GM’d and posted by Jennifer
Simon eyed Casidhe and Aidan for a moment. “Just precisely what were you thinking I was going to do to this fellow?”
Aidan blinked. “Weren’t you going to interrogate him?”
“Well, yes,” Simon said. “But that doesn’t mean I’m going to torture him. Maker!”
“Sorry,” Aidan said meekly.
Gheris snorted. “You chase after those fool humans if you want. I’m going to find my brother.” Naessa looked a bit crestfallen as Gheris stalked away into the trees.
“I suppose they’re not all that important,” she said. “I’ll bring my familiars back, then.” She sat down and began concentrating on her magic.
“Shall we go with Gheris?” Casidhe asked Aidan.
“I’ll stick with Simon,” Aidan said. “I’m not so comfortable around elves,” he explained.
Simon followed the young dark-haired elf as she began exploring around the fringes of the camp. After a while, she seemed to find something and began following it, reaching a small clearing where the remains of a ruined tower still stood. A well-trodden path led from the tower toward the main camp.
“These men came from the camp, stood for a while, then went back,” she remarked idly, seemingly to herself. “It looks like Ferron and Geoffrey’s tracks lead down here, then . . . disappear. They must have come to look for something in these ruins.”
“Well, that’s something,” Casidhe remarked hopefully.
“I’m going to look in the ruins, then,” Gheris announced boldly. “You should stay here where it’s safe.”
“If it’s all the same to you, milady, someone should have your back in there.”
Gheris sniffed. “If you do not get in the way, I care not what you do.”
There was little more than a ring of stones marking the base of an ancient tower, but when Gheris reached it she could feel her hair standing on end as she detected a faint whispering in the air. “So, the tracks lead here, but where do they go?” she asked, mystified. “I’m sure you have some experience with this. They must go somewhere,” she told Casidhe.
“My suspicion is that they vanished just like that wolf.”
“That is not helpful!” Gheris shouted at him. “My uncle, my brother . . . this makes no sense! Magic makes no sense!”
“Not to you, and surely not to me. But we’ve got two people back at the camp to whom it does make sense,” Casidhe said soothingly.
“The help of others is u—“ Gheris began, then her teeth clicked together and she stared around nervously.
“Do you hear it, too?” Casidhe asked carefully.
“Yes, yes I do,” Gheris replied, sounding relieved.
” . . . speak my name . . .” the wind spoke.
“Name?” Gheris demanded. “What name?”
“No idea,” Casidhe said. “But I don’t like the sound of it, I’ll tell you that for nothing.”
” . . . I am the power . . . call for me . . .”
“Maaaybe we should rejoin the others,” Casidhe finished.
“Maybe you are right,” Gheris said. They glanced at each other, then as one hurried away from the tower.
Simon, meanwhile, had looked quickly around the camp. It seemed to have been in place for some time, a month or two from the state of the privies. He then investigated the crates, discovering the first was full of broken glass. One larger piece did not seem to reflect the surroundings, but instead hellish landscape of blue ice. Startled, he dropped it into the snow. He then began to lever the crates one by one from the cart, finding only more pieces until he reached the last, where he discovered a small hand-sized glass that remained intact. It was oddly dark, reflecting nothing. Simon examined it curiously, then pocketed it until later.
Aidan was temporarily left alone with the prisoner, Naessa still mumbling to herself and Lothaire doing some sort of soldiery thing like patrolling the edges of the camp. The man eyed Aidan nervously.
“Umm, hi?” Aidan offered. “Sorry about that from before.”
“What are you going to do to me?” the man asked. Aidan realized he wasn’t much older than Aidan himself.
“Well, umm, I don’t think anything too horrible. Just answer everything Simon here asks you, and I think you’ll be all right. Say, what’s your name?” Simon looked up at that, then nodded and resumed his investigations.
The man shook his head. “Who are you people?”
“Us? Well, we all sort of fell in together, you know? We’re trying to figure out what all of these magical disturbances are about, like this freak snowstorm. You wouldn’t happen to know much about that, would you?”
“I . . . don’t really know, to be honest,” the prisoner said. “But Benoit did warn us about the weather before it occurred, so I think he was expecting it.”
