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Return to Red Rock

[Friday, April 20, 2001]

Griflet's Report: "I serve Celedril alive or dead."

RETURN - Day of the Raven (5th), Ghost's Moon, Year of the Gorgon

Without horses you estimate about a six day walk to the Elven compound north and east of Lorn Velpa, with no towns between here and there on this side of the river. You decide not to carry the two heavy suits of armour which you recovered from the Shawei. Helias however wraps his up in a bundle and lugs it along.

For two days you trudge though the desolate Sighing Plain towards the distant mountains, with the only sound the wind in the grass which gives it its name. The weather is warm, but not as oppressive as in the City of Ruins. On the second day, the vast Upper Lake of Pleea comes into view, and by evening you are camped near its shores.

Helias has been quiet and uncomplaining during the walk, but his presence has added a touch of uncertainty to your small group. Kellin, who normally laughs frequently and makes jokes has been somewhat subdued. You glance at Helias over tge embers of your small camp-fire as the two of you stand watch. You don't sense hostile intentions in him; he just seems a bit dazed by his move from the sad tunnels of Toviyis to the wide world.

On the third day, the first day of summer, following the lakeshore, you come to the old ruins where last autumn you rescued Black Annie and the Revenge from Captain Bastinado and his ratmen. It seems like longer than seven months ago. But now the ruins are peaceful with the gentle lapping of the waves; you even discover an unbroached barrel of wine from Bastinado's store.

Three more days pass (your estimates were off) and the Lake narrows to the River as the Sighing Plain gradually gives way to the dense growth of Sibilan.

You're walking through the forest when you detect movement. You immediately put up your hand and hiss some Battle language. Your companions freeze but you've been spotted. You see four men, half concealed in foliage, dressed in the grey green which Arborius wears - Vardin's rangers. You breathe a sigh of relief but Helias has pulled out his sword. "Human scum!" he shouts (fortunately in Elvish).

Fortunately no harm comes of this encounter. One of the men recognises you, another has heard of Arborius, so they let you pass 'unmolested'.

Another day through the forest and you see the Elven compound. "H-home!" says Windwood. "It seems not much more sophisticated than Tovilyis," mutters Helias.

Within minutes of entering, you are surrounded by curious elves with raised eyebrows and many questions. Gorianthas, Tolinthis and Corinth come down to greet you.

Gorianthas says,"By the Powers, Griflet, welcome! Well it has been more than three weeks or so since we heard from you. So tell me, how fare our kin at Imric's Hold? Where is the Swan Ship you left in? And who is this pale fellow?".

PRINCE-IN-WAITING - Day of the Raven (5th), Ghost's Moon, Year of the Gorgon

The three Elf leaders listen quietly and with some awe. When you show them the sign, Gorianthas kneels before you, with the others following suit quickly. "Sire," says Gorianthas "what you did was..unorthodox..and yet you have solved our major problem. Now you are the rightful heir. This sign proves it. My task as regent is complete. I humbly offer you my allegiance."

"Rightful heir but one," says Corinth. "If I heard you aright..Sire, then there is one other technical obstacle."

"Yes, how can it be that Coryon still lives?" asks Tolinthis "And why did the old King wish his own son's destruction?"

As Tolinthis is speaking you realise such talk may not be music to the ears of Helias, who is standing quite still nearby. All of these revelations must be a shock to him. You quickly change the subject.

"And how have things faired since I left? I trust things are running smoothly in your capable hands."

"Uh...yes of course Griflet..I mean Sire," continues Tolinthis, a bit startled by your change of tack, eyes darting between you and Helias.

"This here is Helias, a former commander to the ruined halls of Torviliyus.I have granted him sanctuary. This is Elven law and so here, let him be free and equal among us."

"It shall be as you wish." says Corinth, fixing Helias with a cool stare. "Welcome, Helias of Tovilyis. I am Corinth of House Protector. This is Tolinthis of House Mercantile. This is Gorianthas the Loyal, our Regent until five minutes ago. If our new Prince has granted you sanctuary among us, sanctuary you shall have."

