"Ah so this is why your guild pursues Chava Nullforge?" Mirielle murmured. "I understand now." "There are many reasons," Matharenn said. "Her crimes against Aleena were just one of many heinous crimes she has committed. All reports indicate that Chava reveres Aritoth and so seeks to emulate him. While in captivity, Aleena overheard Shadowlord plans to plunder the wisdom of the elves, bringing war to elven lands. They hoped to pillage elven knowledge as Aritoth pillages the knowledge of the people he conquered. Aleena also discovered firsthand that Chava sought to experiment on elves and other races to learn how they might differ were they animated as undead or used in necromantic research." Mirielle paused. "How would they be used in necromantic research?" she asked. "I am no expert in necromancy, but I do know that blood is an important element, being the fluid of life as it is," Matharenn answered. "According to Aleena's testimony, the long years of the elves intrigued Chava and she wondered if using their blood might lend additional potency to her spells." Mirielle shuddered and wrote what Matharenn had said. "And so once Aleena was freed, an expedition was organized to hunt Chava Nullforge?" "Yes, but she had already departed Dungeon Rock and we had no inkling as to where she had gone," Matharenn explained. "Again, we turned to the intelligence Aleena gleaned during her captivity. She had learned of a Shadowlord raid on the Meer of Lakeshire, the purpose being to capture Meer. There were two reasons for this. First, Chava was equally as intrigued by the Meer as she was by the elves and so wanted Meer subjects for experimentation. Secondly, the Shadowlords required Meer captives as a show of strength for the Juka of Ilshenar." "The Juka!" Mirielle exclaimed. Matharenn nodded gravely. "Yes, the Shadowlords were courting the Juka, trying to win them to their cause." "Aren't the Juka loyal to Exodus?" Mirielle asked. "Some are, but the Juka who are loyal to Exodus have removed themselves to the fortress in the Itaan valley, the fortress that once belonged to Blackthorne," Matharenn explained. "The Juka who now control Mistas and surrounding lands belong to themselves, though I fear they have forever lost the honor and dignity that was their birthright from Jukaran." "A pity," Mirielle remarked. "So Chava Nullforge..." She paused here, considering. "You say she is a member of the Shadowlords, but I know very little about them. To me, they are a shadowy insubstantial entity used to frighten children into behaving. I know they are real, of course, but what noteworthy events have they done?" "Have you heard of the Rise of the Despised folk and the invasion of Britain?" Matharenn asked. "Of course!" Mirielle answered immediately. "Everyone has heard about the invasion of the capitol of Britannia! It was a sore blow to our peace of mind. If the capitol is not safe, than no city in Britannia is safe." "Indeed. That invasion was orchestrated by the Shadowlords as was the invasion of Cove," Matharenn said. "These are just the most recent machinations of this evil organization." "The invasion of Cove as well?" Mirielle cried incredulously. "I thought that was the work of the orcs?" "And so it was, but the orcs were manipulated by the Shadowlords," Matharenn explained. "They were to gather a great host in the east comprised of the orcs and the folk from the Great Swamp. Their attack on Britain was to be a great pincer movement with the Despise attacking out of the north and this host marching from the east. Fortunately, the pincer was forestalled. The holdings of the Twilight Fellowship and Guardians of Light lay in between. The troops from the Great Swamp quickly fell apart when a daring raid smashed their headquarters. Meanwhile, despite the occupation of Cove, surviving guerrillas continued to harry the Orcs, sabotaging their war effort until Rhamuz fled there with the Royal Britannian Guard in tow." "I know that name, but it's significance escapes me at the moment," Mirielle muttered, tapping the feather of quill against her brow, as if trying to jog her memory. Mya giggled at her mother and reached out for the feather. Mirielle chuckled at her daughter and tickled her daughter with the feather. "Your mother is silly and forgetful, isn't she?" Mirielle asked in the simple voice one uses for young children. Finally Mirielle turned to Matharenn and said, "I cannot recall." "Rhamuz was unmasked by Iyono Kondo and Kalis Severn in the throne room of Lord British," Matharenn reminded her. "Rhamuz had disguised himself as Odric the Apothecary and once his true nature was revealed, he fled into Britain's sewers and made his way to Cove where he rallied the orcs and other powerful minions to protect him. The Royal Britannian Guard arrived in force and were able to free Cove, but the Shadowlord forces were able to cover the retreat of Rhamuz and he escaped cleanly." "A pity," Mirielle remarked, "but at least Cove was freed. It is only a shame that it took Rhamuz's flight to bring the Royal Guard to free Cove. If they had marched sooner on Cove, perhaps Rhamuz would have had nowhere to flee." "Perhaps," Matharenn allowed, "but we did what we could for Cove. The Orcs were pretty well dug in, rebuffing several attempts to free the town. Cove is a highly defensible town." "And yet the combined might of the Royal Britannian Guard was able to free the town in the matter of a day," Mirielle argued. "It was no easy task. The battle was heated with many casualties on both sides," Matharenn pointed out. "What's more, the strength of the Guard lies in it's conglomeratic makeup, but that also means the logistics of gathering