Warrada sat within her Nightmare Construct, high atop one of the massive eastern summits of the Kybar’s Teeth range. The air was crystal clear, without a cloud in sight. Below her spread the vast expanse of the swamplands. In the far distance, seen only as a glimmering line on the horizon, lay the ocean.
Her gaze settled on the steamy swamps which began at the base of her mountain perch. Hundreds of mountain springs and melts flowed down into the murky region of Bograth, contributing to its myriad marshes and treacherous bogs. The perfect place to begin my domination of the Moonlands, Warrada thought to herself. She knew that Rayje was assembling the armies of every region to march against her. She smiled as she beheld the dangerous sprawl of the swamp. There, the armies would be at a severe disadvantage as they tried to slog their way through the miles and miles of clinging mud and lethal swamp creatures. Her Nightmare Construct would hardly be bothered at all.
She urged the great construct forward, beginning her descent to her chosen staging ground—the launching point for the greatest conquest ever known to the Moonlands! There she would decimate the armies of the regions, draining their energies as they came with her grasp and growing stronger and stronger as her enemies fell before her.
The Bograthians would have to be dealt with first, of course. But she couldn’t imagine them putting together much of a fight. On the whole, they were sloppy and dim-witted, and their army was poorly organized at best. Warrada giggled in glee as she imagined the surprise on their ugly faces as she rampaged her way through their homes, snatching them from their slimy beds and draining their energy. She would leave a trail of withered swamp-dwellers behind, fodder for the beasts of the swamps, and warning to those who might think to stop her.
Rayje and Sinder stood at the riverbank and watched as the cloaked figure approached them from the west. The figure wore tattered robes which fluttered wildly as he walked, although there was not a breath of wind in the river valley on this hot afternoon. A cloud of dust rose in his wake, although he walked through tall grass that was rich and green.
"Who is that?" asked Sinder, eyeing the newcomer with suspicion.
Rayje considered the man carefully, taking in the details of his appearance, as well as feeling the great aura of his power. "Some one of great import, I think." Rayje glanced toward his apprentice. "But I don’t think he represents a threat. Can you sense his energy?"
Sinder closed his eyes and reached out with his own energy, in the manner that Rayje had been teaching him. Everywhere about him he felt the trickle and hum of energy in the verdant life of the valley. Extending his energy further, he came in contact with the approaching stranger. Suddenly he felt as if he had entered a blazing hot desert. His throat became parched, his skin abraded by unseen sands. He withdrew his energy swiftly, reeling in the heady backlash of the energy flux that followed. Rayje reached out a strong hand to steady him.
"Easy, Sinder. Remember what I told you…bring the energy back in as slowly as you extend it." Sinder nodded, his head still spinning. He looked back at Rayje and asked in a hoarse voice, "I felt enormous power. Like? Sinder searched for the right words to describe what he had felt. "Like a vast desert during a sandstorm. So much raw natural power!"
Rayje nodded. "Quite perceptive. You are getting better at this."
Sinder was pleased with the praise, but also worried about the awesome energy potential he had sensed in the stranger. He looked up to see that the man was almost upon them.
Rayje lifted a hand in greeting. The stranger responded in kind, halted about four paces away and lifted the cowl of his sand-colored robes. Now that he was closer, Sinder could see how his form wavered and shimmered in the sunlight, like a ghost mirage caused by blistering heat. The man looked back at them through eyes that were the blazing blue of the clearest skies, set within a deeply tanned and weather face. His head bore no trace of hair, instead it displayed the vivid whorls of scales that were typical of the d’Reshi.
Sinder raised his eyebrows in surprise. The d’Reshi were a notoriously isolated people, who seldom strayed from the borders of their region. They kept to themselves and were rarely involved in global matters. For a d’Reshi to appear in this lush, wet river valley, his motive must be very strong indeed.
"Rayje," the stranger said, nodding his head in their direction, his voice cool and rasping like the whisper of sand over silk.
Rayje stared back coolly. "I am Rayje. Have we met, stranger?"
The man did not reply directly. Instead, he shook his head and said, "Still the spitting image of Agram, after all these years?
"What!?" cried Sinder, confused and outraged. Rayje’s steely grip on his shoulder silenced him.
"What do you know of such things?" Rayje asked, his voice lowering to a growl. "No one alive should remember such a fact." Sinder opened his mouth to question again, but Rayje squeezed his shoulder even tighter. "I ask again, do I know you?"
