The Guardians of Atlantis in:
The Devil's Iceberg
Brandon shifted his feet uncertainly as he made his way across the deck. Despite all the time he'd spent on ships in his thirty-five years, Brandon never quite felt comfortable on them. He had grown up in the port city of Bayshore, but as a farmer, working the land along with his father. He never even got on a ship until his twentieth birthday, when he set off for Elfsea to seek his fortune. Fortunately, he could at least say that he didn't get seasick.
Toward the bow of the ship, he spotted Relissan, standing at the railing. Now there was a person who seemed at home on a boat. The elven woman stood staring out over the waves, the sea spray leaping up around her. Brandon noted idly that while the entire deck around her was completely soaked, the priestesses' thin robes were completely dry. It almost seemed like she was controlling the rise and fall of the ship, coaxing the spray to splash higher and higher, yet leaving her standing in the eye of the storm, untouched.
"Greetings, Mister Dragoncove," Relissan said. She made no indication that she had seen him there, yet clearly she'd detected him coming.
"Brandon, please." The warrior joined her at the railing. "Hoping to catch a glimpse of the fabled Devil's Iceberg?"
"Yes, I can't wait to see it. How close are we?"
"The captain says it should be visible in about another ten minutes. Where's Arianna?"
"Right behind you."
Brandon jumped, despite himself. He'd been travelling with Foryncia and Gaildor for quite some time, and had almost gotten used to their quiet, stealthy footsteps. He could even hear them coming, sometimes. But they were nothing compared to these two elven ladies. Arianna and Relissan were like a whole different class of elf, they were more confident, secure in themselves, and it was almost magical the way they seemed to melt out of nowhere, when he least expected it.
He turned to look at Arianna. Like Relissan, Arianna was a slender, finely-boned elf, with long, auburn colored hair. Relissan wore her hair loose, framing her face, but Arianna kept hers pulled back into a ponytail. While Relissan appeared to be a healer, Arianna was obviously a fighter. She wore a long sword on her back, and carried herself with the grace and balance of a warrior.
But there was something else about her, a sort of quiet authority that made her seem very serious and aloof. She was certainly nothing like Foryncia or Gaildor, who were nothing more than kids, really. Brandon had never seen a mature elf, most of the older generation of elves were killed in the Great Exodus. Relissan seemed to be good at playing the part of the carefree, mischeivous youngster, and she and Arianna referred to each other as sisters. Yet, Brandon couldn't escape the feeling there was more to them than met the eye.
Arianna studied him for a moment, as if reading his thoughts. "What do you think this Devil's Iceberg is like? Do you think it's possible that an island could be made out of diamond, or crystal?"
"Well..." Brandon paused a moment, thinking. "That's what the locals keep saying. And Kalgon seems to think that a huge crystal could be formed by a volcano, if this Iceberg is a volcanic island. It's rare, but possible..."
Arianna made a face. "That human is a bit too much the jester for my tastes. I'm not sure I can trust anything he says..."
"Oh, I don't think he's the fool he pretends to be. I've seen his kind before. He only jokes around to lighten the mood."
Relissan laughed, good naturedly. "You are his kind, human. You aren't who you pretend to be, either."
"True enough," Brandon agreed, with a grin. "So I should know. Believe me, he's as serious about getting Morgon as you are."
Arianna frowned. "I hope so. If Morgon is still alive, we owe it to everyone he has ever hurt to stop him. And stop him permanently."
"Land ho!!!" Came a voice from the crow's nest. Brandon looked up to see Gaildor pointing off into the distance. "The Iceberg! I can see it!"
Relissan looked back across the waves. "It's too early for the light yet, Gaildor. And we're too far away to see the island."
"No, it's the light from the island, just like Kalgon said! I can just make it out, from up here!"
Brandon looked out into the distance. The light from the Devil's Iceberg was what had brought them to this place, and what had the locals so terrified of the island. Some said that the island was a lighthouse, meant to guide sailors to their doom. Others said that it was the souls of the dead that were lured off course by the light. All that was certain was, every year at the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes, a mysterious light appeared around noon every day, coming from the Devil's Iceberg. The light could only be seen to the east of the island, as bright as the sun, and visible for miles.
Brandon glanced up at the sun, shielding his eyes, and checked its position. About two or three hours to noon. They had seen it from Kayleny the day before, and when the light appeared again, it would be clearly visible, even from this distance. According to Kalgon, however, the priest who had introduced them to the Devil's Iceberg, the island itself should reflect light, from its crystal face. Kalgon had come looking for a friend of his, who had disappeared while searching for the island. Perhaps, Brandon mused, he had been led astray by the mysterious light as well.
"Look! Look there!" Gaildor pointed out towards the horizon again. Then he swung over the side of the crow's nest and leaped down the rigging, springing like a cat down to the deck. The elf's agility on a boat never ceased to amaze Brandon, although he knew that the young lad had grown up in Elfsea, working on a merchant ship with his family. The boy was young and excitable, his wiry frame never still, even when standing in one place. He joined Brandon and the two lady elves, pointing out across the waves.
