Lady of the Lake
The Lady of the Lake
With the freezing conditions persisting outside of the abandoned, Spartan residence inherited by the group, the days are spent convalescing with Ross, Manzio and Heraclief taking it in turn to keep look out. Heraclief keeps a constant supply of fire maintained in the modest hearth whilst meagre rations are shared, supplemented by some additional soup from the old couple remaining in the village.
With no specialist healing available, the group makes slow but steady progress with strength returning in particular to Ross. Once again, Manzio notes the taciturn nature of Ross, not at all like the elves met previously as well as his broad, imposing shoulders. The Vesuvian guesses that Ross is perhaps half human, half elven.
It is late on the 28th of August, when Manzio approaches Heraclief with some questions that have been foremost on his mind for several days. He asks how Heraclief and Alberto Alfredo first met and what additional information he has on how his father died. Heraclief explains that that both Alberto and Heraclief were members of a secret society, formed with high ideals seeking to avoid war and tyranny. He also hypothesises that Alberto may well have discovered information about the contracts accepted by some in the society, which contradicted the high ideals upon which it was based. This sensitive information may well have been the cause of the assassination.
Heraclief promises that he too seeks further information about Alberto’s death whilst he also mentions that the two men first met whilst in the early stages of their training in Constantinople, many years ago.
That evening, a thoughtful Manzio takes first watch thinking carefully about the information shared by Heraclief. He does not feel sleepy and sits until midnight pondering his situation and all that has taken place since leaving his home. He is just about to wake Heraclief for the second watch when a wave of all too familiar sickening necrotic energy radiates into the room. An explosion of splintering wood as a great blow from outside obliterates the door immediately follows this. Stepping into the room are not one, two, three or even four swordwraiths but five! Stunned by these overwhelming odds, Manzio is not his usual swift self, stumbling to ready his weapons. Likewise, Heraclief struggles to rouse himself, the necrotic aura of the swordwraith clearly catching him unawares and in a deep sleep. Ross is quicker, leaping to his feet and drawing his two handed sword in a single motion, just in time to face off with one of the swordwraiths. Manzio and Heraclief are likewise given no time to react, with two more of the wraiths narrowing the distance between them with swift strides and deadly, razor sharp attacks with their silver greatswords. Two further wraiths move unopposed, menacingly floating towards the catatonic form of Calais.
Manzio, desperately attempting to bring his sgian dubh and hook blade into action is driven back by one of the swordwraiths, the creature making a deadly lunge forward, the greatsword stabbing through the assassin’s leather armour and ripping through flesh. Grunting, Manzio ignores the pain finally using his weapons to parry a second blow. Meanwhile, Ross is able to parry blows from his own assailant whilst the sorcerer, Heraclief is left exposed in hand to hand combat, backing into the corner before finally summoning a blast of emerald fire. To his astonishment, the swordwraith blinks out with only four assailants left remaining.
With the mirror image illusion now evident, the others take heart. Manzio, closest to Calais tries to use his soltice powered boots to position himself in order to parry blows from the swordwraiths and manages to prevent two from reaching the Scian. However, the third slips past and with blinding speed, gains a free attack on the stricken body, chopping through the right arm and large chunk of Calais’ right shoulder. Arterial blood spurts from the Scian’s arm, prompting Ross to surge forward striking a vicious blow at his swordwraith, which once again causes the illusion to dissipate. Heraclief, in panic asks the others to clear the space. Manzio is able to dash for cover close to the door whilst Ross backs off toward the wall. An enormous fireball erupts from his fingertips, two more swordwraths dissipating. A third, the real swordwraith shrugs off the burning flames and ignoring the others, turns once again on the scian, slashing once and then twice to finish the job. At unbelievable speed, Manzio is able to attack twice, both weapons connecting with the shadowy form of the wraith; a whirlwind of motion before backing off just in time to avoid two arrows which bury into the back of the swordwraith. Waves of necrotic energy continue to radiate throughout the room with Heraclief in particular suffering at the hands of this powerful necromantic attack. Shrugging off the pain, the tall sorcerer concentrates his efforts, seeming to swell in power before pointing toward the swordwraith. Another huge explosion of emerald flame detonates from the wraith, the others bowing and turning away from the heat surge. The wraith shrinks as though imploding before exploding in shards of lethal metal. A piece strikes Ross and a second buries itself in Manzio’s left leg, causing a profuse loss of blood.