"I will try to be worthy of the honour you bestow upon me." replies Helias, stiffly.

"Helias doubts my tales of Bloodbane. Let us show him what is left of that hated worm."

Bloodbane's head and claws have been mounted and embalmed by the skilled taxidermists of House Alchemicus. A plaque beneath reads, in Elvish:

As old Time makes these decay,
So his flames must waste away.

Even in death the massive spike-ridged head of the Foe is a daunting sight, and Helias draws back when you open the door to the chamber where it is stored. As he looks upon head of the creature which doomed his people, Helias' face is choked with emotion. He turns away from you for a long while. When he turns back his face is again impassive.

"Griflet, or Prince Griflet or whoever you really are, for is certainly more to you than you appear, I doubted you but I doubt you no longer. I am outcast from my people so, as I swore, I will willingly serve yours. And, since you are this people's Prince, then I am sworn to thee. I am yours to command." He kneels.

After telling him to rise, you return to the others. "As for the Swanship I presume it still awaits off the coast of Zecy for my return. And so with haste we must prepare another vessel to sail those seas to find the ship and rescue our friend. Let the finest scholars study this book at once for it contains the many secrets that we will need for our journey. In the short meantime, I need healers and stocks for me and my men."

CORYON'S SHADOW - Day of the Raven (5th), Ghost's Moon, Year of the Gorgon

"Sire," says Gorianthas, "Your men will be attended to and a ship will be prepared as you wish. However, there are only three Swan Ships. One is missing already. Is it wise to risk another on what seems a dangerous errand? It seems you barely made it off the Blessed Isle alive last time, and now you wish to return? If danger is what you seek, what about Celedril's...uh..penultimate order? Legitimising the succession is tremendously important for the People. You know I have the utmost respect for your abilities, but if anything were to happen at the Blessed Isle we would be back worse than where we started. If Coryon lives - and this seems almost inconceivable to me - then without your leadership he would technically be our Prince."

"You speak of truth Gorianthus and perhaps it was cowardice that convinces me to delay my showdown with Coryon, for I have been to the Red Rock once before and barely was I able to escape with my life. The abomination of Coryon is of such ferocity and terror that I have never witnessed before."

You cast your mind back to the autumn of last year, just eight months ago although that seems incredible), when following Imric's fevered prescience your journeys took you to the Red Rock, Coryon's sanctum and the birthplace of the Tween Mysteriones. You see the stark red spire approaching in your mind's eye, rising out of the dark waters of the Upper Lake of Pleea at dusk, silhouetted against the Mountains of Hunger.

When you climbed the narrow zigzag stair to those splintered spires at the summit, your mind was assaulted by visions of Mysteriones' birth and the several deaths of his hosts. While you reeled beneath these visions, Coryon's horrible abomination of stone attacked you. It was hewn out of the red rock itself. Its limbs were crude slabs, a mockery of the exquisite sculpturesonce crafted by Coryon. Arrows bounced uselessly from its rocky bulk; no weapon would even chip it unless weilded by a giant perhaps. If it had not been for the bravery of your ranger Astalin (all that remains of him now is ashes scattered on the floor of Imric's old throne room) you would surely have died that day.

You shudder. It seems impossible to think of a way to defeat the creature who was once an Elven prince. Coryon paid the price when he corrrupted his Law Stone to summon the Dragon to Tovilyis. Bloodbane's fires consumed the city and ended the brutal Elf-Quarmall war, but Coryon was cursed by the powers of Law so that when he was slain by the giant Bolga he could not truly die, but lingered in the crudest and most unfinished of his statues, a monster which bore more resemblance to the foul creature of the Grey Man's Fountain of Dark Delights than to anything else. Wait! Perhaps there is a connection...Both Coryon's abomination and the Fountain were gigantic animated creatures of stone. They could only be harmed by magic. Your friends at that time possessed two enchanted weapons. One was Werewindle, the green-glowing Greatsword of the Stormlands, last held by your former companion Daphne. The other was the Rod of Kulg, the guardian weapon with which the druid Oovra once tried to destroy the Fountain. Your daughter Buttercup was the last person you know to have possessed the rod. The last time you saw Buttercup was in Antim Town; she was priest of Straasha the Sea-god there.

