We had all the cards, but somehow they didn't seem to tell us anything. We put them in the order we had found them in, or at least the order in which we should have found them. It was clear that the pictures led us from one to the next, and we had jumped ahead at some point and received the armorer's late.

Card Text Where we found it
1 of rods Only whole when one is over Given to us almost directly by Yazerin
7 of swords Seek the source find the cause Yazerin's statue
2 of cups The last is not the least Armorer
Knave of cups Tallest and shortest provide the range Well
7 of coins Staff of life rod of iron Brewer
2 of swords Atop the mountain comes the dawn Yorgi's tomb
Knave of coins Flag not the weary will conquer In handle of sword
3 of batons The first is always the nearest In small statue of knight
4 of cups Birds of a feather flock together Potter

We considered the words, ways to lay the cards out in patterns, deeper meanings, but we were lost. Miara suggested that, since we had the entire library more or less at our disposal, we should use it. Since these were tarot cards, but none of us knew much about them, she suggested we ask a monk to research some specific questions for us. We recruited a monk and asked these questions:

  • What do the four suits mean?
  • What order do the suits have?
  • What patterns using 7, 8, or 9 cards are commonly used and how are they interpreted?

As he hurried away on his mission, we saw the monks gathering at the dining hall, although it wasn't yet time for dinner. Gregor stopped and told us they were convening an emergency meeting, and we were invited, too.

That was all we needed. Being lost on the cards, we attended the meeting. We shouldn't have bothered. Gregor muttered and fumbled around for a while, then finally handed the meeting over to Scar, without anyone really being the wiser what we were there for.

Scar got things rolling a little faster, but he could only do so much. It took them five minutes to discuss and take a vote on reading the minutes of the last emergency meeting. Although I was curious what the last one had been held for, it was just as well they voted (narrowly) to skip that. It might have taken them the rest of the afternoon.

Then someone stood and motioned to cancel classes during the emergency. That touched off a long debate. Some believed they were impregnable, so why worry? Others believed they needed all hands ready to defend their beloved monastery, and prophecies tend to help those who help themselves. Aother group was quite loud about how the prophecy clearly put their fate in our hands, so why worry? I would have said that should give them a big reason to worry, but I kept my mouth shut.

Eventually they got around to holding a vote. It was a close one, but they actually decided to suspend classes. Miara was wriggling, exchanging whispered comments with Hy, and other comments with herself. Scar looked equally disgusted at the dais.

After the vote was taken, Miara looked relieved and said something about now maybe they would actually accomplish something. They managed to form a committee to take care of supplies rather quickly, to my surprise. They reasoned that since the monastery is impregnable, the one thing they have to fear is a siege. Then they formed a committee to take stock of who has what kind of useful skills: Norbert was the sole member of that one.

Up to that point, things were progressing. Slowly, but they were putting some sort of plan together at least. But then someone raised the question of peace discussions. Scar yelled out disbelievingly, "With orcs?!" But Gregor stated that they didn't wish to leave any avenue unexplored. They began drafting a resolution to discuss a peace treaty with the orcs. Scar, completely disgusted, stood up and left, and we slipped out as well.

Outside the hall, we asked him about food. He said we could last several months with care. He left to start organizing the guards. The monk we had set to researching for us appeared with the answers.

The order of the suits was: cups, swords, rods, pentacles. The cups represented the feminine, sowrds the masculine, rods power, and pentacles wealth. He showed us the patterns he'd found. We thanked him and started playing with the cards right there on the ground. Nothing he told us was of any help at all.

We reviewed all the clues, including the letter we had from him. It had a watermark of two patterns on it, which we hadn't taken notice of before. One was a pattern that looked rather random of 8 cards, the other a regular pattern of 7. In his letter, he was unclear as to whether there were 7 or 8 cards. We had 9.

We agreed quickly to discard the card from the potter: its appearance seemed completely random, its picture didn't fit in the pattern of discovery with the others, and its phrase was lettered differently so that it didn't truly match the others.

As we worked with the cards, suddenly something slammed to the ground from above near us. Startled, we looked up and saw a ball of rags. It began to wriggle, and we backed away a little. It had obviously been thrown here by the catapults far below, putting the lie to the impreganable "nothing can reach us here" assumption of the monks.

Jason and Miara immediately drew their swords, and several of us yelled for Scar: he needed to see this. Goldrim swung his maul at the rags, which now were jerking and rolling around quickly and randomly. He missed and struck a mighty blow to the flagstones at his feet.

José yelled, "run!" and the bundle sprouted legs. As Miara and Jason together swung their swords, the headless bundle ran around like a rabbit and shouted a phrase over and over again. Jason, Miara, and Hy all missed. The sight of the three of them, skilled warriors, flailing at a bouncing bundle of rags and missing completely nearly made me laugh, except that I began to understand what the thing was saying. Its head emerged from the rags. It was a snotling, and his message, blurted out over and over, was "Give us the crystal or you're all going to die!"

This couldn't last long, but they started moving towards the cards scattered on the ground, so I picked them all up quickly.