“That was more warning than a lot of people got, mate. I nearly died out there because of this snow. So, where are you from?”
“Orlais . . . I think.”
“You think? You weren’t born there?”
“No, no, I’m . . . just not sure. Everything I remember, is like it happened to someone else.”
“Simon, can you help me, here?” Aidan appealed to the mage. The prisoner jumped and stared at Simon fearfully. “Don’t worry, we’re not going to kill you,” Aidan insisted.
“Certainly,” Simon said smoothly and walked over.
“I have nothing against you people,” the prisoner said. “I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”
“Excellent,” was Simon’s reply. “We have come here from the Banncreag, and we want to know who is responsible for this weather, the wolves, and everything else. Do you recall what Benoit did with those mirrors or the flat cases over there?”
“Oh, I remember that well enough. Well, the one mirror, anyway, the one the wolves came out of. He didn’t use the other ones that I saw.”
“I see,” Simon remarked.
“He’d set it down on the ground and touch the frame in a certain place, and then a wolf would come out of it, is about all,” the prisoner offered.
“Interesting. Where exactly on the frame?”
“On the left side is the best I could say.” He lowered his voice slightly. “Once he sent one of the men into the mirror.”
“Oh, dear. Did you see him again?”
The prisoner shook his head violently. “Nossir. The wolves tore him to pieces. Well—more broke him in pieces, he went all stiff the moment he stepped through. Benoit said he was a discipline problem, so he had some of the other men toss him through.”
“The wolves in the mirror killed him?” Simon demanded, alarmed.
“Well, then. You may have already guessed that Benoit was no real Circle mage. I knew the man, and he died a while ago. I don’t know who that was,” Simon said, pointing at the pile of shattered glass. “Where did he hire you?”
“It was . . . Montsimmard, I think.”
“You seem to be having difficulty remembering,” Simon said. He frowned and stared at the man, concentrating.
Gheris burst into the camp, Casidhe close behind. “Mage!” she yelled. Simon ignored her.
The prisoner looked at Aidan nervously. “I don’t know. I can remember what happened here in the camp fairly well, but everything before that is a blur.” He blinked. “You’re Orlesian, aren’t you? Are you involved with the guy who was here earlier today?”
“I’m only half Orlesian, mate,” Aidan corrected.
“Aha,” Simon said abruptly. “I think we should ask our friend here about the mage now. Other lines of discussion can wait until he’s better rested.” Then he paused. “Wait, there were other Orlesians here? Could you describe them?”
“There were eight of them or so, and a woman.”
“A woman? What did she look like?” Simon asked.
Aidan looked startled. “What’s so important about her?”
Gheris stomped across the camp toward Simon, furious at being ignored, but Lothaire grabbed her arm and brought her to a halt. She snarled at him.
“We’ve been looking for someone from Orlais who may be in the area,” Simon said.
“An Orlesian woman in Ferelden?” Aidan asked. “That doesn’t make a lot of sense, Simon.”
“I don’t know,” the prisoner said. “I didn’t look too closely at her. Benoit only talked to one of the men . . . d’Armagnac, I think his name was. Gervais d’Armagnac.”
“Lothaire!” Simon yelled, shocked.
“What?” Lothaire demanded from where he was fending off Gheris.
“This gentleman seems to have seen our beloved friend Gervais recently. There was an Orlesian woman in his company.”
“What?” Lothaire said, also shocked, and let go of Gheris so quickly that she almost fell over. “Gervais was here? Where?” Simon pulled him aside and whispered into his ear.
“This just got more interesting,” Casidhe remarked, helping Gheris to her feet.
“I believe this man is under magic that renders him pliable for the moment. His memories of his time ensorcelled are temporary, so while we need to get information from him quickly, it won’t take much persuasion. Understand?”
“Yes, yes,” Lothaire said irritably, waving the Enchanter aside. He bent down to look at the prisoner. Gheris took the opportunity to tap Simon’s shoulder, rather harder than was strictly necessary.
“Mage!” she hissed.
“Yes, elf?” Simon demanded.
“The tower up there, there is something strange about it,” Gheris announced, undeterred. “The tracks lead off to nowhere. We heard voices. You’re the magical expert.”
