Those two words were the clearest and most distinct then any of the words that the spirit had talked to him and gratitude and weariness were thick in the voice. Little did he realize that the spirit was even now fading out of existence on his rocky perch overlooking the city that he had inadvertently killed, joining the rest of the inhabitants in true death.
The ground lurched as Toph used his magic that had come rushing back to him as the Wampyr struggled futily against the shadow creature and Sikil was surprised to feel a breeze on his skin and a pale sunlight on his face.
He reached out and touched a tree, frowning. They stood in a valley with a sluggish stream running through it, but all the happiness he should have felt at being above ground was instead a deep sadness. The valley was dead; trees reached blackened fingers up to a sky, no grass grew underfoot, and even the water was brownish and appeared thick. A pillar, an twin to the one they had just left behind, stood only a few feet away, and it towered above them some thirty feet high.
Next to the pillar, forgotten and abandoned, were over a dozen carts and wagons.
"Okay, not that I'm unhappy about being out of there, but where did you bring us, Topheh?" Sikil asked, his voice shaking, as he moved over to one of the carts to see if there was anything salvageable. All he found were some empty chests, a few pieces of clothing, and a child's doll.
Still, matters of the Sidhe Art were for Toph and his kind to worry about as far as she was concerned. She didn't have a magical bone in her body and frankly that was how she liked it.
She slowly relaxed her grip on her daggers, both her hands aching from the intensity of the combat against the wampyr. How they had survived for as long as they had without sustaining any real injury was a mystery to the dwarf. Perhaps some benevolent ancestor had been watching over them. She made a mental note to offer up a gift to the spirits of her ancestors if she ever made it safely away.
The dwarven woman looked around and allowed herself to smile faintly: never had such a barren landscape looked so good to her before. Finally she was above ground once more, away from the claustrophobic clutches of the tunnels and the underground city. She felt her mood improve immeasurably, happy once more to know that there was nothing between her head and the sky but air. "I don't have the foggiest idea where we are now, but I am damn sure it's better than where we were", she said contentedly.
"Somewhere where there aren't Wampyrs." He said wryly, looking around and trying to come up with any familiar landmark and coming short. His eyes once again peered into the dead forest, searching for movement.
More to reassure himself than to do anything in particular, Toph reached into the Art and manifested a small flame, which he bounced across his knuckles as he turned to examine the pillar. Now that he had a chance to view it in the light, he recognized it far more quickly. The book had mentioned that one was known to exist on Maxim, near the center of the island, and rumors were that others existed spread across the world, including Mo'Pri, although scholars agreed that it was impossible that any had survived the cataclysm that had driven the Sidhe, Centaur, Elemental and Fey races to Maxim. Odds were that the ones on Maxim had been destroyed as well when its doom had befallen it as Darden, Isonia and Foret died, dragging with them not only the so-called 'mortal Gods' whose conflicts he studiously tried to avoid, but also many of his friends to a fiery or watery grave. It was one of the reasons he had avoided returning to his old home, even though the journey was now possible. Too many horrible memories.
So not Maxim and not Mo'Pri, so... somewhere else. Toph smirked at his excellent deductive skills. He had eliminated the smallest continents of the world, leaving... what... only the vast majority of it?
She looked around once more at the landscape that they found themselves in. Nothing looked familiar to her eyes. The place was desolute and it appeared as though everyone had left in rather a hurry. A chill crept up the dwarf's spine, what if the people had been fleeing this place because of something worse than the wampyr? She reassured herself that whatever disaster had befallen the people of this land had happened long, long ago.
"So we have no idea where we are then? I doubt we're going to find anyone hereabouts who had enlighten us, this area looks like...well it looks like something dreadful happened to it. I reckon we're going to need to do a bit more exploring to find anything useful." And hopefully this time their explorations would turn up something less terrifying than a horde of undead. At a bare minimum they were going to need to find food, shelter and drinkable water; how long had it been since they had all seperately entered the tunnels and found themselves caught up in this adventure?
