The Guardians of Atlantis in:
The Devil's Iceberg
"So, do you think you can bring the old man around?"
Kalgon knelt back down next to Ragon's body, while the rest of the group filed into the shack. "I don't know that he can survive a healing. We may kill him if we try to question him."
"Well, I would like to know what he has to say." Brandon studied the old man's gaunt, skeletal figure for a moment. He was still unconscious, and still looked on the brink of death. He didn't even seem to be visibly breathing, although there was a slight pulse in the translucent skin of his neck. "It's clear Morgon wants this man dead. I'd like to know why."
"Perhaps I should try," Relissan said. "Elven healing is more in tune with nature, more in harmony with the ebb and flow of life. The shock to his body may be somewhat less with one of my spells."
"It's worth a try." Kalgon stood up, as Relissan took his place at the old man's side. "And I still haven't quite recovered from healing Foryncia, either. So you might as well take a turn at it."
Relissan lifted the old man's arm as she examined him. "There is already a spell on him. It's. . . it's very dark magic. Evil magic. But it may be helping keep him alive."
"No, it's a protection spell." Kalgon gestured at the decaying wood of the walls around them. "It appears to encompass the shack as well, although it's clearly centered on Ragon. I think it's what's keeping Morgon from finding him."
"Oh really?" Brandon looked at the rotund cleric, a little surprised.
"Well, I can only guess from the way the orcs were acting. But they only seemed to find Ragon in here after they came in here to fight us. I don't think they were able to find him on their own. If we assume there have been patrols looking for him all over this island, there's no reason they wouldn't have looked in this shed at some time."
"And whatever it was that struck down that orc that we captured could only get him outside," Arianna added. "Surely if it could get in here and poison Ragon like that, it would have."
"So this is a hiding place," Brandon said. "All the more reason to find out why he's hiding."
There was a moment of silence while they watched the elven priestess work. "He has come very close to drowning, as Malfread said. He has what we call 'qua barathil', which is an illness related to breathing. I've seen it many times, so I should be able to heal it without putting too much stress on his body."
"This 'protection' spell worries me, though. It is. . . so. . . evil. . . that I'm afraid it may interfere with my magic. Maybe we should dispel it."
Brandon shook his head. "No, if it's what's keeping Morgon from finding this guy, then that's the last thing we want to do. He was able to kill that orc. . . he could kill Ragon just as easily, or even US just as easily. If we can keep him guessing, he might just decide we're not a threat."
"Do what you can to work around his magic. If it's death magic, then just try and heal him as best you can."
"It's not really destructive, just. . . very, very strong. I'll do my best."
Relissan began a chant, and Brandon watched her closely. Although he did not have the gift that allowed some people to see magic, the energy the wizards called "mana", he had been around it often enough to train himself to detect the subtle signs of it. It was felt most clearly as a prickling at the back of his neck. Brandon had a healthy distrust of magic, which had saved his life at times, although of course he respected its power when used for helpful ends.
The elven priestess seemed very calm, serene as she spoke the words of her spell, and her voice was somewhat musical. It was very different from when Kalgon had healed Foryncia, although of course each spell was always different, even by the same person. The language of magic, he understood, was shared, although the words she was using were totally different from those Kalgon had used. His spell casting had been more energetic, excited, almost jovial. Relissan's spell was soothing and gentle.
As the glow faded from her hands, Brandon realized that he had not really seen it go into Ragon. It had more created a sort of sympathetic glow in him, as if it just passed on to him in some indirect way. It seemed to have the desired effect, as Ragon began breathing, deeply and raggedly at first, as he took his first gasps of air, but then becoming regular and more relaxed. Relissan sat back, swaying slightly, but she quickly recovered.
The old man opened his eyes. His voice was weak, but his words were clearly recognizable.
"Well! It's been a long fucking time since I've had company in this hellhole. . ."
Relissan looked started, but she was not quite able to keep a smile from her face. "Greetings to you, good sir. What might be your name, and do you always talk like that?"
"Yes, I always talk like that. Or at least, since I got. . . to be this old. This old body isn't worth shit. And I don't mind telling people that. . ."
He paused for a moment, as if thinking. "As for my name. . . call me Ragon. For the rags on my back."
"Do you grant wishes?" Gaildor blurted out, excited.
