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A Dreamer's Quest...

Discussion in 'UO White Stag Inn' started by Guest, Jul 23, 2006.

  1. Guest

    Guest Guest

    "The journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single footstep..." The quote, likely said aeons before he had even taken his first breath in the world, had been bouncing around the Paladin's mind quite often as of late. As he looked to the east, the shadows cast by the slowly sinking sun stretched out as far as his sharp elven eyes could see. Inhabitants of the small dwellings that dotted the landscape were just beginning to start the fires for their evening meal, and pleasant smelling wafts of smoke began to puff out from stoutly bricked chimneys. Children, both human and elven, were still at play in the fields and nearby forest, their singsong shouting and tinkling laughter in sharp contrast to the heavy clinking and clanking of the warrior's armor and the slow trot of his ethereal steed. Sheridan observed all of this with a bit of passive indifference however, his mind lost in thought over the last few days of his journey. And what a journey it had been thus far. Sheridan glanced down at his still aching leg, a fiery reminder of what had gone wrong in Ilshenar. Deep within, he groaned at the thought that he was once again headed to those wild, untamed lands.

    "One never knows when a Quest might befall them," the Paladin's father often mused to his son before bedtime. "But of this be certain, utinuamin (my son)... The Quest will always find you. And when it does, Sheridan - be true to it. For you never know if it may be your last!" As a child, Sheridan took comfort in these otherwise foreboding and morbid words of his father's. He still drew strength from them, years and years after he last heard them. Many a Quest had found Sheridan over the centuries, and he never once balked at their beckoning. He merely nodded in his silent way and went to task with all his might. Stories were still told in villages and towns of the seemingly invincible Elven Paladin of Eldador. But, as they often do, those stories take on a life of their own, growing much beyond their original content in fantastical and hyperbolic fashion until a single menacing beast slain becomes 2 and then 10 and then 20 and a simple peasant child becomes the Princess of Such and Such rescued by the towering 6- (no, 8!! I saw 'im wiff me own eyes!) foot tall Paladin, with rippling muscles, divine countenance, and armor glowing with all the power and blessings of tel'Valarra.

    "Tel'Valarra..." the Paladin whispered aloud. They were often to blame for the spurring on of Quests amongst his people. Eldador was no stranger to the whims of the Valar, the very deities they worshipped. Many a fine Warrior or Druid or Priest of Eldador found him or herself at the threshold of the King's (now Queen's) study asking for his (her) blessing and leave before dashing off into the wilds of Sosaria, each seeking whatever it was that would make them whole. Whatever gave them purpose. And while Sheridan had often been the target of the Valar's chores, it had been quite some time since he had been blessed with a Quest. That is until just three nights before... He had been sleeping...


    Sweat rolled off the Paladin's brow as he feverishly tossed and turned, fighting with the very bedsheets that clung to his soaked body. At long last he lay still, panting heavily in the wake of the hellish nightmare. Slowly, his eyes fluttered open to stare vacantly at the darkened ceiling of his bedroom. A soft breeze was blowing in past gauzy curtains from the nearby window, a welcome breath of fresh air to calm and cool his nerves. Kicking back the embattled bedsheets, Sheridan swung his legs over the edge of the bed and eased himself out onto the stone floor. He stood stretching, peering out into the heavily wooded forest of Eldador and sighed deeply. The same nightmare that had plagued him since he was a young elf had once again paid a terrible visit, and still was weighing heavily upon the Paladin. When it came, it brought dread and pendulous doom... but when it left him, there came a void - a pit of despair and longing deep within his core. "Will I truly end up... alone?" Sheridan surprised himself with the barbed question, spoken breathily aloud and from the heart. He had never really been able to formulate those words in either voice or thought, but tonight's nightmare had been as potent as ever. And the true meaning of the awful near-nightly torment seemed as clear as ever.

    Sheridan sighed once more, catching a glimpse of his haggard and sweaty face in a mirror, and turned to go back to sleep. But out of the corner of his eye, before he could fully turn away from the window, deep in the forest below, a flickering, ethereal glow pulsed out to him. The warrior did a double-take, trying to focus on the glowing pulses of azure light. Tendrils of airy luminescence beckoned him forward and Sheridan could not resist their call. He dressed quickly, slamming boots onto his feet, and draping his robe and cloak heavily around him. As an afterthought, he grabbed for his trusty mace and looped it into his leggings. One never knew...

    Eldador was eerily silent as Sheridan made his way from his front porch and into the woods. Seemingly, not a creature stirred for miles... no faintly calling birds nor throaty voiced frogs nor rustling undergrowth could be heard. But Sheridan was far too focused on the lights to notice or care and he noiselessly pressed on. What seemed like hours passed while the wisp, as he could now identify it, dashed and darted its ghostly way through the forest. The creature broke into a clearing, the Paladin close behind, before it finally ceased its ambling and quietly hovered in the center of the ring of trees.

    "What are you, that has brought me this far from my home in the dead of night?! By Manwe I command thee to answer!" Sheridan's voice, filled with emotion and confusion echoed loudly, sounding like the blast from a battle trumpet amid the quiet serenity of the forest. The wisp shrank at his harsh words, then began to brighten until the rays of purest light blinded the Paladin where he stood. Gasping out in shock, the Paladin collapsed to his knees as the wisp finally began to speak.

    "Elven Warrior... Holy Paladin of Manwe... Sheridan of Eldador. Darest thou speak to me in such a chiding manner? I, who have brought you out from the depths of your horror-filled reverie? And now have brought you to the brink of a final answer to your anguished question? Shame, dear Paladin... I thought you wiser and more grateful than that!"

    "An... answer...?" Sheridan whispered. His eyes remained clamped shut, his hands before his face shielding it from the piercing glare.

    "Why, of course my dearest Sheridan. You, who have served so well and for so long... Surely you thought it proper to be rewarded for your service...?" In truth, it had never crossed the Paladin's mind to be rewarded. His father and teachers taught him that being sent on a Quest in the first place was its very own reward. But tales of unimaginable favor and reward spoken over pitchers of elven ale and mead had not escaped his ears. But surely... these were mere tales, given gusto and courage to the words by the alcoholic magic the drinks had worked. ...Right?

    Sheridan could feel the light waning in intensity and he slowly peeked one eye open and then the other before dropping his arms to his side. The wisp had coalesced into a humanoid shape that Sheridan recognized immediately. His glistening and glowing body floated slightly above the ground much like the wisp had only moments before. His broad shoulders and thick arms were crossed, the silhouette of reverant feathered wings rising gracefully behind him. And grasped tightly in his hand, a blazing sword of white fire. His head was that of a majestic eagle... the symbol of the Valar Sheridan has worshipped since he had been able to form words. Perhaps even longer than that... The muscular form stood resolutely, glowing defiantly under the pale Felucca and Trammel moons.

    "Heru Manwe...! My lord!" Sheridan rose up on one knee, head bowed nearly to his chest. "Forgive my chastising tongue dear Manwe, for I knew not in whose presence I was."

    "Come, my faithful son. We have much to discuss. The Quest waits for no one..." The Valar Manwe extended his hand to the kneeling Paladin. As Sheridan grasped the mighty hand, a jolt of searing energy gripped him, whipping his head back and sending him sprawling backward in slow-motion. Time slipped forward, skewing his perception and distorting his thoughts, yet of the task to perform, all remained clear in his mind. Sheridan knew what he must do - three hours of discourse with the Valar was captured in the blink of an eye and understood, committed to memory, before his body even tumbled its way to the ground. As he struck flatly, he lost consciousness... a smile upon his pale lips. "A Quest! A glorious Quest indeed!" was the last thought the Paladin had as sunlight began to spill its way over the mountains to wash over his sleeping form.

  2. Guest

    Guest Guest

    As he stirred to consciousness, Sheridan cringed in anticipation of pain, but no such sensations arose. Instead, he found himself filled with peace... with purpose. He snapped open his eyes and began to sit up, but froze in place. The Paladin expected to see the familiar ring of trees, the clearing that was now burned into his memory with as much searing fire as Manwe's blade, but no such sight was to be seen. Instead, he found himself but one step into the forest outside his home... It was as if he had taken that single step, only to fall down dead asleep until morning. He stood easily, the morning dew clinging his robe to his back from which he now brushed twigs and fallen leaves. He looked rather foolish he realized and hurried towards his porch to bathe and don fresh clothing with which to greet the morning more appropriately. There was likely much to do in preparation for his Quest...

    And there was much to do, but he managed as he always had. He had scrambled to gather the necessities for a long journey across Sosaria; he filled his pack to bursting with foodstuffs, curatives and healing potions, he crammed spare clothing and a bedroll in as well before strapping it shut and slinging it across his ethereal steed's strong back. He sent a messenger with a request to speak with his Queen Gwynn, and no sooner had the request been granted had he whisked himself and steed to her ancient keep to ask of her a blessing for his journey. Gwynn gave this to the Paladin freely, but not without curious, questioning eyes. There was no time to explain, however, and she was left regretfully unsatisfied, yet understanding. Sheridan also sought briefly the solace of the temple of Eldamar, kneeling as long as he could afford to before the mighty altar there, deep in meditation. Before he left, he paused long enough to sip from the cool, sacred waters that flowed within, and bottled some for the trip as well. The healing blessing of the waters of Eldamar were legendary in their power, but faded the further they were taken from the pool. He prayed that he wouldn't have need for them, but if he found himself in such a position, he hoped against hope that the waters would still have enough of their restorative properties to do the job. The Paladin tossed a shiny golden coin into the fountain for luck... And then, without a look back towards home, the Paladin struck out on the Quest of a lifetime...


    Three days. The world could change and completely move on without someone who wasn't paying attention in just three days. And to be honest, there were a few times where feeling left behind had spent more than a passing moment at the forefront of his mind these last seventy-two hours. There was an ever-present feeling of anxiety, the need to run and not walk anywhere he went. Yet the Paladin calmly plodded at a set pace. "Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast..." his father warned him as a child, often immediately following a particularly rough tumble and a scraped knee. And while a scraped knee was likely the least of his worries for plunging headlong too quickly, or perhaps for dallying too long, he remained steadfast though his heart leaped forward with each heavy and measured step of his steed.

    The shimmering blue portal twinkled invitingly in the midst of the quickly darkening forest, yet Sheridan found himself pausing at the mound of dirt which swelled beneath it. The circle of stones stood mutely around the Paladin and his steed, quietly watching as they had for millenia. "Has it only been two days since I held my breath and immersed myself in that sapphire light headed out of Ilshenar?" Sheridan spoke to no one in particular. "And yet here I find myself once again heading into those blasted lands..." Absentmindedly, his hand caressed the hot wound on his leg that still lanced with fiery pain when jostled. "How humbling..." he contemplated internally over the gash that was now itchy from healing. "I have come to arms with uproarious titans, swatted drakes from the sky, beaten back hordes of slavering undead without so much as a scratch. And then, this..." He looked down at the top of his thigh where the bandana, once white, now soaked through with carmine blood, was tightly tied. "All that can be done now is to learn from my mistakes and press on... I must for the Quest!" Sheridan gritted his teeth, seated his helm firmly on his head and charged through the portal, the shrine of Spirituality in Ilshenar locked tightly in his mind as his destination. For a split second, Sheridan's mind wandered backwards to when he had done the same, only with Compassion's shrine as his objective... Learn from mistakes, indeed.


    "It must be here somewhere!" Sheridan exclaimed, fatigue and frustration bubbling up into this latest outburst. He had been digging for hours with a makeshift shovel cobbled together from a sturdy polearm and the remains of a buckler borrowed from a skeleton nearby. The shovel clattered and broke apart into its base components as his armored foot booted it out of the prison he had condemned himself to these past few hours. He wiped his brow with his gauntleted hand and collapsed back against the dirt wall of the slowly widening pit. Surely the Meer would not have led him astray... The Eternal with whom he had spoke was sure of the location of the Tablet, but the Paladin was beginning to have his doubts. He doubled over at the waist and breathed deep lungfuls of the stale air, trying to control his anger from rearing its ugly head. Manwe had told him to seek out the Meer in their tombs below the ancient platform inscribed with runes. To seek out the Eternal which dwelled amongst the tombs of its ancestors, victims of the vicious Jukan legion in a war long lost in time. And to get from him the location of the Tablet upon which was inscribed the final resting place of the Flower of Desire. What then sounded like a fairy tale a mother would concoct to bring sweet slumber to her restless child, now sounded like a wild mongbat chase to the Paladin.

    "No." Manwe would not have toyed with him thus, nor would the Meer Eternal have anything to gain from playing a cruel joke on him like this. The Tablet was here, of that there could be no doubt, deep beneath the bones of one of their once great leaders. When the Eternal had finally agreed to help, he had led Sheridan to one of the unmarked, crumbling tombs in the corner of the crypt. When he slid the heavy sarcophagus lid away, the Paladin was shocked to see that the linen-wrapped bones rested not upon stone, but upon tightly compacted dirt.

    "Here, Paladin. Deep in the bowels of Arda shall you find what you seek," the aging Meer intoned in its gravelly voice. "Know that only because your Quest is noble have you been granted such knowledge of a secret guarded by our people for all time. May you take this secret to your own grave similarly guarded against any that may seek to know it." And with that, the Eternal left the Paladin to his work. Sheridan had carefully removed the remains and set them upon the tiled floor before forging his homespun shovel and breaking ground.

    Now, hours after the Eternal had left him in peace, Sheridan found it hard to find any comfort in the backbreaking work. But at least the anger had subsided and the urge to continue to dig was finally returning. He must find the Tablet... Sighing a long, shuddering sigh, the Paladin straightened, but too quickly. As the blood rushed swimmingly to his head, he lost his balance, swayed in place slightly and nearly slumped to his knees before catching himself. Overcorrecting, he slammed himself back against the wall for purchase, his head banging hollowly against stone. "OW." Fantastic... now, not only was the anger slowly bubbling up again, his head hurt. Sheridan raised his hand and gingerly touched the back of his head, jerking it back as his nerves jangled with pain. Looking in disbelief at the slight daub of blood on his fingertips, a thought struggled to free itself from the back of his mind. "Wait..." he murmured. "I'm seven feet down in a dirt pit. Dirt doesn't hurt like stone..." Slowly, he turned to face the wall and there, just about head height and now adorned with a dash of slick, red blood was a corner of stone only a few inches thick. "The Tablet!" he exclaimed as he scrambled out of the pit for the buckler. Once out of the deep grave, the elf realized he had been digging at a slight angle. How he had missed it was painfully obvious, as was the throbbing in his head. He ignored the stinging thump in his skull and jumped back down, buckler gripped tightly in his fist. He began scraping all around the Tablet carefully, trying to extract it from the earthy plot without defacing it. The tedious labor stretched for nearly an hour before the Tablet could be worked loosely from the soil, aided by some water from the skin he had at his belt. Sheridan resisted a cry of victory lest it upset his gracious hosts in this holy place of reverance.

