The Vorrgistadt Saga - Milestones 2
 

Prologue
The Hunter II - A Matter of Runes


  At the entrance to the chamber, when Isilda turned to seek out the towering presence of her mentor ahead, Tyverus took advantage and pressed in to Isilda's back while placing a gloved hand on her shoulder. He wasn't quite sure of this familiar action given the shyness and quietness she had toward him earlier when they were making camp on the surface. Feeling the warmth of her and the delicate flesh of her exposed shoulder through his leather glove made his heart skip a beat. The moment lingered and his nerves soothed as he saw her turn her head to smile at him in the dancing light. She lifted her shoulder to bring his hand close to her cheek and then relaxed.

  "Well, look at that!" The booming voice of Bhergom cut through the moment and the darkened silence like a hot knife. Both Tyverus and Isilda jumped and separated thinking the words concerned their actions. The large man continued on without heed. "Perhaps something did survive all these ravaging centuries, after all!"

  Isilda took a few hurried steps forward into the chamber to see what her mentor had discovered. As she took her steps, she let her left arm linger behind her, as if to summon Tyverus to follow. The knight followed after, keeping within an arm's distance just in case Bhergom or, worse yet, Vhoggli might have noticed their earlier moment.

  Ahead, Bhergom had bent forward with his hands on his knees to look at some dark set of rock at the far edge of the chamber. There was not enough light to allow anyone to see what was on the rock, but what little the old oracle could see in the shifting and reflecting light was enough to intrigue him. Vhoggli, despite his uncanny ability to see in the dark, was not assisting Bhergom, but was rather preoccupied with a small entrance at the far end of the room. A hole in the rock that looked like an ancient doorway. A doorway that held the stout man's attention and filled what could be seen of his face with erratic twitches of fear and desire.

  "Isilda, come. Look at this. Somehow this section of rock has lasted the erosion of water and ice. I do believe these to be old Hoelatha runes." Bhergom waved one of his hands beside his head, yet remained with his eyes firmly fixed on the rock. "I can barely make any of this out in this damned wane light. I really don't want to have to break out the torches..."

  Isilda took up position beside her mentor and leaned further toward the rock. She reached out her right hand from beneath her long sleeve to feel the cold stone. She let her slender fingers run over some of the chiseled and eroded figures for a moment before turning her head to look at her mentor.

  "I believe these are..." She took a steep breath and then held it for a moment. She quickly bit her lip with excitement. "No, this can't be."

  "What in Tolesh's Light is it? What do you feel?" Bhergom's voice pitched with his questions. He lowered himself to one knee and pressed one of his large hands over her own.

  "I think these runes are Morthavi, not Hoelatha." Isilda pulled her hand away and began feeling more of the rock with her fingers.

  "Absurd! There is absolutely no way that any Morthavi runes could have survived this long. Old Hoelatha, perhaps. Are you sure about what your senses tell you? Some of the runes may be similar-"

  Isilda cut off her mentor in mid-lecture. "What I feel right here with my fingers is the old Morthavi rune, 'Khasus.' It's unmistakable. It's crude, but I can feel it."

  "I know just the trick to fix this situation." Tyverus' voice cut through the moment. Both Isilda and Bhergom looked away from the stone and back at Tyverus to be momentarily blinded by an immense flash of orange light. Both lifted their arms up to shield themselves from the brilliance.

  "You damned fool! I said no torches!" Bhergom's voice raised from a growl to a yell at the imprudence of the knight. Isilda raised to her feet, still attempting to shield her eyes from the light and walked towards Tyverus.

  "As you said, Master Bhergom, 'no torches.' I simply remembered an old cantrip from my survival training. I feel foolish that I didn't bother to use it earlier." Tyverus held a small, glowing orb of orange and purple plasma in his gloved hand. The light had blinded him as well, so he began to close his fingers over the orb so as to drown out some of it's severity.

  "I'm not concerned with the problems of light, you grunt. I'm concerned with the heat and the smoke. The heat will melt the roof and the smoke may overwhelm us." Bhergom had gotten to his feet and took a large swipe at Tyverus with a muscled arm. Tyverus dodged the arm deftly while still holding the orb of plasma in his fingers.