"All I know for sure is we're not underground. Well, if we are, it's one hell of a light show above us," he said as he kicked at a branch on the ground. A small cloud of dust jumped into the air and lay suspended there for a moment before it began to settle again. This place was dead and it looked to him like there was no chance of there being anything green here again
"Nice job with that thing back there, Topheh. Glad you're magic came back to you when we needed it." A pause. "You don't think you could use it to find us some place to get a little rest?"
"Yes, I should be able to do that." he said, looking around at the dead and blasted trees. "When I was very young, I was a scout for the Sidhe in a great war with a race long-forgotten. I'm rusty, but I still remember some of those tricks. Follow me. I think we'll have some luck by those scarred hills." He pointed at some hills a few miles distant that were pitted with dead tree stumps.
As Toph led the others through the dead woods, he thought back to that war against the Icharii, a winged (and wholly evil) elfin race that had spread like wildfire only to be eventually, and at great cost to the Sidhe race, contained. The final Art-soaked battle had been the death knell for the Icharii, and the beginning of the long, slow decline of the Sidhe. The last of the Icharii, Silverwolfe, had been Toph's friend, long years after the rest of his race had vanished into the dust. Toph had heard that the Icharii had taken his own life while the Sidhe had been away, and felt deeply pained that yet another ancient thing had vanished from the face of Tonan.
Shrugging and dispelling his dark thoughts, Toph watched as the trees began to show signs of growth again in this area, a copse of greenery sheltered from whatever calamity had befallen the area by the scarred and pitted hill it hid behind.
"This is probably our best bet for a little while. Its getting late. Why don't we settle down for the night and we'll start trying to figure out where we are in the morning. I'm sure a good night's rest will do wonders for our reasoning abilities."
Something had happened to him back in that lost city. He could feel it inside of him. It was like a pressure was slowly building up inside of him, pressing against his very being. But it wasn't a physical feeling. It was different somehow. And those words that that man had said. About him being a LuSuoles. The last LuSuoles.
What was a LuSuoles?
A hand reached into his pocket and he pulled out the few trinkets he was able to gather before they had been attacked. Some coins, a few rings with odd designs, and a pendant. Nothing of real importance that he could figure, though Sikil did feel a certain amount of satisfaction of seeing a famliar design on the pendant; that strange rune that had been carved around the city and the tunnels surrounding it.
"Sounds like a plan, but easier said then done," he said with a smile, leaning his head back. He felt like he wouldn't be able to sleep again, but a yawn overtook him.
"We should probably set a fire if we're going to rest here. We don't know how cold it'll get hereabouts and frankly, most natural predators tend to stay away from flames". She didn't want to think too much on what predators might hunt the desolute landscape or how such creatures might view the little band of human, Sidhe and dwarf. The last thing she wanted right now was to run into something else that would look upon her as dinner.
She gathered as much wood as she could find in the area, dry sticks were one thing that the area seemed to have in abundance at least. "Perhaps, friend Toph, you might be so kind as to light this", Rhoslyn said, nodding towards the unlit branches. After all they had gone through she couldn't bring herself to bother faffing around with tinder and flint to try and get a spark. Every muscle in her body wanted some rest and it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep her eyes open. The ground was looking increasingly comfortable to her tired eyes.
"Shall we draw straws for who gets first watch?" He asked.
And think he needed to do. There was something wrong with him ever since they had left that city and he could still feel it. Too much had happened too quickly to his body. First falling down a hole, then breaking an arm, and now this feeling of being pushed from the inside. It was a wonder to Sikil that his body didn't start sprouting horns on his buttocks and lady parts on his cheeks. Things were only getting worse, or so he felt.
His two companions had done most of the fighting and thinking in the tunnels and he felt it only right that they get to sleep first. When he had joined others on the road for the night, second watch was considered the worst since it meant disturbing your sleep so Sikil had already a plan hatched. He would let them sleep all through the night and he would just trudge on during the day. He had done it before, he figured. Shouldn't be all that different here.
"Excellent. I'll take second. Wake me up in three hours or so, Sikil."