    The back of the Tablet was smooth as marble... years buried in dank earth had done nothing to mar it. With heavy anticipation and a deep breath, he turned the heavy slab over to read the inscription that would spur on his Quest as Manwe foretold. "What in Hythloth...?" Sheridan stood wide-eyed as what he thought was the inscribed front, was simply a mirror image of the back. "Blank, too!" he wailed disbelievingly. The centuries spent in the tomb had worn away any words that may have once been inscribed there. "No..." Sheridan shook his head, refusing to accept what his eyes had plainly seen. "It can't... impossible... I..."

    A shadow loomed overhead, but the Paladin barely noticed, too lost in his defeated thoughts. His cry of anguish had awoken the sleeping Eternal who now knelt silently at the edge of the pit. "Paladin of Light... what ails you friend, in this place where surely no harm could come to you?" the deep voice reverberated through Sheridan, wrenching him from his sombre pensiveness.

    "All is lost, my ancient friend. It is here that my journey must end prematurely..." Sheridan offered up the vacant slab to the Meer who took it in his wrinkled hands.

    "Most assuredly, warrior... thy Quest is far from over. In fact, it has just begun! You have unearthed the Tablet!" The Eternal's eyes seemed to radiate its own glow as he turned the slab over and over in his hands. "Come... an explanation is due methinks..."

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    Guest Guest

    "You want me to... what?!" Sheridan stared in dumb amazement at the Meer, who calmly repeated the instructions.

    "You must strike it with thy hammer, Paladin. Only a warrior who strikes true and from the heart whilst on the path of a noble Quest may bring forth the ancient texts hidden within this Tablet!" The ancient's eyes still glowed with newly awoken arcane power.

    "What if my Quest isn't as noble as the Tablet would command, or my strike was not true? I simply cannot risk it..." For the first time in his life, the Paladin was balking at a Quest. Sheridan crossed his arms in refusal, daring not to destroy as precious an artifact as the slab that sat between the unlikely friends on the table.

    "Then the Tablet would be destroyed, and you and your family cursed for all eternity," came the matter-of-fact response. The Eternal arched his aging eyebrows as Sheridan shook his head and slid back from his place before the Tablet. "It is the only way, young warrior. Thy Quest must hasten to its end... one way or another. You must follow it, helpless against its inevitable path as you have been thus far. Do not look amazed, warrior. You and I both know that the course you now navigate could never deviate, not by your will nor another's. And for now, your path has led you to this moment... Would you deny it, Sheridan? Or your Quest giver, Paladin of Light?" He paused as Sheridan sighed, slowly shaking his head and met his gaze for the first time since they had sat down. "No. I would think not. It is unthinkable." The Eternal crooked a long, bony finger at the hunk of metal at the Paladin's side. "Thy hammer, Sheridan of Eldador. Know thy heart and strike true!"

    At this command, the weary elf slowly rose to his feet, eyes riveted to the Tablet, gauntleted fist clenching and unclenching, his mind a whirlwind of cogitation... But alas, the wheels of thought ground out and spun down, no alternative coming to mind. This was the only way, wasn't it? Sheridan stared long and hard at the slab, barely conscious of his hand sliding his trusty weapon gracefully from its loop in his leggings, grasping the handle tightly, and turning the mighty mace over and over. This was it. The path before him forked sharply in his mind - down one path lie the answer to the question that had burned so long in his heart... and down the other lie utter ruination.

    Sheridan hardly batted an eye as he swung the hammer down with all his might... and shattered the tablet into a thousand jagged pieces.


    There were rare times in a warrior's (even an elven one's) life - a life fraught with bone-crunching, head-splitting, bloodcurdling-screaming and the likes - where the swing of his trusty weapon did not yield exactly the results that he was expecting. There were three such times in Sheridan's past to be exact... each one equally surprising and life altering: The Whiff, The Crunch, and The (Rather Silly) Ricochet.

    The Whiff came early on in Sheridan's forays as an Elven Paladin. His graduation from his studies and rigorous training was cause for much raucous celebration, which of course did not sit too well with the snooty bookworms he had the displeasure of calling neighbors. His revelry was short-lived as there came word from the borders that a hideous creature was terrorizing the townspeople! "Go!" cried the partygoers. "Your calling and duty awaits, Sir Paladin!" they urged, tipping their hats and sloshing ale about madly. And so Sheridan went, stumbling about as those who are hammered out of their gourd are wont to do, trusty mace swinging wildly from the loop at his side. And there, at the edge of town snarled a ridiculously monstrous, foul, loathesome, ichor-dripping demon... who unfortunately proved only to be a figment of imagination for the poor Paladin - a shallow mindtrick from a wizard of barely adequate skill that happened to reside next door. With a mighty swing of his mighty mace, the soused warrior passed right through the apparition, the momentum of The Whiff hurling dear Sheridan down a rather steep chasm from which he barely escaped some few headache-riddled hours later. How embarrassing.

    The Crunch was an incident he actually remembered quite fondly. Years had passed since his humiliating tumble in his hometown and he was becoming a considerably formidable warrior. Sheridan had found his true home in Eldador - the vast city nestled against the shore and among the forests encircling Prison Peak and the Dungeon Wrong. He also had found his true calling as a Paladin of Light in service to the Valar Manwe. Often, he set out with others of the Varar', the great Elven Army of Eldador, to beat back the evil throngs that issued forth more boldly than they had in brighter times and better days. It was on one of these adventures where in the heat of battle, the Paladin was separated from the rest of the Varar' and was encircled by the enemy - an army of undead skeletons led by a ferocious and reknowned Skeletal Knight. The Elven warriors that had come up against this legion had all retreated from the barbaric and relentless manner with which this army charged into battle, their swords and pikes and arrows useless to beasts without flesh to feel pain. As the circle of clattering, bony foe closed in on the Paladin, pale and with eternal grimaces, Sheridan stood unwavering. "May Manwe's strength flow throuigh me this day, though it be my last!" he exclaimed and struck out what he thought was a futile blow at the nearest assaulter. The Crunch was immediately satisfying. For unlike the narrow blades that barely scratched these ancient bones, the mace connected solidly, striking the chest of his enemy and altogether disintegrating it amid a flurry of dusty decay. Again and again, the Paladin struck true, hammering home his mace to shatter and fracture and splinter the advancing menace until there was only the Skeletal Knight commander. If that creature could still fear, it would have knocked its knees and chattered its teeth like a child alone in the dark for the first time. But the Knight faced the Paladin heedless of any fear or hesitation. And he too felt The Crunch. When the Varar' had finally pulled away victorious from their battles to seek out the missing Paladin, they found him covered head to boot in powdered skeletal dust, the disjointed bones of his fallen foe piled around him... and grinning like the cat that finally caught the mouse.

    And lastly, The (Rather Silly) Ricochet was the result of a bar brawl in which a shockingly sloshed Sheridan was caught in-between, quite literally, a rock and a hard place. The stone back wall of The Randy Boar Tavern outside Minoc offered him no opportunity for escape from a belligerent and similarly stewed dwarf captain whose drink the Paladin had quite innocently spilled with his elbow. Sheridan made matters worse when he tried to wring out the dwarf's beard back into the recovered mug, an insult beyond belief. As the dwarf lowered his helmeted head and charged forward to ram the Paladin into another facet, the warrior did the only thing that came to mind. He swung his hammer with all his might at that hardened helm straight on. As aforementioned, the battle-hardened Paladin had had a bit to drink that evening and the inebriation served to numb his fingers to the point where his grip wasn't quite so firm. To his surprise, and to the delight of all the others in the tavern who were watching with tipsy interest at the spectacle of a dwarf and elf squaring off, the mace rocketed out from the warrior's hand, The Ricochet dead on its intended mark and came back full-force into Sheridan's face. Later that night, when he finally came to, the Paladin was informed by many a patron that he was lucky he had knocked himself out before the dwarf plowed into (through) him, carrying both senseless patrons out the stone wall and into the pasture beyond.


    The shock of all those things combined... the humiliation compounded with sheer revelation and mixed with even more indignity still didn't add up to one half of what the Paladin felt as he watched the ancient Tablet shatter into a thousand craggy shards. "What have I done...?" the words spilled soundlessly from his trembling lips. The diamond mace slipped from his shaking hands and echoed its clatter against the floor throughout the vaulted chamber. Tears welled up in the Paladin's eyes... tears of shame and regret... tears of defeat. Sheridan stumbled backwards awkwardly and sank to his knees, the wind completely sucked from his lungs. He spent several long minutes with his head buried in his hands, utterly lost and bereft of speech before he felt the aged, yet strong grip of the Meer Eternal's hand on his shoulder.

    "There is no pit deeper than that which a failed Quester hurls himself willingly into. Few who tumble so far ever find their way out from that abyss, Paladin of Light. But one as great and noble and true as yourself was never meant to explore such depths." The Eternal found it difficult to hide the smile in his words.

    "It is over, wise Meer... I... I have failed. The path was clear in my mind, but now it has ended." The sheer sorrow in Sheridan's voice tore at the Eternal's heart and he could bear it no longer.

    "For one who has triumphed so many times against such seemingly insurmountable odds, you give up quite easily, dear elf. Arise and look upon your latest victory..."

    Sheridan started at the ancient's words, yanking his head up from his pitiful hands to stare into his wise and glowing eyes. Turning his head slowly and rising from his knees, Sheridan felt time slow to a crawl, much like the sensation in the forest as he grasped Manwe's hand and had tumbled backwards from the bolt of energy. As the Paladin rose from the floor, his line of sight cleared the table and yet another shock vibrated through his being. The Paladin stood numbly where he had destroyed the Tablet, what now in these muddied moments of time seemed like years ago, looking down at something he could not believe he was seeing. Many of the shards of polished stone still lay strewn across the table, like flattened trees near a recently erupted volcano... But there in the center of the shards, lay two perfectly formed symbols, unsplintered and quite whole. Sheridan wanted to look into the Eternal's eyes to confirm what he was seeing, but he simply could not tear his gaze away. They stood in silence for an eternity before Sheridan could finally summon words to his dry throat.

    "Wh... what is this? I... I don't understand... I destroyed it. Broke it into as many pieces as all the stars in the heavens..." He faltered, unable to choke out anything else.

    "Indeed you did, warrior. You struck as true as any of the ones before you had and with similar results..." The Eternal righted the knocked over chair and eased the Paladin into it.

    "Wait..." Sheridan said, shaking himself from his dreamlike state. "The others before me?"

    "Indeed, friend. There have been many who have come over the centuries, seeking this Tablet and, upon finding it, have hammered it asunder much like you did. But the secret and the very power of the Tablet you shall now learn. For the Tablet does not tell the location of the Flower of Desire."

    "It... it doesn't?!" This time, the Eternal could not hold back his laughter in spite of the Paladin's anguished look and he erupted forth with a hearty chuckle, deeply resonating and even vibrating the jagged pieces of the Tablet.

    "Well, that is not exactly true, I suppose. The Tablet has many a message hidden within its stony confines. Many a Quester has come seeking it so that they may read upon it the location of what it is they seek... In your case, the Flower of Desire. In the case of the one before you, some other powerful relic by some other name hidden away in some other place. Now you understand, Sheridan... The messages locked away and the secrets bound within the Tablet number as many as there are Quests in the world. And each seeker before you has come to me with their tales, their tribulations... those deemed worthy allowed to dig for it, the rest turned away. So, like the ones before you, you shall take your answer from the Tablet. And then bury it again beneath the tomb for the one that shall follow you. And to thy grave will you take the secret... for you, too, guard it with thy life as much as I..." The Eternal trailed off, his duty done, and rose to leave the Paladin to his thoughts.

    "Thank you, friend... I will protect the secret always, and to my grave shall I carry it as surely as my mace." Sheridan rose from his chair and bowed gracefully as he could manage.

    "I know you will, Paladin of Light... Else I'd not have let you dig for it in the first place." A grin creeped onto the ancient's face. "You may take no piece of the Tablet with you, else it cannot be remade whole again. Instead, inscribe whatever it is you see upon a scroll from the shelves there. When you are done, the Tablet will need to be buried and the Tomb sealed once more. I leave you now to thy Quest. Such excitement for these old bones is wearisome. Fare thee well, Sheridan. Always strike true and from thy heart... and no ill can ever come of it."

    And with that, an Eternal returned to his slumber. And a Paladin returned to his Quest.
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    Six scrolls abruptly crumbled to dust as he brushed his fingers against them before he found an altogether more whole one upon which to transfer what he was seeing on the table. From the shelf recessed into the wall, the Paladin also withdrew a small inkwell and a dilapidated pen. The gunk within the well was clumpy and mostly dry, but with a few drops of water, it was readily made into something that at least remotely passed for ink. "It will do..." Sheridan mumbled aloud, stirring the indigo hued mass with the end of the quill. The warrior sat at the table, parchment spread before him and weighted down with splinters of the shattered Tablet. He cursed himself numerous times during his amateur illustration of the two symbols, at one point nearly crumpling the scroll into a ball, but quickly came to his senses and realized it may have been the only viable parchment left in the tombs.

    Finally, a crude but serviceable portrait took form on the ancient paper. Satisfied, Sheridan shook his head wearily, his eyes glazed over from the effort and the inkwell nigh drained of its goods. He ground his palms into his eyes and rubbed the tiredness from them. With a sigh, somewhat born of relief, he opened them and set to rolling up the scroll when something caught his bleary eye. "Huh...?" he surmised aloud. Squinting and blinking he focused his attention on a small chunk of Tablet at the dead center of the table upon which he had sketched. In his haste to be free of this place and to once again breathe fresh air, the Paladin had spread the parchment directly over this third unseen piece. It was far too regular a shape to be coincidence, yet it was of such strange design he barely recognized it as part of the answer he sought. "Most odd!" he exclaimed, unfurling the scroll once more and adding it between his crude pictographs. Sheridan held up the scroll to the nearby oil lamp's feeble and flickering light...