  "You needn't be concerned with either, Master. The energy of this light is fueled not with combustion, but with the essence of my being." Tyverus stopped for a moment and shrugged while dodging another swipe from the old oracle. "Well, not just my essence, but rather that of my mantle and wards as well. I can't take all the credit." He gave a grin.

  Isilda closed in to Tyverus and took his hand in hers. At this, Bhergom stopped his outbursts and stared at the young knight through squinted eyes and a furrowed brow. Tyverus opened his hand allowing Isilda access to the plasma orb dancing and whirling around. She lifted a free hand, closing her other fingers and pointing her index finger towards the light. She took a moment to fix her shining green eyes on Tyverus' shimmering blue, as if to silently ask for permission. She poked at the orb once and withdrew her finger quickly, as if anticipating a burn.

  "It's not hot, really." Tyverus continued to smile through his words. He reached out with his free hand to take Isilda's in it and both approached the dancing orb of light. He held her finger in the plasma for a moment and then allowed her to pull back slowly.

  "Tyverus is correct. I don't feel any heat from this flame. A very unique cantrip." Isilda took a breath in with her eyes wide and gave a sideways smile to the knight.

  "Something that goes beyond what even codgy, old Grandmaster Toulam is capable of..." Bhergom gave a snort of dismissal at Tyverus' ability. "A flame without heat. Wholly unnatural and possibly breaks a dozen laws of the arcane arts." The old oracle rolled his brown eyes and tugged on his long sleeves nervously. "I'll take it, though." Bhergom turned to kneel down before the rock once more, but turned his eyes back up to Tyverus for his last words. "No more sudden and helpful tricks without my say so."

  Tyverus gave a nod and a step forward. He remained silent while standing between the two oracles as they returned to their studies. He focused the orb in his fingers to cast illumination on the dark rocks before them.

  "Well, then." Isilda cracked her jaw between the words and gave a sideways look to her mentor. "I suppose both of us were correct after all."

  "You're right, but this doesn't make any sense. I rather be proven wrong than be confounded." Bhergom let his left hand slide over the surface of the rock as if trying to swipe away the information before him. "The mixture of Old Hoelatha and Morthavi runes can't be like this."

  "Pardon the ignorance, Master, but I don't quite get the issue with this simple rock." Tyverus kept his glowing hand aloft but lowered himself down to a crouching position to see the inscriptions before him easier. "Obviously the worn runes were here from the time when the city of Neshran still stood. Although they're worn, they were precisely carved. I can only make out a few of the words and none of the grammar in them. Yet, surely, the newer marks were made hastily and quite recently."

  Bhergom gave a sharp snort and pivoted on his knee to look Tyverus directly in the eye. "That's precisely the problem, lad." The old oracle got up his feet and began wiping some of the water and grime from his trailing robes. "The newer runes are an older dialect than the worn ones." He gave a long sigh. "Although crudely done, the runes and contexts used would be dated to the height of the Third Age."

  "Third Age?" Tyverus scrunched up his face and leaned closer to Isilda who kept her eyes trained on the stone. "I'm not familiar with ages of cultures in my history. During my training we were given important historical events and dates according to the Ahn Scroll of Years."

  Isilda didn't take her eyes off the stone while responding to the young knight. "These older runes were from the time of Neshran and would be about five-or-six thousand years old. Although they are in good condition, they show their wear to be about that old." Isilda pulled Tyverus' hand that held the light closer to the rock and pointed with her index finger at the newer runes. "These ones seem to be carved anytime in the last year to several decades. The edges are still sharp. Yet, the language and wordings used on these haven't been written or spoken by a living soul in over eighteen-or-twenty thousand years."

  Tyverus pulled his hand back a bit and gave a nervous chuckle. "You're joking. Simply finding something older than a few centuries in a place like this is remarkable enough. I can understand the rarity of finding something a few thousand years old here, okay. But, you're talking about a language that is older than recorded history. Not even sages-"

  "Precisely, lad." Bhergom began pacing back and forth in the center of the chamber. He lifted his fingers to his scruffy chin several times and fidgeted with the length of his sleeves. "Only the eldest and most experienced members of my order even understand a handful of Morthavi runes. Young Isilda, here, was brought with me because of her exceptional understanding of ancient languages and even she can barely read it!"

