Athera’s Dawn: Chapter 21

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Chapter Twenty-One

IN THE LIGHT OF TRUTH

Dawn came all too quickly for Luik. Even if he had had a whole summer to rest, Anorra’s peril would have kept him from any sound slumber. But he was weary and did eventually manage to find at least a little rest before waking, bathing, and changing into battle dress. For today he was certain his sword would see blood.

Drying his face with a towel, he gazed southward out the window, staring at the mountain peaks on the horizon. He thought of his beloved Anorra, and his heart wilted. He longed to go to her—to rescue her if she still lived—and his heart said she did. But the heart was easily deceived in such matters, he knew. He thought of Hadrian and wondered how he fared in Mt. Dakka. And then of Fane, and regret returned to his soul. He wanted to make things right. And he would, if given the chance.

He walked to the massive chest that held his few belongings and examined the attire that had been set out for him. Luik took his time and donned leather breecs and boots and a maille shirt covered with a warrior’s tunic. A new wide leather belt he wrapped and folded on itself and secured his sword frog to the left side. He slung a large cloak over his shoulder and pulled a shiny pair of gauntlets over his hands, newly forged by the Tribes of Ot. He then secured his sheath with the Sword of the Lion Vrie and picked up the helmet of the Sacred Order, holding it securely under his arm.

Today will be the day, he thought…

the day that Morgui will meet the Lion Vrie face to face on the fields of battle.

Luik stood before a grand mirror in his bedchamber. He looked at himself as the light sparkled in his eyes and danced off his armor. The herald emblazoned on his outer tunic bore the mighty paw of The White Lion, the crest of Dionia’s High King. And suddenly, in that moment, he was reminded of his dream.

He could see the massive creature standing over him, its hot breath spewing down. The Lion’s yellow eyes glared at him. Luik couldn’t move. And then the paw raised as it had countless times before in his sleep. The razor-sharp claws revealed themselves and glistened in the eerie twilight. And then it came—the deathblow. Then a knocking sound…

Luik snapped from the vision.

“My King, are you ready?” came a young lad’s voice. Luik looked behind himself in the mirror to a lad peeking in through the doorway.

“Aye,” he replied. Luik turned and straightened himself for the boy. “How do I look?”

The boy blanched, words escaping him. “You look—fine.”

“Fine? Perhaps maybe I should have gone with the other breecs then?”

“Uh—” The boy hesitated and was clearly unnerved.

“Do not worry,” Luik said, waving his hand. “Are the men assembled?” The boy nodded, glad for the interjection. “Very well. Let’s be off.”

He followed the boy down the grand hallway—as all hallways were in Mt. Dakka’s palace—until arriving at a side room blocked by a heavy wooden door.

“The men are gathered in the King’s Hall, but the others are here,” said the boy. “Shall I wait for you?”

“Nay,” Luik said, placing a hand on the boy’s shoulder. He could see fear in the boy’s eyes. He knelt down and looked in his face, suddenly feeling nostalgic. Could Luik have been this same age and size when he himself was summoned of to Kirstell? It seemed so long ago. “What is your name, lad?”

“Farquin,” he said timidly.

“That’s a strong name,” Luik said. “And your father and mother? Are they here with you?”

“My mother is. My father left to fight in Ligeon with King Anondo.”

“Ah, then your father is a hero.”

“Pardon?”

“Anyone who fights for King Anondo is surely of the bravest sort. He is a hero, young Farquin.”

“I suppose.” Farquin wondered if he’d ever see his father, Fadlemir, again.

“Nay, suppose nothing. Know that he is and believe.” Luik stared into the boy’s eyes. “You are the future, Farquin. You may not understand now. But you will in time. You are Dionia’s hope.” Stillness filled the air. “And remember, the King is coming.”

The boy looked at him oddly. It was this last phrase that perplexed him.

“Off you go,” Luik said and turned him around. Farquin took off, and the High King stood. And then entered the council chamber.

Standing around a large wooden table were Li-Saide, Gorn and the remaining Dibor, minus the brothers of Ligeon. Boran remained seated due to his injuries but had refused to miss the meeting. Grinddr and three of his men were also present. All of them were dressed in battle attire, save the dwarf who remained as he ever was. They saluted Luik and made the sign of blessing as he entered, their faces displaying the honor due him, and glad for it. Then they began clapping and he joined with them. They were together again, but without four; Najrion they knew was lost, and Anondo and his brothers were still unaccounted for.