    "An ankh... a teardrop... and a... a... mushroom...?" came his quizzical utterings. "Well. I guess that's it. Now how does this blasted Tablet go back to--" Sheridan jumped back as the shards of the ancient artifact began to quiver and rattle upon the table. Fearing an earthquake, the Paladin backed himself to the wall, shield out at the ready. Barely discernable bits of dust and crumbles on the floor leaped up to joined their larger brothers on the table as well, and he realized it was just more Tablet magic he was unprepared for. He eased away from the stone wall and watched with fascination as the Tablet made itself whole. Every last crumbled speck and grain of powdered artifact found its way home, sealing themselves within the spaces between the larger shards and chunks until he could no longer see the two... three... symbols the Tablet had shown him. Only a moment later and the artifact was once again a smooth, polished hunk of stone. He hefted it and was amazed to see not a single crack, not a single speck out of place. It truly was a magnificent relic... a momentary pang of regret at being unable to reveal its existence wormed its way through the Paladin, but he swallowed hard, firmed his jaw, and marched back to the tomb to keep his word.


    Burying the Tablet was far easier going than it was to unearth it and before he knew it, Sheridan was tamping down the earth, gently replacing the disinterred bones, and sliding closed the great stone lid. The grinding stone echoed throughout the forgotten chamber and clunked with a firm clunk and all was silent again. At one point in the digging, he contemplated mischievously aligning the tablet at an angle that deviated from its rightful place, but he shooed that thought from his mind in a hurry, centering it directly beneath the sacred tomb. He clapped the dust and dirt from his hands and set back towards the center of the Meer enclave. Bidding farewell to the wandering warriors and mages, Sheridan ascended into bright, glaring sunlight.

    "Ugh..." he grumbled, casting his sensitive eyes downward at the ground and shaded them a moment to gain his bearings. Time seemed to have passed much differently here on the surface as it had in the tombs... for it seemed from the position of the sun that he had only descended an hour or two before. The Paladin knew at least three times that had been spent below - digging and sketching, learning and conquering. The Quest was ablaze once more. He summoned to his side his steed from the ether and mounted quickly, slinging his pack over the insubstantial creature's back. Sheridan motioned and nudged the horse, but suddenly, he realized he had no idea where he was going. The warrior patted the parchment tucked inside his tunic... he had the answer, or at least a way to unravel the answer, so that was something. But his brain was far too tired and perhaps even with sleep and food, the answer might not come. "I'll need help. I was never good with puzzles..." Sheridan shook his head. His mind was far too literal for tricky mindbenders and he feared the answer he would glean from the scroll would result in a horrible waste of time.

    "I need someone not only wise... but with a touch of cunning. Not an old wiseman, nay. A young, fresh mind who would be less concerned with asking me where and why and who, and all the unimportant questions... but the most important of all - what." Remembering the symbol at the parchment's center, which may have held the most important piece to this conundrum, he knew right where to head. He spun his steed around expertly and dashed off with the blazing sun at his back. He knew in his core that Arwen Joy would be able to figure it out!

    There was just the matter of a rather sizeable group of savages with no small amount glistening spears pointed directly at him to get past first...


    There's nothing quite as satisfying to a man as when, after a long day of manly duties, he can come home and jab a freshly roasted hunk of well seasoned meat on the end of a skewer. First, the texture of the seared beef resistant, then submissive to the penetrating steel... the juices then swelling up causing the wielder's mouth to water irresistably... Ahhh.

    Sheridan now wondered if that was what it was like for the savage that skewered him in the thigh with a rusty tribal spear and with such force as to knock the mighty, yet foolish Paladin from his steed. He certainly hoped not.

    Enraged, the warrior leaped to his feet, swung his shield adorned with protective runes about, and grasped for his mace. It slid with ease from its place and glinted menacingly in the brilliant afternoon sun. The shock of the merciless strike and immediate dismount had the Paladin dazed to the point where he only now noticed the spear still protruding from his flank and bobbing around much like a branch in the breeze. In a fit of seeming insanity and in the face of the advancing tribe, Sheridan gripped the spear and wrenched it from its scabbard in his flesh and tossed it away, hardly flinching with the effort. This amazed the tribal leader, though little showed through the jade-colored mask on his face, and he grunted gutterally at his grunts, sending them in first to face the mad Paladin. The tribe's shaman stepped forward, but the leader held her back for the moment.

    While Sheridan barely blinked on the outside, he was cringing inside. His studies in Anatomy told him that the spear had fortunately missed any vital arteries, but his studies in battle screamed that it HURT. With no time to stem the flow of blood gushing from the wound, he would have to dispose of these savages quickly. There were six that initially stepped forward to circle him warily, spears at the ready. "Good..." he thought to himself. Their leader and shaman stood back, likely afraid and shocked from his silly display a moment before. "Let's give them more to fear!"

    The Paladin feinted at one to his left with his shield, who took the bait and jumped flailingly back with a squeal. Sheridan then spun about to his right with a whirl and bashed another dumbstruck savage with all his might. The blow caught the masked face full-bore, splintering the flimsy wooden much like he splintered the Tablet a few hours before. Only this time, there was no mystical sight to behold, lest you consider a howling savage with splinters the size of tent stakes in his face dancing about. Well, come to think of it, it was quite a sight to behold. But Sheridan, far too focused to spare a chuckle at the sight, lunged again - this time straight ahead and swinging his shield wide. The sharpened and filed edge of the shield caught one of his assailants under the mask, slicing deeply into his throat and unleashing a torrent of vital fluid all over the ground at his feet. The squealing savage to his left that had fallen for the feint found some small squandering of courage and jabbed forward with his spear as Sheridan was stepping back from the gusher. Spinning deftly past the spearhead, the Paladin allowed the forward momentum of the savage to carry him directly into the path of his backswinging mace. The blow was a solid one, catching the tribesman directly in his exposed ribs, the cracking of which caused the others to yelp as well. From his peripheral, Sheridan saw, almost too late, another spear bound for his own exposed ribs, but with a dextrous jerk, he deflected the strike with his valorite shield. The glancing blow unbalanced the attacker who received a bludgeoning blow to the back of his head and dropped into inky blackness. Only two remained, both of which had retreated to a safe distance and neither of which were making a move. Sheridan stepped forward, but faltered for just a second, head swimming from the exertion and blood loss. This was enough of a show of weakness for both savages to charge in unison, spears tightly gripped and bloodlust in their savage screams.

    Sheridan looked up dazed at the bounding warriors bearing down on him. Gasping for a deep breath, the Paladin awaited their arrival patiently, shield and mace quivering at the ready. But, as luck would have it, they never quite reached their target... So focused were they on Sheridan, that they made no notice of their still blinded, stumbling, howling brother with the splintered face bumbling precariously close to them. Sheridan afforded a smug grin as the blinded savage crashed into one of the stampeding warriors, who in turn smacked into the other and watched all three go down in a tumble of sprawled limbs and clattering spears. While the spectacle was heartening, his strength was flagging and if he didn't end things soon, he might find it ended for him in a most unpleasant way. The jumbled warriors who took the spill vacated quickly enough as the Paladin advanced on them, looking only pride-hurt if anything as they fleed.

    The jade-masked leader of the tribe jogged forward quickly to grab one of the downed spears, but retreated behind the safety of the shaman who was now digging around in her pack of reagents. Warriors rarely gave the Paladin trouble, but in his wounded state, he was most wary of the spellslinger before him now. But, even faced with this menace so close, Sheridan afforded himself a moment of prayer to Manwe and called aloud to the heavens one of the incantations he had invoked a thousand times over...

    "Divinum Furis!" The fire in the Paladin's eyes reignited, his stamina restored and a new spring in his step. The effects of the battle prayer were short-lived, but they would be enough to handle this apprentice mage. She sidestepped quickly, hand still pawing in her roughly hewn pouch and trying to manuever a rock between her and the angry elf. He came around the rock more quickly than she had anticipated, but still she was ready with an energy bolt that rocked him where he stood. He shook the blast off and the shaman saw to her dismay that the runes on his armor had protected him from her spell, absorbing most of its energy and resisting most of the damage. He jumped forward as she cried out another spell's incantation, but it was one he had heard many a time before. Barely a second of paralysis gripped him before he shrugged it off, his battle prowess and natural resistance to magic swelling up within him. It served only to prolong the inevitable for so long for the unsavvy shaman, but still she battled valiantly, hurling fireballs, slinging magic arrows, and even trying to smite him with lightning, but he would not be stopped. As he had her cornered in the rocky face of the mountains he whispered but one word he hoped she understood... "Run..."

    Judging from the way she clattered away in her bone armor with the wildly swaying deer mask on her head, she understood well enough. That left only one... *CLUNK* Ow. There he was... The Paladin had foolishly forgotten the tribal leader had still not fled. After besting his 6 warriors - well, four of them anyhow - and his shaman too, Sheridan was surprised he had stuck around after all. Luck was once again on his side as the ambushing *CLUNK* was merely the result of a misguided attempt to knock the Paladin out with a shot to the back of his helmed head. He spun around to face the chief and mustered another look of surprise as he noticed the warrior had removed his mask, unwilling to be splintered and blinded like his grunt before him. The face was pale, so unnaturally pale... pink eyes burned from that ugly mug, bald head shining in the sunlight, lips drawn back in a grimacing half snarl, half sneer. Perhaps it was the bloodloss making him woozy or the sheer exhaustion he was feeling after all he had been through today, but Sheridan reacted in a way that shocked both elf and savage. He reeled back as if to look at the sky - he couldn't believe yet again his luck as the dumbfounded savage followed the Paladin's gaze - and rocked forward with a headbutt that rivaled a certain dwarf's from sometime in the distant past. The forepart of his blessed Helm of Insight caught the savage fully in the mouth and knocked him right off his feet. As Sheridan watched the savage pitch backwards, eyes rolling up into the back of his skull, he grinned his maddened grin once more.

    Breathing heavily, the Paladin limped over to his pack on the ground and bent down on his good leg to assess the damage in his bad one. The wound was deep, the leather in his enchanted leggings somewhat staunching the flow of precious lifeblood, but still quite a bit had been lost. He cursed this position he had put himself in... nearly costing him his life, if not the Quest itself as well. The words of his father echoed in his ears a dozen chastising phrases, but what was done was indeed done. Slowly, he slid the leggings down to expose the wound (and unfortunately quite more) fully and reached into the pack to pull out the waters of Eldamar. "Let us hope there is yet still enough magic in you, sweet elixir..." he whispered to the sloshing bottle. With a twist, he uncorked and poured a quarter of the contents directly into the wound and swigged down another quarter. The sweet waters coursed down his parched throat with graceful ease and he restrained himself from draining the rest of the bottle. He had only been away from Eldamar a day and a half but he could tell their powers had waned considerably. The healing was slow but evident and the elf took this opportunity to limp a distance away and make camp. "There'd be no travel on this leg today," he thought. "Not without risking the wound reopening..."

    Sheridan would have to wait one more night to find true love... Well, at least until he could see Lady Joy at Eldador... then he could seek it out. Patting the parchment still seated in his tunic, the Paladin of Manwe fell deep asleep, a smile gracing his battle-weary face.
  5. Joy-ElF

    Joy-ElF Guest

    Joy was sifting through a mound of notes and other paperwork when the sound of a knock at the door below reached her ears. She grabbed her spellbook just in case and headed down to see who was there. She opened the door to reveal a tired-looking and somewhat dirt-covered Sheridan being given a good look over by Rain. The blue wolf was highly protective, even if he had seen the paladin many times before. "Are you alright, Sheridan?" she asked with a bit of concern. "Uma," he replied, "but I'm in need of your assistance if you have a moment." She nodded, but didn't ask any further questions about his current state. "What can I help you with?" she inquired. He then produced a crumpled bit of parchment from his pack and said, "I need to figure out where the symbols on this point to." he handed the parchment to her and she carefully unfolded it while saying, "I'll help if I can, please come inside and have a seat." He did so, choosing to occupy one of the plush velvet lined chairs in the library common area. Joy sat down near him and began to examine the symbols. "This first one looks like the ankh of Spirituality," she mused, "and the teardrop would suggest the virtue of Sacrifice. Did you find this in Ilshenar?" He nodded and she continued, "Between the shrines of Sacrifice and Spirituality lies a cave hidden by vines. You've been there before when the Dreadhorn of twisted weald was vanquished," she said. The solution to the puzzle seemed to make itself clear to him then as he exclaimed, "There were mushrooms all over that cave!" He then rose from his chair and made for the door quickly, and as Joy followed he turned around for a moment and said, "Diola lle, Joy." He was gone before she could say anything in response, and she smiled at the paladin's unusual enthusiasm over a cavern full of mushrooms.
  6. Guest

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    It seemed so clear. "Of course," he muttered to himself. "The very Virtues I have spent all my life defending and upholding..." He grimaced as he realized he had just likely made a fool of himself before the Lady Joy. It wasn't the first time he had done so and assuredly not the last, either. Sheridan's steed whickered softly in response as if the Paladin were speaking to him. "Thanks, Ithil... I can always count on you for some witty repartee, can't I?" A shadow of a smile stole the dour expression from his face as elf and steed slowly began making their way from Eldador once again. The spirited ethereal horse, named Ithil after the Quenya word for moon, truly had always been there for him, both as corporeal horse in his youth and now as a beast of the ether in present times, summonable to his side from anywhere in the world. He lightly fingered the summoning charm, a carved horse statuette, that dangled from a chain around his neck.

    "Well, it would seem I can count not only on you, but upon Arwen Joy as well... She just came through for us in a big way where I came up short, my ghostly friend." Sheridan patted Ithil's gossamer mane. The Paladin's mind wandered backwards as it often did while riding, the unspoken lifelink between elf and warhorse guiding both towards their destination. It left much time for contemplation.


    "Aaye, ar' mae govannen, arwen en' amin..." ("Hail, and well met, my lady...") The Paladin bowed deeply from atop his steed. "Creoso a' Eldador!" ("Welcome to Eldador!") he added loftily, sweeping his arm widely in the direction of the forested lands at his back. The lithe elven druid smiled up at his grandiose gesture, her silvery blue braid of hair slightly swaying in the cool twilight breeze.

    "Diola lle, heru en' amin..." ("Thank you, my lord...") she replied, miming an equally lofty voice and curtseying slightly. The two elves chuckled at the rather formal exchange of pleasantries and the Paladin slid down expertly from his steed to stand next to her. Sheridan dwarfed the maiden whilst astride Ithil's ethereal back, but even now he towered over her.

