Ernsof City was one of the oldest and largest Eastern cities in Six Clan history; built almost a millennia ago, in the second age of the Marra Empire, during the great war of the orcs. Known by the people as “River City,” “The Capitol of the East” and “New Dawn City,” Ernsof was constructed on top of one of the narrower parts of the river so that it would be more accessible to the city’s people. Flanked by the sea on one side, and protected by forests, hills and mines, Ernsof City grew to be one of the most beautiful and bountiful cities in the eastern lands.
Aria first saw Ernsof in her studying texts when she was at the academy learning the ways of magic and spell-casting. She had dreamt of visiting but was so involved with her training that she never found the right moment to take the trip.
Aria crested the last hill before reaching the coast she to find the city that she had come to love and revere in complete shambles. From the hill she hoped to behold Ernsof in all its splendor; sparkling sea, lush forests and a bustling city but the beautiful river had dried up, the forests turned to charred, barren earth, and the city had been left to poverty and despair. Even the tide looked as if it had retreated from the docks for fear of being tainted.
From where she stood, she noticed that the famous Golden Palace had been abandoned, looted, and torn apart; simply counted as another casualty of the seemingly never-ending Clan War.
Demoralized, she pressed on. The first step was to meet Kael’s informant who would instruct her on the location of the ancient tomb where she could find the navigation key. Lingering here would not be in her best interest so she decided that it would be better to complete her quest and leave the broken city to its fate.
She found Kael’s informant cloaked and hooded in black robes near a dried-up fountain in the middle of a deserted plaza, and gave her a map and told her to follow the route he had marked. They spoke about the ever-deteriorating state of the eastern lands and the newly established position of the Amerdan clan. When she asked about the type of resistance up ahead, the man dismissed the question with a wave of his hand.
“Worry not. Your presence will go unnoticed,” he assured her.
Aria was a sorceress, and a most educated one at that. She knew when she was being lied to but she smiled at him and thanked him for his service.
The road that led to the ruins was easy enough to follow but Aria didn’t trust simplicity when it correlated with danger. After several days of travel, she arrived to the ruins and found a safe position in the hills that overlooked the entrance to the ancient tomb. From there, she observed and waited. She could not figure what this place was or who built it. The ruins looked different and more ancient than how the Six Clan history described them. With their monstrous columns and artless sculptures they didn’t contain any of the sharp edges or spikes that are prominent in orc construction. She wondered which audacious race would have built an outpost here in the middle of what used to be a massive, orc infested forest.
A mysterious figure stepped out from the shadows on the right side of the tomb. He was masked and heavily armed, wearing potions and magic defenses. The figure walked to the front of the tomb and stooped to examine the ground. He spent a considerable amount of time poking around the ground. As suddenly as he had appeared, he vanished, leaving Aria confused, but more wary of what was to come.
The figure appeared again positioned himself at his post outside the entrance to the tomb and did not move. Aria decided to be discreet, and concentrated her energy on a pile of fallen boulders on the opposite side of the tomb’s entrance. Mystical blue flames danced up her hands to her fingertips as she sharpened her focus until the pile started shaking and swirling, manipulating itself until it formed a large humanoid stone figure standing ten feet tall
“Destroy,” she whispered from her position.
Before the guard knew what was happening, the stone golem brought its fist down on top of its head, reducing it to a pile of bent metal and crushed bone. More guards came rushing out of the tomb and attacked Aria’s creature. She saw one cast a fireball at her creature’s back and explode in a shower of char and dust. Undaunted, the goliath turned swinging its massive arm tearing four guards in half at the waist. It stomped towards the source of the fireball, crushing guards underfoot and batting them away like they were mice.
The wizard alternated between teleporting and firing at Aria’s stone goliath, making it hard for the creature to keep up. The beast finally lifted a huge stone and threw it at the wizard who invoked a shield at the last second, crumbling it on impact. Aria took advantage and waited for the wizard’s shield to dissipate before unleashing a fireball of her own. Having used too much of his mystic energy fighting her golem, the wizard was unable to cast a counter-spell before being engulfed in flames
When Aria went to examine the bodies of the guards, they dissipated in a plume of black dust as if they had been eaten by the air. Thinking that peculiar, but also remembering that a lot of sacred places were guarded by incantations of that sort, she turned her focus to getting inside the tomb.
