Sitting atop Goliath I looked into Princess Anneka’s deep blue eyes and promised her I would return in time for the Champion ceremony. Accompanied by two of General Joshua’s men and four of Aden Kell’s most trusted soldiers we set forth to find Faelwyn and Andrew, hopefully alive. We stopped at every village along the way hoping someone may have seen the pair traveling back towards the Jeh’an camp.
At one such village I encounter a young man seeking the heroes of Falcon’s Hollow. I was skeptical at first. Could this be an assassin or harbinger of a trap set by the Shadow Lord’s forces? I risked a meeting with him in small tavern. He introduced himself as Niles Tenderfoot, from a small town some distance away. He spoke of a tragedy befalling his best friend at the claws of a Shadow Troll. He had wished to be idle no longer as evil plagues the land and set forth to lend his talents to others making a stand. He was wearing no armor or weapon other than an ornate staff. I attempted to persuade him to stay in safety and leave the fighting for those with the training and tools. He assured me he could handle himself and would be of aid. Feeling if I was to deny him then he would continue on never the less. Before I could make a final decision he spoke of his ability in tracking. Faelwyn and Andrew’s lives could be lost or saved by a simple missed heel print, so I immediately accepted his aid.
We traveled late into the evening and started again at first light the next morning. At midday we all spotted the tracks of a gnoll army having traveled east, but it was Niles who identified a set of horse tracks heading to the north. We followed the tracks to a hilltop with a ruined wall surrounding an ancient obelisk. Behind the broken walls signaling us was Johan, one of the Jeh’an warriors last seen with Faelwyn and Andrew. Thanks to the maker, Andrew was alive and well, although exhausted and grumpy. Faelwyn was alive, but deathly ill with fever from his battle with the Gnolls. Andrew wasted no time accusing Aden Kell of treachery leaving them for dead. I must admit the tale shared by Andrew was convincing, but before any verdict could be laid down we must hear Aden’s side of the story, perhaps he can explain everything.
Niles offered his services to check upon the sickly cleric. Before we could discuss the events of the previous days in specifics a cacophony of howls darkened our ears. The Gnoll army had turned back and had surrounded our position. With nowhere to run we prepared to make a stand. Kell’s men went to the rear in hopes to find a safe path out. Niles was speaking what sounded like a prayer then placed his cloak over Faelwyn’s closed eyes. Fearing the worst we ran over, but Niles explained he was simply hiding the unconscious priest for the upcoming battle. Then as if the situation could not be made any dire the obelisk began to hum with an unseen power. This captured Nile’s complete attention. After a few moments of inspecting the stone structure the heard of gnolls charged our position. Niles asked if we’d prefer him to activate the device, meaning the obelisk with no idea of what it would do. Andrew and I both yelled out NO in unison.
Un-phased by the objection Niles turned around and released a bolt of lightning from the palms of his hands. It streaked past a group gnolls, giving the entire heard pause. They looked as if about to retreat until the largest gnoll I’ve ever seen, or heard of for that matter, bellowed out a cry of command setting the frightened dogs back on task.
I managed to sink a bolt into one of the dogmen, but Niles sent forth torrents of flame into their ranks slaying many before ever reaching the outer ruined walls. This did not go unnoticed by the gnoll’s archers. They retaliated with a hail of arrows, two of which landed knocking Niles to the ground. Showing tremendous resolve Niles quickly got back onto his feet and continued the onslaught. With Dragon’s Bane in hand and Andrew at my side we met their broken shields and rusty spears. After only a few moments into the melee the obelisk reached its zenith and freed a silent compression of air, shooting a chill along my spine. Then instantly next to us was Arenwe, Kara, a unconscious female elf and a hand full of Orcs. One of the later struck my armor with his massive two-handed sword. I struck back in kind, but the blood streaming down his chest only invigorated him. My attention was turned to Niles who was knocked to the ground by a pair of gnoll licking their lips. I moved to them, slaying the first and capturing the attention of the second.
With the extra reinforcements of Kara and Arenew the heard was culled enough to cause their leader to join the fight. Kara met his challenge without hesitation. The massive gnoll spoke about killing the Champion. My attention once again was drawn to protecting the young wizard Niles who this time was surrounded by five gnolls. I asking for Andrew’s help and he begrudgingly gave it leaping over the short wall and burying his dagger into a gnolls’ thigh. While standing atop the wall I felled another one giving Niles room to run. We all heard a mighty thud and witnessed Kara crash into the stonewall a gift from the gnoll leader’s massive mace. I looked at Andrew who nodded to me communicating with out words that he’d protect Niles.
