enter was Harkin Glimslade, noble Paladin of the Order of the Hand of Justice, priest of the Courts of Justice, dedicated of The High Magistrate. Harkin's head nearly hit the door frame, and his broad shoulders, encased in ornate plate armor nearly didn't fit though. His pale green eyes surveyed the empty room, then he sat and ran his fingers through his dark hair.
After only a moment alone, woman joined him. She introduced herself to Harkin as Pyper Markham. She was about as tall standing as Harkin was seated, but where he was built like a steel wall, she was more a cutain of silk. Dressed entirely in black leather, only her tanned hands a face were exposed. At her side was a finlely balanced, needle thin sword. As she sat, and laid her hands on the bar, twin scars on the inside of each wrist could be seen, resembling two eyes. Unlike Harkin's short cropped hair, Pyper wore hers long and in a single pony tail.
Following almost immediately was a second young woman. Unlike the fancy clothes of the first two, she wore plain clothes in earthtones. On the shoulder of her cloak were odd colored patches. She carried what appeared to be a heavy walking stick, and two small blades, one at her side, the other in her boot. She introduced herself as Bronwyn Tiddle.
Finally, a pair of men arrived together. One was a slender Elf bearing a bow of frosty blue. His dark cloak covered a hard leather breastplate, and the hood obscured his deep emeraled hued eyes. He sat down at the bar with the rest and named himself Uel Quilacia of Legasa Peaks.
The last young man paused at the door as if uncertain he should enter. His trepidations seemed less a question of whether the room was good enough for him, than if he were good enough for it. His blonde, braided hair and deep blue eyes marked him as a Skarnan. The most striking features about him were the glyphs marking his hands and face, which almost seemed to glimmer in the light. At last he seemed to reach a descision and entered the room. A large eagle flew in behind him and perched on his shoulder, unusual for such a bird.
While the eagle appeared to be white from a distance, up close it could be seen the bird was a faint silvery color. The bird looked around at the room and everyone in it is if sizing everything up. When people were speaking, it behaved as if it could understand the speakers. Finally, it launched itself from the man's shoulder and alighted on a chandelier.
Harkin and Pyper invited the man to sit with them. He accepted, and introduced himself as Shadrach Stormcaller. He spat out the clan name as if it left a bad taste in his mouth. He introduced the eagle as Thunderclaw. As he greeted each of the others, he called them sir or ma'am.
The Eagle, perched on the chandelier, drew attention. It's eyes seemed to have an almost human intellegence behind them. It did not seem to gaze as a predator would at prey, but as a man sizing up others. Strangly, it did not relieve itself while perching above, and Shadrach's shoulders were not marked the way they should have been. In point of fact, he did not wear any protection there from the eagle's talons, and yet, his tunic looked undamaged.
Now that everyone was seated, one of the servants came out to request that they remove their weapons for safe keeping. All agreed, though some grudgingly. Uel particualrly requested that the bow be handled with the utmost of care. The weapons were locked in a case. Then the servants began serving drinks, although requests for food were rebuffed. "You don't want to spoil your appetites, now do you?" Some of the arrivals commented that they had not eaten much of anything during the day, and hoped they would be summoned soon.
As they sat and drank, the began to speak to each other, for lack of anything better to do. Bronwyn asked Shadrach to tell her about Thunderclaw. "Is he an ordinary Eagle, or something more?"
"Oh, he is more than a normal bird. I have only recently become knowldgeable enough in magic to call across the boundaries of worlds. I was fortunate that such a noble being deigned to answer my call."
At that answer, Bronwyn turned her attention to the Elf. "Where are you from Uel?"
Uel's expression grew wistful. "I hail from the Legasa peaks to the southwest. My family lived near a volcano we thought extinct. It wasn't. Now the village travels to Lendelwood."
Finaly, a courtier arrived, announcing, "Your presence is requested at the mansion of Her Grace, The Lady Ellys, Duchess of Cosdol, Most Gracious Magus, and Regant of Voldor." Please follow me." He waited for the patrons to recover their weapons and then lead them through the city. As they walked, their guide commented on different features of the city. Finally, they arrived at the trunk of an enormous tree.