the Guard together requires more time than conventional units." "Hmmm, I suppose. So what precisely are the motives of the Shadowlords?" Mirielle queried. Matharenn took a deep pensive breath, a perplexed look coming to his countenance. "The Shadowlords are ruled by the Council of Shadows which is comprised of nine members, each of them powerful and ruthless. Chava Nullforge is one of those members, Rhamuz another. We are still learning about these members, but each member seems to be guided by their own ambitions. Thus, the plots and the manner in which they are executed are as varied as their individual personalities." "It seems personal, this hunt for Chava," Mirielle observed. "Otherwise, I would think you would be hunting all the members of the Council of Shadow." "Oh for a certainty we are hunting the other members of the Council of Shadow," Matharenn said. "It is just that our conflict with Chava has put us in a position to find her first. The hope is by finding her, she will lead us to the others. She is the first head to the hydra that is the Shadowlords. We must kill each head in turn, but we must begin somewhere." "So tell me more about this expedition," Mirielle urged. "Our coalition was organized in Skara Brae and again it was quite large and expansive. Word of Chava's plotting aroused much concern throughout the realm. The Queen of Eldador herself made an appearance at the council that had been called, troubled by the stories of Chava's desire to experiment upon elves. Lady Gwendlynn Firemane had quite a large entourage of many notable elven heroes with her. Chentelle was there again, along with Edge, Meredith, Namariel, and Zurloth. Starsong of House Targyaren, Balka of the Order of Eight Virtues, and Aerandir of the Order of the Adversary represented their organizations. Kyna Sunhawk of your Criers was there, as were Tobias and Marissa of the Rangers of Skara Brae and Lord Zed of the Council of Nine. Shyleesa Silir returned to aid the expedition, although this caused some consternation among the elves. As for the Fellowship, we had a fairly notable group of heroes joining this campaign. Adunia Almont served as the expedition leader. Others present included Alluna and Markus Callah, Galahad, Mistique Ishikawa, Aleena E'lyn, and her bodyguard Aori Kiritsukeru." "I already mentioned the plot against the Meer, so the first order of the expedition was to warn Lakeshire and help them fight that threat. Little did we know that the Royal Britannian Guard had already learned of this plot. Kalis Severn had sent two agents ahead to bring warning to the Meer. When the expedition arrived in Lakeshire, the battle was over and the raiders had been put to flight. The two agents of the guardsmen shadowed their retreat and Adunia determined to follow, hoping the raiders would lead them to Chava. The expedition tracked the brigands to their encampment south of Lakeshire and after a short and heated battle, the last of the raiders were slain or captured. The prisoners quickly revealed they were to transport any Meer they captured by moongate to Justice Valley where Chava's agents would be waiting on them to take them to Mistas to parade before the Juka. The expedition set off at once." "A short journey through the moongate brought them to Justice Valley which was held by the dark forces of the Shadowlords. Reapers, Imps, and Mongbats assailed them but were quickly decimated by the skilled heroes of the coalition. They pushed west from the moongate, making for Mistas. En route, they found the two agents of the Royal Britannian Guard. Ostra Millings, a magi-archer, had been captured by the Shadowlords while her ranger companion, Victor Moroth, was tragically slain. Ostra was freed and she revealed that prior to her capture, she had spied Chava's second in command, a man named Kyron Kwyll, entering Mistas. The expedition pressed on, storming the gates of Mistas which were held by Dragoons in the service if the Shadowlords. There were few Juka fighting, the majority of them remaining aloof from the conflict which gave us hope that a bargain had not been sealed yet. The expedition pressed into the heart of the city and cornered Kyron Kwyll in one of the towers. The slippery serpent nearly escaped, using a hidden teleporter to elude capture initially, but the expedition rode him down and finally captured him. Kyron Kwyll was full of lies, intimating that Chava was up in the mountains, negotiating an alliance with the great serpentine dragons of Kuro Seidou." "Kuro Seidou? That sounds Tokuno," Mirielle observed, her pen still scratching on the parchment. "It is," Matharenn confirmed. "Literally translated, it means Black Sanctuary, so named because of the black and sheltering canyon walls. Adunia put no stock in Kyron's explanation, and it was decided the expedition would journey up the pass to Kuro Seidou to see what strife the Shadowlords brought to the highland valley. In the sheltered canyon, they were greeted by they nymph, Vidolla, who served as the spokesperson for the serpentine dragons. Vidolla told the tale of how the canyon had been under siege by enemies, hemmed in on the south by the Juka and assaulted from the west by Chava Nullforge's armies. Vidolla revealed that Chava coveted a cursed treasure that had been brought forth from Tokuno by the serpentine dragons. The dragons had taken the dangerous task upon themselves to spare the Tokuno empire from the evil that would pursue the treasure. It was this treasure that Chava coveted." "Vidolla begged for aid and the expedition agreed to render it. They joined the pixie and centaur soldiers in an offensive into the underworld entrance which lay west