Despite their multiple wounds, they rush forward to hep Calais but find only a hideously hacked up corpse. Ross turns away, heartbroken. ‘We are doomed.’
Manzio, still bleeding heavily from his cut sits on the floor, blood soaking into the sawdust. ‘Two of my friends are dead in less than a week.’ Looking up, he looks directly at the sorcerer. ‘The Witches cannot be stopped, can they Heraclief?’
The sorcerer looks toward the young assassin and does not respond. Even the astonishing vibrancy of his emerald eyes seems to dim. Silently, he simply starts binding the wounds of his two companions.
Ross gathers some of his cloaks and wraps the severed body of Calais carefully and respectfully within. ‘I must return to elven lands so that the last Scian receives a proper cremation on the banks of our sacred groves. You are welcome to join me so as you have the opportunity to pay your respects. We travel south at first light.’
Heraclief and Manzio nod, gathering their possessions in gloomy silence. At first light they thank the old couple for their kindness. Both are saddened to hear that their friend has ‘passed.’ The three remaining companions set out cross-country, heading due south. The weather conditions grow steadily worse as the day continues and before long, they are forced to make camp, Heraclief calling upon his powers once again to light sodden wood. All three companions are injured and Manzio in particular is struggling due to blood loss. Heraclief cleans the wound as best he can with boiled water but clearly the young Vesuvian requires bed rest.
Heraclief and Ross discuss the best course of action, considering a detour to Carlisle when Ross suddenly stops midsentence, pointing towards forestland in the distance, his fine elven eyes spotting movement in the distance. ‘It cannot be.’
Emerging from the swirling snow, a beautiful white unicorn approaches, stamping it’s left hoof in the snow and snorting impatiently. Ross stands, leading his own horse gently by the hand. ‘We are invited to follow.’
The companions are led to the edge of a forest thick with vegetation. The path seems impassable but the unicorn lowers its head, the horn touching the thickly tangled brambles, which appear to be slowly but surely separating. The companions step forward passing beyond the perimeter of the previously impenetrable thick foliage and as they follow the unicorn, the vines once again snapping back into place behind cutting off any hope of retracing their footsteps. The usually impassive Ross shakes his head in awe, clearly impressed with the power exhibited.
‘Such power is lost even to the elves. This is ancient power born of the earth itself and capable of flowing from the roots beneath our feet to the trees, like lifeblood through trunks and branches and saplings.’
The group continue to make their way beneath the impenetrable gloom of the forest and note that the freezing cold and snow has not entered into the space beneath the eaves of the ancient boughs. The air feels clean and crisp with a trace of humidity. Before long, the unicorn leads the group to the shoreline of a lake, relatively small for they can see the far bank not 200 yards from their present position though the water looks mirror like; a sheen of reflective brilliance.
The unicorn bends its head to the mirror like water. At first nothing happens but gradually the waters begin to stir and then to coalesce, a transparent figure emerging from the depths and forming a physical entity which seems to shimmer as though of quicksilver. An extraordinary beauty exudes from this remarkable being, which floats serenely across the water without causing so much as a ripple. As she approaches the companions, they see sadness reflected in her look and a single, chromatic eye, much in the manner of Calais. In a voice both commanding and yet beautiful, she says:
‘Ross Quilhalen, place my sister in the waters.’
Ross on his knees, places Calais on the surface of the water and like a baby in a basket, it floats out before being embraced within a blinding flash of silver light. To the astonishment of the three companions, as the light fades from their eyes, Calais emerges in spectral form, standing upon the water, to stand beside her Scian sister.
Calais looks sadly to her former companions and then to her sister:
‘Sister, I should not have disturbed your long sleep but events have spiralled out of control and my foresight failed me. I have failed. I have slept for too long and too few of our allies remain in the world. The reapers of Skara Brae are too strong…now that they are once again united. They have animated the ancient Scarack and a dracholich…how can we stand against such power?’
The shimmering figure speaks, her voice like music to the ears of the three wounded and exhausted companions, as though lakes, waterfalls and the falling rain are in concert.
‘Calais, ever were you the one to doubt yourself but you have achieved much and planted seeds yet to fully blossom. You were the last as it was long ago foretold. But do not fear…I do not have gifts to give as of old but I do offer knowledge for in my sleep I see much, which is hidden.’
‘Then you do not have the sword? I fear we are doomed my sister.’
‘The sword was lost in the fall of the High King, Arthur Pendragon and are there any pure enough of heart to wield such a blade in the modern world? Where now is our Galath?’