The old man laughed, hoarsely, and then began coughing. It took him a moment to regain his breath. "Wishes? Ha, not I. If I could grant wishes, you think I'd still be in this stinking body?" He coughed again. "No, no wishes, boy. But I can tell you, there is a vast f--" he paused, as if choking on a word, "treasure on this island, enough for a bunch of do-gooder imbeciles like you to fulfill any wish." He broke into another fit of coughing.
"Please, forgive my words," he wheezed, once he was able to speak again. "This damned old body has gotten me this far, but it is too. . . eh. . . too old and set in its ways. Now it is on its. . . last legs. I will live only a few days. . . weeks at best."
"I. . . I need your help. I know of. . . an entrance. Inside the mouth of the volcano. I can't reach it now. . . not like this. I don't know if you sh. . . if you can. But you must. . . you must. . ."
His face was twisted from the strain, as if the concentration was too much for him. His eyes started to close, and his head fell to the side. Relissan nudged him, gently. "Ragon! Must what? What must we do?"
"A vial of liquid," said Ragon, forcing his head back up. "With the red of fire within. A tight closure of gold to seal it. I seek what is mine, what belongs to me by birth! What was taken from me, by that bast. . ."
Ragon's voice had become louder, stronger, but he choked back another word. When he spoke again, his voice was calm, in control, but just as vehement. "If you find the vial, bring it to me, I will gain the strength to finish my quest. I can give hired swords such as you all the damned treasure you could ever want. All I want is what is rightfully mine! . . . All else. . . is. . . yours. . ."
As if he has spent all that was left on his strength on that one, last sentence, Ragon's voice faded away. His eyes closed, and he collapsed back into his bed of rags.
Brandon finally broke the silence. "Do we trust him?"
"You heard him," Relissan said. "His language was offensive, his attitude scornful, and his body reeks of evil magic."
"They didn't call Morgon 'The Foul Mouthed' for nothing," Arianna put in. "Maybe this is Morgon."
Brandon shook his head. "No, the orcs called him 'Ragon'. And he confirmed it, even though he didn't know we already knew his name. Good job on that, Relissan."
"Perhaps," Relissan said, "but maybe he heard us when he was unconscious. We don't know whether he could hear us or not."
"Maybe he is a friend of Morgon," Kalgon suggested. He had again knelt down next to Ragon's body, studying his face closely. "Or an apprentice. He was truly angry when he talked about how Morgon had betrayed him. I sense that he's telling the truth about that. He needs our help. It galls him, but he needs our help. And he knows it."
"So we can trust him. Morgon is his enemy, not us. And he will do anything to get back what he wants, even trust us." Brandon looked at Arianna, and she slowly nodded.
Kalgon seemed to be chanting the words of a spell, and he gazed over his folded hands at the old man. "There is deep turmoil in him, but he is not all that he seems. He's fighting a war with himself. Even the abusive language that he used was. . . something that he was fighting. It may be a sign of his stress."
"Some people are afflicted with the tendency to curse," Malfread said. "Perhaps this fellow was drawn to Morgon because they shared that tendency."
"So Morgon stole something from this Ragon, something so powerful that he will kill to keep it. Morgon is afraid someone will find Ragon and help him. We show up on the island, and he sends out a war party, led by his strongest henchman, to stop us. So I'd say this vial that Ragon wants is pretty important. Whether we give it to Ragon or not, we should definitely look for it."
"I agree." Arianna tapped her foot, as if growing a little impatient. "So where should we start looking? These orcs had to have come from somewhere. And I somehow doubt that was all of them."
"They came from the east," Relissan put in. "Out of the forest. But there's nothing in that direction but the cliffs to the east of the island."
"So we should explore in that direction," Brandon said. "Maybe there are tunnels under the island."
"Actually, I would like to take a look at that crystal," Kalgon said, standing up. "We've found Gaildor's hermit, and we know Morgon's hiding out somewhere on this island, but we have yet to see the source of this mysterious light. I'm convinced it's got something to do with the crystal, and it's still about an hour to noon. While we're at it, we can check out the entrance Ragon mentioned, in the crater of the volcano."
"Besides, from that vantage point, we should be able to see the whole island."
"Good idea," Arianna agreed. "First, we should get Ragon back under cover, and hide the orc bodies. Then we should get out of here. More than likely, another patrol will be sent to look for the first."