As Brandon looked where he was pointing, there was suddenly a flash of light on the horizon. It was not a white light, like before, but a red one, then yellow, then green, shimmering and shifting as if the light itself were rolling about on the waves. He heard Relissan gasp, and Arianna's eyes narrowed, as she was looking at something Brandon could not see. He put up a hand to shade his eyes, but the shape on the horizon was still not clear enough.
"See! See! I told you!" Gaildor was beside himself with excitement, shifting from one foot to another as if impatient to get to the island. "I heard there's an old hermit on the island who grants wishes! Think we'll get to make wishes?"
"Don't get your hopes up, kid," Brandon answered, but he couldn't help feeling a bit excited himself. The elf lad's energy was contageous. And he could just see something -- was it ice? glass? -- on the horizon.
Foryncia had joined them at the railing, and Brandon looked back at her. "Go get Kalgon and the others. Looks like we're here." The elf girl nodded, her silvery robes rustling as the turned away. A few minutes later, she returned, with a puffing, overweight priest in a simple brown robe. Kalgon's eyes danced, the excitement in his eyes as intense as Gaildor's as he looked out towards the approaching island.
It was indeed an island, a volcanic island, dotted with trees around its base, rising up to a stark, black volcanic cone. The cone rose about half the height of the island, and then gave way to a massive, faceted, perfectly transparent crystal, which rose to a point a hundred feet in the air. It looked as if some massive hand had taken a giant lump of ice and slammed it down into the island.
But as if to dispel the idea that the crystal was nothing but ice, the light of the sun shining through it was broken into hundreds of beams of colored light, glinting off of the facets of the crystal. The colors shifted and changed as the boat moved underneath them, making it seem as if the crystal was always in motion, always changing.
Brandon looked around at the others. Gaildor and the two elf sisters were watching the island intently, Gaildor excited about the prospect of adventure, Arianna and Relissan wary and ready. Angus looked somewhat curious about the goings-on, although he was also a little green. Perhaps he wasn't so lucky about not getting seasick. And Kalgon and Malfread were both studying the crystal and the volcano, nodding and muttering to themselves as if confirming some sort of hunch.
Foryncia, however, had that worried, concerned look on her face again. She backed away from the railing, and wrapped her arms around herself. As Brandon stepped closer to her, she looked up at him. "It's the power. The same as in the mountains. But far, far more intense."
Her voice dropped, becoming almost a whisper, meant for Brandon's ears only. "Morgon is in there. I can feel it..."
The fishing boat's captain would come no closer to the island than absolutely necessary, but he lent Brandon and his allies a couple of rowboats they could use to get to shore. "I'll be fishing in this area for a few days," he said, "so if you ever need off the island, just build a bonfire. I'll come and pick you up as soon as I can."
"You're a brave guy for coming this far," Brandon told him. "There'll be another 500 gold for you each time you pick us up."
Brandon figured the captain probably never expected to see any of them again, but money was money. He was pretty sure he could count on the man to pick them up.
The eight of them then proceeded to get into the rowboats and paddled to shore. The south side of the island turned out to have an easily accessible beach, and they pulled their boats up to the sand. Brandon and Angus took a few minutes to drag the rowboats up the beach and into the trees, where they covered them up with old logs and leaves. The island was occupied, Brandon could tell that from the footprints along the shoreline, and Brandon wasn't risking losing their only way off the island to any wandering patrols.
They then took a few minutes to explore the beach and surrounding area. The land on this side of the island was fairly flat, a sandy beach stretching up to grassland, peppered with trees. As the land sloped upward, the trees became denser forest, continuing up the hillside towards the black face of the volcano itself. Towards the right, though, the island continued at a gentler slope, and a path could be seen through the trees.
Arianna took the lead, as they proceeded cautiously along the path. She finally gestured to Brandon, and he came up to join her. The trees had given way to a clearing, and in the center of this shaded spot was an old, decaying shack. It looked as if it had been abandoned for years, the wood was green and worm-eaten, and the walls had begun to collapse. There weren't even footprints around it, it looked as if this place had been completely forgotten.
Next to the shack, however, in perfect condition, was a solid-looking stone well. It stood out in such sharp contrast to the run-down shack that it looked all the more immaculate in comparison. There weren't even any leaves around it. Brandon crept up to the well, his sword held at the ready.
The well did not go straight down, it went down into the ground at an angle. Brandon scratched his bearded chin, thoughtfully, as he looked down the well shaft. If he were to drop something in it, it would bounce off of the slanted wall as it rolled down. And any bucket dropped into the well would hit the wall as well. He looked up as Arianna approached.
"You aren't going to drop anything in there, are you?"
"I'm not that stupid. But look. This is no ordinary well."
Arianna frowned as she noticed the slant of the well. As Brandon had, she leaned over, studying the well as she looked down into it.