    "Taran tells me you have travelled far, milady." The Paladin remarked as he glanced over at her pet ostard. Very few people still used those squawking fiends as mounts.

    "Indeed, mellon... Very far away indeed." Joy's eyes and thoughts went to a faraway place for a moment but returned abruptly as Pookie snapped at Sheridan's extended hand with a clucking growl. "You are lucky you are wearing those armored gloves, Paladin - Pookie has been known to chomp clear through an earth elemental's stony hide..." The druid could not resist the smile, nor hide it quickly enough as he spun around at her words.

    "That, I do not doubt, arwen en' amin..." He dodged yet another snap as Pookie craned his leathery neck forward. Lady Joy admonished her pet amid girlish giggles. His look of shock melted away into a grin as he looked upon her. "Well then... I shall leave the two of you in peace. Mae govannen, once more, Lady Joy. It has been a..." he risked a sidelong glance and a raised eyebrow at her beloved mount. "...pleasure." He winked at the Druid as he mounted Ithil, the horse clearly pleased to soon be headed back into the forest and away from the frenzied ostard. "Should you need anything at all, milady, you need but ask." With another deep bow and a soldierly salute, the Paladin rode off towards home. Little did the Lady Joy know that his assistance would be needed so much sooner than expected.


    "ROOAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRGGHHHH!!!" The brutish and nonsensical bellowing pounded in their ears, the unceasing wails and howls threatening to drive its attackers insane.

    "Behind thee!" arose a cry and a stoutly armored warrior was torn to shreds, feral claws ripping through flesh and valorite with equal ease. "By ye' gods..." Carinn Brightblade sputtered as he averted his eyes, his alarum having come too late. Never before in all his years upon Sosaria had he seen so fierce a foe. But as his da' always grumbled, there was a first time for everything. Today would be a day full of firsts for this Commander... he realized, turning to his last remaining Seargent and giving the signal to sound the Horn of Retreat.

    "What was that?!" Joy cried, clapping delicate hands to delicate ears. The flat, blatting goatsong pierced the quiet in which the elves had conveyed themselves to Lenmir Anfinmotas via the pulsating portal in the Gargoyle City of Ver Lor Reg. The trip by the Varar' en' Eldador had been made at the climax of a growing conflict between the citizens of Sosaria and a certain unholy succubus. The she-devil was somehow tied to a slew of recent openings of portals from which issued forth daemons of unspeakable evil. One such portal was now thrumming with crimson light and ghoulish life in the distance at the other end of the long stretch of beach. But from this gaping hole in reality, only one terror had emerged.

    "I may be mistaken, mellonamin (my friend)... But I believe that was a Horn of Retreat!" Sheridan's eyebrows raised and he nodded her attention to a fleeing band of humans pounding down the beach towards them.

    "Ruuuunnnn!!!" they cried their impassioned plea in unison upon spotting the elven force, yet not a single one of them bothered to slow down to see if their crazed request was met. Sheridan pointed out the source of the awful sound, the worn and cracked horn now smacking wildly against the hip of one of the hightailing warriors. The Paladin backtracked their path, staring down the sand hoping to see what it was that they were fleeing from. It didn't take long nor much straining of his sharp elven eyes to see it. Sheridan's eyes widened and he spun in his saddle to see that both the General and the Marchwarden had seen as well. A Harrower... He wondered how many of their number had actually seen one before. Sheridan supposed it didn't matter now as he passed his steely gaze across the faces of the Varar' seeking recognition in their blank stares and finding little - they were all going to see more of one up close than they would ever have cared to.

    Diomedes nodded to Sheridan and then to Taran before he raised the battle cry. "A Dagora'!!" The General's well oiled sword slid easily from its runed scabbard and he raised it high in the air above his head. The cry was echoed by the Varar' and they charged forth bravely onto the hot sands of the tropical beach of Lenmir Anfinmotas.

    The battle itself was one which Sheridan barely remembered. The foggy memories of the one-sided slaughter wheeled haltingly through his mind, and occasionally his nightmares, as a maroon and tan striped pinwheel - the colors of spilled elven blood on burning hot sands. What he did remember was the taste of fear thick on his tongue, how it caught in his throat... being ripped limb from limb not once, but twice at the claws of the merciless phantasm... and watching his fellow elves suffer the same painful departures from life. The sheer loss of life for the elves that day was staggering, at least in the hundreds - and the number of wandering spirits the Paladin resurrected, both elven and human, numbered twice that.


    But it was one particular elven maiden's life he watched end through blood spattered eyes that pained him still... pangs of regret occasionally still washed over him, more than a year after the fact. She had forgiven him a thousand times over, yet the weight of responsibility for what happened never quite left the Paladin and Joy could see that anguish now and again in his eyes when she'd see him.

    "Oh, how she hates it..." Sheridan thought to himself. No matter how hard he tried to hide it, mask it with a false smile, she could see right through him. But he could no more forget it than he could hide it. He sighed heavily, looking up from his lap and out into the surrounding forests through which Ithil was faithfully leading them. It wasn't long before they once again stood before the crackling blue moongate... Sheridan gritted his teeth, seated his helm firmly on his head and charged through the portal, the shrine of Spirituality in Ilshenar locked tightly in his mind as his destination.

    The tingling sensation faded and his sight swam back to him in wavering shivers. The deep shadows and pleasant smells of the forest were here replaced by steep, rocky walls and hard packed dirt through which was tracked a thousand foot- and hoofprints of various creatures. Another forest loomed before them, not too far from where they now stood shaking the uneasy feeling in their stomachs away. While it was forest, it smelled differently... felt different than those from home. Even Ithil shifted uncomfortably beneath the Paladin.

    "Easy boy..." Sheridan whispered. Of all the entrances into this forgotten realm, the Shrine of Spirituality was usually one of the most peaceful, and therefore one of the more often travelled. Even now, the Paladin could hear more adventurers' footfalls behind him emerging from the moongate into Ilshenar. He sidestepped Ithil to make room for them, saluting them as they made their way from the moongate with haste, chattering excitedly. The human band of warriors and mages and a lone tamer seemed to barely notice the Paladin and his mount as they charged towards the recesses of the Mushroom Cave to the west. "C'mon, Ithil... let us get this over with, mellonamin." He nudged the ethereal steed forward, falling in behind the rowdy adventurers.
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    The entrance to the cave was far from the forboding maw he was expecting and Sheridan hardly hesitated as he stepped Ithil around the now silent and gawking group of humans and plunged past the low hanging vines and stalacmites. The cave opened wide past the narrow entrance, but several distinct stony paths branched off from there. The pungent scent of mouldering fungus and the distant echoes of falling water rushed to greet the Paladin as he reigned in his steed. His eyes took little time to adjust from the bright sunlight outside as it seemed the mushrooms dotting the floor and sprouting from the walls glowed of their own accord, giving the entire cavern an eerie greenish-blue luminescence. Looking into the dimly lit pathways, Sheridan noticed that most of the stony paths sloped lower almost immediately after this initial area - too low for a mounted rider. He deftly slipped off Ithil and sent the faithful mount back into the ether with a gentle pat. The elven warrior stood quietly contemplating before finally deciding on the only path he had ever taken in these caverns - the one most travelled, which branched off to the far right.

    Echoes of nervous laughter rolled towards him from the way he had come, the human thrillseekers finally having summoned forth enough courage to enter. Their voices and noisesome passage came from directly behind and were gaining on him. It was understandable - the Paladin of Manwe was slowed, favoring his wounded leg a bit as he trekked down the path which ended at a clump of sparkling motes dancing in the center of the Mushroom ring. That deceptive fairy ring hid the entrance to the Twisted Weald, the fabled home of pixies, hauntingly beautiful dryads and the satyrs which chased them, noble cu sidhes, and other less friendly beasts, the most deadly of which was the tormented and twisted unicorn known as Dreadhorn.

    While it had been a while since the Varar' en' Eldador had made a pass at conquering the Dreadhorn, the layout of the Weald was still fresh in the Paladin's mind. Yet even with fresh remembrances of this world unto its own, it took Sheridan quite some time to navigate. First through the small pixie forest and past the violet hued Swoop who sat perched upon its out-of-the-way roost in the rocks high above. This was of course much to the dismay of the lone adventurer below who sought to relieve the legendary bird of its fabled treasures. The Paladin passed through the shifting desert sands at a slow crawl, beating down dire wolves and clubbing senseless the shapeshifting changelings who threatened his sanity by appearing before him as himself. He was not without aid, however, as dryads and satyrs lent their magics and charms. While Sheridan pressed on deeper into the desert of the Weald, felling tougher and tougher foes, the feeling of hope within him increased - it seemed almost obvious that a relic such as the likes of which he sought would be kept safe past all these quarrelsome creatures and contrasting microclimates.

    "The Quest blazes on!" he thought triumphantly at the edge of the desert, swatting a yet unmorphed and flitting changeling from the air with a mighty swipe of his mace. Behind him, the group of adventurers he had passed at the entrance finally trudged their way through the sands and caught up to the Paladin. After a few shared pleasantries and introductions, Sheridan agreed to group up with them as a makeshift guide to lead them onwards to Dreadhorn's twisted island. He explained to them quickly that certain items within this terrible place served as keys which unlocked the path to the isle they sought. The Paladin had, on his way past the changelings and the dire wolves, plucked a thorny briar from the sands and now showed the maroon weed to the adventurers. Sheridan nodded to a cave entrance ahead, just past the rest of the sands and told them of Gnaw.

    "It is one of his fangs that we seek... but be careful, lest it be your flesh Gnaw finds instead." Together they pushed forward and easily overcame the wily dire wolf. It was Sheridan himself who wrenched the sickly green fang from the beasts mouth.

    "Piece of cake!" one of the warriors exclaimed arrogantly. Sheridan only nodded quietly but motioned the group to crowd around him. Gnaw was an easy foe... but there was the matter of the swamp ahead and the rest of keys that lay within their murky depths.

    "Stay close, friends... and mind thy steps. There are deep sinkholes in the foul bog ahead that could mean a twisted ankle and a swift death to follow." Sheridan met each of their worried eyes with his own. "We go slowly, and as a group... should we disturb the arachnid beasts that make this wretched place their home, we'll have one another to rely on to swiftly deal with them. I and the other warriors will lead... the mages and the dragon handler will stay close behind to heal or cure or aid us should the need arise. Any questions...?" He looked around but none called his attention. "Very well... onwards."


    The group sloshed ankle deep through the toxic smelling swamps, minding Sheridan's words to mind their steps. The Paladin pointed out targets which were felled with ease as they made their way across. At one point, the elven guide bent down and plucked another plant which grew in abundance here, a blighted, sickly looking cotton plant. He turned to the group and spoke barely above a whisper, "That makes three of the six we need. Two more come from spider queens and the last from a vicious changeling that roams around in here. Be wary, he could look like any one of us at any time..." Sheridan motioned for them to follow as he picked his way towards Lissith and her sister Sabrix.

    The group again surprised the elven guide as they made quick work of not only the venemous sister spiders, but Irk as well. The changeling had snuck up on the group and made a surprise visit in the form of the group's mage in the crimson robes, even as they plucked silk from Lissith and an eye from Sabrix. The surprise was cut short however thanks to the keen eyes of the tamer's dragon, who noticed the multiple mages. There was no question as to which of the clones was the imposter. The dragon made it quite clear for them with a blast of fiery breath that singed the changeling and sent it scampering for cover. It was one of the warriors who struck the killing blow, however, on the master changeling with a broad swipe of his axe, making it much easier to extract the last key from the still smoking corpse. The party of adventurers gave a cheer as the warrior held aloft the slimy brain that once belonged to Irk and handed it over to their elven guide.

    The group ringed the Paladin on the platform at the edge of the swamp. All were watching eagerly as Sheridan placed the six items they had collected, one by one, into a hole at the base of the statue that stood in the center of the stones. A small stone compartment slid open and from it he took a Luna white flask and held it out before him. "Essence of wind... there is enough in this bottle for all of us. Are we ready?" Everyone nodded enthusiastically and Sheridan popped the cork on the flask.

    "It's empty!" someone cried as he upended the bottle. The Paladin grinned in response. "Someone got to it before us?!"

    "It's far from empty, my human friend. Watch..." A thin, wispy haze of smoke slipped from the bottle and swirled lazily in the center of the group. Then the haze doubled and tripled in size and began to circle them. Faster and faster the smoke churned and roiled about them, coalescing into a terrible maelstrom, flattening the nearby swamp vegetation and spraying and splashing water wildly. But within the storm's eye, the adventurers stood unharmed. Wide-eyed and flustered, but unharmed. Suddenly, the howling winds lifted from the platform, hauling the adventurers skyward. "Look!" Sheridan shouted over the din and pointed to the west. Just across the lake, and getting closer at an alarming speed, sat Dreadhorn's Isle. They touched down at the edge of the island and just as quickly as the winds had come on, they vanished and the only sound to be heard was water lapping at the shore to their backs.

    And the piercing, angry whinny of a certain fallen unicorn that was now charging across the grassy plains to gore them.


    The warriors quickly surged forward at Sheridan's cry and the mages and tamer made their way along the shore to come up behind the Peerless beast. Over and over, the tainted unicorn reared up, hooves kicking wildly at the warriors before coming crashing down, the deadly horn posed to impale them. A few times, the gnarled horn struck true, piercing a warrior's armor with deadly precision and infecting the brave fighter with a vile blight. The warriors began to falter as the dreadful poisons took hold, reducing them to quivers and convulsions. Sheridan waved a gauntleted hand as he ducked and parried another strike from Dreadhorn. A voiced called out and the dragon was unleashed into the battle. The fearsome dragon drew Dreadhorn's attention and gave Sheridan time to pour cure potions down the throats of the debilitated warriors. They began to recover slowly, and when the Paladin was certain they would be fine, he charged back into the fray.

    The two mythical creatures were engaged in a flurry of hooves, fur, scales and claws. The dragon was severely hurt, gored repeated by Dreadhorn's baneful horn, yet still it fought on savagely. The tamer was doing his best to command his beloved pet while the mages sizzled the air with spells, raining down fire and lightning on the twisted unicorn. Sheridan added his mace and shield to the fervent battle, trying to keep the enemy's horn from gouging any more life from the ailing dragon. But as the Paladin feared, it was too late. With a fading roar, the dragon shook its mighty head and succumbed to Dreadhorn's contagion, pitching sideways and nearly pinning the Paladin beneath its lifeless mass. All was not lost, however... even as the dragon succumbed to the poisons coursing through its veins, the twisted unicorn was also reeling and staggering.