Simon rubbed his shoulder, but his expression softened. “Very well. Lothaire can talk to the prisoner on his own, I suppose. This should be investigated before it gets much darker.”
“So when and where did you meet Gervais?” Lothaire asked as Simon began to follow Gheris and Casidhe out of the camp. Naessa perked up as they passed her and rose to follow them as well.
“They met up with us, sort of. They’d been sniffing around the woods when they found one of our patrols. Benoit had us bring them in so he could have a look at them.”
“So they were here. When?” Lothaire asked urgently.
“Benoit sent them through the thin place just an hour or two ago. That Gervais fellow said they were looking for someone, and Benoit mad ea deal with him for some magical assistance. I’m not sure what Benoit got out of it, but it must have been pretty big.”
“The thin place?”
“That’s what Benoit called it. I’m not sure what it meant.”
“How did he send them? Has he done it before?”
“He said a word . . . kind of an odd word, Uthel-something, I think, and it just opened up. He didn’t send anyone else, and he only went through once himself.”
Lothaire glanced at Aidan and rubbed the back of his neck in annoyance. “When you say ‘went through’, what does that mean? Did he vanish like that wolf did earlier?”
“You saw that?” the prisoner asked, surprised. “It was almost exactly like that.”
“Did he return in a similar fashion?”
“I’m not sure. It opened up again and he came back.” Aidan and Lothaire exchanged a worried glance.
Gheris pointed Simon and Naessa toward the ruins. “There they are. I’m not going crazy, Casidhe heard it too. It said something about calling a name, that it was some kind of power . . .” she trailed off, shaking her head.
“She’s right,” Casidhe affirmed. “It’s . . . eerie.”
“Anything else particular about it?” Naessa asked, trying to sound as detached and professional as Simon always did. “Chills? Winds? Do you remember anything else about the name?”
Casidhe shook his head. “It just said to say the name, but not what the name was. And it’d be a bit hard to feel a chill out here, numb as I am.”
Simon frowned. “Naessa, if you would step back a bit, I’d appreciate it. This sounds demonic.”
“Oh, that sounds like a good idea,” she said. “No problem.”
They closed on the ruined tower, but almost fifty feet away Simon held up his hand. “Halt!” He could already hear the whispering.
“Come to me . . . I am the power . . . I offer. . . speak my name . . . I hunger . . .”
“I see what you mean,” Simon said, shivering.
“Is it telling you anything new?” Naessa asked, pushing forward until she was standing next to Simon.
“This appears to be a thin place in the Veil. What you hear is a demon. We should report it to the Circle, but I don’t think there is much we can do here. It’s strange Benoit was operating so nearby. We should see if Lothaire has discovered any more back at the camp.”
Naessa listened warily for a while. “It doesn’t sound quite like a normal demon,” she said. “It would know we were here and have already attacked us.”
Simon shrugged. “True enough.” He turned back to the camp, gesturing for the others to follow. Casidhe did without hesitation. Gheris spat on the stones.
“Magic,” she sighed uneasily. “Geoffrey and Ferron’s tracks disappear here. They . . . were they . . .? I am not waiting for some magical organization to slowly gather itself together and deign to come help. My brother and uncle are missing and could be dead!”
Naessa listened to the whispers some more. ”I am firstborn and shall be last, god among insects, speaker of oracles, knower of fates, worship me and all shall be revealed. You will be raised up and sit at my right hand until the breaking of the world . . . speak my name.”
“It sounds hungry enough to be a demon.”
”. . . sunder the mountains and wear them like jewels upon your crown . . .”
“I can’t wait for the Circle, either, for obvious reasons,” Naessa announced, finally. “We have to find out what is here. Let’s go back to camp. We’ll figure out some way to convince them.”
They returned to camp to hear Lothaire speaking to Casidhe, Aidan, and Simon. “I think we are in grave danger here. We should move away from this place as quickly as we can,” the warrior said.
“In the dark? The cold? What about everyone else?”
Naessa gasped. “Oh, Dreams and nightmares, maybe I DO know its name,” she said to Gheris. “Maybe Simon is right and we should go. This is really bad.”
