A Prelude To The Past..*
spelling errors faithfully reprinted from the original, now onward! Oh, unless you want to
get back to the history section, obviously..)
Falling rain hammered on the roof of the shop, and
without the wind whistled through the deserted streets. What little light as remained of
the day was swallowed up by the dark clouds that rolled across Mirrortown, sweeping south
and west across the mountains and emptying their cargo of water as a deluge. Reznor
shivered, and reached behind the counter for his keys. Nobody would be out on a day like
this, and he would do as well to get home early, as even his untrained eye could see that
a huge storm was approaching, and he would not like to be caught on the road when that
happened. Slipping his old cloak across his shoulders, he opened the door. The light was
failing fast, and he turned and picked up a lantern from just inside the doorway, lit it
with his tinderbox and turned back to go.
'I have need of you.' said the stranger, in a low,
impassive voice. He stood there, not more than a couple of feet beyond the threshold; a
dark form seeming to be a part of the night itself, wreathed in black robes. His face was
invisible in the semi-light, as if the cowl were empty and nothing but shadow stood there.
Reznor shivered in spite of himself. Although the figure
was shorter than he, the other still seemed somehow to loom above him, and the feeling was
unsettling in the extreme. Finally he found his voice.
'Who are you?' he asked, his voice sounding muted. He saw
a lot of strange people in his profession, but there was something about this one that was
altogether different. Unworldly almost.
'You are Reznor?' the other asked, ignoring his question.
'I am told that you can supply me with some items of armour.'
Reznor stared at him for several moments, still trying to
determine the form within the robes. Finally he regained his composure and smiled.
Business, no matter who or what the customer, was business.
'Come in, look around.' he said. He was back on familiar
ground now, and his voice sounded more confident. 'We sell the finest range of equipment
anywhere in the Western Realms! No matter who you are, no matter what your cause, you can
trust Reznor's to provide.' His normal speel to new clients, and he continued to run
through it as he had a hundred times before. 'Chainmail, helmets, shield, why whatever you
'I will take these.' the stranger said abruptly, the
emotionless tone of his voice never changing. A cowled sleeve lifted and a pale hand
appeared from the end. A finger pointed at a suit of Reznors finest sets; a light
chainmail suit, steel boots and gauntlets to match. A helmet sat atop the chain links of
the mail. Reznor smiled, his annoyance at being cut off mid sentence evaporating swiftly.
With the money he would make from this one sale, he could take the following morning off.
Maybe he could take the rest of the day off too, he thought, and grinned impishly.
'How about a shield, Sir?' he inquired. His shields were
good, but hopelessly overpriced. Few people bought them, but the proceeds from just one
would pay for a full days relaxation tomorrow. 'The very best quality!' he lied.
The strangers head raised slightly. 'Did I ask for a
shield?' he enquired.
Reznors smile faded, and he gulped uneasily. 'Err, no.
Sorry. If thats all then, that will be ' he toted it up in his head, 'two hundred and
twenty pieces of silver.'
The stranger reached into his purse, pulled out the
moneys and deposited them on the counter. Picking up the items he had bought, he then
turned and walked towards the door. As he reached it, he turned, and said in a low voice,
'My thanks, shopkeeper.' And then he was gone.
Reznor stood for several minutes then, looking out
through the open doorway through which the stranger had left. The moment he had stepped
beyond the flickering light of the lantern the shopkeeper had lit earlier, he had seemed
to melt into the darkness. Shaking his head slowly, Reznor picked his keys back up again,
and crossed the shop to the door. Pausing only to look around behind him once, he stepped
outside, turned and locked the door, and then hurried home through the driving rain.
By the time that the rains had passed, and the dark morass of rolling black that had been
the sky had broken up into an ocean of blue, with but the occasional island of white set
in it, the stranger had reached his destination. He had made his way down the main pass
that crested the mountains, slipping by the Orc Fortress early that morning. The Orcs had
not noticed him, just one more shadow that flowed in the night, and by mid-day he had
arrived on the Great Western Road. He was some distance east of there now, still on the
highway, but no longer in the shadow of the Withered Peaks, and the countryside to the
north had given way to rolling forest. Here he had stopped, and set a small camp. He
waited now for news, though he knew the wait would not be long. Less than two hours later,
the wait was over. Tanor the Pedlar approached from the east, his magic bag, as ever,
slung across his back. He was dressed in traveling garb; a short tunic, leather trousers,
with boots that rose to mid calf. A sword hung from his side, its scabbard decorated and
inlaid with gems. Fakes, the stranger knew, but only the very best assayers could tell.
Tanors hair was dark brown, and cut short at the front, though it reached his neck at the
back, and he wore it beneath a feathered hat. As Tanor approached within 20 yards, the
pedlar called out.
'Well met, Allanon!' he shouted, 'How fares my Druidic
friend this day?'
Allanon smiled. Few people of the Realm called him
'friend', and he preferred it that way. But Tanor; Tanor was different. A wanderer like
himself. Apart from the people he moved among. Despite the others roguish irrascibility,
Allanon could not help but like him.