    Sheridan and the mages struck with renewed vigor at the stumbling beast. It had been blinded by the dragon's frightful final swipe and was now bellowing angrily and foundering about in total darkness. It was then that the ailing warriors, having shaken off the effects of the poisons, rejoined the battle and helped drive Dreadhorn to the other end of the isle. It was at the edge of the lake that the tainted beast drew one last shuddering breath and collapsed, hide singed and smoking from hurled fireballs and energy bolts... and bloodied tail to horn from the relentless melee assault. Sheridan sank to one knee, breathing heavily but smiling broadly.

    "Well... done... friends..." he gasped between inhales. The warriors and mages alike were similarly hunched or hunkered down, mentally and physically drained but alive and thankful. "Aye - it was well done, indeed," the Paladin proudly thought. Only one casualty the whole dreadful battle, and the tamer was already rectifying that by resurrecting his fallen comrade. Slowly, the brave dragon stirred back to life under the skillful hands of its master and everyone, in spite of their weariness, cheered loudly.


    When the adventurers had all caught their breath and finished tending to their myriad wounds, Sheridan led them to Dreadhorn's hoard. The fallen unicorn had quite a stash of loot. The group helped themselves to the piles and piles of gold coins and magic jewelry that glittered brightly in the torchlight. Pieces of armor and weapons, once belonging to gloryseekers that had been bested by the beast, lay strewn about the lair haphazardly. The grinning warriors picked through these things of interest eagerly, while the mages harvested what ingredients they could find. There was blight and muculent and corruption, too... necessary components of magically crafted items that had been long forgotten until the Elves of Heartwood reintroduced them to the world.

    But none of these things interested the Elven Paladin, who as the humans pawed through loot meaningless to him, strode to and fro about the small lair searching for any sign of the only thing he wanted... the reason he had come thus far and risked life and limb quite literally. The only thing that mattered... "It has to be here!" he screamed internally. He felt so very sure of it, like he had about the Tablet in the Meer catacombs. "I would stake my life on it!"

    Fortunately for our Paladin of Light, he was not a betting man... For after an hour of fruitless searching, he came up utterly and despairingly empty handed. The Flower of Desire was nowhere to be found.
  8. Guest

    Guest Guest

    Without a word, Sheridan helped row the boat full of laughing and chattering adventurers back to the shore of the Weald. As the tamer and her dragon, last off the boat, stepped onto shore, the boat magically floated back to its place at Dreadhorn's isle. Sheridan quietly turned to watch it float back, letting the adventurers pick their way out the back exit. They hardly noticed the Elven Paladin standing at the shore with a faraway look in his eyes, what with their arms overflowing with treasure. When they called their farewells to him, he merely raised his hand in response. Over the rhythm of the lapping water at his boots Sheridan could already hear the Dreadhorn, born again as was its curse, whinnying and stomping about in the distance. The piercing cries snapped Sheridan from his inwardly turned thoughts and he sat down hard on a nearby log, a crinkle of parchment whispering from its place beneath his tunic.

    "It made so much sense..." the elf mused aloud. "How could it be wrong?" The drawing in his hands, now unfurled, was speckled and dotted with bits of dirt, sweat and blood from battle. The symbols still looked freshly inked, however, their sheen reflecting in the unnatural light of the Twisted Weald. "No other answer makes sense... that flower is in this cave." Frustrated, he shook his head and looked up from the drawing and out across the swamp. This distant place made the perfect hiding place, didn't it? Full of peril, mystical beasts and even boobytraps waiting to be sprung to release a torrent of horrific arachnid assassins on unsuspecting adventurers. It was like all the tales he had ever heard of other Quests in similar places after similar relics. Stories spoken in taverns by drunken knights, tales told by wise old wizards to their students in the arcane arts...

    "That flower is in this cave," he repeated to a mutant frog perched on a lily pad that half croaked, half warbled pitifully. The twisted frog merely blinked its six eyes at him and croak-warbled, launching its forked tongue out to snatch a drakefly perched on a sickly and decaying mushroom. Sheridan winced as a gout of yellow flame was snuffed out in the frog's gullet. A thin, barely discernable thought rolled around in the Paladin's mind, trying to work its way to the front. He sat and focused, staring at the mushroom... and slowly, like a dying animal, the thought limped forward. Looking from the parchment to the purple and red mushroom and back his face brightened into a wide grin. "No, my misshapen friend. It's not in this cave!" He jumped to his feet, sending the frog leaping away on its nine spriggish legs, and dashed off back to the beginning.


    Once again, the Paladin stood in the entranceway of the Mushroom Cave peering into the dim glow. He closed his eyes, concentrating and listening intently. Sheridan's sharp senses were nearly overshadowed by the rich echoes from the cave, but he drowned these out and listened harder. He had been wrong too often on his Quest thus far and wasn't willing to allow it to happen again. The Tablet had spoken true... the Flower of Desire was hidden away in the Mushroom Cave. But the moment the Paladin stepped through the shimmering sparkles dancing within the fairy ring, he had left this place entirely. He had stepped into a new cave. It was this one the Tablet pointed to... not the Twisted Weald. Sheridan took a few blind steps forward, neck craning in all directions. At last he stopped and his eyes snapped open to find himself staring down the length of another of the stony paths, the one from which the echoes of running water seemed loudest. It was logical... the Flower of Desire was a plant, and all plants needed water to live. It was more than logical, he thought... it was right. Sheridan took a deep breath and ventured forth.

    The Mushroom cave wasn't nearly as deep as the Paladin had first surmised. It was only the world of the Twisted Weald that had made it so enormous in his mind. After a brief descent, the corridor widened into a gigantic cavern, the ceiling of which was so vaulted, he could not make it out. The ground changed from hard and rocky to a more granulated pebble and dirt combination. The roar of the massive waterfall at the end of this cavern was deafening at times as crystal clear water surged through an opening in the stony cliffs high above his head and pounded its way down the craggy wall to finally tumble into a clear pool. Sheridan bent down at the edge of the pond to drink long and deep from the cool mountain water. The waters weren't sweet like those at Eldamar, but instead were tinted with a bitter aftertaste. He sat at the water's edge on a small boulder and rifled through his pack for a bit of food. The constant pounding of water off the rocks and into the pool was distracting, and try as he might, he could not see anything in this part of the cavern that hinted at a hidden Flower.

    He munched thoughfully for a time on his rations of lembas bread and fishsteaks, relishing in the long needed rest his body had been demanding since stepping foot in the Weald. His back cracked loudly as he stood to wash his hands in the pool and drink once more from its waters. The bitter taste was unpleasant, but the cool liquid helped refresh him and he was once again ready to explore. This path had been a dead-end, but there were still more paths and nooks and crannies of this cave to check out, some or all of which might have little springs and offshoots of the water which pounded down here. Sheridan stared at the waterfall, wondering what it would be like to stand at its base and be thrashed by the cool and misty downpour. He could use a shower he realized, but knew he had hardly the time to waste. With one more sad glance and smile, he turned to trudge back up the path he had come and down another. His body was willing, but his mind seemed to have an altogether different idea and kept him from taking a step. Had he seen something in the rocks?

    Sheridan turned back to the falls, eyes squinting to see past the water. At first he could see nothing but a swirling, angry deluge flooding out and over and down. The elf's eyes travelled upward to the top and then back down. Wait! his mind screamed. His eyes jerked upwards once more. Yes! You see it! There, at the top of the falls, was a small outcropping of rock jutting up out from the water, like a small island. He stepped closer, down to the water's edge to peer up at it. The rocky bit was flattened on the side that faced out at the pool. Initially, he dismissed it as some natural occurrence from the flow of the waters. But suddenly, the realization of what had caught his eyes hit him and he nearly tumbled into the pool. There, etched in the flat side of the rock was a crude pictograph of a rose. "Not just a rose..." he whispered to himself. "The Flower of Desire."



    Sheridan's earlier daydream of plunging himself into the tumultuous waters for a shower at the base of the waterfall became a reality. But this was not like the shower he had imagined. The Paladin had flattened himself against the slick rock wall and was inching precariously further into the relentless falls. The water pounded down on his helmed head, threatening to shake him from his perch and send him head over heels into the pool. His robe and cloak clung heavily, weighing him down to add to his difficult trek. But finally, the mouth of the cave entrance he spied from below opened up and he slumped through it, thoroughly soaked and shivering. Sheridan lay there on his back, winded but grinning in spite of himself.

    The waters were a dull roar behind him when he finally emerged from the rocky tunnel and into yet another large cavern. As he had progressed down the passageway, the dull glowing mushrooms that grew even in here, seemed to get brighter. But despite the relief of the light, the Paladin couldn't help but feel dread at the pit of his stomach. And the stench wafting down the tunnel was hardly helping. By the time he had set foot into the cavern, the light was as bright as it had been in the Twisted Weald and the reek was nigh unbearable.

    "Lovely," he remarked as his boot caught in the muck. "Another swamp." The hole his boot left in the filthy, spongy ground sucked and slurped greedily as it refilled with brackish water. He trudged forward, eyes scanning cautiously and gauntleted hand covering his mouth and nose. He found drier land closer to the walls of the grotto and made his way there, stopping briefly to kick the muddied masses from his boots. He continued onwards, awestruck at the sheer size of the cave. It had to be at least as large as the Mushroom Cave had been if not larger. Without warning, the gawking Paladin pitched forward, tripped up by a pile of rubble and crashed down on his hands and knees. Muttering and cursing under his breath he started to stand, looking banefully over his shoulder at the rocks in the path. Sheridan's eyes widened and he jumped rather hurriedly to his feet. What he thought a pile of rocky rubble was instead a pile of grotesquely grinning skulls.

    "By the Valarrim..." His voice was barely audible. There were skulls of all kinds in the pile... human, elven, and even a lone orcish skull with its jutting forehead and squared jaw from which protruded two broken tusks. He looked across to the other side and saw that a little further down sat another pile. In the mushroom glow, he could even see bones sticking out from the swampy mire, glistening with algae. Sheridan suddenly realized that whatever had committed these atrocities, was assuredly still here. One hand dropped and withdrew his mace while the other dextrously unshouldered his shield and held it before him. The elf backed himself to the wall, slowed his laboured breathing, and began to peer into the distance. It was there, barely outlined by the dim mushroom glow he saw the Ancient Dragon, or rather its eyes. Eyes that were staring rather hungrily in his direction.


    "Admiring my handy work, elf...?" the deep voice intoned lazily, as if the Paladin's stumble had awoken the Dragon from a nap. Sheridan had, for a moment, a dim hope that he had not been seen but the question that still echoed in the air had squashed that nice and flat. The Paladin made no verbal response, but instead walked away from the wall and stood at the center of the cavern on a small hump of land that rose from the swamp. The Dragon was curled up and resting inside a sizeable niche high up on the wall at the back of the cave, its pendulous tail hanging over the edge and twitching like a cat's. The Dragon's eyes glowed brightly with the intelligence of aeons and reguarded the Paladin with intense curiosity that Sheridan found both intriguing and frightening at the same time. As if reading Sheridan's mind, the beast grunted what might have been a chuckle. "Forgive my rather plain stare... but the others before you, by this point, were already screaming with terror and scrambling back the way they came." It paused, yellow eyes flicking to the pile of skulls Sheridan had disturbed. "As you may have noticed, not so many made it." Another brief pause. "In fact... I don't think any that ever stumbled their way in here have."

    "Then call me brave or foolish," Came the brave reply, despite him feeling the latter. "But here I stand nonetheless, yaara'loki (ancient dragon). And I believe you have something I desire..." At this, the Dragon tensed noticeably but quickly recovered its composure and grunted another of its throaty chuckles.

    "Well that is certainly entertaining, elf... most of the unlucky rest that ended up here had no idea what they were getting into, much less came seeking something that didn't belong to them. But I imagine that's what all the screaming was about... And while I would indeed call you foolish, as you have most certainly proved yourself worthy of such a namesake, I would much rather call you by your true name."

    "I am Sheridan of Eldador, Holy Paladin of Manwe..." As an afterthought he added, "Quester."

    "Pleased to meet you, Sheridan of Eldador, the Quester. My name is unpronounceable to humans and even most elves have trouble with it. Therefore I have settled on a shortened version... You may call me Anthraxis. The Dragon rose from its napping position, and jumped down to the ground with a nimbleness that belied its massive girth. Despite the agile leap, the ground shook mightily and several stalactites, jarred loose from the impact, crashed into the swamp in an earsplitting cacophony. The Dragon hardly seemed to notice as it settled on its haunches and stretched first its scaly limbs and then its leathery wings, the tips of them nearly brushing either side of the cavern. If this was meant to intimidate the Elven Paladin, he didn't let it show. While Anthraxis stretched and posed, Sheridan eyes desperately searched the shadows for the Flower. He drew a deep breath and exhaled it with a sigh when his eyes finally locked onto the magnificent relic peeking out from the darkness at the edge of the swamp.

    There was no question as to whether or not this was the object of the Paladin's Quest. It stood out from the rest of the dreary cavern like the full moon on a cloudless night, filling elven eyes with its wonder. The Flower gleamed with its own inner light, pulsing dramatically like a lover's heartbeat. Sheridan was surprised to see it was but a tightly drawn bud, having expected a splendid blossoming rose instead. But in here, in this dank miasma, he was surprised anything beyond virulent algae, could grow.

    "Beautiful, isn't it? Sheridan wrenched his eyes away and nodded up at the grinning Dragon. "I sometimes wonder if it's the most beautiful thing in the world... I think it may be. And that makes me infinitely happy that it is mine..." The stress on the last word was unmistakeable. The Dragon's massive tailed coiled protectively around the Flower, blocking it from the elven warrior's view.

    "You are the Flower's guardian, then... uma?" Sheridan stared defiantly at the Ancient Dragon.

    "Uma, elf... what your people would call vakha... Vakha en' Cartel. The Guardian of the Rose." The Dragon's command of Quenya, the language of the Elves, was impressive.

    "And you will not give it to me freely, though I Quest for it at the behest of the Valar, Manwe?" It was more a statement than it was a question.

    The Dragon's tone changed from amiable to angry in the blink of an eye. "Never, elf! The whims of your elven gods meant absolutely nothing to me. I tolerated your prattling long enough... The rose is mine! Begone! You entertained me and for that I'll let you live, if only to warn the rest of the world away from my lair. But get you out of my sight before I change my mind!" Smoke leaked from the Dragon's nostrils and its eyes flashed furiously. A low growl rumbled forth from deep within the beast and struck the Paladin's heart like an icy dagger of dread.