She could find no immediate entrance but she did, however, hold the king’s seal, given to her by Kael himself; one of six ancient keys made that allowed the user access to even the most sacred of places. Before she entered though, she remembered how the first guard examined the ground in front of the opening. She could not risk falling into a hex or trap when she had already come so close so she called upon her great stone giant once more.
“Walk,” she commanded gently and guided her goliath to the front of the tomb.
Aria watched as its massive feet slowly approached the opening. The creature passed the portion of ground that had been examined by the guard and was forced to shield her eyes when an unexpected explosion of magic energy erupted from the ground. Her robes and hair swirled in as a powerful blast of blue wind churned the dead trees and sand around her. The dispel curse disbanded as quickly as it had begun, reducing her giant to rubble. Had she stepped into it, she would have been drained of all of her magic energy and left defenseless.
After stepping over the pile that used to be her stone golem. Aria took the king’s seal from her pouch and inserted it inside the chamber’s door until it locked. Runes on the great sandstone door glowed brilliant reds and whites as ancient stone gears grinded, pulling the door aside.
Inside, she expected to see collections of riches and valuable items that would have been buried with the dead to aid them in the after-life, in accordance with Eastern culture. She should have seen rich depictions painted on the walls of those who had been buried participating in heroic deeds or hunting or anything that might have given them joy in their lifetime. Aria found only dust and stones, broken artifacts and painted, ancient texts she did not recognize. At the end of the world, the living no longer had the patience to honor the dead, it seemed.
As she ventured deeper into the chambers it became darker and her ears became more attuned to noises in the chamber; a rustling, a leaking, somewhere far off she heard a deep rumble that might’ve been a growl. She walked without light until she had trouble seeing four steps in front of her. So as not to alert whatever might have taken residence among the dead, she closed her eyes and mouthed a single word. When she opened them, the rustling had grown louder and the interior of the tomb was bathed in a bright blue light afforded by her shadow eye spell.
The tunnel before her split off three ways, the left-most tunnel was shrouded in a blackness that not even her shadow eye could penetrate, while the right opened into a wide corridor. The center passageway was blocked off and all at once she became aware of the source of the rustling; hundreds of legs belonging to an endless hive of massive spiders.
Without hesitation, she sprinted down the right corridor aware that the spiders had seen her and were no doubt in pursuit. She wound her way through the corridor until she came upon an open burial room and ducked inside. Backing herself to the wall, she watched as the gigantic spiders poured into the room crawling on the floor, walls and ceiling slowly pushing her into a corner. Aria maintained her composure and mentally cycled through her spells. Words that she had been made to repeat as an apprentice echoed in her head.
Sometimes the smallest spells make the biggest difference.
Aria waited patiently as the spiders closed in, making weird snapping and gurgling sounds. She raised her hand, closing her eyes to clear her head and cast one of the first spells she had learned as a young sorceress. An illumination, burst from her hand, brief but bright enough to scorch the sensitive eyes of the spiders who had lived their lives in darkness.
The creatures shrieked, falling from the walls and ceiling, cringing on the floor and stumbling over each other trying to escape. Aria stepped lightly over and around the confused spiders and continued down the passageway.
The map that had been given to her proved useful, and for that she was thankful; the seemingly endless expansion of corridors proved to be easily traversed. She eventually came upon the chamber where, according to the map, the navigation key was supposed to be found.
This passageway opened up into a huge rectangular hallway built from grey brick, supported by columns on both sides and carpeted down the center. Aria slowed her pace and observed her environment. Torches lit the walls and cast eerie shadows on the bricks. The air smelt of spices and old books mixed with sulfur. In the, next room she heard footsteps
She melted into her surroundings using a cloaking spell and entered a circular room connected to end of the hallway, the roof extended upwards and disappeared from her sight. Aria did not remember seeing a tower protruding anywhere near the tomb and the realization made her wonder how far under the ground she had gone.
In the underground tower, lit torches lined the entirety of the circular wall, filling the substantial space with golden-orange firelight. Bookcases and desks topped with candles were placed along the wall, littered with all sorts of oddities. Scrolls and parchments filled barrels that stood at the ends of the bookcases and leather furniture was strewn about randomly. Standing completely still, holding a huge stone two-handed sword was a stone goliath much like the one that Aria had summoned on the surface. It guarded a single stone pedestal that held an engraved tablet.
The Navigation Key.
The creature turned and walked, pacing its guard and producing the ground-shaking footsteps that Aria had heard from the hallway. She could feel her magical stamina lowering with every spell but she felt confident enough to take on one more interruption.
