Both my air elemental and the earth elemental it battled had lost a lot of substance by the time Carmella joined us. José threw one of his fireballs at the earth elemental, further reducing it. José started up another spell, so I waited, and told Carmella to attack the earth elemental as well. While José gestured within the air elemental, fire flew into the elemental battle.

After a few seconds, José again held a ball of fire in his hand, but he did not gesture me to move us forward. I guessed he meant the fireball for the mage inside and was waiting for the earth elemental to fail and clear the way.

A few seconds later, Carmella's fire elemental made one more attack and the earth elemental puffed into dust. She moved forward into the tunnel, and José gestured forward and we followed.

The tunnel wasn't lit, but we had plenty of light from Carmella. As we neared the stairs, a group of rocks rose up from nowhere and hit Carmella's fire elemental, but seemed to do little damage. I flew a little closer to José's air elemental, and tried to place as much of it as I could between me and the ground. I tried not to think of the mountain pressing in on me from all around.

We climbed the stairs for what seemed like forever, although I'm sure it was only a few seconds. Almost before seeing them, we shoved our way through a small group of orcs: the mage's bodyguards. They were startled and off-balance by our sudden appearance, and I summoned up a quick wind and blew them down the stairs. No point in leaving them behind us unhurt.

Just a few seconds later, we found the mage, at the end of the entire army marching up the stairs. He took a cue from us, and had ridden an earth elemental up the stairs. He barged through the first few ranks of orcs, then his elemental faded into the ground as I and the crystal I carried came too close to it. At the same time, Carmella's weakened fire elemental was extinguished, leaving me with one very weak one and the strong one that still carried José. José threw his fireball at the mage, and it did some damage to him and the orcs who surrounded him. The mage had obviously been readying another spell, but he lost track of it when he had to slap out smoldering ashes on his clothes.

José made some gestures that I interpreted as wanting out of the air elemental, so I commanded it to let him go. I sent the weak one into the orcs' ranks to cause as much damage and confusion as it could, and I sent the strong one to attack the first rank of orcs, and act as a shield between them and us. José started another spell, Carmella summoned another fire elemental, and I summoned up the blast of wind I had used at the top of the tower against the climbing goblins.

Carmella rode her elemental into the orcs and started lobbing fireballs all around her. I directed the wind at the orcs and the mage, to keep them from attacking us, and to press them up the stairs.

José told me to have the air elemental in front duck out of the way, and I did so. He threw another fireball at the mage, again causing some damage and distraction. José started another spell, and we continued advancing slowly up the stairs past the cavern as we pressed the orcs further up.

All at once, the mage spoke out to us in gutteral Imperial. "I am Razdog and I've come for the stone." At his words, three fire elementals popped into existance. I could see Carmella rubbing her hands in glee. I was sure she would work to take them over from him. The orc mage was very ugly, moreso than orcs usually are, and also very impressive. He was large and somewhat deformed by the chaos he wielded. I could see the future of Carmella and myself in his visage, and I shuddered, and vowed not to let the crystals do that to us. Although I was uncertain I could do anything to help Carmella, who had gladly given herself over to the thing.

José let the fireball he had conjured up dissipate: it would do no good against a mage inside a fire elemental. Carmella wheeled into battle, as did my two air elementals. The weak one vanished quickly, and I let my wind blast vanish into the air. I summoned another air elemental and sent it into battle. I could do little but watch, and hope our elementals could outlast the mage's. José rummaged around on the floor, and I saw him yank out some tongues from orcs' mouths. I looked away again quickly.

For perhaps half a minute, which felt like an eternity, we watched the battle. Towards the end, José started backing away very slowly, elbowing me along with him. Then all hell broke loose, and fire flooded up and down the stairwell. We hadn't moved quite far enough, and the fire washed over us, leaving us badly burnt and on the ground.

As the fire and ash swept away, all became quiet. The mage had disappereared entirely: apparently as he was about to lose, he set off a final strike, taking himself out and hoping to take us out as well. José scrambled back to his feet, but I stayed on my knees.

The three of us were still in the too-quiet stairwell, facing an entire army of orcs. What now?

I noticed a low moan swelling up the stairs, becoming louder and louder. It reverberated through the tunnel and cavern, up and down the stairs, getting louder all the time. We realized at nearly the same moment that it came from the voices of an army of distraught orcs.

José helped me up to my feet, and we stumbled as fast as we could back to the cavern. There, we found the bodies of Goldrim and Hy, both still alive, and we dragged them into the well alcove, where we hid.

The moan became a scream, and then all at once they were running down the stairs and through the tunnel. Later, we saw that the orcs already at the top and in the monastery had simply thrown themselves over the wall and to their deaths at the bottom of the cliff.

Finally, all was silent, except for the moans of the wounded. We had survived. We had even won, I thought. I looked at Carmella. Her eyes were shining redly, and I could see my own eyes casting shadows as well. Both the crystals also shone brightly.

Perhaps won was too strong a word. But we were alive.

José and I took a few moments and looked over all our wounds, quickly cleaning and bandaging what we could. José went upstairs to check out everyone in the monastery, and I reached into the mind of first Goldrim, then Hy, and healed them enough to bring them awake. Then the four of us returned to the monastery as well.

José had cared for the wounded he found up there: Ash, Miara, a few monks. Prestley had stayed with the monks and was uninjured. Jason Featherhand was dead, having fallen while protecting the monks from another earth elemental. The monastery was a mess. The orcs had ran through looting until the mage's death. Then they had dropped whatever they were carrying and jumped off the wall. Their bodies littered the ground below.