    "No!" Sheridan cried boldly, his voice rich with heartfelt passion. "I Quest for the Flower of Desire. And I will have it... or I will breathe my last breath here in this horrid place in its pursuit."

    Anthraxis bellowed a terrifying roar that shook loose even more stalactites and assailed the Paladin's ears painfully. Deafened and dazed by the thunderous snarl, he had barely a heartbeat to raise his shield to the fiery blast that followed. The shield absorbed most of the flames, but the impact and the searing heat was unbelievingly intense and it drove the Paladin backwards. The Guardian gave a mighty leap and launched into the air, powerful wings beating feverishly, and howled angrily.

    "You have made a terrible mistake, Sheridan of Eldador! You should feel honored that it is I that shall make it thy last!" With a colossal heave, the Ancient Dragon hurled itself, claws extended, at the Paladin.


    Sheridan stood fast as the Dragon hurtled through the air, waiting until the absolute last second to duck and dive sideways out of its path. Savage claws and a snapping jaw whistled terrifying close to his head. The beast snarled disapprovingly and wheeled around for another pass. Again, the Paladin waited, standing his ground as the angered Guardian bore down on him. Once more, with precise timing, he rolled and dived aside, this time swinging out with his mace. The finely crafted weapon vibrated violently in the warrior's tight grip as it connected with a solid strike to the Dragon's tender belly. Anthraxis howled in frustration and landed heavily in its niche, sending another rocky mass tumbling to the swamp below.

    Again, the Dragon let loose a blistering inferno that nearly engulfed the Elven Paladin. The warrior faltered, staggering under the oppressive wave of heat that singed his robe and blackened his shield and yet still he stood. Once more the scaly terror leaped from the niche and swooped down at Sheridan. The Paladin tried to dive to the side as before, but the wily Dragon was ready for this. With blinding speed, it lashed out with its tail and smashed the elf from his feet into the stony and unforgiven wall. The devastating blow knocked the wind from Sheridan's chest and nearly knocked the warrior unconscious, but he held on, shaking the darkening edges from his vision. He looked up in time to see a bolt of lightning arcing towards him, barely managing to pitch sideways to avoid the blast. The Paladin's stamina was shot, his breath was coming in ragged gasps, yet somehow he found the strength to duck beneath another deadly pass of monstrous claws. As they passed inches from his face, Sheridan's keen eyes noticed the claws shone with an unnatural, sickly sheen. "Poison..." he moaned as he lurched to his feet. All this time spent in the vile and festering swamp must have allowed toxins to seep into the Guardian and now oozed from those lethal talons.

    With strength born of desperation and fear, the Paladin lunged forward towards the Flower of Desire, painfully aware of Anthraxis circling around behind him and charging headlong. Sheridan swore he could feel the fetid breath of the Dragon as he instinctively dove forward, sprawling flat awkwardly at the edge of the swamp. Snapping teeth clamped on empty air as the wyrm had to veer away from its prey lest it crash into the rock wall. The change in course skimmed the Dragon alarmingly close to the wall, but it pulled away almost cleanly. As Anthraxis swung wide, its twitching tail smacked a massive stalactite. Debris rained down on the Paladin and for a few moments, he feared the immense stone column would come plummeting down on him. When it did not, the elf swiftly scrambled to where the Flower of Desire pulsed, oblivious to the danger it was in. The relic seemed to lean towards him as he bent down, the bud trembling at the end of the delicate stalk. Despite the splendid beauty of the Rose, Sheridan sensed that something was wrong. "It seems... sick?" the Paladin wondered out loud, ignoring the muted swoosh of wings from the other end of the cavern that signified the Dragon's midair turn. Anthraxis screeched in utter fury at the sight of the Elven Quester kneeling before its precious Flower.


    Unintentionally, his reaching fingers gently brushed the bud as he moved to unearth the relic, and Sheridan suddenly understood everything... He had been right to assume the Flower was a beautifully blossomed rose, for it had been long ago. The once vibrant Flower of Desire had always been here... Anthraxis had not. In fact, it was the coming of the Dragon that poisoned this place and not the other way around. The cave tucked behind the waterfall had once been a favorite hiding place for young lovers to do what young lovers did so well. Whispered about and passed on from generation to generation, it was the perfect spot - a paradise hidden away from prying and disapproving eyes... A place where forbidden love blossomed in the radiant light of the Flower. But then the Dragon came and unbridled joy and love and passion were replaced with loathing, pestilence, and fear. What was once a lovely pool of clear, sweet water was now a venemous, stinking swamp. The Flower, which had been nurtured all those years by love alone, now drew its nourishment miserably from the toxic waters in this wretched place... and has been dying, slowly, ever since...


    The tears streaming from Sheridan's eyes blurred his vision as immense sorrow resonated throughout his body and soul. The message had been powerful and if he felt determined before, that feeling was now doubled, filling him to the brim with raw energy. He shook off the daydream and the tears and managed to carefully extract the precious Flower from its deathbed. The Paladin cradled it close to him, feeling the feeble pulses of life that the relic still possessed. At this, his sorrow sharpened, soured, and turned to anger. Anger at the beast that nearly killed this wonderful and defenseless Rose... the beast that had dropped from the air and now plowed through the muck and mire of its own making.

    "Anthraxis!!" the Paladin roared hoarsely, halting the charging Dragon in its path. "This Flower no longer belongs to thee! You have nearly killed it with your poisonous presence, k'sher (evil one)... But no more. I will not allow it to suffer any longer..." Sheridan tucked the ailing relic gently into his pack, and drew mace and shield before him. His jaw was clenched firmly. The time for talk was over.

    The ire that seethed in Anthraxis' brain threatened to erupt like a swollen volcano. That the trespasser would dare touch the Flower, let alone pluck it from the earth and try to take it away from here was unthinkable. Unforgiveable! The Dragon flexed and shot forward, hatred blazing in its eyes, muscular body rippling in the charge. The Guardian barely heard the Paladin cry something that sounded like "For- Solu-" over its own roars. Whatever it was, Anthraxis thought, it was going to matter very little in a few moments...

    Sheridan's eyes gleamed with inner fire as he shouted the battle prayer. "I dub thee my mortal enemy. And with this prayer, my mortal enemy you have become... May the Will and Strength of Manwe flow through me this day, though it be my last. May my mace strike true against thee! Forul Solum!!" the Paladin shouted this last bit, though the sound was drowned out by the Dragon's roars. Immediately, his mind cleared - heart, body and mind all focused on the plaguebringer before him. All else dimmed in the Paladin of Light's mind... only the beast mattered.

    With supernatural dexterity, the Paladin sidestepped swiping claws and delivered a bonecrunching blow to his enemy's limb. Anthraxis yelped in pain and swiped with his other claws. This, too earned the Dragon a well planted bludgeoning to that paw as well. The Guardian sucked in deeply and belched a gutload of sulphurous fire at Sheridan, who once again narrowly escaped the full brunt of the blast. The elf circled around the Dragon and landed another monstrous blow of his mace to the rear leg of the scaly beast, ducking just in time to avoid the boneshattering swipe of its tail. Howling with rage, Anthraxis spun to face the warrior and swiped again with lethal force. Undaunted, the nimble elf avoided the deadly attack and countered with a numbing strike in the exact same spot he had struck before, eliciting another yelp from his foe.

    Sheridan's battle focus was incredible, and he was excelling so far... but even he knew that his luck would eventually run out. There was no way he could defeat this beast alone... But perhaps he could distract Anthraxis long enough to escape this dreadful dungeon. A germ of a plan began to form in the Paladin's mind and hope dared to brighten in the grim warrior's heart, even as he was nearly blasted off his feet by an energy bolt. Sheridan rolled with the shockwave and let it tumble him back towards the wall. With his back firmly planted against it, the Paladin held his shield high.

    "Nowhere to run now, Sheridan of Eldador..." Anthraxis leered down at the elf smugly. "Thy silly Quest is over!" Anthraxis rose on its hind legs and spread its mighty wings, celebrating its inevitable victory. Sheridan stood firm and unwavering, even as the Guardian of the Rose began its lunge downward to snap him in two.

    Instead of a crunchy elven snack, the Dragon received two dramatically important and altogether unexpected lessons that it would remember until the end of its days. The first lesson was more a reminder than anything... one of the basic facts of life that everyone observes early on in life, but occasionally forgets about... gravity. Expanding upon this, we understand that things fall - and heavy things fall heavily.

    Even as the beast had leaned back and spread its wings, Sheridan's mind was whirling. He reached deep in the satchel at his waist and drew from it a single bottle. He always kept one, just in case of... well... something like this. Winding back, the Paladin hurled the bottle with all his might upwards towards the rocky ceiling. As the trajectory of throw passed the tiny bottle directly in front of Anthraxis' eyes, the Dragon was much too focused on the trespasser below him to notice the purplish liquid sloshing around inside it. A second later, when the deafening explosion overhead rocketed through the cavern and loosened further the tremendously heavy stalactite that he had carelessly smacked earlier, Anthraxis realized fully his second lesson. The lesson Anthraxis learned in those few moments before unconsciousness, was that one should never, ever underestimate an Elven Paladin of Manwe on a Quest.

    With a triumphant and titanic splintering sound, the stalactite tore away from its craggy perch and descended upon the furious Dragon below. Anthraxis was making one last desperate lunge at the Elven warrior who had begun running the moment the explosion potion left his hand. But Sheridan had stopped after only a few steps to whirl about and witness the chaos... What he saw first was the baleful, hateful eyes of the Guardian even as the stone column crashed down upon the beast, knocking it unconscious. What he saw second however, was the momentum of a final swipe... a momentum which ripped dripping, noxious claws through his armor and flesh, flinging him like a ragdoll into the swampy waters.


    The poisons were distressingly quick in his blood... even as the gouged Paladin limped his way down the passageway towards the waterfall, he was wracked and convulsing with agonizing pain. Two chugged cure potions had done nothing to alleviate his condition. By the time he tumbled down the falls and into the pool at the end of the tunnel, too weak to walk the ledge out, he was nearly unconscious. Barely able to move, Sheridan dragged himself from the water and onto dry land, turned over on his back and blindly groped in his pack. Finally, numb and fumbling fingers closed around the half empty bottle of Eldamar's spring water. With great effort, he twisted off the cork and poured the elixir down his throat, cursing himself for not having refilled the bottle on his trip back to Eldador. He knew their magic was weak now... too long gone from Eldamar... but Sheridan hoped against hope, as everything went black, that whatever was left would stay his death and halt the advance of the infectious poisons.

    As the dying Paladin had feared, the water's power was far too weak to cure him. Instead, the fading magic of the elixir kept Sheridan only half alive. And it was this half of him, his plagued-riddled mind, clinging to life at the base of the falls in the Mushroom Cave, that began to hallucinate...
  9. Joy-ElF

    Joy-ElF Guest

    The sunlight reflected off the sea poured into the windows of the library, giving the entire main room a glow as if it were lit by candles. Joy looked out one of the large front windows to see her adopted pack of Cu’sidhes lying in the sun and enjoying the salty ocean breezes that occaisionally rippled through Eldador. The druid was a bit restless after a few days of sorting through new books, and was eager to set foot outside Eldador for a little while. She finished tying her hair back into a braid, and began to pack the usual essentials for a day’s traveling: her spellbook, runebooks, bandages, and a few medicinal herbs. She opened the front door of the library gently and walked outside, looking for Rain among the sleeping canines. She walked over to the multicolored mass and placed a hand on his side, waking him from his slumber immediately. He got to his feet, stretching after his nap like a great blue cat. Joy scratched between the great wolf’s blue ears, and was still, after all these months, amazed at the velvet softness of the animal’s fur. “I think we should go look in on your wild cousins today, Rain,” she told him, and he gave her an excited nudge in response that nearly knocked her off her feet. Joy flipped through the well-worn pagers of her red runebook, and chanted, “Kal Ort Por.” A moment later, she and Rain both appeared next to the moongate on the island of Skara Brae. The pair then made for the Spirituality shrine in Ilshenar.

    Once Joy and Rain had emerged safely, she climbed aboard the wolf’s back. He knew the way to the weald very well, especially since it had been his home for ages. His gait was smooth and swift, carrying them over the grassy terrain to the familiar sight of a vine-covered cave nearly hidden from view. Joy climbed down from Rain’s back and carefully moved the vines aside enough for them both to fit through. The air inside the cave was moist and cool from the small pools of water that had formed in random areas, and the multitudes of mushrooms dotting the rocky floor made the whole place seem surreal. She suddenly had a desire to visit the waterfall down the tunnel to the west of the entrance. She often went there to meditate and relax with the roaring of the waterfall in the background, and so she walked in the direction of the tunnel with Rain following at her heels. As they approached the cavern containing the waterfall, the sounds of pain-filled moaning reached both wolf and elf. The hair along Rain’s spine stood on end, and his gait became a good deal more cautious than before. Joy peeked into the chamber carefully, scanning the area for danger as her eyes came upon a figure reclined against a most uncomfortable looking boulder near the pool the fall poured into.

    It took a moment before Joy realized what she was staring at, and her eyes grew wide as she recognized Sheridan’s mace lying near the person. She quickly made her way to his side to see what injuries he might have sustained. “Sheridan?” She asked softly as she knelt beside him, but he didn’t seem to realize she had called his name. She gently placed a hand on his arm and asked, “What has happened to you?” He still didn’t respond, but groaned a bit. It was then she noticed his face dripping with feverish sweat, and she reached into her backpack to get one of the enormous cloth strips she used as bandages for Rain. Joy gently moved a bit of Sheridan’s icy hair out of his eyes and began to gently dab the sweat from his skin with the cloth. The touch seemed to bring him back to reality somewhat, and it startled her when he spoke. “A dragon poisoned me,” he said, “In the cave behind the waterfall.” Another wave of delirium struck him as his fever rose again, and she unfastened the clasp of her pure white cloak and folded into a makeshift pillow. Gently lifting the paladin’s head, she placed the cloak under it in hopes of making him more comfortable. She tried to keep it from manifesting, but she was deeply worried for him. Her eyes came upon a stem clutched tightly in Sheridan’s right hand with a single unopened bud upon it. She had not seen it before, and smiled at it in spite of the situation. Even in his fever, he still managed to keep hold of a single flower bud. Taking another of Rain’s bandages from her bag, Joy soaked it in the pure, cool water of the cavern pool, and after wringing it out, placed it upon Sheridan’s forehead to help keep him cool. She attempted to cure him then, chanting “An Nox,” but the spell had no effect. She then reached into her bag and produced a bottle of greenish liquid from it, and carefully poured a little into his mouth. The solution wouldn’t cure him, but perhaps it would slow the effects of the poison and buy her time to get help, and to get Sheridan back to Eldador.