When the applause died down and reunions had been made, everyone settled into chairs around the room. Extra furniture had been brought in to accommodate the larger-than-normal council. Luik spoke first.

“It is so good to see you all.” He looked carefully around the room. “We have been through much, and we dare not ask one another for too much detail, for our hearts could surely not bear the burdens we all carry. Just enough to move forward in wisdom. Yet we remain a brotherhood, a band of warriors bound by the Most High to protect Creation and to serve one another. As it is, it falls to us today to do the unthinkable, to defend the heart of our world and the center of recorded history. For that, I turn to Li-Saide of Ot, Chief of the Ancient Tribes.” He inclined his head to the dwarf.

Li-Saide sat in a large chair with a raised cushion so as to be seen by all the rest. His fluffy beard moved when he spoke, and his eyes remained ever vigilant. “Morgui is at our doorstep, as bold as he ever has been. And I fear we will not last the night without a proper defense. And even then the future is not certain. But first I have news of my own that must be shared, and I fear the telling of it.”

More than a few eyebrows were raised, and everyone felt a strange foreboding at Li-Saide’s words. Things already seemed dire enough as they were, but to add more? Luik was worried for the news and not sure it was the best timing for whatever it was the dwarf was about to share. But then again, Li-Saide had never been inappropriate and had indeed taught him most of what he knew when it came to discretion.

“My first news is that King Anondo lives, but barely so.”

There was a subtle gasp across the room. The Dibor leaned forward in their chairs and made to ask questions, but Li-Saide raised a hand. “Anondo’s forces were caught off guard with a surprise attack from the north.”

“The north?” Fyfler asked incredulously.

“How can that be?” Quoin added.

“The gates,” Rab reminded them. “Even Luik and Anorra found one in the mountains above the Great Forest, remember?”

“That is the most logical explanation,” Li-Saide continued. “The survivors of the attack fled west to Narin, pursued by the KiJinNard.”

“The hounds of the dead?” Daquin asked.

“The same. Only more than a rank of them.”

“So many,” whispered Boran.

“Fadlemir, Captain of Ligeon’s fighting men and armada, commanded three vessels from the Port of Narin northward in the hopes of landing in Tontha and returning to Mt. Dakka. But their landing was thwarted by a giant storm. A cloud snake, Anondo called it.”

“It must be the same as what we encountered in Kirstell,” Luik put in. “It ravaged the entire island and seemed to know exactly where we were.”

“It very well could be,” Li-Saide replied. “This storm hunted them all along the coast, at least from what Anondo could tell us.”

“He doesn’t remember?” questioned Luik. “Why not ask Fadlemir?”

“Because Fadlemir never made it. His last effort was to force Anondo’s unconscious body into a small hole in the rocks. He never knew it was one of your Sea Caves, Luik. We were waiting there, praying he’d find us. We believe the Great Spirit drew him there. But we’re sure he never knew.”

A somber stillness fell over the assembly. Everyone sat in quiet honor of the man who had given his life to protect the King of Ligeon.

“I would have liked to have met him,” Luik finally said.

“I’m sure you did,” Brax said. “You would remember his face if you saw it. He was a good man.”

“Aye…” Luik’s voice trailed off. All of them had been good men. “Continue,” he looked to the dwarf. “What of Thad and Thero?”

“That is another matter,” he said, his face suddenly pensive. “But not for me to tell, as it was not their wish.”

Luik looked to him and then to the others. “I—I don’t understand.”

Li-Saide slipped off his chair and walked to a side door, passing through it and returning a moment later with a tall man. His appearance was ruddy, and his eyes were deep-set and hard. At seeing all the men, however, he looked down.

“Do not be afraid,” Luik said, rising from his seat. “Li-Saide?”

“This is Blandon, son of Aramos, a son of Ligeon. He was with Thad and Thero in their final moments.”

“Their final moments?” Luik said. “Wait—”

“Blandon?” Li-Saide gestured him forward. Suddenly everyone in the room realized the gravity of what was about to be shared. Blandon stood uneasily before them until Cage offered up his chair. Blandon looked to thank him and noticed a single tear running down the Dibor’s face.

“It’s all right,” Cage said. “You will honor them with your words, I know.”

Blandon seemed strengthened by the gesture and sat accordingly. He took a deep breath and began the long account of their journey south into the Border Mountains. He shared about the tragedies in the mountain pass and their retreat down into Grandath. He related the dismal progress into the forest and the eventual decision of Thad and Thero, ordering the remaining ten men onward, not to “stop for anything, save the Dwarves of this realm.”