Toph found a sheltered nook beneath an ancient gnarled oak, spread his cloak and lay down on top of it. And fell asleep nearly instantly.
He woke up about two hours later, distinctly aware of an insistent ache just below his right shoulder blade. He shifted, and groaned in pain as blood rushed back into his arm, sending pins and needles racing up and down its length. But now the ache was slightly lower... Slowly understanding came to his sleepy brain... he was lying on top of something round and... proddy.
Standing, he lifted his cloak and moved it to another spot. For good measure, he kicked the brown knob of root that had woken him, and nearly fell over as the root gave way and slid out of the ground. Surprised, Toph reached down and picked up the smooth-slick rod... and shouted in shock as he recognized it as the bone of a humanoid race.
Sikil looked up and ran over as Toph summoned up a bright light with the Art. In the light, much brighter than the fire, the shine of more bones all around them could be seen, skulls and tibias sticking out of the earth all throughout the copse of trees they had sought shelter in. The bones showed no signs of organization... this was either a mass grave... or a slaughtering site.
"What in all the Gods happened here?" Toph gasped, looking about.
The dwarven woman fell fast asleep, her head cushioned on her own arm.
In her dreams she was back underground, but not in the strange and forgotten tunnels that she, Sikil and Toph had so recently traversed. While her body rested her mind fled backwards to the tunnels of her birth, to far off Bergelmir. She could almost hear the insessant tapping of mining picks, the dull thud of smithing hammers, the hot roar of the smelting furnances. All around her the shadows closed in, half seen shapes flittered at the edges of her dream sight. There was a rush of movement towards her as a figure hurried past and even in sleep Rhoslyn flinched away from it. There was only the darkness of the tunnels and the endless sounds of the other dwarves, unseen and busy, productively about their business, happy to be underground where any dwarf should be.
Any normal dwarf, her subconscious hissed treacherously at her.
She shifted again in her sleep, but in her dream the dwarven woman pressed herself back against the tunnel's wall, curling herself into a ball. She couldn't escape from the darkness or the sounds, but that wasn't the worst of it. Above her she could almost feel the pressing weight of the mountains, the millions of tons of rock kept at bay by the tunnels. She could imagine it falling, crushing the dwarves and all that they had made, even just the thought of it was suffocating. Rhoslyn whimpered at the thought and suddenly she was no longer huddling agaisnt the tunnel wall but rather she was running, rushing through the mines, through the seemingly endless passages that her clan had patiently dug. She needed to get out, to get away, away from the impassive presence of the mountains above her, from their eternal weight that would one day destroy all the dwarves held dear.
The sounds of the mine seemed to cut out suddenly and she was surrounded by silence as she ran. With every step that she took her ears strained in the silence, listening for the first whisper of a cave-in. "Father", she cried out, wanting to him to be there, wanting him to save her with his stories of the outside world. But there was no answering call to comfort her, just the sudden ominous rumble of rocks as the tunnel roof above her began to crumble. Rhoslyn looked up in fear, the mines inexplictably lit so that she could see every stone as it tumbled towards-
She woke up with a start, stiffling the cry that the nightmare had conjured up. Groggily, she looked around, reassuring herself that she was surrounded by trees rather than stone walls. Rhoslyn blinked blearily as her eyes focused on the Sidhe and the human, what had they found now? She pushed herself to her feet and stumbled towards them as her body vainly strove to catch up with her mind.
Quickly he moved to the fire and began kicking it, snuffling the flames. "Dim the light," he whispered towards Toph, hoping that he would see the reason for caution. Sikil didn't want to draw the attention of whomever or whatever had killed these people and with the last events that had transpired, he was airing on caution. "Can you tell what happened to them?"
"I'm not sure. We probably don't have to worry about whoever did this returning, though. I can tell that these bones are several centuries old."
To demonstrate, the Sidhe reached down and grasped one of the longer bones and bent it sideways. The weak bone crumbled at the point of greatest stress, ripping away from the rest of the femur below it, until Toph was holding it for Sikil to see.