'Well.' replied the Druid, 'And how many poor fools have
you found to buy your wares this day?'
Tanor grinned evilly and shrugged. 'Enough.' he said, and
fingered his money pouch. 'Though I dare say that trade has been better.' His expression
changed, and the smile faded somewhat from his lips. 'This business in Alforpia has a lot
of people worried. There is even talk amongst some of the more frightened of them of
packing up altogether and migrating east.' He shook his head slowly. 'Fools.' he said
Allanon observed the pedlar quietly. The matters to the
north would require his attention, and soon. But for now his focus lay elsewhere.
'What news of the Creature?' he asked.
'It is as you feared.' Tanors expression was deadly
serious now, all trace of mirth gone. 'The magical seepage from beneath the castle has
begun again, though the Sheriff is trying his hardest to cover it up. I had to `persuade`
one of the guards extremely hard before he would tell me.'
Allanon breathed in deeply. Deep beneath Sherwood castle,
more than a hundred years ago, something happened. Nobody knew quite why, or how, but an
anomaly in the fabric of space developed in the very farthest of the burial chambers, and
within hours the entire castle was overrun with foul and mutated `things`, that tore to
shreds any other creature they found. The fight to restore the castle, and close the
anomaly had been terrible, and many had died over the course of the following few days.
But finally they had won, and the unnatural monsters had been slain or forced back through
the portal. It had been sealed for all time, and life had returned slowly to normal.
Until the previous week, when the corpse had been found.
It was lying in a depression in the hillside, some three
miles south of the castle walls, and within the borders of the forest. One of the outlaws
had happened upon it without realising what it was, thinking at first it to be some animal
that had been chased down and partly devoured by a predator. When he had looked closer,
what he say had left him stricken, and he had staggered into their camp a couple of hours
later as pale as a ghost, and still retching from the sight. The outlaws had returned en
masse, to try and ascertain what had happened.
It was hard to identify who or what the remains were at
first, so mutilated were they, but eventually amidst the gore they had found a pouch,
slick with blood and other, unidentifiable, fluids. One of the younger outlaws, by the
name of Chander, had attempted to pick it up, but as his skin came into contact with the
yellowish slime that coated it in patches, his hand had started to char and smoke, and a
sickly smell had risen from the blackening flesh. His impulsiveness cost him two of his
fingers, and he was lucky to keep his hand at all, for only a chance discovery that
alcohol could help dilute the slime had stopped his entire hand from being lost. Much of
the corpse had been similarly afflicted; its skin burned and charred or seemingly
dissolved into a putriescent mush. When they had finally opened the pouch safely, the
effects they found inside clearly identified who the victim had been: Old Tom, the castle
The Druid Rkel had always been friendly with the outlaws.
He had lived in the forest himself years before, and was known to all thereabouts as a
kindly soul, ready to help when he could. Many a time, he had helped treat one of the
outlaws when they were stricken with illness, and it was to him now that the outlaws
turned. But aside from determining that the killer was some kind of perversion of natural
law, he had been stumped as to what it could have been, and had turned to the Inner Circle
of Druids for assistance.
That was how Allanon had come to hear of it. He had
known, or rather suspected, at once what it could have been, for one hundred years before
he had seen similar remains. But how could it be, he had asked himself, when the anomaly
had been closed and warded so well? Only the tamperings of an incompetent, one who ignored
every warning that they had laid, and every barrier they had placed, could have broken it,
and if that had happened, then those in the castle would *know*. How could it be that it
had happened and they did not?
But now he had his answer. They *did* know, but the fools
had tried to keep it quiet. The Sheriff had placed sentence of death on any who had tried
to speak, and in doing so may have sealed his own doom. He sighed. The ward still held, he
could sense that much, but it must be weak by now, and several of the things had doubtless
already broken free. A hundred years past he had been strong, but now he was less sure
that his magic would be sufficient. The last thirty years had pushed him beyond all mortal
limits, cumulating in the journey from which he was newly returned. It would take him
time, much time to regain his former powers.
Gazing north across the line of trees, his heart heavy,
he knew he did not have the luxury of time. He would have to try, and now. To summon the
others would take weeks, and by then it would be too late. In any event, only he of the
Druids who last sealed the portal still lived anyway, and the newer Druids, while
courageous, would probably be slaughtered down there. The nature of Druidism had changed
over the years, and this kind of dealing required many skills no longer taught. No, he
thought, I must face this alone.
'Allanon?' Tanors voice broke him out of his revire. 'We
had better get moving. Guardsman Jaron is headed this way, and I dont care to explain
where I got these cut price lanterns.' Tanor coughed. 'Not that they arent entirely on the
level or anything, you understand.'
In spite of himself, Allanon smiled. No matter what else
may happen, you could always rely on Tanor to be up to something of dubious legality.
They parted company then, Allanon heading north through a
break in the trees towards the far off spires of Sherwood castle, and Tanor west towards
the mountains. To the far east, a line of dark clouds had appeared on the horizon, and by
nightfall, it was clear that the fair weather had been but a temporary reprieve. Both the
Druid and the pedlar were lulled to sleep that night by the gentle patter of the rain.