“And so our scouts found them wandering in the smoke-filled forest,” Li-Saide finished. “And not a moment to spare.”

“They died heroically,” Blandon offered up, knowing these were their closest kin and friends. “They served one another…served us all…right until the end.” He lowered his head in sorrow.

“Do not fear,” Luik said, placing a hand on the man’s shoulder as all the others stood. “All is well, for they are in the Great Throne Room with the Father now. There is no weeping there, no sadness of heart.” Then Luik embraced the man and thanked him for his faithfulness.

“Nay,” said Blandon, “it is you we should honor. For you have been faithful to your people, to all of us. Thad and Thero were right—” his voice choked.

“About what?” Luik held him off.

“When they said you are the best of us all.”

A somber mood filled the silence until Luik released the man and Li-Saide stepped in. “C’symia, Blandon, son of Aramos, you are dismissed.” The man bowed and exited through the main doors.

Everyone settled back into their chairs, content to not say anything. The loss of their brothers was hard to bear. Of the original ten and eight Dibor, only ten and five remained. It felt as if they had lost an arm, knowing it was gone but expecting it to still be there to reach out for something.

“Might I remind you that the men are waiting,” Gorn finally said.

Luik looked up. “Aye. That they are.” He took a deep breath. “Li-Saide, what more is there to tell?”

“Our scouts report that the Dairne-Reih are encamped over Ot, filling the woods above.”

“And Morgui?” Gorn asked.

“They have not seen him, but I’m sure he is not far off.”

“Probably down in Haides with An—” Brax was cut off by a stern look from the dwarf. The comment, for all its truth, was inappropriate and misspoken.

Luik’s face tightened. He could feel rage filling his head with the thoughts of his lost love, suffering in the fires of the underworld.

Li-Saide placed a hand on his arm and spoke softly, “We will retrieve her, my King. There is still time.” He readdressed the men. “In the meantime, we will defend Ot with all we have. To lose the Scriptorium would be to erase the history of our peoples, and of Earth, breaking our connection and understanding with them.” He paused. “But there is still more.”

The men looked on intently.

“There is the issue of the Two Trees,” Li-Saide said.

Everyone glanced around, but Luik raised his hand. “Let him finish.” He turned to the dwarf. “Go on.”

“The Tree of Life still stands, but if Morgui were to destroy it, our link to the eternal would be severed. Mortality would reign in Dionia.”

“Mortality?” Fyfler questioned. “You mean we’d die?”

“Instead of passing from this life to the next at the Most High’s command, we’d have a painful finite span,” Luik clarified. “That and the dwarves—”

“You need not concern yourselves with us,” Li-Said interrupted.

“Nay, I’d have you speak, friend,” Gorn demanded, sitting forward.

The room filled with murmurings.

“Please, brothers,” Luik lifted an arm. But still they talked among themselves. “Silence!”

The discussions ceased.

“Let—him—finish,” Luik ordered, and then looked back to the dwarf.

“The Tribes of Ot were created by the Most High to serve and to protect the Sons of Ad. Knowing that we must maintain the knowledge of history, both here and elsewhere, we were granted a peculiar trait, a gift if it could be so called. We know neither death nor the calling home into the Great Throne Room. Our existence is and forever will be to serve Dionia. And our life’s source is the Tree of Life. Without it, we are mortal. And given our age already, I do not know how long—”

“We understand,” Luik interrupted this time. Everyone remained fixed on the dwarf.

“We’ve known that Morgui would return, bent on destroying the Tree, our tribes, and our history. Thus we inquired of you,” he looked to each of the Dibor, “at the Counsel of Kings…the Gvindollion…to ensure our survival. And that is why we passed the secrets of our order, the Secrets of the Mosfar, on to another should we fall, to one Fane, son of Fadner.”

The men were stunned, especially those who knew Fane personally. They talked among themselves, and Luik again had to calm them down.

“But, Sire,” Boran looked to Luik then to the dwarf, “Fane is a traitor, is he not?” Heads nodded.

Luik was startled. He had not spoken such things to anyone. “So, word has spread?”

No one spoke.

“There were only two who knew of Fane’s behavior. One is my love, and she was convinced of his innocence, and the other—” He paused, suddenly deep in thought, piecing everything together. Hadrian. “The other will answer to me.”

“There is still the other Tree,” Li-Saide said, looking to Luik.