    Joy rose to her feet in a determined manner, and spoke softly to her canine friend, “Stay with him here, Rain. I’m going to visit this dragon.” The great wolf looked at her with amber eyes filled with question, as he wasn’t used to being left behind. “I don’t want to just leave him here alone,” she explained, “Please do this for me, mellonamin.” He relented then, moving over to curl up protectively at the paladin’s side. “Diola lle, Rain,” Joy told him, “I hope to return soon.” She then carefully maneuvered behind the waterfall and into a narrow tunnel behind it. The stench that reached her nose was nearly unbearable, but she pressed on. As the tunnel opened wider, a surge of heat and flame met her head on. She instinctively covered her face with her hands, and the flames singed her clothes, hair, and her hands. The pain was overwhelming, sending the female elf to the cavern floor for a moment. She wanted to turn and flee from the heat, but she remembered why she entered the dragon’s lair in the first place and found her voice. “Please, stop!” she called, and the flames died down slowly. A great red dragon’s gaze bore into her, clearly eager to finish what it had started. “I’m not here to harm you or take your treasure. I just want to help a friend,” she told it. The dragon itself spoke then, its voice booming throughout the tunnels, “If you call that elf a friend, I should kill you as you stand here.” Joy was confused and asked, “What did he do that is so terrible?” She had a hard time believing Sheridan would intentionally cause the dragon harm. “He took my flower,” it stated, and the elf’s eyebrows rose, “Your flower?” she asked in disbelief. “It seems trivial a thing to you, but it was my only possession. I cannot leave this cave to gather a hoard like most dragons,” it explained. Curious, Joy asked, “Why can’t you leave?” The dragon snorted a bit of smoke and replied, “A wizard bound me to this cave to keep the fey folk in Spirituality Forest safe from my kind.” “How did you live in here all this time?” she asked, and its great crimson head turned to regard her with a little less contempt. “It hasn’t been easy, but enough creatures manage to find a way in here to keep me sustained,” it answered. Joy looked at the bones of unfortunate adventurers around the cavern and nodded, “I’m sorry Sheridan took your flower,” she said, “but he obviously needed it for something important to him.” “If you can break the enchantments keeping me in here, he can have the flower,” it told her. “And you will cure the poison?” she asked hopefully. “Yes, I will cure him, though it isn’t lethal to him anyway,” he answered and then said, “Forgive me the damage I’ve done to you.” She nodded and said, “You’ll be free of this place.” Joy then turned back towards the tunnel’s exit and soon emerged once again at the waterfall.

    Joy was pleased to find Sheridan resting a great deal more comfortably. The herbs she had given him had worked to ease the fever, but she had none for the throbbing burns on the backs of her hands. She plunged her hands into the cold water underneath the waterfall and then made her way over to the sleeping elf. Rain was lying at his side, but got up when he sensed Joy’s approach. She gently shook Sheridan from his slumber, earning a mumbled, “Ungh,” from him. “Wake up, Sheridan, we need to get you back to Eldador somehow.” He opened his eyes slowly as she asked, “Are you able to ride?” “I think so,” he replied as he attempted to mount his ethereal horse. He succeeded, but Joy could tell it had been a strain. “You go ahead of me,” she told him, “so I can keep an eye on you, and you can set the pace out of here.” She then mounted Rain and they made their way slowly back to the spirituality moongate, passing by a few curious pixies along the way. “Head for Skara Brae,” Joy said as they entered the swirling portal. They emerged on the island a few seconds later and she and Rain walked a little ways away from the moongate before she began to chant, “Vas Rel Por,” summoning her own moongate from a rune in her backpack. “We’re going back to the library,” she told him, “You don’t really need to be alone for long with the dragon’s poison in your system.” They entered the moongate, and Joy hopped off Rain when they reached the shore of the sea near the steps of the druid’s library, and he walked away to resume lounging with the rest of the pack. “Come inside,” she said, “I’ve got a cot upstairs you can use until we can free the dragon and get him to cure you.” “I wouldn’t want to be a nuisance,” he replied, and he seemed a bit unsure whether staying at the library was a good idea or not. “Nonsense, Sheridan. The sea breeze will do you good, and I don’t bite,” she said with a slight smile.

    The two elves walked into the library and Joy motioned to the chairs in the sitting area, “Make yourself at home while I get out the cot and find some ointment for my hands.” Sheridan walked over to the red velvet chairs and sat down, and Joy made her way to the teleporter in the corner and to the third floor. She went to the storage closet and carefully pulled out a wooden folding cot, and when it was free of the other items surrounding it, she began to rummage for some burn ointment. She applied the oily green substance to the back of each of her hands and then covered the burns by donning a pair of snow white gloves made of fine cotton. Afterwards, she began to haul the cot to the second floor common area where she set it up in a corner for Sheridan. She enhanced the comfort offered by the wooden bed by layering numerous blankets and adding an extra pillow for the poison-weary paladin. She also placed a wash basin near the bed, in case he felt the need to clean himself up a bit. Going back downstairs, Joy found him barely awake and said, “Your cot’s on the second floor. Go get some rest, Sheridan; I should go find Talon or someone while it’s still light outside.” She walked over to him and offered him a hand, which he gently grasped and then stood. He managed the way upstairs on his own, and as he disappeared from her view, Joy left the library and mounted Rain to go find Talon Stoneheart.

    The minister of Eldador’s defense was at the armory, polishing some equipment that had been donated. He listened to what had had come to say, and once she told him of the dragon poisoning Sheridan, she said, “The dragon told me that if we freed him, he’d cure the poison and let Sheridan keep his flower.” She then went on, “We need to rally the elves to help him.” They would need at least one powerful mage to tell them what would be needed to remove the wards around the dragon’s swampy tunnels, and so she added, “Perhaps Heru Zed would go with us also.” Talon nodded in agreement and Joy turned to leave. Rain had them back at the library quickly, and she went upstairs to check on her guest to find him in a deep slumber with the candles in the room still burning brightly. Snuffing the candles out one at a time, she pulled a chair up next to the cot and watched the paladin sleeping throughout the night.
  10. Guest

    Guest Guest

    As posted originally by Talon Stoneheart of ElF...

    As he watched the figure hurriedly stride out of the armory, a thousand thoughts raced in Talons mind. “Heru Sheridan ill with a poison neither he nor Joy could cure was not good. Perhaps slaying the dragon would break the spell. No,” he said aloud. “Joy was correct. We need Zed.”

    After quickly placing the leafblade he had been polishing down on a dark slate table, Talon strode across the armory floor towards the telepad in the corner. Upon reaching it, he was transported upstairs to the third floor of the west armory tower. Talon looked out the window across the vast bay that was the shores of Eldador. He smiled slightly; the sight of the waves crashing against the shore had always given him inner strength. He then looked up, towards the stone arch of the window. Hanging from the keystone was a large brass bell; elvish writing encircling the base, and a scene of two figures in battle etched in the top. Reaching up, Talon rung the bell twice, releasing a very distinct sound into the air. It was not the normal “dong” of a bell, but resembled more the sound of sword upon sword, steel upon steel. But it was more than that. With each pull of the chord the bell struck true, the pure sound washing over Eldador; the pitch rising until the sound could not be heard, but felt inside the bones of every inhabitant. Talon again looked out across the bay and took a deep breath, letting the sweet salty air fill his lungs before returning downstairs.

    Just after he arrived downstairs, the steel doors to the armory opened, and six figures filed inside, forming a line across the armory floor. “Aye Sir!” They said in unison, now standing at attention. “Aye” Talon said, bowing his head slightly. “There is a matter of great urgency for you to attend to.” Talon stated while looking over the figures in front of him. Before him stood Paige’s of the Elven Guard, young elves who wished to enroll but who had not yet passed their tests to attain their armor and rank. “Do you all know Heru Zed? “ Talon asked. “Uma” they all stated. “Good. You first four, ride in each of the four directions, stopping at every major town and ask for him. Do not stop riding until you either find him, or hear for me” Talon stated. “You,“ Talon said, pointing to the fifth elf, “ ride to Eldador, the Tavern, and then Zeds house in search of him.” “And finally you two”, Talon said as he smiled, “go to the armory forges and get a blacksmith. Take him to Joys house so that he may clean and repair torror’ Sheridan’s armor. Assist the blacksmith and Joy in any way necessary.” “ Do you all understand your tasks?” Talon asked. “Uma!” They all replied in unison. “Good. Then ride swiftly, for the life of another lays in your hands.”
  11. Guest

    Guest Guest

    As posted originally by Gwendlyn Firemane of ElF...

    "Poisoned?" Gwendlyn frowned in dismay to the messenger. "Well, how can this be that a Nim'ohtar en' Manwe could be sticken so?"

    "It is said, Arwen en' amin, that he was bested by a dragon while on a quest." the young elf man replied.

    Gwendlyn smirked wryly, "Bested, not likely. I have never seen Sheridan fall to any challenge."

    "Mayhaps that is true, Arwen. But he remains severly ill regardless."

    "This is a setback." Gwen sighed. She hoped that the paladin would be able to lend a hand- or mace as the case may be- in a mission of secrecy. She could not stand by and continue her search for worthy elves with Sheridan stuck bedside. "What has the Amandil of Este said about his condition?"

    The young elf shook his head slowly, "No priest of the Healing Valar has come to him, I'm afraid, tho prayers to Este have been made."

    "What?" she blinked in suprise, "has none been called? What insanity would prevent Este's blessing upon a paladin?"

    "I think... Arwenamin, a new quest begins... Perhaps it is part of Este and Manwe's plans." he hestitated, "Arwen Joy knows more... You might wish to ask her."

    Gwendlyn nodded in agreement and let the messenger leave without the letter intended to be delivered to the paladin of Manwe.
  12. Joy-ElF

    Joy-ElF Guest

    Lord Zed had managed to find a way to Eldador, and he had helped make it possible for Anthraxis to cure Sheridan. Joy glanced at the Flower of Desire, as Sheridan had called it, in her garden near some exotic blue poppies. She smiled a little knowing it had started looking a good deal more vigorous from the moment it had been placed in fertile soil. A loud snort from a horse startled the druid out of her daydreams and she looked up to see a much-renewed Sheridan looking down at her from atop Ithil. His hair was still rather green, but his armor was clean and fully repaired from its encounter with the dragon. “Vedui, Sheridan,” she greeted, “Are you still feeling better?” “Indeed,” he replied as he dismounted from his ethereal steed, “Diola lle again for all your help.” Joy smiled as he walked over to where the flower was growing and said, “I couldn’t have just left you there like that, and you would have done the same if it had been me there.” “You are right, arwenamin,” he agreed. He kneeled next to the flower and asked, “Do you have the time to accompany me to replant this in the cave?” “Uma,” she replied, “Let me get my nightmare ready and I’ll go with you.” He nodded as she walked to the stable, opening the door to reveal the large black horse on the other side. It was certainly obvious that Morelen had no intention of letting anyone near him except the female elf, as he gave an irritated snort upon seeing the paladin behind her. Joy opened the stall door and easily climbed aboard the great horse’s back, easing him out onto the grass at the edge of the garden. Sheridan, meanwhile, carefully extracted the Flower of Desire from the earth, and placed it in a small ceramic vessel of water. He then summoned Ithil and mounted up. “Ready?” he asked, and Joy nodded in return and began to chant the incantation that would summon a personal moongate.

    The two guided their horses through the blue, swirling portal and onto the lush forest floor near the Britain moongate. The leaves rustled as they were crushed under eight large hooves, but the trees soon gave way to another gate. Joy and Sheridan entered the moongate and emerged at the beginning of an all-too-familiar path, and as they made their way to the mouth of the vine-covered cave, the two elves enjoyed a comfortable silence. The occasional adventurer passed by with a wave, but otherwise they were alone. The air inside the cave was still as damp as before, but somehow it didn’t seem as stagnant with the dragon’s poison being gone from within. They soon reached the waterfall that kept the entrance of the secret passageway hidden from view, and Joy’s thoughts drifted back to her own first encounter with the fearsome Anthraxis. Her hands now bore scars from the burns, which she concealed with white leather gloves. Despite the everlasting reminder of the incident, she was pleased Sheridan was well again and regretted nothing of helping him. She only wished he didn’t place unnecessary blame upon himself for something he had no control over. She felt Morelen stop, and her mind returned to the present as she dismounted. Sheridan gave her a hand down, and they carefully picked their way behind the waterfall and into the dark tunnels that once housed the ancient red dragon.
  13. Guest

    Guest Guest

    The days and weeks following the freeing of Anthraxis - and the resulting cure for the Paladin's poisoned state - blurred by in a rather hurried fashion. Steadily, he improved in both body and mind... the former, freed almost immediately from the wracking, shuddering aches and searing, knifelike pains, had restored itself in due time to its usual vim and vigor. The latter however, still occasionally seized by panic-stricken nightmares and mortified remembrances of his delirium, was slower in its healing. But even so, Sheridan's mental torments were ultimately, and thankfully for him, fading from memory and submerging the embarassment along with them. Had he fully remembered all he had done and said (sung?!) while in the sickly throes of hallucinations brought on by the potent poisons, the Elven warrior would be blessed with a bright crimson blush for most of the rest of his days. As it was though, Sheridan was spared from total humiliation and endured only the briefest resurfacings of memory that even now were merely snippets of swirled images and muddied voices.

    One recurring thought, however, refused to be submerged amidst the chaos in his mind... "How close did I come? Was death's door only an arm's length away?" This morbid thought endured, arriving unprovoked as the Paladin sat looking out across the ocean on a walk... as he polished and oiled his armor... as he sat peacefully reading one of the many tomes from the Elven Library. Despite all of these numerous and unwelcome intrusions, that depressing thought bullied Sheridan the most as he lay down to sleep, wholly exhausted from his recovery and at his most mentally vulnerable. In that space between the closing of his heavily lidded eyes to the faint brushings of dream, it would return. Mean-spirited, hurtful, accusing... cruelly pervading his dreams, worming its way into every crevice of his mind, refusing to let him forget a mortality he thought he would never face. But he had... by tel'Valarrim he had. The Paladin stared unblinking at his own inconceivable mortality in its dead, lifeless eyes.