By the time I had finished, Ash had finally hit the creature, killing it. What to do with it was obvious: we soaked it in oil, set it on fire, and Jason threw it at the catapult far below. He missed it, but there was stuff and creatures all around, and the flaming ball caused some ruckus down below.

The monks streamed out of the dining hall and began lowering a young monk, another Yorgi, down to the ground with their peace treaty. We tried to dissuade them, but failed, so we had to simply watch them lower their comrade to his certain death below. What on earth made them believe they could negotiate a peace with an army of orcs? Pure hubris, with its usual results.

Below, Yorgi reached the ground and was quickly surrounded by various goblinoids. He handed the scroll to the nearest black orc, who ate it. The ground roiled, and Yorgi disappeared. For a moment, we saw nothing but a seething mass and heard nothing but goblinoid screams. They began streaming up the rope the horrified monks still held, and a small bloody patch on the ground was uncovered. The young man, really still a boy, had been sacrificed on the altar of his elder brothers' arrogance, with nothing to show for it.

The monks let go of the rope, but Miara and Jason sprang to catch it, and the rest of us grabbed on as well when the plan was explained with a few quick words. We waited until the first ones had nearly reached the top, then let go. Some of them bounced off of others, but it seemed we had killed about 20 of them. A very small number. And their tactics were obvious and effective. The several catapults they had could rain terror on us, and they could scramble up the side of the mountain to us.

Scar had placed only 2 guards at each tower, and the rest at the gate, where they could perform a holding action for a while.

José told Scar that we needed to get as many barrels of water up here as we could right now, since that's at the same level as the gate. When the gate is lost, we will also lose the water. With water and the food we had, we should be able to last in the fortified dining hall for quite some time. If it comes to that, though, we are doomed.

Chaos all around us, we dropped to the ground and ignored everything, and I took out the cards again. We again cast aside the 2 of cups, and then put aside the ace of rods as well. Reading the first word of each sentence on the cards, we finally saw a message: "Seek atop the tallest flagstaff". But, we had been there already. Still, it was all we had, and we returned.

Hy climbed up again, and then thought about the decorative globe at the top. He removed it, but it was solid and was nothing special in itself. The staff was also solid. This staff was not fifty years old, and I remembered the old, castoff staffs in the workroom below the mill. I shouted out: we needed to seek the tallest flagstaff from Yazerin's time.

Hy came back down, and by the time he joined us and we started for the workroom, I noticed Carmella was missing. I started running, fearing the worst, remembering Goldrim's vision of everything vanishing into a vortex of chaos if the crystals get too close together.

We arrived, breathless, and found Carmella there. The rock at her breast was redly glowing, and she was clutching the top section of a flagstaff, which was also glowing whitely. No vortex had yet appeared.

Trying to speak calmly, I said, "Remember that two crystals shouldn't be too near each other. One person cannot carry more than one. Please let go of the staff and let someone else take this crystal."

Carmella said she would only give it to me. I agreed, and then, as though reading my thoughts, she said I had to promise her I wouldn't give it to anyone else: I had to carry it myself.

I had no choice. I agreed, and I carefully took the crystal from the top of the flagpole. Hy and Miara exchanged some words while I looked at the thing. It was clear and had no color, and it held symbols within it. Knowing what they do to Carmella, I hid the thing away quickly.

José said thoughtfully, "You know, we could leave here with the rock. The orcs would follow us and that would save Eyrie." Miara argued against that course of action, and I had to agree with her. Us fleeing an army didn't sound like a great idea to me, and Miara pointed out that this was probably the best place we could hope for to fight an army from. To cement her words, she said she believed we were fated to fight here, and we must stay and do what we're supposed to.

That was almost enough to make me try to slip out by myself. But she was right, mostly. I had to believe in Yazerin, though I didn't want to. The orcs were after this crystal, and the others, and we had to keep them from getting any of them. I also had a feeling that this crystal might be important in defeating them here and now. It was surely no coincidence that the crystal of air was in this monastery so near the sky, awaiting the army of orcs.

But what to do? I am forbidden from using any sort of instrument other than my own body to cause harm to anyone. I have used the book, but that's pure magic, and the power comes only from my own mind and not from the book itself. It merely unlocks the power that must be in me somewhere. Magic is not forbidden to my order. Would using this crystal draw the magic from within me and thus be permitted? Or would it do things by itself, with me only along for the ride, and thus be a weapon in my hand? I didn't want to use it any case.

I could feel everyone's eyes on me, each silently wondering if I could and would wield the thing when necessary. I could offer no answer, wondering the same thing myself.

Ravenna, A Monk of the Biancan Order

Part the First:
Blood and Mud

Part the Second:
Murder and Mayhem

Part the Third:
Puzzles and Crystals

Part the Fourth:
Dwarves and Rocks

Part the Fifth:
Diplomacy and Daggers

Part the Sixth:
Crystal and Chaos

Part the Seventh:
Sheer Insanity

~ The End ~