Looking down on her sister, the apparition slowly looks up to acknowledge Ross, Heraclief and finally Manzio.
‘Welcome. I am the Lady of the Lake and you are most welcome, here at the gates of Avalon. I see that each of you is heavy of heart but for a short time at least you can feel safe for not even the Reapers Three will set foot on this hallowed ground without my leave.’
Looking up to her sister, Calais hugs her own chest as though holding in powerful emotions ready to burst forth. ‘What are we to do sister? Our cause seems hopeless.’
The Lady of the Lake looks to the east, her eye a striking resemblance to that of Calais, a swirling brilliance of chromatic light although with a myriad of blues.
’It is commonly believed that Morgan is the most powerful of the three sisters but that is not necessarily so. It was Morgan who usurped the power of her brethren, breaking the regenerative powers of an entire Elven people by using the stolen power to extend her own life. Morrigan entered into this pact also but not the enchanter, Morgause. For she uses the old magic of virginal blood, which helps restore her youth and vitality though her thirst for blood has grown unquenchable, as with each passing year, more sacrifices need to be made. Whilst Morgan and Morrigan raise their head above the parapet and subsequently make themselves targets, Morgause takes no such risk. Plus, her eye is on a very different prize. (She looks at Calais and for a moment, it seems as though the two commune privately)
My first advice to you is that you must break the bond, which holds the alliance together. The triumvirate is weakest in the bond between the black queen and white queen. You must create mistrust and open old wounds of jealousy and rivalry between Morgause and Morrigan.
Morgan’s magic rips aside the ancient veil that separates life and death. Her power is death incarnate and can only be countered by the opposite. Such magic of life needs to be of the very highest kind. As you witnessed for yourself, even the Archbishop of York, Roger de Pont L’Évêque, was hopelessly outmatched.
The last great vessel of such ilk is none other than the Holy Grail. You and your allies must begin the search for this holy artefact, though the search is likely to take years. It is much more than a biblical icon and even the Church has only guessed at some of its ancient power. The last time it was found, it appeared to three elven heroes and note the number for it represents power! Peredur (Percival), Gwri (Bors) and Galath (Galahad), of the Standing Stones (Round Table) were led to its presence only when all else was lost and when those seeking the Grail had shown themselves worthy.’
For a moment, a great look of sadness overcomes the Lady…
‘The Fellowship of Fate may well be the heroes of our age but I foresee that tragedy will walk hand-in-hand with their brave deeds. Uther will not be the last to lay down his life as member of the Fellowship.’
The Lady of the Lake gestures first to Heraclief.
‘To the emerald flame of the east, I give this advice. Trust your intuition. The League of Shadows has lost the integrity, which made it famous and has grown corrupt. A schism exists much like an open, festering wound…to seal the division, you must first, find Nero. The three flames of the east must be united.’
To Ross, she smiles:
‘Your position remains unique. In you there is a chance to create an alliance between humans and elves. You cannot seek revenge on humanity and elves…forgiveness is the key. Your mother and father live on in you.’
Finally, her gaze rests upon Manzio…
‘…and to you Manzio. I see such divided loyalties. Your desire to avenge your Father, a trusted member of the Fellowship, inquisitor of the North, priest of Ice…which pathway to choose? Be true to your own heart and the pathway will appear. Each time your path crosses with that of Storm, Tector and Sophia, great events will ensue, though each will be a fleeting moment when the wheel of fate has rotated one full turn.’
Facing all four once again, the lady blazes with a flash of light and seems to speak from within. Her voice a whirlwind of power:
‘Now is the time for your departure. You will travel north, to Skara Brae, for Avalon still resides in at least one lake not tainted by the betrayal of the Witches. The gateway has been readied. Seek out the Bishop’s Castle in Kirkwall and look to the cloak of darkness as proof of Morrigan’s betrayal.’
Calais once again bows to her sister…
‘Your beloved is reborn sister, though he has yet to regain his former power.’
For a second, a great sadness and faraway look is reflected in the eye of the elder Scian but this is quickly replaced by a look of resolve and determination.
‘His staff, his memories are protected. The time approaches when he must remember. This may well be his last life for the staff was forged from his regenerative tree. Go now, all of you and may the blessing of the Lady go with you.’
The group enter into a curtain of light and water as though passing under a waterfall and emerge from a cave entrance, passing beneath an actual waterfall before emerging under the starry skies of a location way to the north. As they do so, each feels their weariness fade and wounds miraculously heal.