“We need to find the others and leave,” Lothaire announced. “Gervais and his men could be upon us in an instant. I’d rather not stay here and take any chances.”
“We should make camp for the night,” Simon insisted. “We have much to discuss.”
“There is something bad waking up in those ruins,” Naessa said loudly. “Not just a demon. I think it’s an Old God, whose name I am NOT saying this close to his altar.”
Casidhe gaped. “I’d just as soon not hear it at all, thanks!”
“Simon, do you know who the Speaker of Oracles is?” Naessa asked.
“I do not,” Simon replied.
“Wait,” Aidan said, blinking. “Does it start with Uthel?”
“SHH!!” Naessa hissed. “Saying his name is like worshipping him, giving him power. We’d best be further away.”
They left the vicinity of the camp and found a sheltered place in the forest, not difficult due to the ruggedness of the terrain. Naessa called up her familiars and two owls to watch the camp while they talked, and Aidan and Lothaire dumped their prisoner near enough to the fire that the man could get warm. They made a meal from the stores they’d found among the tents.
“First, let me explain,” Simon said. “The mage who was leading those men looked like a man I knew named Benoit. As far as I know, though, Benoit is dead, and that man was an imposter. I haven’t looked at his remains closely yet, but whatever he is doing, it is no good for any of us.”
“Some sort of appearance mask?” Naessa asked. “Or an actual physical impersonation?”
“Was he even human?” Casidhe asked.
“He was probably a physical impersonation, as his bizarre death seems to indicate. I found mirror glass in the backs of those crates. I believe they were portals to some frigid realm. I also found this among their supplies,” Simon added, bringing out the dark glass to show Naessa. “I think it is different somehow.”
Naessa started to grab the glass from Simon’s hands, then restrained herself and took it politely. She blinked as a faint light suddenly shone from the glass. “Did you see a room when you looked in it?” she asked, startled, then jumped as Simon almost snatched it back. He then restrained himself and looked over her shoulder.
“Not in the daylight, no,” he said, examining the narrow slice of dimly lit room that was now visible. He saw a desk, a book, a hand writing.
“It reminds me of an ancient Elvhenen device, a scrying glass. The partner is on that desk, there,” Naessa explained. “Do you know where the impostor got it?” she asked the prisoner. The man shrugged.
“This is more strangeness in a single day than I’m accustomed to in an a year,” Casidhe muttered.
Simon took the glass out of Naessa’s hands. “We should keep this covered when we aren’t using it ourselves,” he announced, and wrapped it in one of his spare robes.”
“So what do we do?” Gheris asked plaintively.
“About the ruins?” Simon asked. Lothaire looked blank, so the Enchanter hurried to explain. “Gheris and Casidhe found ruins in the nearby woods. We discovered that there is a thinning in the Veil there. Naessa believes it is a place where an Old God is manifest.”
“The voice in the ruins was trying to tempt me, offer me power in exchange for worship. It asked me to say its name, and the words it used to describe itself sounded like one of the Old Gods,” Naessa added. “The Dragon of Sight, in fact.”
“According to our prisoner, Gervais went through that thin place,” Lothaire said, frowning in disgust when he said the name.
“I see,” Simon mused. “There may be hope that we can follow him through and perhaps find Falenath, then. And our missing scouts, of course.”
“Follow him?!” Lothaire demanded, incredulous.
“It sounded like he had Oriane with him,” Simon announced.
“Who’s Oriane?” Naessa immediately asked, looking from Simon to Lothaire and back again.
“Don’t be ridiculous. Oriane is safe at home.”
“He had a woman,” the prisoner said, “but I didn’t catch her name.” Simon shot Lothaire a look that screamed “I told you so”.
“What home?” Naessa asked. “What are you talking about?”
“Forget it, Naessa, it’s human nonsense,” Gheris sneered quietly. “They can’t keep track of their family, is all.”
Simon sighed heavily when Lothaire volunteered no further information. “This is becoming relevant if Gervais is involved. Lothaire, would you care to explain?”
The horseman growled under his breath for several seconds. “Fine. Gervais is here to kill me.” Gheris rolled her eyes.
“You calm down,” Aidan told her severely.