    Such misery. Such anguish. Ahh, but sure as the heavenly dawn dispelled the hellish nights, there were wonderful lapses where that thought dared not tread, dared not rear its mournful, morbid head. Cool, calm spaces... an oasis in which he could renew his ragged resolve and soothe his weary mind.

    At first, Sheridan credited his lifted spirits to the Flower of Desire, the relic for which he had triumphantly quested and eventually saved. It was the morning after his first night away from the makeshift infirmary in the Library to which Joy and her cu-sidhe had laboriously dragged him. The Paladin had spent an ill-rested and feverish night of tossing and turning under the weight of answerless questions before he could finally stand it no longer and hurled himself out of his home and into the misty morning air. Sheridan desperately hoped that a brisk walk would clear his head and he would manage enough peace to finally slip into slumber, but as he ambled his way aimlessly through Eldador's forest, the incessant thoughts would not relent.

    "Will I forever be haunted by this?" he queried aloud to no one in particular. "Surely I've had my share of scares and this was not by far my first glimpse at Mandos' stony keep..." Sheridan lifted steel-grey eyes to the slowly brightening sky. "Why was this time so different from all the rest?" The Paladin discovered that he had walked the span of the forest to Eldador's southern shore. There was no beach to speak of here... no gradual merging of land and sea. There was no glistening expanse of happy medium. No compromise called sand that sometimes oozed between your toes like water and other times crusted and crumbled beneath your soles like earth. Instead, land and sea abruptly butted heads here - the unstoppable flow of the tide throwing itself at the unyielding rocks and cliffside. Kneeling at land's edge, cloak fluttering and robe billowing in the stiff breeze, the forelorn elf exhaled a shuddering sigh.

    Finding no comfort in the spume and spray of ocean waves against the rocks, Sheridan wandered off absentmindedly in a westerly direction, head down and staring at his boots. The Paladin crested a small, rolling hill and looked up to find the alabaster walls of the Elven Library rising into view. From here, he found himself taken aback... He paused to admire the simple elegance and stately grace with which it had been designed. Sheridan had spent weeks holed up inside the Library and thus had plenty of time to observe and appreciate the Lady Joy's creativity and taste in decorating... But to see the building as a whole, replete with organic elements interwoven seamlessly with stone and marble was truly amazing. The Paladin smiled for the first time in days and made a mental note to compliment its designer.

    Sheridan pushed on towards the Library, finally able to pick out the tiny relic from the rest of the druid's lovely and thriving garden. Despite ample nurturing, proper lighting, and plenty of fresh water (some even purloined from Eldamar's healing springs), the Flower of Desire remained a tightly drawn bud. Both he and the Lady Joy had hoped that after finally being rid of Anthraxis' virulent presence and the cave's toxic climate, it would blossom. The lifeforce or heartbeat that had barely been discernable to Sheridan before he rescued the Flower had strengthened to a proud thrumming, and the sickly green and yellow-threaded stalk had also improved dramatically... yet still, no blossom. The Flower was indeterminably strong despite also facing an unexpected mortality. And, much like the elven warrior that now gazed upon its radiant beauty, its fate had been altered fortuitously as a caring interloper lovingly drew it back from the brink of death. The sudden realization of the parallel rippled through Sheridan with an intense jolt and he dropped to one knee at the base of the steps. And then, an altogether different yet equally numbing realization was had. His jangled nerves were gone! His riotous mind was quieted! For all Sheridan knew, it was when he had knelt beside the Flower's temporary home in Joy's garden at the foot of the Library that he first noticed the calm...

    It would be a short time later that the Paladin would realize it was not the Flower that calmed and quieted his runaway mind. Oh no... Sheridan would soon realize his inner harmony had been restored the moment his eyes had seen the walls of the Library rising over the hill and his mind had bent to thoughts of its lone inhabitant...

  14. Guest

    Guest Guest

    “Indeed,” he replied as he dismounted from his ethereal steed. Sheridan sidestepped her inquiry into his health with a half-truth. At present he was feeling better, but had she asked him the night before, he wasn't so sure it would have been the same answer. The Paladin thanked her sincerely for her help in rallying the Elves to free the devious dragon, Anthraxis for a cure and walked over to where the relic was still growing strong.

    “I couldn’t have just left you there like that, and you would have done the same if it had been me there.” Sheridan flashed her a wide grin which she returned.

    “You are right, arwenamin,” he agreed, kneeling. “Do you have the time to accompany me to replant this in the cave?” The time had come... The Flower of Desire was at its strongest and most vibrant since he had rescued it from its noxious garden. Surely, the poisons would have been leached from the cave by now, praise be to Yavanna. The Elven Valier of the Earth was undoubtedly hard at work at restoring the natural balance of the beautiful and secluded cave, at last unhindered by Anthraxis' deadly presence.

    “Uma,” she replied, “Let me get my nightmare ready and I’ll go with you.” He nodded as she walked to the stable, opening the door to reveal the large black horse on the other side. Sheridan, meanwhile, carefully extracted the Flower of Desire from the druid's lovely garden, and placed it in a small ceramic vessel of Eldamar's water.

    “Ready?” he asked. Joy nodded in return and began to chant the incantation that would summon a personal moongate.


    The two Elven elders nudged their respective steeds to the mouth of the vine-covered cave. They dismounted gracefully together in a seemingly choreographed and fluid motion. Sheridan sent the ever-faithful Ithil into the ether with a loving pat whilst Joy quietly communed with her beloved Morelen, her forehead touching the nightmare's velvety black neck. The majestic nightmare snorted and nodded reluctantly, pawing nervously at the packed dirt floor but abiding by its master's command. It was clear that her equine companion did not like being left behind while Joy ventured forth with the Paladin into the Mushroom cave. Morelen could still smell the lingering presence of the departed dragon. Sheridan tarried a bit as Joy picked her way into the cave to whisper reassurances to the nightmare, but a smoldering and derisive warning snort sent him quickly on his way after her.

    The roaring falls dredged up separate memories for the mostly silent Elven adventurers... Sheridan recalled the swirling sensation he felt as he plunged lifelessly from the hidden cave entrance into the pool below... of being tossed and turned dizzily in the powerful current before finally managing to wrench himself from the deluge and hoist himself onto dry land. For Joy it was the recollection of the grievous burns on her hands and the subsequent scarring that surfaced in her mind upon hearing the watery cacophony. Her delicate hands still itched from time to time whilst they healed, but the promising, prickling sensations belied the fact that they would never be fully healed. The Druid was alright with that though... she had made peace with the sacrifice, never once regretting saving Sheridan. She smiled to herself as they plunged through the cascading waters and into the hidden cave beyond.

    Of Anthraxis' departure, there could be no doubt. The cave looked like an entirely different place... felt like a different place. The Paladin and Druid gawked unabashedly at the one-time prison now transformed into a secluded, yet breathtaking haven. A gentle breeze blew in through a hole in the ceiling, a hole through which also shone a bright shaft of light. This was the same hole, Sheridan realized, that had come into being when he had loosened the stalactite's precarious grip on the ceiling with the explosion potion. The giant, sludgy pool that had once been choked with swampy, decaying tendrils and bore a sickly green cast was now almost completely clear in some spots and merely milky in others. Bright sunlight sparkled effervescently across tiny eddies in the pool, reflecting shimmers onto the stony walls of the cave. A faint scent of death remained, but Sheridan knew that in time, that too would fade.

    "Wow..." Joy whispered breathlessly. "I can't believe this is the same place..." She knelt at the edge of the pool and dipped her gloved hand into the clear waters. Her lovely reflection wavered in the resulting ripples.

    "You and I both, arwenamin. Amazing the difference a month can make." He chuckled softly to himself and picked his way over detritus and rocky debris over to where the toppled stalactite lay on its side, perched half in and half out of the pool. He searched the fallen pillar and found a suitable niche that had conveniently formed where the column had cracked and splintered. It was upon this handy shelf that the Paladin sat heavily and pulled from his pack the Flower of Desire. Sheridan's brow arched and his eyes widened in surprise as he noticed the flower's thudding heartbeat was literally shaking its sturdy stalk. "Someone's happy to be home..."

    "It sure looks like it!" Joy exclaimed as she skirted the stalactite and eyed the rose. "The bud seems fuller, too if that's even possible."

    "Somehow, I think it is, Joy. If there's anything I've learned, it's that the magic of beauty, especially in relics like these, will never cease to amaze." He smiled up at her and their eyes met, locking curiously. Sheridan felt light-headed, almost giddy staring into her intensely beautiful eyes. The light from within them twinkled back, the Druid equally entraced by the shared gaze. A moment or two passed like this before both parties finally had to physically shake themselves back to reality.

    "Look!" Joy cried. "The Flower!" Sheridan dreamily glanced down to see the faintest glimmer of reddish light peeking out from the bud. Not pulses as it had been when the Flower was sick and recovering, but a steady glow.

    "Oh," was all the daydreaming Paladin could manage at first. A slight pause to clear his thoughts and he continued. "I guess it's time to plant it." He rose from his seat and edged closer to the pool. Once or twice the pair glanced up at the ceiling to spot the shaft of light to align the Relic with its path. For at least an hour each day, the Flower of Desire would be able to drink freely of the sun's rays without fear of wilting beneath them. Joy bent down to scoop away some earth, making a nice, deep bed in which to place the ancient and mystical plant. Sheridan gently removed the Flower from the ceramic vessel and held it in place as Joy replaced the soil. The Paladin shook his hand loose and poured out Eldamar's waters over the slightly raised mound. For a moment, he felt a bit of sadness, not wanting to leave the Flower here but he knew that the Flower could take care of itself now. So long as another dragon didn't take up residence here...

    Both Elves remained kneeling beside the Flower in comfortable silence for quite some time. Occasionally they glanced up at one another, smiling brightly and locking gazes to lose themselves within the moment once more. The pair was nearly overwhelmed with raw emotion, surely stirred up by the Flower's return home. Basking in the Relic's lovely light was surely to blame for these maddening sensations...

    Wasn't it...?

    "I..." Sheridan started but faltered. Their eyes were mercilessly locked again. "I..." he began again to no avail. Finally, he could bear the tension no longer. Joy's wide and curious eyes widened further as the Paladin abruptly closed the gulf between them and tenderly kissed her. Her panic subsided instantly and her eyes fluttered closed... this felt right. It was right. And both knew it wasn't just the influence of the Flower, no not directly. The torrent of emotions that had been stirring deep within them, the flood that had been building since she first rescued him and nursed him back to health. Born out of vulnerability and the urgent need to care... It had at last crescendoed into a tumultuous cataclysm. They had found themselves pushed out onto a stormy sea by Sheridan's Quest. Even now, as their blind hands sought one anothers' faces, the elven pair ascended and crested a wave on that ocean, daring to reach the heavens. It was here in the hidden chamber of the Flower of Desire that their Kiss sent them giddily tumbling head over heels down a steep wave to crash upon the safety of the shore.

    Softly, the kiss was broken yet both remained blind, trying to hold onto the rush, the surge of the wave. Tears squeezed out from both their squinched eyelids, tears of pure happiness. Sheridan leaned forward slightly, to rest his forehead against hers, stroking her cheek gently. Together, they sighed and opened their eyes to gaze upon one another, smiling through the tears and seeing each other differently for the first time.


    They both noticed, as they left the hidden chamber hand-in-hand, the state of the Flower, but neither spoke a word. And somehow they knew that it had been the moment their lips had touched and their souls had soared that the radiant Flower of Desire at last fully bloomed, bathing them in its crimson glow and basking in their fully realized love.
  15. Joy-ElF

    Joy-ElF Guest

    The two elves traveled back to Eldador together, their respective mounts in perfect tandem as they left the cavern and rode along the grassy plain near the Spirituality forest. Pixies flitted about in the nearby trees, occasionally venturing out just long enough to circle the elven couple and satisfy their curiosity. The little fae folk always made Joy smile with their antics, though today she didn’t need any help with that. She was still smiling from her earlier contact with the attractive paladin next to her.

    The kiss they shared had been an utter shock for the druid, though not unwelcome in the least. She was amazed that such a small thing as a flower had made them realize the extent of their relationship, and she just might have to give a certain red dragon a hug the next time she looked in on him. Anthraxis was now had a completely different personality than he had while trapped in the cavern, and his very presence no longer poisoned his surroundings. He would likely be a very powerful ally in the future, so long as he didn’t injure any more elves.

    “Are you alright, melamin?” Sheridan asked as they approached the area in the mountains containing the moongate and shrine of Spirituality. “I’m fine,” she answered with a smile, “Just thinking.” “Fair enough,” he replied. “Anything you wish to share with me?” he inquired. She blushed a bit and said, “I’m sure you can guess what I’m thinking about.” He smirked then, and the horses came to a stop in front of the swirling blue void of the moongate. “Skara?” he asked. “Uma, that works for me,” she told him as she steered Morelen into the gate.

    The sun was setting as they emerged once more in the small outcropping of forest near the town of Skara Brae, and Joy removed her runebook from her pack. She flipped through the well-worn pages, stopping as she located the rune that would take them both home again. “Vas Rel Por,” she chanted, and an identical blue gate appeared next to the main one. Joy waited for Sheridan to step through the gate, but he motioned towards it and said, “After you, my dear.” She smiled at him and entered the moongate, ending up in front of the library in Eldador. It was now fully dark outside, with only the silver tinged light of the crescent moon and the stars over the ocean to light Sosaria. The waves battered the shore at high tide, showering the elves with salty sea spray as they stood together at the steps of the library. Joy looked up at Sheridan, and gently tucked a windblown lock of his hair behind his ear as she said, “I never imagined that we’d end up like this, but I’m glad we did.” She then stood precariously on the tips of her toes and gently kissed him. He returned the kiss, breaking it a few moments later to pull the druid into a tight embrace. “I am also glad,” he whispered softly. The two remained that way for several minutes, savoring the feelings of closeness and warmth. Joy rested her cheek against his chest, not minding the hard metal breastplate beneath the icy robe he wore. The feeling of his arms encircling her was protective and comforting, and she found herself not wanting him to release her. Unfortunately, the night was growing shorter, and they both needed a good night’s rest. They pulled away from each other reluctantly as Sheridan said, “I should be going for the night.” “Uma, you should,” she agreed, “It’s getting rather late.” He kissed her once more on the cheek before summoning Ithil again. “Goodnight, melamin,” she said, and he smiled down at her from atop his horse before riding away into the moonlit forest.