From the wall I leapt onto Goliath and charged the giant gnoll. Between his chain and thick fur my sword drew only a trickle of blood. Pleased with himself he revealed his name as Gruthalmus, the very same mentioned by the gnolls sent to kill me just days ago. With all confidence that he’d slay me, he further revealed that Aden Kell had struck a deal with the Gnolls to kill Draco’s dragon Razor along with us outsiders for getting in the way. My shield rang with the force of Gruthalmus’ blows as his vocabulary and patience waned. I waited till I could see an opening in his armor. I knew there would be a moment, but could I live long enough to see it. Finally the time came; following a jaw-rattling blow I spied a bare section of fur just under the right arm and drove my blade deep within. Gruthalmus collapsed begging for his life. I offered a trade, his life for the location of the Flame Drake. The sniveling dog accepted and called off his remaining forces.
The battle was over and Andrew dumped an unconscious Niles at my feet. He was furious stating the young wizard nearly killed him with his magic. Seeing the fire in Andrew’s eyes I asked him to wait till we hear an explanation from young man. Meanwhile Kara was morning over the fallen female elf granting us a brief moment to speak with Arenwe. He explained that this obelisk is an ancient spire, which by magic can be used to teleport those within the walls to any other spire across the world. We all admitted how dangerous these could be in the Shadow Lord’s hands. By this time Niles awoke and was immediately confronted by Andrew. The young wizard tried to explain that his power got away from him. Andrew asked if he was even licensed to practice magic. He explained that no, he was taught by his grandmother, but is planning on attending school in Kear Maga. Andrew gave him a stern warning that the next time he is harmed by the hedge wizard’s spells it would not be forgiven. Niles walked away to help with the injured Jeh’an warriors. It was then that we noticed Aden Kell’s four warriors never returned. Likely they are on their way back to the camp to report our deaths.
After patching up our wounded we helped Kara bury the fallen elf. It appeared to be an emotional time for both Kara and Arenwe. I tried my best to assist without getting in the way; I hope I did not offend either one. We decided to camp and set out in the morning. If we ride hard all day we should return a few hours before the ceremony as promised. Over supper I heard tale of Kara seeking out the Lady of the Woods for the tools to protect herself. She did not say much more than it came with a great cost. The former vessel of Anstraste has lost all hope for the future of mankind. I did my best to explain that hope is still blossoming, but I don’t believe it made a difference to her. I do not know what transpired over the last few weeks, but the light of hope has left her eyes. Andrew and I just as briefly shared our reasons being here and my pledge to help defeat Draco the Dragon Lord before continuing our journey to safely deliver Faelwyn to Kear Maga. Both Arenwe and Kara offered to travel with us and help slay the Flame Drakes. I was most grateful, but the most immediate concern is Aden Kell’s treachery. It would be such a terrible blow to the Jeh’an people to learn their lead protector was plotting with the gnolls. Fearing to undo all hope gained from the Walk of the Champions for the people I decided it would be best to give Aden a chance to repent his misguided ways. To the shock of all around Kara coldly offered to kill Aden. I knew it was an offer of kindness from her prospective, but of course I declined.
Late the next day we arrived at the Jeh’an secret camp to shocked faces. It was as we suspected Aden’s men had reported our deaths. Princess Anneka declared the ceremony would occur immediately give no chance for further delay. Minutes later in the presence of my companions and the Jeh’an war council I was bestowed a medal of honor and named Champion of the Jeh’an peoples.
A feast for the whole camp was held after and although meat and drink was sparse, it was a merry time nonetheless. I search for an opportunity to speak to Aden in private, but he was nowhere to be found. As the evening winded down I had the privilege to walk Princess Anneka to her quarters. It felt like the night was alive with electricity holding her arm with in mine. She had the kind of eyes that when looking into yours it made you feel like no one else in the world mattered, it was sublime. I could have drowned in her eyes, but then alarm washed over her face. Before I had realized it we had reached her room, but no guards were present and the chamber door was left ajar.
Sword in hand I entered a step ahead of her. Seated in her chair before the hearth, goblet in one hand and a near empty skin of wine in the other was Aden Kell. He was drunk beyond reason professing his love for Anneka and how I had ruined everything. He was waiting for me to tell her of his pact with the gnolls, but I instead convinced him to return to his room. Fearing what he might do I excused myself from Anneka and followed Aden back to his chamber.
Only moments later Kara and Andrew approached me. I explained what transpired and in doing so I actually felt pity for the man. Kara once again shocked me by stating that the Princess has romantic feelings for me. I protested and explained that she has merely been kind to me as a result of the aid I can be to her cause. Secretly I had to ask myself, could it be that she has true feelings for me? I was quickly pulled back into the conversation when Andrew proposed a plan to have Aden travel with us in the morrow to slay the fire drake Razor and earn the respect of his people once more. It was settled Andrew would handle it in the morning once Aden was sober and we’d set out before the Princess awoke less risk her questioning Aden before redeeming himself.
As predawn lit the sky I had just finished tightening the barding on Goliath when a tremendous roar shook the ground. Guards screamed out “It’s Razor”, which is the name of the flame drake terrorizing the region and then a second voice shriek “there are two of them!”. This is one time I wish I hadn’t been right.