By morning the weather had still not cleared, and a heavy drizzle rained down upon the
Realms. The forest path upon which the Druid trudged had been turned into a mire by the
rains, and in places he was forced to skirt into the trees to avoid patches of
quaqmire-like mud. He had been walking since dawn, but progress was slow, and by mid
morning he was barely more than 10 miles into the treeline. Somewhere not far off, thunder
rumbled and echoed across the landscape, and the wind picked up, whipping his robes about
him, and chilling him despite his clothing. Ahead, the path widened out into a clearing,
dominated by a tree of huge size. A figure stood at the foot of the tree, looking up at
the clouds, as yet unaware of the Druids approach. One of the lookouts for the Outlaws,
Allanon thought, but he had no desire to talk, and so stole quietly past, keeping to the
trees. It was getting dark as Allanon finally approached the walls of the castle, and he
settled down to wait for it to get darker still. The storm clouds overhead blocked out the
light from the moon, and he knew that by midnight it would be pitch black. As an Elf, this
would give him a huge advantage over the humans inside, as his night vision and keen
hearing would help him detect the patrols of guards long before they could see him.
As the shadows deepened, and the sounds of activity from
the castle faded, the Druid ran over in his mind what he was going to do. The burial
chambers, he was certain, would be locked, but Tanor had said that the occasional patrol
checked the entrance and within, implying that one of them must carry a key. He would wait
until he discovered a patrol that had such a key, and then ambush them while they checked
the ruins that nestled against the inside of the northern castle wall. The storm would, he
hoped, drown out any noise from the fight, and with the advantage of surprise, it should
all be over in a few seconds. Then he would make his way down into the crypts below the
castle, and reseal the portal before it grew large enough to allow any of the more
dangerous creatures through.
He checked his mistletoe and adjusted his armour while he
waited for darkness to fall. What if it was too late? The thought plagued him and buzzed
around inside his head like a hornet. What if the ward has failed? He tried to dismiss it,
but the thought refused to obey. What if the ward has failed? What if? Allanon shook his
head slowly. Then, he thought, then - we are in trouble.
Time drew on, slowly but inexorably, and the colours
faded away from the world. Allanon looked over at the sign that stood some twenty feet
away on the main road. 'Beware of Thieves' it read, 'Especially MrDeath'. A strange sign,
it had been there as long as anyone could remember, long after 'MrDeath' whoever he was,
had been forgotten by those who passed through. Allanon remembered him of course, Allanon
remembered them all, all those who once lived, fought and died in the Realms. How long, he
wondered, until I too am just a fading memory?
Shaking his head again, he pushed the muse from his mind.
Enough waiting, he thought; time to act. He stood up and begin to move slowly and quietly
towards the castle wall. The portcullis was open as he approached. It always was, day and
night. The castle had not been seiged in living memory, and the sheriff knew that the
Outlaws lacked the leadership to assault his stronghold, so he left his door invitingly
open. Allanon wondered at times whether the sheriff wasnt trying to goad them into
attacking. It would be easy enough to lower the portcullis once they were inside, and
trapped in the courtyard, they would be cut down to the last man. A fine trap indeed, but
one that would serve to his own advantage today, and he slipped noiselessly toward the
Ahead, a sentry stood guard beneath the gatehouse,
leaning boredly on his spear, but alert nonetheless. Allanon slowed and melted into the
undergrowth barely twenty yards away. He spoke a few quiet words and a small flame sprung
into being, hanging like a torch in mid air. He sent the torch bobbing towards the
'Who goes there!' shouted the guard, as he spotted
someone approaching. He couldn't make out who it was, despite the light of the torch the
newcomer carried, and extended his spear warily.
'I said who goes there!' he repeated. 'Identify
The figure in the darkness seemed to slow, and then
started moving away from the gatehouse, skirting the wall towards the west.
'Hey you!' the guard demanded. 'Stop! Who are you!'
The stranger seemed to stop at this, and stood stationary
some thirty feet off to the guards right. Cursing, the guard unfastened his own torch from
the sconce that held it and strode towards the stranger. He still couldnt see the figure
mind, but the others torch shone out in the darkness like a beacon. As he approached, he
called out once more.
'Good...now identify yourself in the name of the Sh...'
The torch suddenly started bobbing away, and then fell to
the ground and went out with a hiss. The guard muttered to himself. One of the outlaws no
doubt, he thought. Must have scared him off. Grumbling about having to stand the midnight
shift, he returned to his post.
Meanwhile, Allanon was inside the castle, and working his
way around the main courtyard.
TO BE CONTINUED....
I hope you have enjoyed reading Prelude so far, as I have certainly enjoyed writing it. I
would like to thank the following people for their assistance with it: Chauntea, Goldmoon
and Rrath, who have led the druids so well. Rkel for not minding a guest appearance in
chapter two! The namless wizard who worked with me on the plot ;-) to make sure it fitted
what was being planned for the mud. And finally the many people who have mailed me to say
how much they liked it >beam<.
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