Looking up, they could all see the manor house, built into the branches. They could see stairs winding up the sides of the tree to the home above as well. As they gazed in wonder, a platform was lowered on a heavy rope. Their guide said, "If you would step on the platform it will carry us to the great hall of the manor. A courtesy for those not used to long climbs." They all got on and the platform rose.
They were carried into the upper branches of the tree, where the mansion sat. The group was ushered into a great hall, full of people. There were representitives of all the common races, Human, Elf, Dwarf, Halfling and Gnome. Of course, the Elves and Half-Elves outnumbered all others.
As their names and deeds were announced, the hall roard with cheers and applause. Finally, the Duchess Ellys was announced, and the five bowed. She was a fair Elven lady, her hair a stream of silver, drifting in the light breeze that blew in the airy hall. She smiled at all her guests, and looked on the five heroes she had summoned.
As the Duchess sat, all others in the room, save the five guests of honor, were seated, as if on cue. The five were escorted to their places at the head table and told they need not sit for long, as the banquet was to be buffet style and they would be free to mingle. Shadrach was becoming more and more uncomfortable among all the people, but the other four seemed quite delighted at the party in their honour.
Ellys began the affair with a speech, mercifully short. Then she turned to Harkin and said, "Personally I despise these state dinners. Always the same people, terribly dull. It's nice to have someone new to talk to for a change. Shall we dine?" She lead the five to the table dining table, which was begining to bend under the weight of the food. All the other guests followed and the hall was soon filled with the noise of polite conversation.
Of course, Pyper, Harkin, Bronwyn, Uel and Shadrach drew most of the attention. It seemed everyone in the room needed to be seen talking to each of them at least once. Bronwyn seemed to be in her natural element and spoke to everyone that would listen. Shadrach, on the other hand, looked as if he were considering jumping from the nearby balconies.
As the conversations started, Pyper slipped over to Ellys. "Have you heard any word of Master Allistar?"
"I fear not, my child. The best news I can give is that no body has been recovered, so it seems he is still alive. His whereabouts remain unknown, I fear. I hope you are able to locate him." Pyper lowered her head at the answer, and lost interest in her plate. She abandoned it, and looked for any group that would take her mind off her troubles.
Uel moved over to Shadrach, who was surrounded by other guests. He took the young Skarnan by the shoulder. "Shadrach, I need to ask you something about that mage we encountered in the forest..." The other guests looked a bit disappointed, but were soon distracted by Harkin, who began to tell them tales of his battles. The relief on Shadrach's face was obvious to anyone who looked.
A young Elven maid asked Uel about his bow. "It looks unlike any bow I've seen before. Is it magical? Where did you find it?"
"My bow was a parting gift from my third cousin twice removed when he left. If I so choose, it can fire arrows of ice."
"Goodness. A weapon worthy of a hero. Was it the bow you killed that rabid wolf with?"
"Indeed. This is what dealt the death blow to both wolf and wizard, though Shadrach was as much responsible for the people's salvation as I was. He has much magical power for one so young."
The young woman's eyes remained locked on Uel the entire time as she questioned him about his life and travels. Unlike so many of the other guests, she seemed genuinely interested in his adventures.
Pyper, meanwhile, found herself trapped by four Lords who had the most curious questions. "Isn't exploring ruins dangerous? And messy? I mean how do you get the mold out of your clothes afterwards? And what about the mess from..." She could finally stand no more, and made her appologies and went towards Ellys.
Harkin found some interesting conversation with a retired military officer who wished to compare Elvish and Human accounts of military history. Lord Arrynn actually seemed knowledgeable about the subject, rather than just selecting a topic Harkin might be interested in.
Bronwyn, flitting from group to group suddenly noticed that Shadrach was nowhere in sight. She looked around and found him walking towards the Duchess. Then she saw the Half-Elven woman slinking towards him, with eyes like a cat sighting a tasty mouse.
Seeing the woman trapping Shadrach against the wall, Bronwyn grabbed a tray of drinks from a nearby servant and then walked past the two, spilling the entire tray on the woman. "Oh, dear me. I'm so sorry. I'm just not used to these fancy parties I guess."
