"Baddies are Bad" (Hence the Name)
High atop the city of Vash Naroom, ghostly green light poured in from the windows of Orwin's chamber. Long shadows cast by hunched dark figures danced around the ancient observatory. The only sounds in the dead quiet of the sleeping forest were the rasping voices of its captors.
It had been nearly a dozen moons since Naroom had been taken. The dark twins and their allies had been mustering their strength. Setting in motion their twisted plans methodically, and with ruthless efficiency.
Warrada was pleased by the efforts of her cohorts. Nearly everything was in place. She peered around their makeshift headquarters, crudely fashioned from that old weakling Orwin’s pathetic chambers. Hrada slouched in a large throne-sized chair, enjoying the part of conquering despot immensely. He appeared unconcerned with the raging argument that Morag and Togoth were embroiled in only feet away. Their conflict was music to Warrada’s ears. She dismissed it and continued to pour over the map of the moonlands that Evu had uncovered in the great library. Evu was making progress in the library and she was confident that they would find what they were looking for: the tool they needed to bring the sniveling moonlands to its knees. Every aspect of their invasion was coming together.
"Silence your impudent tongue!" Morag snapped, finally having enough of Togath's boasting and accusations. With a stroke of his gauntleted arm he sent the whelp Togoth sprawling through the table in the middle of the room—the very table where Warrada was planning the invasion.
"Enough!" Warrada burst out. "Morag, go check on the prisoners and see if there is any word on those that escaped." She commanded dismissively.
Warrada’s tone grated in Morag’s ears. How I despise her, he thought. I would gladly rid myself of her and her moronic brother but my plans dictate that I play along a little while longer. The ancient specter shot her a glance that would have withered a lesser magi and swept from the room, whispering insults in a tongue that was long forgotten to all but him. Hrada couldn’t help but laugh at the exchange.
Turning her attention to the unconscious Togoth, Warrada shook her head and wondered how they were going conquer the moonlands with allies like this. She hated the fact that she needed to rely on weaklings like him and Morag. However, Togoth served her purpose: he was the only one that knew the whereabouts and number of the sleeper shadow magi, the forgotten recruits of the failed first invasion. She kicked the prone Togoth in the side. "Wake up you fool!"
Togoth stirred, groaning and shaking off the dementia. "Where is that fossil Morag? I am gonna?
"You are going to be silent and do exactly as I say." Warrada ordered, her tone even more demeaning than the one she had used to address Morag. "How many shadow magi have assembled, and how many more can we expect?"
Togoth continued to rub his hairless head and looked down for a moment in thought, still sitting in the wreckage of his collision with the table. Warrada crossed her arms impatiently. "WELL?!" Hrada chimed in, not wanting to miss an opportunity to reprimand a lackey.
"I?I am not sure really? Togoth mumbled. "…it depends how many still remain. The beacon spell I cast in the center of town will draw any that are still functioning to it. I suspect around twenty, give or ta?
"TWENTY?!" Hrada exclaimed in a more than disappointed fashion, abruptly sitting up. "We are going to invade every region of the moonlands with a mere twenty shadow magi?!"
"It will be enough, brother." Warrada purred. "They are only a fraction of the plan. I will explain it all to you once I talk to Evu. Numbers aren’t the way to bring down the Moonlands. The key to our victory can be held in the palm of your hand." A smile twisted her lips as she thought of all the knowledge that library would yield. Looking back at Togoth her mood suddenly changed. "Well? What are you doing down there?" She snapped. "Go and take count of the shadow magi that have arrived and see what news they bring."
Togoth scurried out the door without a look back. The smile returned to Warrada’s face. "We were born to rule, sis. Doesn’t it feel good?" Hrada asked reflectively as he returned to his lounging emperor posture.
"This is only the beginning, Hrada." Warrada replied, bending down to pick up the torn, ancient map of the moonlands. "We have a lot of work to do yet." Her ghastly green eyes narrowed to slits as she looked over the moonland map. Evil plots hatching and blossoming in her mind. "I am going to go check on Evu," She said with resolve. "I’ve got to make sure he hasn’t gotten lost again, the old fool." Warrada curled up the map and tossed it at her lounging brother.
"Wha?huh? Oh yeah, sure thing. I’m just going to?stay here and keep planning." Hrada trailed off, losing himself in thoughts of violence and damage.
It was deep into the night and the bleak horizon promised another dark day in the defeated forest. Warrada slipped from town and made the trip to the library. When they had first arrived in Vash Naroom, after the invasion, the path to the ancient library seemed to slip from her mind, like sands through an hourglass. The entire region seemed foreign and far off. Like it was trying to be forgotten, hiding from one who had forsaken it. As the days wore on and she spent more time in this place, she began to recall things about her old home, about the friends that had betrayed her and held her back. The sickening aliveness of the forest was slowly being strangled into submission and the brambles and thorny gray chaos of the core was becoming more and more present. This would be her home again, but better than before, with her and her brother ruling over the entire moonlands from the transformed land of their birth.
Soon Warrada reached the great tree, which served as a gate to the Great Library. To a passerby, it would appear as a simple, albeit unusually large, tree. But behind this tree was hidden the vast grove of the giant tomes of the Great Library. However, just knowing where the gate is only half the puzzle. To open the gate you must possess the most heavily guarded treasure in Naroom, the Great Library Key, of which there is only one. For years her thoughts were bent on this treasure, a treasure of knowledge for which she had yearned as far back as she could remember. What had not been given to her freely before, she now had taken by force and she intended to exploit it to the fullest. That would all come when their mission was complete, now was the time to push their advantage. She had left Evu in the Library Vault, an underground labyrinth containing countless ancient and powerful treasures. One in particular she had set him to find, a device of stifling power. She slinked across the glade, which, to her disgust, showed virtually no sign of the Core’s intrusion, coming finally to the vault door.