Gorianthas interrupts your reverie. "Whatever you decide, Griflet, it is a heavy burden. It is an immutable Law on pain of death that no elf of Royal Blood may be harmed by any of lesser blood. If you do go to face Coryon, you must face him alone."

You ask Helias what he knows of the monster that is now Coryon. "Have you seen him? You spoke before of his judgements. How, who and when are these judgements administered?"

You sense that Helias is disturbed by something. "None have seen Coryon and lived in recent times. Offenders are escorted to the base of the Stone Lion Stair, a stair-lined well which ascends from the depths of the earth to the summit of the Red Rock. They are sealed within this chamber. The only exit is above. None have returned, but many bones have been found. We assume Coryon is still angry at the destruction of his city. His anger has been known to last a long time, but we hope he will return to his senses one day. I am worried by this talk of killing him. He is my Prince. Or at least he was. What if Celedril was wrong, or mad? Why would he order the death of his own son? It must be a mistake!"

"Helias, Celedril may well have been mad and it seems to me that Coryon also has a dementia of kind. All told the truth is Coryon, though once one of the greatest of Elves, has been corrupted. There is no choice no time for questions or dreams of the past. If the Elves are once again to become the great builders of culture and civilization they were, we must not look back but forward with visions and dreams of the future."

"If you wanna make an omlette you have to break some eggs. And who knows, in my final meeting with Coryon, maybe I am the egg to be broken, but this is the wish of Celedril and as I swore loyalty to his house I serve him alive or dead."

"Gorianthus is right, I must fulfill the destiny Celedril has placed apon me. Though I fear for my friend who waits on that accursed island I will sail south and end forever this terror of Coryon. What became of that other vessel? We cannot be sure, word should be sent to them. Have a small message vessel, disguised as fishing ship, sent to find them and inform them of our return."

Gorianthas, Tolinthis and Corinth give short bows. "It shall be as you wish, Sire."

THE BROAD RIVER HLAL - Day of the Scorpion (7th), Ghost's Moon, Year of the Gorgon

"If I am to face Coryon I will first need to visit Antim Town and perhaps the Stormlands once again."

News of your return has spread around the compound. You find it surprisingly easy to crew the boat with volunteers. Getting used to being a monarch may take some time.

It takes a day to prepare the boat to sail.
On the boat you have:

You address the crew. "We sail for Antim and then the Stormlands. Our mission is simple and have no doubt you will perform your duties with the utmost of courage and loyalty. Some of you will never have seen so many foreigners before. Keep calm and be alert. If you hear see or smell danger use the House Protector language and alert me or your companions. Now...Let's put to wind and oar!"

On the mild Night of the Scorpion (the 7th) of Ghost's Moon, beneath the light of a half moon, the Swan Ship slips into river from its dock near the Elven Compound.

By just after midnight, the vessel has passed silently by the town of Richmond at the entrance to the Great Lake. To avoid unnecesary contact with humans, Shipmaster Zhivias steers a course for the relatively uninhabited western edge of the lake. Then, as dawn begins to pale across the Forest and the waters lighten, the Captain charts a course due north, lashes the wheel and hands over his watch to Cardorath.

Zhivias invites you to his cabin for a meal, where you are served by Tilli the cabin boy. The shipmaster pour you wine and makes light conversation. He seems a pleasant enough fellow.

"By my calculations, Sire, we should make the Hlal by dusk this evening. The winds are good and the weather is favourable. We'll probably halt near the northern end of the lake until it is quite dark, then proceed up the river in darkness. I'd say we'll get to Keltos by tomorrow, then Antim Town the following day."