"In a manner of speaking, yes, although it has been more than three thousand years now." The d’Reshi’s figure blurred and reformed, bearing a totally new face this time…a face Rayje did indeed recognize.
"Councilor Durresh!" Rayje exclaimed in surprise. "But…how?" Rayje trailed off as the man raised a hand to forestall his questions.
"Easy, friend. It is good to see someone from the old days. I am glad to see you have recovered from your long sleep." Now the voice had changed as well, becoming much deeper and more authoritative.
Rayje was silent, his mouth still hanging open in surprise. Sinder was surprised as well, he had never seen Rayje speechless.
The d’Reshi man altered his appearance again, shimmering back to the face which had originally presented itself to them. He spoke with his original voice, "You should call me Korremar, for that is who I am." The d’Reshi motioned toward a grouping of flat rocks that stood nearby. "Come, let us rest and I will tell you my story."
They followed Korremar to the rocks and took seats. Rayje turned to the newcomer and said, "I do not remember the early years. I slept through the exodus and did not awaken for many years afterward. Tell me what you know," his voice had become soft, with a vulnerable edge to it that Sinder had never heard before.
"Well, after the people settled here on the Moon, and the inner orbits never came back from the core, the councilors that were left had to get on with their lives."
"Inner…orbits?" questioned Sinder.
Korremar turned to Sinder, "Ah, yes…the inner orbits were the high councilors who traveled to the core to engage the Dream Barrier." Sinder’s eyebrows rose even more, but Rayje belayed his further questions with a wave of his hand.
Rayje turned to Korremar and asked, "Who is speaking to us? Durresh or Korremar?"
The man shrugged, "Both, I suppose. You see, after a while, when it became apparent that no one was coming back from the core—we all assumed something had gone terribly wrong—and it also became apparent that the Invaders were not going to follow us to the moon—well, we all sort of went our separate ways. I, er, Durresh, that is, went to settle in the desert region I had designed. Eventually, the original settlers passed away and I was one of the last left. I loved my people, the children of the desert who had come to live within its welcoming dunes, and I hated the prospect of leaving them behind, unprotected from the unknown threat that looms over all our heads." Korremar, pointed up into the sky, where the pale crescent of El was just rising on the eastern horizon. Rayje nodded grimly, as if he understood. Sinder had no such luxury…he was very confused.
Korremar continued, "Well, I found a way to turn my magining energies in on myself—using some of the unique energies collected by the desert itself. Instead of passing on like my peers, I was able to sort of ‘unmagine?myself, spreading my energy out through the sand. In this way, I have been able to watch over my people for the past 3000 years. Now and then, in times of crisis, I have been able to borrow the body of one of my children, to walk and talk among my people once more, to bring the full force of the desert’s power to bear to end whatever troubles are facing us."
Sinder’s eyes were huge now. "You mean…you’re a ghost of some kind?"
Rayje frowned at his apprentice, but did not scold him. Instead, he listened intently to the d’Reshi’s reply. "No, no. I’m not a ghost, young man. There are no such things as ghosts! I’m still alive, you see. I’ve just traded my old original body for that of the whole desert." Korremar turned back to Rayje, "Furthermore, the power of the sands has grown many times stronger since I originally created it—now I can do some pretty amazing things, but only when it is absolutely necessary. Using the desert’s energy depletes me and I must sleep for a very long time afterward."
Rayje nodded, "I see. This is…was…very clever of you, Councilor. I wish that others had thought to do the same. This explains why no one has ever successfully invaded the great desert for all these long years."
Korremar nodded, "Indeed it does. I have manifested myself within an avatar several times, each time holding some threat at bay, and then I have rested for many many years afterward." He sighed deeply, his shoulders sagging.
"This time, however, it has been different. The threat is…vague, but very disturbing. I found Korremar and asked him to accept me way back when we all first felt the stirrings from the core. Soon thereafter, Agram launched his Shadow Geysers, and I stayed on guard, waiting for him to try to erupt one within the desert itself. Then the alien boy, Tony Jones, managed to stop him before he could do any real damage. And yet, I still felt a threat. And so, Korremar and I became a ‘Shadow Magi’—it was an easy trick to use the desert’s mirage powers to convince the other Shadow Magi of my corruption. Together, we infiltrated their midst and sought to discover where the threat was coming from. Now, I have managed to capture several of the more prominent Shadow Magi, but still have never discovered the true nature of the threat. I feel it still, growing stronger. When I learned that you had awakened, I decided I must seek you out to see if you might know the nature of this threat we are facing."