of Kuro Seidou. The forces of Kuro Seidou had been primarily defensive and so the assault took the Shadowlord troops by surprise and they were routed and fled deeper into the underworld. The expedition pressed on and came to an underground dungeon. Our research indicates this was a dungeon built by the Ancient Evain as a defensive point where the major underworld arteries met. Underworld caverns stretched west to other Evain fortresses that had been built further and further into the jungles that had once been the province of the ratman empire. If any outposts fell under siege, reinforcements could be brought up from the underworld to bolster the defense. If the situation was truly dire, the Evain could flee through the Underworld tunnels and take refuge in the Central Dungeon." "The Evain built this dungeon?" Mirielle clarified. "Indeed. Ilshenarians are descendent from the Evain explorers who landed near Montor and traversed the mountains, building the city at the shore of Termir Flam," Matharenn explained. "They expanded out from there, using the waterways to build their settlements. The Ancient Citadel and the Desert Outposts were old structures of theirs. Dungeon Rock was a burial chamber they had built and serving as another defensible position against the underworld. Reg Volom was built near the fey lands and Mistas was eventually constructed and settled to tame the southwestern portion of the continent. Meanwhile, they marched across land in the north, building Karnaugh's Keep and Terort Skitas to tame the northwest of the continent." "I must obtain myself a map of Ilshenar, though I suspect it would cost many a royal," Mirielle said. "So what happened when the expedition arrived at the dungeon?" "They laid seige to it and stormed it's halls, laying waste to the Shadowlord troops who came against them. Undead and ratmen mercenaries, evil mages and necromancers all rose up to bar their way, but they were swiftly destroyed. Chava was spied fleeing deeper into the dungeon and eventually out one of the other underworld passages, but more powerful minions joined the battle. Demons and blood elementals, including two especially powerful blood elementals created using the blood of a defeated gold dragon, halted the advance of the expedition. Attrition was setting in and the expedition and their Kuro Seidou allies were forced to return to the sheltered valley, but not before they had dealt a severe blow to the Shadowlord forces. We would learn later that it would only buy them a short respite, but it was a welcome respite nonetheless." "Upon returning to the sheltered valley, Vidolla thanked them profusely and took them into a box canyon where stood a statue of Ilshenar. The nymph chanted a mystic hymn and the statue rose revealing a chest within it's base. Vidolla retrieved the chest and opened it, revealing a heart preserved in the fashion of the ancient Evain. It was the heart of Aritoth itself, a phylactery of his that held his spirit and prevented him from truly dying. She revealed no means for destroying it had yet been found. Neither dragon fire nor more mundane methods had availed them. She begged the expedition to take the heart away from Kuro Seidou to keep it from falling into evil hands and to destroy it if they could find a means. The expedition readily agreed while also pledging to send aid to help in the war against the Shadowlords. The expedition quickly mounted up and rode with haste down the mountain pass through Mistas again. Yet again, the Juka let them pass unmolested and the expedition determined they would fight their way to the moongate at the Honesty shrine. No organized resistance opposed them and the expedition returned via moongate to Skara Brae. The heart of Aritoth was locked in Cathedral E'lyn at that time for safe keeping, though it is not there now. We keep its location secret to befuddle our enemies." "Was this when your guild first learned of phylacteries?" Mirielle asked. "No, we knew of them from our conflicts with Mondain, but this was the first time we realized the Shadowlords were in pursuit of them," Matharenn explained. "We thought they concerned themselves with the domination of the Ultimas, which is assuredly one of their aims. We did not realized, however, they sought to unleash an ancient evil upon the land, an evil that has reared itself twice already: once in his original form and a second time when he possessed Mondain. I don't think any of us want a third manifestation of Aritoth." Mirielle winced. "Indeed we do not. Does the heart pose a danger to those who protect it?" Matharenn was about to answer, but he was interrupted by Mya who declared loudly, "I'm hungry!" Both Matharenn and Mirielle looked down at the child, laughing. "I'm so sorry," Mirielle apologized to Matharenn. "Mya, you aren't supposed to interrupt." "It is quite all right," Matharenn laughed. "Even the great affairs of the world cannot forestall the hunger of a child. The sun does grow high in the sky. It nears midday. How about I answer that question of yours while I prepare lunch for us." "That would be most kind of you," Mirielle agreed. "Mya, Matharenn is going to be very kind and make you lunch. Would you like that?" Mirielle asked as she sprinkled sand upon her parchment to help the ink dry. "I want apples!" Mya demanded. Matharenn knelt and took Mya up into his arms while Mirielle gathered up her papers. "I have apples for you. Shiny red ones and luscious green ones too. I think I even have a white apple or two from Ice Island. Do you want to try one of those?" Mya nodded vigorously, smiling happily at the thought of white apples. "Then let us go inside and have our lunch!"