"Bones don't do that unless they've been decaying for a long time." he said, staring at the bone and noticing for the first time in his closer and more careful observation that there were remnants of char on the bones themselves. An unsettling thought sent waves of nausea across his stomach, and he went to examine additional bones, and found that they too were burnt.
"I think these people died from burning." Toph said, a tremble of horror creeping through his voice. "I think they came here to hide, hoping that the hill would shelter them, but were caught up in the conflagration anyways. That doesn't explain why the forest has died so completely, though. Had there been a fire, it would have regrown by now, if these people died in it."
"Rhoslyn, what do you make of all this?" he asked as he picked up a leg bone and turned it over in his hand. He waited a moment before repeating his question but still there was no reply. A glance towards the dwarven woman and Sikil's brow furrowed in worry. With all this going on, she was still asleep. Sound asleep. "Rhosyln?" He turned towards Toph. "How can she sleep through all of this?"
Straightening up, the young man looked around before moving towards the sleeping figure and knelt down before her, giving her a gentle shake. After a moment he began to shake more and the worry began. "Topheh, I think we need to get her out of here. She's not waking up."
"She looks pale, Sikil." Toph said, clearly concerned. The Sidhe came over and knelt next to the dwarf, placing a hand against her forehead.
"Cool to the touch, so not a fever" he muttered. The Sidhe had never been much of a medic, his magics on the topic of healing mostly involving 'keep the blood in' sorts of applications. Seska had been better at the magical healing, but Toph hadn't seen the other Sidhe in a very long time.
"Whatever this is, this is beyond my abilities, Sikil. I think we should head back to that pillar and see if we can figure out a way back home." He paused and then added. "Plus, I think the sooner that arm of yours gets looked at, the better."
Toph bent over and, with a grunt, lifted the dwarf over his shoulder. Staggering a little as he balanced Rhoslyn on her back, he waited for Sikil to lead the way.
There is an old adage, Time ravishes all things., and for the most part, this has always held true. Nature, kingdoms, races, traditions...life; all of it eventually turns to dust, even the immortal, as contradictory as that may seem. Gods have even come and gone. They who were once considered eternal, omniscient, and omnipotent, have inexorably run their course and faded from the social and collective mindset. However there are those who remember. There are those who grasp the concept of the circle, a never-ending cycle; the flourishing spring after the desolate winter. That which was thought dead can return, like a mountain flower pushing its way through the packed snow. Its brilliant colors accenting hope and renewal across and barren white wasteland; a beacon of light in the deep and penetrating darkness.
This isle is no different. Once a bustling and vibrant realm filled with life, a multitude of races, nations and kingdoms, now, for the most part, is a pile of ash. Its denizens either dead or fled ages ago when doom and destruction reign upon its once fertile grounds. Its Gods, who swore to protect it, gone and absent, impotent to prevent the destruction that followed. Now it is a vast graveyard, home to the dead; however it is a home none the less, even to those that chose death over life in another realm. There are some ties that bind even after death; and even then the term death is relative. Sometimes what one considers death is merely a pause; embers in a dead fire that only needs a whisper of air, recognition of being, to spark back into flaming and brilliant life.
Across s small stretch of ocean from the main isle was a smaller isle. It was easily seen from the shore. What made it stand out was a dark spiraling tower that shot out from the middle of the isle to the sky like a black bony finger challenging the heavens themselves. Made of pure seamless onyx, even the destruction wrought upon the realm could not bring the tower down. The lush gardens and flower beds that surrounded it were now nothing more than churned earth and blackened soil, but yet the tower stood.
The tower was known as Il’ Muniarus. The name was Sidhdish, language of the nearly extinct race of magical beings known as the Sidhe; loosely translated as Tower of Magis’c Night. The large oaken doors that guarded its entrance stood ajar, one hung limply from one hinge. The large foyer, dirty an unkempt, was barren save for broken pieces of what was once fine Elvan vallenwood furniture. The marble tiles were cracked in some places, their surface dirty and scattered with dead leaves and debris that came in from the open doors that were blown open during the cataclysm.