Aria took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Turning the corner she sprinted towards the goliath as her cloaking spell faded. She stopped halfway to the goliath, planted her feet and chanted while gracefully moving her arms, gathering the energy in the room. The stone giant lumbered toward her, shaking the ground with every determined step. It hefted its massive stone sword over its head, intent on parting Aria’s right side from her left.
Fire and lighting formed in an orb above Aria as she moved her hands, and expanded as her incantations grew louder. The goliath stopped abruptly in front of her, shaking the floor so violently that it almost broke her concentration. Opening her eyes, she targeted the goliath’s head between its raised sword and sent fired the blue-orange ball of electric fire. The missile hit its mark, vaporizing the creature’s head into dust and enveloping the rest of the body in lighting and flames. The headless stone body staggered backward, its sword slipping from its hands and shattering on the ground. Aria spun and sent a gust of wind from her hand into one of the giant’s legs, crumbling it in a shower of ash and causing the rest of its massive body to collapse in a cascade of burnt dust.
When the remains had settled, Aria moved to the pedestal, careful to remain patient lest there be one final trap or the removal of the navigation key started a chain reaction that brought the entirety of the tomb down upon her. Lightly, she ascended the steps, remembering what she had gone through to get there. She checked her magical stamina to ensure that she would be able to invoke one last teleportation spell.
Aria surveyed her surroundings once more, remembering all she had faced to get to the key; the spiders, the traps, even the guards the protected the entrance. All seemed easy enough to overcome but it also had felt like they had been cultivated so that only a sorceress of her stature or any other magical being would be able to overcome them. She couldn’t picture Krassus trying to deal with all of those spiders. She looked at the contents displayed on the desks; chemical powders, ink wells, assorted stones, plants and herbs…
Then she hesitated…
Aria dropped to the floor as a bright ball of golden fire flew by her head. She whirled and shot thin flames from her hands, narrowly missing her new assailant who rolled, red beams shooting from the end of his staff. Aria invoked a shield large enough so as not be struck, but her magical stamina was low. She would need to make quick work of her opponent or she would not walk away from this battle.
The wizard bombarded her with flames from the top of his staff. Aria turned the flames aside with gusts of wind from her hands but not without singeing the tips of her fingers and the edges of her robes.
She cast another weak spell at her attacker who swept it away as if he was swatting at a fly. His long red cloak dragged as he stepped forward to meet her. The red and black orb that tipped his staff brimmed thickly with smoke. He cackled as he swiped another fireball off its course.
“Arag,” she hissed, as she casted another small fireball at the Witch King of the South.
The wizard’s mocking laughter rose in her ears.
His traps were my downfall. He knew I would use my energy.
Aria’s disappointment in herself fueled her anger. Fireball after fireball flew from her hands, growing weaker after each cast. Arag turned them away easily.
Arag tittered. He was enjoying the moment, as he hardly stepped out of his palace.
“I've seen you with my orb, child, and have been waiting for you. now I finally—” his words were interrupted as a thin blue beam almost struck his head. His laughter ceased as he suddenly became annoyed with Aria’s perseverance.
“I tire of this,” he said and threw a wall of red and black smoke and fire at her.
The sorceress threw up a shield but had lost so much magical energy that it sputtered out and she was thrown, screaming and landed on a desk that splintered as she smashed it throwing its, ink, jarred specimens, powder, in her eyes and mouth, making her gag.
Arag feigned sentiment.
“Let me help you get up, child.” Aria was engulfed in a burning red magic and pinned against the wall. She gritted her teeth but would not give him the pleasure of hearing her scream again.
“As I was saying, I have been waiting for you for so long. How could you keep me waiting?” he mocked and tightened his grip on her. Before letting her fall to the ground.
Aria reached into a pouch on her belt and crushed a vile on the floor. Pale blue light spread in a circle around where she lay. She rolled onto her back and let the warmth of the beacon spread over her. She didn’t bother to look at Arag as she spoke.
“My friends holds the power source to the portal. When they realize I have failed, they will come for you.” she said weakly, a ghost of a smile played at her lips. The red-orange light of the chamber mixed with the blue of the beacon that engulfed her and soothed her. Her eye-lids burdened her, she let them droop. Arag’s laughter began to fade to her ears. He realized she didn’t understand the depth of his intentions and was delighted to see that his own devious plan is finally starting to take shape..
“My dear Aria, that’s what I’m counting on. Your friend Krassus will bring the portal’s power source to me,” he said as his chuckle faded to nothing.