“Was I speaking to you?” Gheris demanded. “I don’t think so.”
“Wait,” Naessa said. “This Gervais hates you enough to ally with an Old God?!? What did you do to him?”
“He blames me for the death of his brother,” Lothaire said, sounding like every word was being pulled from him by heavy hooks. “That, and ruining his family.”
“What is an Old God, exactly?” Gheris asked. “Why is it so dangerous?”
“They’re ancient powers that some people used to worship,” Naessa explained. “They’re trapped now, though, and supposedly powerless but very angry about it. When one gets free and comes to the surface, it leads a Blight.”
“We should be telling some Gray Wardens about this, then,” Aidan announced.
“Blights don’t happen any more,” Gheris said, snorting. “Surely this Old God can’t still hurt us.”
“Well, we didn’t find any sign of blight,” Naessa said. “But this may be something new. New and bad.”
“So, it was trying to get us to worship it so it could become powerful again?” Casidhe asked.
Gheris shuddered. “I don’t know what it was thinking, but that was creepy, not enticing.”
“Did you really kill his brother and ruin his family?” Naessa asked Lothaire.
“What does it matter?” he said. “He’s convinced I’m to blame for all of his woes.”
“I think it would matter to you! And if he has a point, we should try to negotiate with him. If he hasn’t been eaten by whatever was in those ruins, anyway,” Naessa shot back.
“Appease him?! That would be a waste of your time and you’d probably end up dead!”
Naessa winced. “Well, then, if he’s that unpleasant, never mind. That’s what I wanted to know. I want to find Ferron, and Gheris wants to find her brother and her uncle!”
“And this Oriane as well, if Simon’s right,” Casidhe said. “They may not be able to get back if they don’t know the name.”
“And no one answered me about who Oriane is!” Naessa yelled. “You’re a very aggravating man to talk to!” she told Lothaire. “You never give a straight answer to anything!”
“Let’s start digging through your personal history and see how many straight answers you give!” Lothaire growled, half-rising from his seat.
“Don’t let’s shout!” Aidan said quickly. “It sounds like the only thing to do is to go in after them.” He grinned. “I never thought a trip to a friend’s house would end up in such an adventure.”
“Oh, grow up!” Gheris snapped, kicking the side of Aidan’s leg. “You think this is an adventure?”
“Ow!” He protested. “I’ve got a hole in my leg, by the Fade! I nearly froze to death only a few days ago! I know this isn’t any fun, but I’m trying to make the best of it! Anyway, I’m going to sleep,” he said, moving away from the fire.
“I hope you don’t freeze to death,” Gheris said.
“Oh, you’re worried about me know?” Aidan shot back. Gheris snorted.
“I realize mommy’s not here to tuck you in, but you’ll have to make the best of it.”
Aidan laughed. “My mother never tucked me in anyway,” he said, sitting down on his blanket.
Lothaire sighed heavily. “Oriane is my wife.” Naessa gasped and clapped a hand over her mouth.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” she said. Lothaire gave her a wan smile.
“I suppose new introductions are in order. I am Lothaire Séverin Valère de Tourrin, former lord of Tourrin and former chevalier of Orlais.”
“Former?” Naessa asked. “More problems with this Gervais?”
“You could say that.”
“It looks like a lot of us have family involved,” Gheris gritted out.
“We should rest, and examine the ruins further tomorrow,” Simon said.
In the morning, they were all jolted out of their uncomfortably chilly slumber by an anguished yell, followed by extensive cursing in Orlesian. Casidhe, Lothaire, and Aidan grabbed for weapons as they stumbled out of their blankets.
“Maker’s name!” the prisoner shouted in Orlesian. “Who are you people?!”
“Calm down a moment,” Simon said. “I’ll explain.”
“How did I get here?! Fade, if you’re responsible for this, Mage, so help me, I’ll . . .” the man said, then trailed off as he realized how outnumbered he was. “Ah, perhaps I should not be so hasty.”
“Oh, it’s just him,” Gheris muttered and bent down to build up the fire. Naessa sat down beside her, cursing the cold and humans in general.
“I have the unfortunate duty of telling you that you were affected by powerful mind magic. We killed the one responsible, I believe,” Simon explained. “What is the last thing you remember?”