Luik suddenly remembered their time in Ot together. He was taken back to the thick bramble path that led into the darkened cave. And there, the grotesque, charred ruins of an ancient beauty that held a secret power over the souls of man. He saw Li-Saide bending over and opening the flesh of the exposed root, revealing green within.

It lives.

“Tell them,” Luik said. “We need to know.”

Li-Saide stood and waved a hand through the air. But rather than a fruitless gesture, his hand moved through something like water, spreading ripples out over the table. The fluttering apparition began to shimmer and soon developed into a beautiful scene, a meadow filled with lush greenery dancing in the light of the sun. Flowers of every kind blossomed in that moment, and the sky was filled with radiance and the song and flight of birds.

The men sat spellbound at the miraculous vision before them. It looked so much like a place and time they fondly remembered but had forgotten.

Li-Saide spoke solemnly. “In the beginning, the Most High fashioned two trees to adorn the garden he made: one the Tree of Life, the other the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.”

The scene showed two massive Trees stretching high into the sky, taller and stronger than any of the other trees in the garden. They were alive somehow, as if they could themselves talk and be heard by Creation. The Great God had given them life and was delighted in them.

“The one, the Tree of Life, was the source of mankind’s hope, the sustenance that would see them through eternity. She was their link to Athera, the one that afforded paradise in this perfect world. If they ate of her, they would never die.

“The other, equally beautiful and strong, was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. To her was given the fruit of the one thing that Ad was never designed to carry: knowledge of what his life would be without the Almighty. A sufficiency without the Great Spirit would mean death, and no true sufficiency at all, proving that without Him, mankind is nothing.”

Suddenly violent flames leapt up and around the second Tree, consuming the branches and enveloping the image from trunk to leaves. And then a crrrrrack as the mighty foundation was severed and the Tree crashed to the ground.

“When Ad recognized the potential destruction promised in any failure to adhere to the Commandment not to eat of it, he ordered the second Tree cut down and burned. He watched and waited until the entire thing was gone—a blackened pile of coals and dust. If he could not be certain of his own ability to obey the Most High, then he felt it best to remove the temptation.”

Jrio interrupted the vision. “So what’s the concern?” The image slowly faded away, and the room was back to normal.

“That its seed has been slowly nursed back to health,” Li-Saide said. “That it lives once again.”

“It what?” Quoin exclaimed. The others looked on, incredulous.

“I’ve seen it,” Luik added. “It grows deep within the ground, its roots firm, surely ready to burst out and fill the sky once more.”

“So the fires weren’t just meant to find Ot,” Brax concluded.

“But to make way for a new tree,” finished Jrio.

“Or a new forest,” added Li-Saide.

The weight of the statement filled their hearts with dread. It couldn’t be! A new forest?

“And if the Tree and its offspring are the only trees in Dionia’s heart, then its fruit is also the sole product,” Li-Saide continued.

“A fruit that would bring the Curse upon our entire world,” Luik finished.

There was a long, drawn-out pause in the council chamber. No one moved, each man sitting pensively, left to ponder the plight they faced. Morgui’s plan was revealed. He wasn’t satisfied with the destruction of their heritage or an end to their immortal condition; nay, Morgui wanted it all. He wanted Dionia under his rule. He wanted mankind’s habitation of this life and the next—with him in Haides.

Finally Rab asked what many of them had been thinking. “Who has been cultivating the seed? Someone must have.”

“Ah, a valid question,” Li-Saide replied. “We had long suspected an intruder, watering and giving nourishment to the remains of the Tree deep within Ot.”

“One of your own?” Cage questioned.

“Not exactly. We suspected an outsider coming in through the portals.”

“Then why didn’t you close them off before this escalated?” asked Fyfler.

“Because if there was indeed an intruder in our midst, we wanted to catch him and stop him.”

“Catching him in the act was the only way,” Luik surmised.

“Correct.”

“So you captured him? Why did you close the portals?” Fyfler asked again.

“Nay. We believe that the traitor was just the errand boy. He was about to bring Morgui himself, and we had to weigh which was more important: catching our watering boy or facing Morgui in a surprise attack.”

“But after all this time, he didn’t bring Morgui, even when he had the chance,” Luik put in. “That’s very strange.”

“Aye,” Li-Saide grew puzzled. “If this invader was indeed a traitor, he failed to carry through his most heinous act.”

“Perhaps he was killed,” Cage suggested.

“Possibly,” Li-Saide said. “But right now we simply don’t know and can’t waste our time speculating. The Secret City is in its most perilous state and needs all of our help.”