Warrada pushed against the ornate and ancient door that hung ajar. Light crashed over the dusty and scattered contents of the library vault as the door swung open. Warrada peered into the tomblike repository tentatively, fighting against an unseen force that seemed to push her away. Taking her first steps into this place emboldened her and she laughed victoriously at the sight of all the secrets and forgotten powers that lay before her. "The greatest treasures in all of Naroom, long you have eluded me, but now you will tell your tales." She said to herself assuringly. "Now where is that insane old historian?" The warlord waded into the vault, looking in wonder at all that was there. It was greater than she had imagined: case upon case, shelf upon shelf. It would take a hundred magi a hundred years to see all that this magnificent place had to show. The only obstacle being that it was possibly the most hidden of all the Eliwan legacies, and of course the fact that all the knowledge contained here was in a long lost and incredibly foreign script. After devoting her childhood to studying this writing she could only make out little bits of a limited number of words. Only two magi in the moonlands were capable of making any sense of this writing and one of them was in her service. Now if she could just find Evu in this labyrinth.
She could only see the near western wall of the vault, which trailed into shadow a hundred or so feet away. Some distance above, small openings in the ceiling allowed tiny bits of daylight to shine through in small shafts. She couldn’t make out any of the other walls; her mind reeled just thinking of the size of this place. Slowly she started picking her way through the vault, hall by hall, tunnel by tunnel. Vast stacks and cases of books went on and on, around every corner a cloaked figure would loom, great artifacts covered in shrouds. Her mind swam with thoughts of power, fueled by the secrets hidden here.
After what seemed like days she came to a hall that abruptly ended. She stood examining the bookcases at the hall’s end. A force, not unlike the one that forbade her from entering the vault initially, now seemed to push her to go further. But how? she wondered. It was obviously a dead end. I have no time for this. I must find Evu!
As Warrada turned to retrace her steps back through the hall, she felt a draft on her neck. She spun around and looked again at the wall of books. Taking a step toward it she set her hand upon the ancient dusty shelf, buckling beneath the weight of the books it had supported for centuries. Without a sound it began to swing open. Warrada took a step back, watching a passage open to a dimly lit room. Without a second thought, she walked through the unveiled passage into the mysterious place. A lone beam of daylight shot in from above, struggling to illuminate the spacious and dark room with little effect. Mountains of scrolls and notes were pushed to the sides of the room along with a makeshift desk of old books stacked, waist high, in the corner. The desk showed signs of long years of use, candles burned to stumps and an inkwell long since dried out.
Warrada looked to the center of the clearing to see a large framed piece of black glass, half covered by a tattered shroud. The frame was dark and twisted, made of some kind of bone; she rather liked it. She wanted to turn around and continue the search for that mumbling little fogy Evu, but even before she had left Naroom for the Core, she had wanted to get in here and see what was so great and powerful. See what it was that she was sheltered from all those years ago. "A little self indulgence never hurt" she reassured herself, feeling strangely drawn to the mirror.
After taking a few paces around the tall artifact, Warrada hastily pulled the shroud aside in a cloud of dust. Upon closer inspection, she noticed an inscription at the top of the mirror. Using what little knowledge of the ancient script she possessed, she recognized the first symbol as "gaze" or "behold" while the second symbol was unfamiliar, as was the third. The last one seemed to look familiar, and after a few moments of thought, she remembered it was the symbol for a number of things, all having to do with events not current. "Simple! Look within to see your future..."
Her eyes dropped to look into the glass. After a few moments she had seen nothing and, tired of waiting, her patience wore thin. As she took a step back, an image began to take shape. It was blurred and dim, more like looking through a window into a dense fog concealing a figure than looking into a true mirror. She stepped back up to the mirror, feeling compelled to reach up and touch the black plate of glass. After a long moment of hesitation, she reached out with her left hand and touched the glass. As she did so, a hand mirroring her own reached through the fog to meet hers. The fog pushed back to reveal the figure within the mirror.
Warrada was stunned as the identity of the magi before her fought through years of repression. A swirling storm of confusion and disgust raged within her when she finally realized that the reflection was her own, but she looked as she did long ago. Her reflection’s skin was fair and smooth, her hair a rich brown. The beauty of the image was wasted on the cold, hate-filled eyes of the bitter shadow magi. . Warrada features bore little similarity to the reflections, dark grey, lifeless looking skin and oily, envious green hair. Warrada saw only weakness in the reflection and deemed she had wasted enough time. As she turned to leave, she made eye contact with the reflection, stopping cold in her tracks. So sad and defeated, remorseful and sorry, for an instant, long lost feelings fought to surface within the hateful shadow magi. But Warrada had long since killed her ability to sympathize, and with a dismissive huff she turned her back on her old self, as she had on that dark night all those years ago.
"Oh, umm?th-there you are." The small and hunched figure of Evu peeked around the corner. "I, err?I found what we seek, well, yes, I found it." Evu cowered slightly as the brooding Warrada slinked by.
"I am shocked, you actually managed to find something. I’m equally shocked that you found what it was you were looking for. It is a good thing you did, you useless old dotard. Well, get the scroll, and follow me. It is time to put this miserable region out of its misery!"
Without so much as a backward glance, Warrada closed the bookcase behind her. The reflection stayed long enough to see the light fade and then vanished back into the fog, leaving the surface of the mirror a plain black.
What happens next? Read Part 4 "Storm Front"
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