Sinder was fascinated. Here he was, facing the "ghost"—he didn’t care whether the d’Reshi denied or not—of one of the original Eliwan settlers! Just wait ‘till he told the boys back home! He looked over at Rayje, who was leaning forward to ask another question of their visitor.
"And you have learned nothing from the captive Shadow magi?"
Korremar shook his head. "When Agram was defeated, they fell into petty schemes of ruling the Moonlands themselves, but they are mostly harmless. I have them in safe-keeping. The Dark Twins have eluded me, however, and I grow suspicious that they are the source of the real threat."
Rayje nodded. "You are right, old friend. The Twins have turned out to be far more of a threat than anyone could have guessed. They have taken the Great Library at Vash Naroom and plundered its secrets. Rayje paused to wipe the sweat from his brow. "The Naroomi have successfully retaken the city, and forced the Dark Twins to flee. They gave up without too much of a fight, however, and I suspect they had already found what they were seeking within the Great Library. I greatly fear what they may have discovered there."
Korremar nodded, rubbing his chin with his hand the way Rayje remembered Durresh doing during the long sessions at council back in lost Daer Garoon. "Yes—I can see why. Old Narrom stored some of our people’s most powerful knowledge within that place. In the wrong hands, it could be deadly indeed." Korremar suddenly looked to Rayje, alarm in his eyes, "Do you know if the other repositories have been plundered?"
Rayje shook his head. "Well, you probably already know that the Orotheans discovered the Vault of Knowledge a long while back." Korremar nodded, having seen his own people using the old arts of relic construction. Rayje continued, "But I do not believe the others have been discovered. So far as I have been able to learn, their locations remain secret."
Korremar sighed, "Well, that’s something to be thankful for, I guess. And what of the Dreamkeeper, and the Guardians we set to watch the Nodes?"
Sinder had given up trying to follow the conversation. It was all going way over his head, which was beginning to hurt. Rayje shook his head and replied, "I have heard nothing from the Dream Plane. It remains closed to me, other than to invoke my construct and a few other creatures."
"I wonder…if the Dreamkeeper is still there after all this time. Poor Dathka—stuck in that place!" Korremar looked at Rayje. "I had hoped that you, being of the Dream Plane yourself? His words trailed off as he noticed Rayje stiffen. He hastened to add, "Oh no, my friend, I did not mean to offend. I?
Rayje held up a hand. "It’s…alright. It’s just that…well, all of that was a long time ago." His expression was a mystery to Sinder. Did this old ghost just say that Rayje was from the Dream Plane? Sinder asked himself, having given up on asking anybody else. As he suspected, he didn’t receive an answer. Maybe I hit my head back in Paradwyn and I’m just dreaming all of this!
Korremar was talking once more. "Have you decided on how to handle the Dark Twins?"
"Sinder and I," Rayje nodded to his apprentice, whose eyes had begun to glaze over, "have been running around trying to put an end to all the petty inter-regional bickering and get everyone focused on the threat of the Dark Twins. The problem is that we need to know where they are planning to go next. I have long suspected that they would flee to the Teeth first, but I cannot be sure. If we could discover their plans, we can begin rallying everyone to meet them on the same ground!"
Korremar stood, and cast his eyes about their surroundings. His gaze landed on a large sandbar in the river. "Ah, yes," he said. "I think that is where I may be able to help."
The Nightmare Construct stepped into the first of the endless bogs that lay stretched out before it. Its armored feet sank heavily into the soft muck, but its progress was not hindered.
Within its fearsome head, Warrada sat and contemplated the terrain. Seeing the beginnings of the Swamp Forest, whose twisted trees sheltered the withered denizens of Bograth, she smiled and began to giggle again. It felt good to laugh, she hadn’t laughed so much in her entire life! Gleefully, she turned the construct toward the forest and set forth in search of her next victims.
Her eerie laughter echoed across the sullen landscape of the bog, fading into the distance as the Nightmare Construct trudged its way toward its next feeding.
Who is the Dreamkeeper?
What happens next? Read Part 3 "And More Revelations"
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