“And our help she shall receive!” Luik said, rising to his feet.

The rest of the men followed with a mighty “Hey’a!”

“Brax, Jrio, Fyfler,” Luik listed, “you’ll have command of the armies, answering to me. Grinddr, you will have the Immortals. Gorn, you command the Lion Vrie. After we brief the men, we’ll head for the Lion’s Hall.”

“But the secrets of the Order?” Rab asked.

“If there is no Dionia, than secrets mean nothing. Today Morgui will know it all. The Lion Vrie. The life of my father, King Ragnar. Even the Mosfar. All things will be brought into light, and we will not sleep until we have victory.”

“Hey’a!” the men shouted as one. They drew their swords and held them aloft.

“For the glory of the Most High God!”

“For the King’s glory!” the men replied.

 

• • •

 

The Great Hall was filled with a grand audience. The massive stone arches and tall windows soared overhead, showering light onto a sea of expectant faces, all focused on the High King and his retinue that occupied the dais. These were the warrior men of Dionia, and only the Great Hall of Mt. Dakka was able to hold them all. Still they streamed out into the hallways and even into the main courtyard, completely silent, waiting for the words of their King to echo down the ancient halls. Not a man among them sat, and they each held a weapon in their hands. Some were no more than boys, barely able to hold swords, while others were well on in years; still, neither lacked in determination and heart. These were husbands, fathers, and brothers. These were sons.

In their eyes Luik noticed a familiar gaze, one of utter devotion, loyalty and zeal, but also of fear. Just hours from now they would come face to face with terrors no man was ever intended to witness. And those who had already stared death in the face, survivors of Adriel and elsewhere, knew they were about to revisit the nightmares of their past.

He saw many of the men he had fought alongside before, faithful men who had won great honor for themselves and their families; he saw men who had survived the brutal destruction of their homelands and the loss of their loved ones. These were his people—but more—these were his brothers.

“Men of Dionia, hear me! Today I look out over a multitude of faces and wonder how all this came to be. I see standing before me the inheritance of those who have gone before us, of those who would have given anything to see this day. For it is a great and terrible day. I see standing before me the legacy of the generations, a legacy which hinges on our actions and is borne on our shoulders.

“Morgui and his forces await us even now, encamped on the ground that hides the Forbidden City of Grandath, what we know as the Secret City of Ot, there to consume the records of our people and those of the Almighty’s Creation. But his fires have ravaged the Central Forest and have cleared the way for something even more terrible, the latent key to a curse that would destroy us all. For the seed of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil has sprung to life, aided by a traitor from among us. If it blossoms, there is no stopping our people from eating of it, bringing upon them the curse which Ad himself tried to dissolve. For if we cannot remember the covenants of our forefathers, then we also cannot respect the curses that await us if we break those covenants. And fight to preserve those covenants we must!

“Men of Dionia, hear me! I see your courage, and I would speak to your fear: if there is nothing to be fearful of losing, then there is nothing to live for. If you see fear, it is only because you have much to love. You, of all Creation, have known His glory and perfection. You have everything to lose because you know what it means to truly live. Today we do not meet our adversary as mere mortals groveling at the feet of a tyrant, hoping to be given some quarter—hoping to be granted some feeble existence. Today we meet him as superiors, as Sons of the Blessed King! It is not mankind that quakes with fear, for we are those created in the image of the Most High! We hold the high ground! We fight for life! Today they meet the inheritance of every generation, the legacy that says, ‘We will not surrender! We will not retreat!’”

 

• • •

 

In that moment, and for many more, the violent shouts of men could be heard echoing throughout all of Mt. Dakka. Every child on the street, every mother who busily cleaned at home to calm her nerves, every grandmother who paced in prayer, all heard the shouts and shut their eyes. It was the sound of defiance. The sound of rebellion to the fear that encroached upon them all, lurking in the shadows. And the shouting spoke: We will not give up. We will not go down without a fight. We will not stop until the Mighty King returns.

• • •

 

Luik joined with the men, raising his sword and shouting with all his might. The others with him did the same, their blood stirring from deep within. The deafening sound consumed the hall and shook their souls. It was magnificent.

When the roar finally ebbed, Luik once again looked out over his brave army, pride filling his heart. “By nightfall we will be well within the Secret City. There we will certainly find—”

There was a strange commotion in the back of the room.

Luik stopped his address. He strained to see what was the matter.