Sure enough, the captain's predictions prove correct. The days pass: Scorpion stings Lizard eats Frog disturbs Hornet. At the ruins of Keltos, past the Druid-held town of Waylorn you paused for the day, keeping watch for boats on the river and Druids or Beastmen on land. However nothing untoward occurs, and now you approach the gash in the land which is the Quarmallian Canal. Where the canal meets the Hlal is the human town of Antim. You are pleased to note that although the town looks busier than last time you were here, with many riverboats at the docks, as yet no human settlements have extended beyond the walls. The humans have thus far kept to the old agreement, though how long this will last with the People scattered, you don't know.

At the exact corner of land where the Quarmallian Canal meets the river, the water laps the steps of the Temple of Straasha, the sea-god worshipped in this town. In that temple lives Brooke Buttercup, your daughter by the human river-pirate Black Annie.

BUTTERCUP - Day of the Hornet (10th), White Witches' Moon, Year of the Gorgon

You know that the appearance of many armed elves in town may cause panic, though perhaps here less than other human places, so you order your crew to keep discreet. Then you disembark, and walk across the already-busy docks to the white marble temple of Straasha, attracting a few curious stares, which you ignore.

When you enter the temple, Buttercup is there dressed in finery, preaching the words of Straasha to the congregation, mostly fishermen and pirates. Her oratory is impressive, and full of passion. When the service is over, she gestures for you to approach.

"Daddy!" she says "How nice to see you. You should visit me more often. What have you been up to? How's Westley?".

You recount the trials and tribulations as succintly as possible to Buttercup. "...and so I have come here to ask you for the Rod of Kulg, for the rod and Werewindle are the only weapons known to me that can harm Coryon. Of ocurse I will happily return it to you here in Antim town once I have settled this matter."

"Yes certainly. I have it here. Be careful facing that Coryon, he sounds nasty."

"Of Westly I have not heard news though I'm sure he's well. And tell me about you Buttercup, have things been more settled since last we adventured over the Stormlands?"

"Well I've pretty much settled here, serving Straasha. The old high priest retired and, well, died and now I'm in charge. Life has been a lot more ordered, but I do sometimes miss those days. I see Black Annie from time to time when the 'Revenge' passes by. I haven't heard from Westley either. I hope he's allright."

"Yes well Westley was always a wild one, I'm sure he's fine. Have you heard any news from the Stormlands?"

She sighs. "News is always bad from there. For a while it looked like Lord Carkspur was going to take over. He was hiring mercenaries left right and centre. Straasha only knows where he got the money. Anyway, something happened this past winter. The money was gone, half of Carkspur's mercs deserted and the others took control of the forts they'd seized under his direction. The names may have changed, but the same old conflicts continue there. It's a mad place. I don't think it will ever stop."

Buttercup says, "I can train you, daddy. It will take some time but if we train every day, I can get you up to speed. Besides, it would be nice to see some more of you. Let's see how good you are." She leads you to a side room in the temple which contains a practice arena. She throws you a wooden club, and grabs one herself. "Let's play!" she shouts. You throw a quick strike which she deftly parries. She swings at you, you dodge nimbly. She is slow, and you swing at her, she deflects your blow with a jarring parry. She swings at you; again you dodge her blow and deliver your own which she parries, but her club breaks in two.

She steps back and bursts out laughing. "Very good daddy! You were better than I expected, although your technique is a bit rusty and could use some work. The Rod of Kulg wouldn't break like that, in fact it would be more likely to break you. I can teach you lots about your swing. What do you say?"

"Sounds great! How long will it take? I have to inform my crew. They're waiting on my boat. Lets start right away."