Suddenly, Gaildor's voice rang out in the clearing. "Hey! It's the hermit! It's the hermit with the wishes!!!"
Brandon quickly ran into the shack. "Keep it down!" He hissed. Gaildor and Malfread were bending over a pile of rags someone had dropped in the corner of the shack. The whole shack looked like it was in ruins, the floor was covered in leaves and debris, and light filtering in through the holes in the walls made a pattern of lights and shadows around the place.
"But it's the hermit!" Gaildor countered, although more quietly. He gestured at the pile of rags.
As Brandon stepped closer, he realized that there was, indeed a person under all those rags. Malfread had pulled some of the cloth away, to reveal an old man. In fact, old wasn't an adequate enough word to describe this man, he was beyond old, beyond ancient. He looked like nothing more than a skeleton with skin stretched over it.
The black clad wizard was bent over the body, placing a finger against the old man's neck. "He's alive", Malfread said, "but barely. I don't think he's going to last more than a few minutes. In fact, I'm not sure what's keeping him alive now."
Brandon gestured to Kalgon, who had appeared at the door, along with Angus Buchanon. "Healer, do you think you can do anything for him?"
"I can try." He took Malfread's place at the old man's side, while the wizard stood up. Kalgon studied him for a few moments. "I've never seen anything like this before. He's... well, he's just incredibly old. I'm not sure that a healing spell will help him, he is not injured. And I can't reverse the flow of time..."
"I believe he is injured," Malfread put in. "He's showing symptoms of pneumonia, and I believe he's swallowed a lot of water. This was some time ago, but this man came awfully close to drowning. Somehow he managed to pull himself here..."
Kalgon looked up at him. "How do you know that? What is a... pneumonia?"
Before Malfread could answer, however, there was a cry from Arianna. "Hey guys! We've got company!"
Brandon burst out of the shack, to find a handful of orcs waiting for him. Arianna had already engaged one of them, and Gaildor was darting back and forth around two others, keeping them off guard. Brandon glanced at Foryncia. "Get inside. You, Kalgon, and Malfread guard the old man."
Foryncia ducked into the shack, while Brandon drew his broadsword. Angus, who had been standing at the door, joined him. "I guess tha' means I'm w' ye, then?"
"The more the merrier, I always say." Brandon smirked, then charged at the orcs.
Inside the shack, Foryncia watched the two fighters as they disappeared from view. "Guard the old man..." she muttered. "While you and the warriors have all the fun..."
She stepped closer to Kalgon, who was still bent over the frail, withered body of the mysterious old man. "I don't know if I should try a healing," he was saying. "In his state, it might actually kill him. I just don't know."
"He should already be dead," Malfread said. "If you ask me, he's surviving on willpower alone."
There was a commotion outside the shack, and an orc crashed through the door, thrown by one of the fighters outside. He scrambled across the floor, trying to hide inside the shack, but then noticed the others. Malfread turned to face him, while Foryncia moved to stand between him and Kalgon.
The orc had seen the old man, however, noticing his pale skin in the half-light, without the dark rags to hide him. He shouted something in orcish, then "The old man! Ragon!" He drew his sword, and charged in to attack.
Malfread stepped forward, swinging his staff in a twirling motion around his body. He knocked the orc's sword from his hand, sending it flying across the room. He then swung the staff around again, and hit the orc twice across the head. The orc was so stunned by the counter attack that he just staggered backwards, his already hideous countenance made uglier by the blood and bruises on his face.
Before Malfread could strike again, however, there was a roar, and a huge orc burst through the rotten wall. He was a massive creature, twice the size of the other orcs, and massively muscled, wearing a fine set of leather armor. He rushed forward, grabbing Kalgon, and flinging him at the injured orc. Recovering from his shock, the orc grabbed Kalgon, holding him around the neck, and holding him as a shield against Malfread. The wizard brought his staff down against his side, holding it ready, but unable to strike.
The huge orc pulled out an ornate dagger, and plunged it towards the body of the old man. As he brought the point of the weapon down, a small, silken-garbed body slipped between him and the old man. The dagger stabbed into Foryncia's shoulder, and the elf girl drew in her breath, grimacing from the pain. Her arm came up, over her face, and she drove her own dagger straight into the orc's eye.
The orc roared, pulling himself off of Foryncia. She brought her hand around, grabbing the hilt of the orc's dagger, and cried out as she pulled it out of her shoulder. With her other hand, she gestured in front of the orc's face, and uttered the arcane words of a spell. The orc reeled, his eyes closing, and he collapsed on top of her. Foryncia just managed to bring the orc's dagger up in time, and he drove it into his own neck.
The elf girl struggled to catch her breath. The orc's body was heavy on top of her, and although she pushed at it, he was far to heavy to move. She collapsed onto the old man's bed of rags, her head spinning. Her vision faded, and although she fought to remain conscious, the room faded to black.
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