The woman, her gown now clinging to her due to the wine soaking it turned on Bronwyn. "How dare you..."
Both Uel and Harkin, saw the scene. They disengaged themselves from their partners and moved towards the fracas. Then Shadrach called out, making himself heard over the crowd. "Your Grace! Are there supposed to be armed men climbing the tree? Thunderclaw has seem a group..."
His call was cut short as the twin doors to the hall burst open and several men in full armor strode into the hall. The sounds of battle could be heard in the manor house. Most of the men bore swords, but the leader of the group carried a huge chain stedded with long and short spikes in both hands.
"Your Grace, turn the feather amulet over to us now, and we can avoid blood shed. Your kind will not have the stomach to do what must be done with it."
Ellys, standing tall and proud responded, "And your kind would not know what to do with it even if you had it. If I fail to keep it someone else will do what needs to be done."
"Very well then, by force it shall be ours."
Pandemonium erupted. Most of the guests ran this way and that, eager to be anywhere but the hall.
Harkin took the agressors by surprise. He casually walked over to one of them, drew his sword and shattered the man's weapon with a single blow. It was as if he knew the precise point to strike the blade.
Pyper dashed in to strike the leader. He was prepared, though, and lashed out with his chain, tearing a brutal gash across her arms. She still managed to drive her long slender blade into a chink in his armor and strike home.
Uel knocked an arrow and fired in a single fluid motion. The arrow left a trail of frost in the air as it flew and struck one of the invaders. Meanwhile, Bronwyn ran to where the Duchess was standing undefended.
At practically the same moment, Ellys and Shadrach begin to chant and wave their hands in complex, precise motions. A bolt of power flew from the Duchess to the chain weilding man, igniting bolts of lighting which flew from him to all his men around him. Most of the dark warriors fell to the magical onslaught, and two more fell into a deep slumber caused by Shadrach. Shadrach then drew out his crossbow.
Some few of the aggressors were still on their feet, and launched a counter attack. Harkin took a deep wound in his shoulder, and Pyper was cut severely across the chest and fell to the floor.
Harkin was flanked by two men, one bearing sword and shield, the other a huge sword that took both hands to wield. He lashed out at the great sword, but failed to break it. Meanwhile, Bronwyn ran back to the fallen Pyper. At the same time, Uel and The Magus launched orbs of pure force at the survivng antagonists, felling one more. Harkin shattered another weapon, as Bronwyn cast a spell on Pyper, stabilizing and reviving her. Shadrach loaded the crossbow and fired. His bolt punched through the man's armor and felled him.
Harkin was struck a severe blow across his chest, almost staggering him. Uel fired on the man sending another chilling arrow across the room. The man clutched at his chest and collapesed. Bronwyn looked at the last standing man, and waved her hands and yelled "Boo!" The man fled out of the great doors of the hall.
As Uel went out to see where the fleeing man went, Pyper walked back to the Magus. "I am sorry, Lady Ellys, that I have brought this upon you."
"I fear that it was not you who brought this upon us. These events have been building for a long time."
"But if I had not brought the amulet to you, the attack might never have happened."
The Magus Ellys looked upon Pyper and replied softly, "My child, the amulet is necessary, and brought here by my design, not yours." Then she turned to the others in the hall. "Good people, the party is at an end. Return to your homes. Heroes, join me in my study please."
As the heroes followed the Lady Ellys, the House Guard, also bearing the marks of battle, arrived to deal with the fallen. Ellys took the heroes deeper into the manor, into a large room lined with bookshelves. Several chairs awaited them. As they were seated, Ellys began. "Here we can speak freely as to the true purpose I gathered you here."
Pyper responed, "Please continue my Lady."
The Magus took a deep breath, and spoke. "True you were brought to celebrate your heroic actions on behalf of my regency, but I have need of heroes for another reason. The dinner was merely for show, to explain your presence here to gossips. As you saw here tonight, the armies of the Overlord are ready for war. Other temples will be thinking along the same lines. The reason is this. Soon, the Ravager shall awaken!"
What is the Ravager? Why were the heroes brought together? What does the Lady Ellys know of all this? The story continues in "Threshold"