IN BUTTERCUP'S TEMPLE - Summer, Year of the Gorgon

And so your routine begins. Every day you train hard in the temple room with your daughter, after her normal religious duties. Life continues in the town around you; you are oblivious. Ghost Moon waxes and wanes, then warm Murderer's Moon and you are making slow but measurable progress. You try to rid your mind of all other concerns, though your dreams are sometimes haunted by visions of Red Rock. Buttercup says you are doing well but she still beats you most of the time in sparring matches. And she's not trying to kill you at the same time. As Murderer's Moon wanes and waxes into Thunder Moon, the last days of summer, you feel somewhat frustrated. You feel like you're not getting anywhere. You keep thinking the weapon works like a sword but it doesn't, and Buttercup chastises you. The weapon feels clumsy in your hand. You have made some progress. You'd say your skill with the club before was poor, and now it's just average. But is it good enough to face Coryon, or should you continue? Buttercup is willing to keep training you - she says she likes having you around.

"You a good teacher Buttercup and I have enjoyed spending this time with you. Perhaps one more month of training is in order, after that I must send for my ship and face the Abomination that was Coryon. If you will maybe you could come with me on the boat after that and give me further instruction. Though I fear there maybe some Elves may look down apon your heritage. Think about it but for now lets finish one more month of training."

"Certainly, daddy. It's been fun. You're coming along okay. Hmmm..how long will this take? I can probably be away from the Temple for a week or two. My congregation need me. Anyway, let's train."

The daily training routine continues and you do make some small progress as summer fades into Satyr's autumnal moon. You are vaguely aware of life coming and going, trade and weekly services to Straasha the sea god. You try to clear your mind, focus on the task at hand. Although strenuous, this training makes a pleasant change from constantly travelling or fighting for your life as you have been for many moons now.

You send word to the elves via Merrick Quickstring, who makes an appearance in Antim Town. Eleven days later, when Satyr's moon is a fading sliver of a crescent, the Swan ship appears in port. Kellin and Arborius appear at the Temple of Straasha. "You look fit, Griflet" he says.

Buttercup is willing to accompany you on the ship to Red Rock, and train you during the voyage. Kellin raises an eyebrow, but says nothing. Together you head down to the docks and board the ship. You are greeted by Shipmaster Zhivias, Windwood and Helias. As you expected they are coldly polite to Buttercup, and you sense a general feeling that this was an unsavoury aspect of their prince which they wish they didn't know about.

Ignoring their chilliness, you give the orders to set sail. A fresh cold breeze blows from the Stormlands and you shiver, looking south towards the distant Mountains of Hunger as the Swan Ship glides into the wide river.

Soon Antim town is behind you. You and Buttercup train on deck. You figure the Red Rock is exposed to the wind and elements, so you might as well be while training. Owing to travellng upstream for part of the way (exept on the Upper Lake, which you cross in a night), the journey back to the hidden port near the Elven compound takes a week. The boat hasn't been unloaded; the crew expect that the voyage isn't over yet.

"Well Sire," says Zhivias, who hasn't said much during the voyage (nobody has) "Where to next?"

With a grim face you say: "To the Red Rock and too the abomination that was Coryon."

"Aye aye, Sire". says shipmaster Zhivias.

RED ROCK - Day of the Scorpion (7th), Harvest Moon, Year of the Gorgon

Rather than unloading the boat or giving orders to pause at the compound, the shipmaster orders the swanship to continue up the Upper Hlal.

As the nights go by, scorpion, lizard, frog the swanship slips quietly by Lorn Velpa and the human settlements of the Upper Hlal. You continue to train with Buttercup. A cool wind blows and the waxing moon is obscured by clouds when the ship emerges into the rough waters of the vast Upper Lake of Pleea.

Following your clear directions, Zhivias sets a course for the Red Rock, on the far side of the Upper Lake in the foothills of the barren Mountains of Hunger. Wind and some rain lash the sides of the swanship from the southwest, an unfavourable direction at first. The grey lake waters are choppy, but you and Buttercup keep training and sparring on deck. Once, you see the loops and coils of sinous lake-serpent disappearing beneath the waves in the distant gloom. You warn the captain but nothing comes of it.