There was a spiral oaken staircase from the foyer that led to second floor which housed the vast library of Il’Muniarus. This library was the pride and joy of the tower’s master. It held ancient tomes and scrolls found nowhere upon the realm. Knowledge, long thought lost, was preserved here. Although now it seems, a looter has taken most of the library. One can only hope the thief cares for the tomes as much as the tower’s master did.
The stair case continues up, passing many floors housing rooms for quests, store rooms, and labs. At the very top of the long climb stood an onyx door, made of the same material as the tower’s walls; the magical seal of protection guarding it still intact.
Behind the door was the study of the tower’s master. A large onyx desk dominated the back of the study. The walls covered in bookshelves which kept the Archmage’s most prized tomes, too valuable, and powerful, to be housed in the general library. The shelves behind the desk, held his spell books. Bound in black leather with silver embossed runes outlined in a deep purple, they contained spells the Archmage had written himself. Spells of extreme power; spells not meant to fall into unworthy or worse yet, unskilled hands. The study was just as the master of the tower had left it. Even the cataclysm wrought upon the isle did not disturb it. The dense and impenetrable aura of magic that surrounded the study even prevented dust and other normal signs of an unmaintained room to take hold.
There was one odd feature to the study. One that was never present when its master inhabited it, but was introduced when he was forced to abandon it during his migration to another realm due to the cataclysm. An onyx sarcophagus, shaped in the ancient and mythical fashion of the Sidhe, stood upon a bier, in the far corner of the room. It was imbued with magic, forever linking it to its master no matter his location, to be his final resting place should the immortal Sidhe decide to take the self-imposed natural end of life known as Shala’hum; earned rest. From the muted glow of the sterling silver mask on the sarcophagus cover, the tomb had accepted its tenant. However something outside had changed, something old yet new; the circle, it seems, still continues.
The silver mask began to glow brighter and then the silence that had shrouded the room for ages was broken by a deep and penetrating whisper; a Sidhe. The unused candles throughout the room burst into life, illuminating the study for the first time in many years. With a slow grind at first, pausing as if uncertain, the sarcophagus lid began to slide open. With one final push, it fell to the side crashing to floor with a loud thump and a crack. Spring had finally broken winter’s hold.
A figure rose from the tomb, shrouded in heavy black mage robes. Unsteady at first, like a new born fawn learning to walk after being pushed from its mother’s womb. And like a fawn, he gained his balance quickly and stood erect with a sigh. He clenched his hands open and shut, testing the muscles; the golden skin shining in the candle light. The golden skin once cursed upon him by a God so long ago. He turned his head, and from inside the darkness of his hood, a flash of light, candle light reflecting off eyes made of mirrors, another aspect of the curse.
He stepped down from the bier and walked around the study, his hands folded in the sleeves of his robes. He paused by the desk and ran a thin golden finger along its smooth surface, caressing it; the feel of it brought the memories of his life roaring back. They flooded his mind like a broken dam, its raging waters filling every corner.
He saw his birth, thousands of years ago, the only child, as is typical among the Sidhe; a private race, a cloistered race, their society rarely numbering more than a few families. What many did not know was that this, more than anything, was to protect the rest of the realm. He saw his parents slaughtered when he was at a young age, young in Sidhe standards. His tiny village slaughtered during a time of severe distrust for any being that possessed the untrusted and misunderstood skill known as the Art, also known as magic. The Sidhe were powerful, however no matter how powerful a being, a few could not hope to survive against many, and the many did not take any chances. They made sure they outnumbered the Sidhe ten to one; one hundred and fifty marauders to destroy a village of fifteen Sidhe. What they learned years later, as each of the one hundred and fifty died unexplainably was they only managed to kill fourteen Sidhe.
He saw his young adulthood, as he learned to master the Art, a skill he learned alone. He never learned of any other Sidhe settlements. For all he knew he was the last Sidhe alive. This complete and utter solitude and independence forced him to rely on only one thing in his life, the Art. It flowed through his veins, it was as much a part of him as his arms and legs just like all Sidhe, but to him it became even more. The Art was mother, father, friend, and lover.