He heard one clear voice ringing out, and saw the throng of men near the doorway stepping aside.

“Make way!” said the voice. “Stand aside! We must see the High King!” More men parted and a path appeared through the middle of the expansive room. “Make way! Make way, I say!”

Coming into view were two men, one clearly older than the other and deeply troubled from a long journey. The older man’s clothing and long hair were disheveled and soiled. He was hunched over and strained for every step. But the younger man Luik soon recognized despite his bedraggled appearance; for indeed he would have known his face and hair anywhere. It was Fane.

“Make way!” Luik cried out to the astonishment of everyone around him, and bounded down the steps of the dais. The men parted hastily as Luik pushed through them, running to meet his old friend. A mix of emotions filled his chest, from those of anger and frustration to others of deep conviction. He neared the redheaded, freckle-faced figure, wrapped in a dark green cloak swollen with dampness and stains of soot and soil.

“Fane!” Luik cried, his arms spread wide in embrace.

But Fane stayed back, halting two arm’s lengths away. All those around were deathly still.  Li-Saide was quickly to the King’s side and stared into Fane’s face, searching for answers in the unseen.

“Fane—what is it?” Luik was troubled. He followed Fane’s stare to the man at his side, a sorry figure who was presently straining for great gasps of air. He looked even worse close up. The man’s face was sunken and pale, teeth yellowed, and deep circles beneath his eyes. His hair was red with locks of grey, looking more like a rat’s nest than a mantle of dignity. If Luik didn’t know better, he’d say this poor creature had been of the taken.

“I am—” The man coughed himself into a fit, clutching Fane’s arm. “I am Jadak—”

Time froze.

Luik glared at the man. Then at Fane. He felt his stomach tighten and his sight narrow.

Fane nodded his head.

“—Father of Hadrian.”

Recognition lit in the High King’s eyes. All at once the consequences of his actions became clear. It was Hadrian who had betrayed them. His redheaded friend had known that Hadrian had been lying all along. And Luik realized what Fane had done; if he could find Hadrian’s father, he could prove his innocence to Luik. But more than that, he could prove that Hadrian was acting covertly. And Luik was certain now that it was Hadrian who had been sneaking in to Ot—for he was the only other one outside of the Lion Vrie that knew about the portals. About the Sea Cave.

Indignation filled Luik’s head and he spun around. Hadrian will pay.

“Hadrian!” He looked to where his friend had stood moments before. But the space was empty. The men began talking amongst themselves. Luik bolted forward, running to the stairs, his eyes darting around franticly. “Where did he go?” But no one knew. They shrugged their shoulders and looked to each other. “Find him!”

Li-Saide was on it, summoning five of the Immortals. “If he is still in Mt. Dakka, we will find him,” said the dwarf, and was off.

Luik turned back to regard Fane and Jadak with a heavy heart, the gravity of the situation setting in. He had granted audience with a traitor, shunning his closest counselor and boyhood friend. And without consulting the Most High or heeding Anorra’s wisdom, he had aided a man who was secretly and, quite literally, watering the roots of evil under his watch.

More than being angry with Hadrian—a status not easily exceeded—Luik was angry with himself.

The men stopped mumbling, and the hall was quiet. Luik looked out among their faces, and to Fane and Jadak still standing in the middle.

“Fane, son of Fadner, my friend and confidant, has returned safely to Mt. Dakka and has undertaken a task which none of us, most of all myself, could ever repay. We owe him our lives for bringing a hemorrhage to light before it destroyed us further. We salute you.”

The entire throng grunted a mighty “Hey’a” in affirmation and made the sign of blessing toward him.

“And to you, Jadak, for whatever wrongs have been committed against you, I am deeply sorry. And for whatever evils you have endured, may you see a thousand days of goodness for each single day of plight. For you have returned to the Land of the Living and stand once again in the Light of the Sun, though it be sickly and pale from what you surely once knew. For this, we salute you, and speak a blessing on your enemies’ enemies.”

Again, the warband saluted Jadak, the sound echoing throughout the palace.

“Men of Dionia, tonight we defend the Secret City of Ot. Things which have been hidden for ages will no longer be, and things that were once in secret will be shouted from the rooftops. I cannot promise you your lives, for I cannot promise what is not mine to give. But I can promise you that He, the Great God of Athera, will be with you, making your spears fly true and your shields hold fast.”

Luik turned to the Dibor behind him. “Brax, Jrio, Fyfler—you have the floor. We leave on your command. I will see you in the Lion’s Lair.”

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