Two more days and nights pass as you cross the lake to its eastern edge. The mountains loom larger and larger, but rain and mist obscures the Red Rock. Nevertheless you know you are approaching it. The wind has turned bitter cold; the sky hangs like grey lead over the equally drab waters of the lake, and ragged mist covers the peaks of the mountains.

The Evening of the Parrot - you wish for something so cheery. The swanship rocks in the grey waves which wash over Red Rock Bay. Just up from the nearby slate beach, the bulk of Red Rock looms into the clouds, its distinctive colour barely noticable in the pale light.

You decide it would be best to disembark in the morning light. You spend a restless night and arise early, buckling on your weapons and armour.

In spite of the cold, the crew and your friends have gathered solemnly on deck.

Buttercup kisses you and wishes you well. Treeleaf Darkbow (one of the warriors on board) offers you one of the spare suits of plate armour. Helias stands silent. Kellin is wrapped in his cloak against the wind. "Well we may not be able to help directly, but surely some of us could accompany you, Griflet?" he asks, "If only to observe events for posterity. I volunteer."
"And me."
"And me." come a number of voices. "I'll come with you Daddy", says Buttercup.

You hold up your hand for silence.

"It is I who will go and I alone, though your loyalty is touching. Windwood take THE BOOK OF THREE. If I am not to return from here, the fate of our friend is in your hands, I trust you will not abandon him. Wait for me no longer than 3 days after this return to the compund. Farewell!"

CORYON - Day of the Dove (12th), Harvest Moon, Year of the Gorgon

When the boat is out of sight behind a rise you kneel and trace the pattern of Celedril's Rune on your chest, as the old king taught you. You feel a warmth across your chest as the magic power is invoked. You cautiously ascend the Red Rock Stair, as you did almost exactly a year ago. You are watching out for anything unusual as you slowly climb the zigzag steps. Soon you see the three red spires of rock which mark Coryon's mountain sanctum. Nothing has changed; you suppose no one has been here but you for years. Peering over the top of the last step, you see what you've dreaded and dreamed of for months - the red slablike rock mass which is Coryon's Horrible Abomination of Stone! It stands motionless beside a great shaft surrounded by many more beautiful statues in varying states of disrepair.

Without strange visions to distract you this time, you see what you must do. As you leap the last steps and run towards the stone giant, it roars and screams and rises to it's full height, its deadly stone arms swinging slowly to destroy all intruders.

You are much faster than the thing which was Coryon. Praying to the Powers of Law, you swing the Rod of Kulg at its red rock bulk. It is too slow to avoid the blow. There is a clang of metal on stone, almost chime-like in intensity as a large chunk of rock breaks from its body. With a roar it flails at you with its gargantuan limbs, but you duck under its guard and swing a mighty blow at its center. With a ear-splitting crack, the whole monstrous statue fissures into two. You watch as the torso with its shapeless block head topples into the abyss while the great legs move no more.

VISIONS OF RED ROCK - Day of the Dove (12th), Harvest Moon, Year of the Gorgon

For a long time you just stand there, listening to the wind whistling among the crags. Then you become aware of a humming sound growing in intensity. You pull the Law Stone from your pack and realise that it is the source of the humming. The three faces of the stone glow yellow-white. You hear a voice in your mind.

"Griflet, champion and prince among your People, you have accomplished great deeds for the Powers of Law. Much remains to be done, but you have proved yourself most worthy. If you will join with us, swear allegiance to us as our Champion, still more can be done to remove the taint of Chaos from this land."

"Far to the south of here is a land blasted by Chaos during your People's war with the race known as the Quarmallians. The land is blasted and bleak. Travel south, holding the stone before you until you know the Place of the Stone. You will know it. Then use the stone to restore the land for Law and your People."

The voice falls silent, but the stone in your hand still glows. There is a sense that the air is charged with ears.

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