  Isilda looked over her shoulder back to Bhergom and then looked over to Tyverus. She gave a sheepish smile and shrugged her shoulders at her mentor's words. She accepted her own ignorance, which seemed to make Tyverus even more enamored with her for her humility.

  "You know what problem this presents." Bhergom stopped in mid-stride and stared harshly at Isilda. "You know what Master Illena said before we left Alsira Thaenat."

  Isilda gave a nod and pursed her lips. She looked from her feet back up to Tyverus, seeing in his face a puzzled expression. "Dictates from the Grand Circle given to us before we left, are to report any ruins, artifacts or scrolls that utilize the Morthavi language. We were here for a simple expedition at the request of our Grandmaster, Toulam. This..." Isilda gave a long sigh and looked back to the harshly chiseled runes while lightly letting her fingers glide over them once again. "This will slow our work down considerably."

  "It will." Bhergom's voice boomed throughout the chamber and reverberated through the passages beyond. "Only if we stop what we're doing and report it immediately. As we were informed to do." One of his bushy, gray eyebrows shot up and the corner of his mouth pulled into a grin. "However, I do believe we only casually glanced at it, as of now, and we didn't realize what we found. We best busy ourselves with looking at more of these ancient catacombs." Bhergom cleared his throat. "That is, unless our Guardian Knight and enforcer of the Morrthault Laws, here, would say otherwise."

  Tyverus got back to his feet and closed his hand with the orb in it to quell the non-burning flame. He gave a half-hearted laugh and turned to see Isilda's wide eyes looking up to him in the dim, icy light. "You're right, Master. I simply saw a stone with some old runes on it. I don't understand the significance of it or what language it was in. We best continue our explorations. At your discretion of course."

  Bhergom smiled and nodded to the Tyverus. "Good. Now, where did that little monster, Vhoggli, get to." The larger and older man took some steps back to check the passageway they earlier descended and to look into the darkness of the off-shoot passage nearby.

  "I believe he was over here looking at an old doorway, Master." Tyverus held out a hand to help Isilda up and both looked over to the doorway nearby them. "Perhaps he got bored of old stones and continued onward, in this direction."

  Bhergom stormed back into the chamber and leaned on the cracked stone frame of the ruined doorway. He stuck his head through and then momentarily pulled back to stare at Tyverus and then Isilda, directly. "You're correct. I can smell his overbearing musk from here. Beyond this doorway is a sloping passage and light coming in from another chamber below." Once his words were out he stormed through and disappeared from view.

  Isilda grabbed Tyverus' hand in hers and marched for the doorway after her mentor. Tyverus went along with her, but hesitated at the doorway and let her hand slip forward into the dark passage beyond. He stood in the threshold and held hold of a stone that may once have held a door hinge many millennia ago. He looked back into the chamber towards the enigmatic stone and then to the passage entrance they had entered from.

  Something didn't feel right to him and it manifested as a nauseated feeling in his gut. He had only ever had such a severe feeling as this once when he was sent to Fort Haalgen near the Star-shatter Peaks. It was his first assignment and had almost been his last. He felt it right before his regiment was ambushed by the abominations of the Hzvennith Phall -- the Disciples of the Mad Forge. He had lost many friends in the bloody days and nights that followed. He had earned many scars, three metal ribs, and two advanced wards to assist in keeping him alive.

  Surely, a simple expedition to a superstition-haunted land wasn't going to be the same as the Battle of Wounded Wolves with all its savagery and carnage. He tried to steel his nerves with courage and with a dash of rationality. After all, he was in the company of two esteemed oracles of the Authrakallin. They were known for their divinatory abilities, their caution, and their removal from worldly affairs. There would be no mad berserkers armed with ancient weapons built into their very flesh, here in this place. Surely, most of all, the beautiful Isilda, with her strange abilities of divination, would let him know if anything untoward would happen and he would handle it as he was trained to.

  Tyverus steeled his nerves while forcing a smile and took his first step into the darkness beyond. The thought of Isilda calmed him. In this place, with the history surrounding them, she seemed happy and at peace. This was enough for him to find peace in this strange place as well.