“I was visiting my cousin in Montsimmard for the summer. Cursed mages! One of them did this to me?”
“Yes, yes,” Simon said soothingly. “A rogue mage, not of the Circle. Tell me, what is your profession?”
“I am a soldier in the Empress’s employ, of course.”
Gheris glanced over at Naessa. “Are we the only ones who don’t understand what’s going on?”
“I think we’re just the only ones who don’t care,” Naessa grumbled. Lothaire motioned for the two elves to quiet down.
“He doesn’t remember recent events,” Simon said in the King’s Tongue, “but he can now recall his more distant past.” To the soldier, he said, “You should know that you are now in Ferelden.”
“That would explain why you’re speaking their barbaric tongue,” the man said, looking disgusted.
“Were you with any other soldiers, last you recall?”
“Nay. I was on leave.”
“Good. We have been investigating fell magics in the area, and we discovered a rogue mage who was leading a camp of soldiers, of which you were a part. Fortunately for you, you surrendered. Which is why you’re currently bound.”
“I think I liked him better when he was enspelled,” Aidan remarked. The prisoner transferred his disgusted look to Aidan briefly.
“I am grateful to you for sparing my life, then. The Chantry should be informed of these events immediately,” he said to Simon.
“I think he said Chantry,” Gheris whispered.
“I know,” Naessa replied. “I picked up a bit of Orlesian from our Keeper’s trading activities. He wants to tell them about the mage.”
“Hey, I’m the one who ‘spared’ you,” Aidan said. “I could’ve run you through, and now I sorta want to.”
Simon frowned. “We hope to inform a number of people, but first we need to find some others who the mage has kidnapped. Do you speak the local tongue? I hate to impose on you after your ordeal, but if you could deliver messages for us, we’d appreciate it greatly.”
“Yes, but not good,” the prisoner said. “
“Well, that’s something,” Casidhe said.
“Casidhe, if you could acquaint this man with the local geography while I compose a few messages . . .” Simon asked. Casidhe nodded.
“All right, friend, let me tell you how to get out of here.”
“I’m no friend of yours, Fereldan,” the man said in Orlesian. Casidhe glanced at Lothaire, sensing the tone, and Lothaire shook his head, knowing it would serve no purpose to translate.
“He’s lucky I didn’t understand that,” Casidhe muttered.
“You expected more from an Empire soldier?” Simon asked rhetorically.
Gheris saw Simon begin writing and tugged at the Enchanter’s sleeve gingerly. “Do you think you could, maybe, leave some things out?” she asked, gesturing from herself to Naessa. Simon nodded.
“There is no need to disclose . . . irrelevant details to the Circle,” he said.
“Thanks,” Naessa said, relieved. Gheris glanced over at Aidan.
“I hope you learned your lesson this time,” she said severely. The young nobleman grinned.
“Yeah, no mercy. Or at least, no mercy to arrogant snobs.”
“Leave him be, he’s had a rough time,” Lothaire interjected.
“But how do you know they’re arrogant until after you’ve spared them?” Naessa asked.
“That’s easy,” Casidhe said. “When you’re fighting them, you yell, ‘oi, do you want to get a beer after this?’ and if they say no, they’re arrogant.” The Orlesian soldier looked offended when everyone laughed. Simon handed him the messages and sent him on his way as quickly as possible.
“That went better than I hoped,” he said when the man had disappeared from view. “Although I am concerned that the spell wore off more quickly than I had anticipated. I had hoped he might have more information about the portal. Let us finish searching the camp for anything we can use and try this portal.”
The mage’s tent in the camp was curiously empty, although they located a few fine blades stashed away by what may have been the commander of the soldiers. Simon searched the man’s personal effects and found a signet ring. He didn’t recognize the sigil, but it had the particular etch in one corner that indicated the man was a member of the Royal family. Lothaire shook his head when he saw the ring.
“This won’t be good for us at all.”
“At best, we can blame Benoit,” Simon said, “but I agree. We were still the ones who killed him.”
Casidhe changed into some bright silvery armor and took some more appropriate swords. “I’m ready, I suppose,” he said.
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