He saw when his solitude came to an end, when he was introduced to the Gods in an unlikely fashion; he was noticed by the Patron Saint of the Sidhe, the minor Goddess Malystrix. Protector of the Art and guiding influence over the Sidhe she took interest in the young mage, led astray from the rest of her small flock. She would visit him, guide him, instruct him on the Art. What she didn’t expect was to fall in love with him; nor did he expect to fall in love with her. However as he learned with the death of his parents and village, nothing good lasts forever, except for the jealousy and pettiness of an angry God.
The God Leto was not pleased. He had always had affection for his celestial sibling Malystrix. When he learned of her heretical affair with a Sidhe, the God of Chaos lived up to his title. He cursed the mage with golden skin, Leto’s symbolic color, as well as eyes made of mirrors. Eyes that would only allow the mage to see the hidden evil in everyone he met, and reflected back any goodness they might have away from his sight. He then proceeded to banish Malystrix to a null verse, separating the two for all eternity. From that day forth, Leto was his sworn nemesis. The fact he was a God played no part in the mage’s mind, he would one day bring Leto to his knees.
Those events and many proceedings ones, made him cold and hard; cynical and barbed, but always clever with an amazing deductive mind. And of course, his skill in the Art became unmatched. He learned of a prophecy, a prophecy involving his own child. Malystrix was with child when banished, and with the help of Barnabas, allowed to be born upon the realm thousands of years later as a mortal child to mortal parents. Without her knowledge of her linage, he took her in as his student and trained her in the way of the Art, for this prophecy told of an Avatar of Chaos born of his union with Malystrix. Let’s final insult and stab to the back.
In the final days of the realm, the prophecy came to fruition, and with the help of his friends and an ingenious plot, he was able to finally face Leto in a dimension where the odds were evened. He finally was able to battle the God, the outcome never to be determined. Without his consent, as the realm was destroyed, he was forced to another realm; a realm with no Gods, new factions, new wars. Again, nothing lasts forever.
He was woken from the rush of memories with a start when he felt it. The warmth of the Art flowing once again though his veins, through his body, through every cell and tissue. He smiled a thin lipped smirk. Composing himself, he walked briskly to the window behind the desk and looked out. The land was desolated. He saw nothing for miles around. However, he knew what woke him was upon the main isle, a short boat ride across the bay. He wasted no more time.
An hour later he had crossed the bay and made his way from the shore towards the new intrusion that had inexplicable woke him from his eternal rest. A Sidhe, the thought ran through his mind. Not only was there life upon the isle, there was another Sidhe. He approached cautiously. Although being dead for so long, he did not forget to put up a defensive spell, and have the words of an offensive one upon his lips at the ready. He saw three, two men, and a woman who appeared dwarven. One of the men, the one he could now tell was the Sidhe he had sensed, held the prone woman on his back.
He walked up to them and gave a short cough to get their attention. He stood before them in his black mage robes, his hood pulled low over his mirrored eyes, his long white hair flowing out from beneath it. He folded his hands in the sleeves of his robe and spoke for the first time in ages.
“It appears your dwarven friend needs some assistance. How you ended up here is beyond me, but for all it is worth, welcome to Mo’Pri, or should I say what was once Mo’Pri. I am its only, as least as of very recently, living resident, the Archmage Azrael.”
Toph had sensed the other Sidhe approaching, as was typical for his race, significantly earlier than Sikil saw the black-robed figure making its way towards them, picking its way over the broken stones and tree stumps of the ruined forest. Toph and Sikil stopped about ten minutes walking distance from the pillar to wait for the Sidhe to reach them. For some reason, the shrouded figure seemed a little unsteady on its feet, and Toph worried for a moment that he might have THREE injured people to shepherd back to civilization, wherever and however far away that was.
And then the Sidhe spoke, and Toph nearly dropped his load onto her head.
"AZRAEL? By the New and the Old, you live?" Toph spluttered, incredulity obvious in his voice.