Brandon stood near the summit of the volcano, putting a hand up to shield his eyes from the sun. This was indeed a great vantage point, and he could see nearly the entire island. The steep slope of the plugged volcano was in the northwest corner of the island, and from its peak, the land sloped down gently to a dark, verdant forest. To the south, the slope continued down gently, towards the shack in its clearing, and the sandy shoreline beyond. To the east, the island leveled off, becoming a flat plateau, covered in thick vegetation, until it abruptly ended at a steep cliff, and craggy shoals at the waterline far below. The cliffs curved around north, until they met the cone of the volcano, which rose directly from the water on its far side, the waves crashing against its harsh and rocky base.
The unusual layout of the island was due to the secondary crater, which had blown out of the side of the first after it had been plugged. Its jagged lip traced a crooked, irregular scar down the east face of the mountain, twisting it into a dark, chaotic mess of rock and dirt, which flowed down into the plateau to the east. The crater rumbled, distantly, and the reddish glow of its fires could be seen in its depths. Sulfurous fumes drifted up to make the air around the crater hot and suffocating. There was no question that the volcano was still active.
Far above the hellish inferno of the active crater, however, rose the wall of almost perfectly clear crystal. It appeared to be round at the base, over two hundred feet in diameter, tapering to a sharp point at its peak. The protuberances and facets glittered in the light, collecting the rays of the sun into a ball of radiance, shining from its center. Colors flashed from it, and cast streaks on the ground around them. As Brandon's allies passed through the bands of light, it bathed them in color, casting them in tints of red, blue, green, and yellow.
It was an interesting dichotomy, the bright, colorful beauty of the crystal, and the dark, twisted ugliness of the active crater. The group was hushed, as if overwhelmed by the magnitude of it all. Even Gaildor was unusually slow and cautious. Kalgon was intently studying the crystal, while Angus and Arianna crouched at the edge of the crater.
Brandon turned around, and nearly jumped when he found Relissan behind him. "No one followed us," she reported. "I haven't seen any movement down there, but from the direction the orcs were coming from when I spotted them, I'd say the most likely place for the entrance is down near those cliffs." She gestured off towards the east. "It might be possible to hide a tunnel in those rocks."
"Uh. . . yeah, good. I was thinking that myself. There's certainly nobody out here, so if there are orcs on this island, they are probably underground. There's probably plenty of room for tunnels with all that volcanic rock out to the east."
"My thoughts exactly. And there are plenty of cliffs to hide an entrance in, so we could be searching for some time."
"Well, we can start on that as soon as we find out if Ragon's entrance is accessible. . . what are you grinning at?"
Relissan just shook her head, still grinning, and walked over to join Arianna. Brandon turned to look at Kalgon, who was still studying the crystal, with Foryncia by his side.
"It's definitely a quartz crystal," Kalgon said, as he noticed Brandon watching him. "Nearly perfect, considering its size. This could be a storehouse for unbelievable amounts of energy. Properly magicked, it could be a powerful weapon."
"It could?" Brandon looked up at the glowing crystal. "Do you think it is?"
"It is. . ." Foryncia said, putting her hand to it. "There's. . . there's a terrible power here. I can hear it. . . calling me. . ."
She turned away, as if pulling away from something. "I had heard that before Morgon came here, there were spirits here, banshees or sirens or something. Many sailors would disappear if they came too close to the island. Supposedly, there was a great power here, and the spirits were drawn here by it. They wanted to use the power, or maybe it was the power that turned them into spirits. I'm not sure of the details but. . . this is the power that Morgon wanted."
Brandon started to ask her more about it, but he was interrupted by Gaildor. "The light! Look, it's the light!"
Sure enough, a beam of light stabbed from the eastern coast of the island, out into the blue-black waters. It shone off into the distance, glittering near the horizon with a yellowish light. Kalgon glanced up at the angle of the sun. "Yep, looks like noon to me," he said.
"That light looks like it might be coming from inside the island," Brandon said. "If there are tunnels under the island, as well, then maybe the entrance is near where that beam comes out."
"Then we'd better hurry down there before the light fades out. Angus, any sign of Ragon's entrance?"
"If th' laddie is able ta gi' doon there, he's no ken afeared a fire." The Scotsman answered. "It's bloody hot an' tha's no more ta be said aboot it!"
"Do you think there IS an entrance?"
"Maybe," Arianna answered. "But if there is, even if you ignore the heat, you'd still have to be able to fly to get to it."
She stared out across the island, towards the beacon shining in the distance. "So it looks like we'll be following the light."
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