Toph and Azrael had crossed paths on several occasions before, and each time Toph had felt completely out of his league. Azrael the Archmage, the most powerful and oldest living Sidhe that Toph knew. Azrael, the keeper of the history of the Sidhe, from whom Toph had recovered so much of his heritage.
But Azrael had vanished, and the rumors had been rampant as to the reason for the disappearance of such a noted figure in Maxim's culture. He had angered a God, some said. He had finally been bested by one of his enemies and killed. The Sidhe Witch, Lyssia had captured him and imprisoned his soul (Lyssia had laughed about that one), and others too numerous to count. But as the years had turned to decades and the decades to centuries, it had been clear that Azrael was gone. Toph had taken the opportunity to move into his tower in Maxim for the short time before that island met its doom, and idly, he wondered if it still stood, somehow.
And yet here the mage stood, silvered eyes glinting in the deep cowl of the robe as verification of the Sidhe's words. And if he was to be believed, this was Mo'Pri, homeland of the Sidhe race and burial ground of the vast majority of their kind. Toph cast his mind's eye back to the last time he had seen this land, burning under a God's anger as its inhabitants had desperately tried to escape. Toph shuddered at the thought that so many, many years later, the ground was still dead, and the dead... still lay where they had fallen.
"Live? That term is subjective at best. I've learned that living can mean various things to people depending on their circumstances, and even then whatever definition they find is debatable at best. However to spare you my verbose musings, do i at this moment exist? Apparently so, and not by my own choosing. It would seem your arrival on this cursed isle and the sick irony of whatever god, prophet, or demagog that governs this realm now, deems this of enough importance to bring me back from my comfortable slumber." Azrael thought on this as he spoke. He had the uncomfortable and annoying feeling that somehow his existence and that of Mo'Pri are inexorably and irrevocably linked, and along with that he began to sense that also meant that he could also still be possibly linked to Him. He kept that observation to himself.
Azrael sighed and if it was possible to see, his mirrored eyes rolled. "Well Toph are you going to just stand there like a mute duddard or are you going to speak and explain what you are doing here? And by the by, I want my books back. Yes I noticed and yes I knew it was you. It doesn't take much thought to put together the selection of tomes missing from my library with the culprit who borrowed them. I remember your interest in the Droben, I don't see many looters stealing those books."
"Guilty. I did borrow some of your books when everyone, including we remaining Sidhe, thought you had gotten yourself killed somehow. The re-emergence of the Droben was a top priority for everyone then, although thankfully their emergence was not the doom that was predicted."
That, Toph thought wryly to himself, had come later.
"I'll get them back to you once I get home. Which is quite the story. But first, I must tell you something else. If you know I took your books, then you know that Maxim was destroyed in a cataclysm just as Mo'Pri once was. We survivors fled. Azrael, it was perhaps even worse than the destruction of this land. Those of us who survived were few. Painfully few, and of the old Sidhe... It has been many years and aside from Seska, I have heard no rumors of any other of us who survived. You, Seska and I are perhaps the last of the Old Sidhe."
Silently, Toph grieved for his many friends who had perished, most caught completely unaware of the disaster until it was upon them. He also thought of the New Sidhe, who had mysteriously appeared a few decades after the destruction of Maxim... Sidhe who had no memory of Maxim or Mo'Pri, the ancient homeland of the race. To this day, Toph found it difficult to trust them.
"As for what we are doing here now, that is a simpler story."
Toph told Azrael how he and Sikil and Rhoslyn had met in the tunnels of a lost city, how they had been chased through the city by a horde of undead and found supposed sanctuary in a tower in the center, built around a pillar very similar to the one behind them now. How that sanctuary had been the home of an ancient evil, and how they had only barely managed to escape by activating the pillar when their enemy was attacked by a strange, extremely powerful being.
"And so we find ourselves here. One with a broken arm, one unconcious and one whose Art has been stretched to its limits and who needs a good night's rest. And you, Azrael, who have apparently been here on Mo'Pri all along."
Toph grew quiet as he gazed over the landscape.
"It looks different now. I cannot see any of the landmarks that I once knew. Where was this place, Azrael?"
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