I healed everyone in our group and also cared for the monks. No one was paying too close attention, so I healed everyone quickly and claimed it was the "magic salve" (which I conveniently used up completely) that did the trick. Still, it kept me busy for a couple of days. The glowing eyes faded over the course of about a week. For a day, I had a constant breeze around me, and Carmella had small flames winking in and out around her. That first night, Carmella whispered to me in the room which needed no candles to be brightly lit and offered to take the crystal of air from me, so it wouldn't bother me so much. Her asking that bothered me far more, and I refused politely.

The others helped clean and fix whatever they could. I wasn't really much use for anything besides healing, but I carried odds and ends wherever they wanted me to. At some point, as I was bending over some injured person, the Roostmaster came over to me and said some vague prayer over my head.

Eventually, I ran out of tasks to keep my mind busy. What had I done? Had I completely broken my vows and used the crystal, or at least air and elemntals, as weapons to cause harm to others? Bianca hadn't taken my ability to heal. But then, she hadn't given it to me in the first place. I was not comfortable with what I had done, and who I was becoming. Could I still serve Bianca? Everyone else was busy, so I spent much of my time meditating and praying. But I still have no answers.

We buried Jason in the monks' catacombs and gave him a hero's funeral. There are only Prestley, Carmella, and myself left from our entertainer's troupe now. I suppose we are truly just one wandering group of adventurers now, led by Miara. I will miss Jason.

One evening, José gathered us all together and told us a story he, or rather a monk on his behalf, had found in the library.

A few years ago, a trade caravan was travelling along the road at the base of the mountain. The caravan was attacked by orcs, and the few survivors continued their way, looking for shelter. They reached a small farming village along the river. A rough stone wall protected the few stone buildings inside. The farmers, bringing in their animals for the night, welcomed the travellers. They also knew about the orcs marauding in the area. They all had dinner in the great hall, a circular stone building in the middle big enough to hold everyone. The village's matriarch, Mother Katarina, said a blessing over the food. As they ate, news was passed, but the villagers seemed not to know anything that had passed in the previous hundred years.

When dinner was finished, one of the village youths ran into the hall, saying there was someone at the gate. Everyone rushed out to see, wondering if the orcs were there. However, they saw a young dwarf, tired and bloody. He said his name was Gnarok and he had been travelling from the south for the past six days, paralleling the trade road but staying off it. He was attacked by orcs, whom he fought off. The villagers fed him, and he ate as though he had eaten nothing in the previous six days. While he ate, Mother Katarina told the story of the founding of the village by farmers who had been forced off their land by a greedy landlord. Other common tales were told as well, and the merchants told stories in their turn. When Gnarok finished his dinner, he told his story.

"I don't know what the stones are, only what I've heard from the others. We Dwarfs made them thousands of years ago, four of them, here in the Yetzin Valley. Some called them Doom Stones. I don't know why, or whose doom, or what they were for, because they say the records of those times are lost. But whatever they were made for, it can't have been a good thing, because them as made them decided to split them up so they could never be joined. Mayhap they were too powerful, too strong. But one went north, one stayed here, one was given to the Elves — who lost it," he spat on the floor, "and I don't know about the fourth.

"But the stones as went away know their way home. Years ago, some engineers brought one of the stones to Loremaster Hadrin. They'd had it from a human bandit, who'd had it off the Elves.

"Weeks back, Hadrin saw that another of the stones was coming back here, and he knew it was with the Bloodaxe Alliance. He'd been learning all he could about the stones, but if the old Dwarfs thought it was best that the stones be apart, then Hadrin wasn't going to say he knew better. Two in the valley was bad enough; three would be worse, and three stones held by Bloodaxe Orcs — Hadrin would stop that, or die trying.

"The leaders disagreed. They'd never studied the stones like Hadrin had. So Hadrin gave one stone to a mage he trusted, Yazerin, and took his books and his followers, and his son, and left. Even if the Orcs got the stones, he reckoned, without the learning he had, they'd not know how to use them.

"But the Orcs were cunning, and found him. He and his followers fought hard, but were beaten back into some caves, where the Orcs laid siege to them. So he sent out a messenger, his son, to find the mage and get his help. Because the stones must not fall to the Orcs."

He paused. "Before the messenger left, Hadrin told him that the books said there was a prophecy that only humans, Elves, and Dwarfs together could stop the Orcs getting the stones, and save the valley. That it was their destiny." There was a silence. He looked around awkwardly, and after a moment said, "The messenger is me. Gnarok, son of Hadrin. I ask your protection and help in rescuing the stones from Chaos."

He was silent again. The silence persisted. Finally Mother Katarina rose." We are farmers," she said, "but we pledge you our help. Tomorrow, who will go north with Gnarok?"

A few villagers and merchants agreed to accompany Gnarok, and they all slept for the night. The next morning, the merchants awoke to sunlight in the very old ruins of a village. They reached the monastery later that day, where they told this story to the monks, who wrote it up and placed it in their library. The merchants learned from the monks that orcs had attacked and destroyed the village a hundred years ago, before Yazerin had arrived to build the monastery.

Just more lore to tie us to the damned crystals. Doomstones. Of course, we had found Hadrin in his cave, where the orcs had killed him. We had found Gnarok's body, and taken what he carried. Then Yazerin had appeared to us in the fire and urged us to go to Eyrie. Once here, everything fell into place. I am certain of only one thing:

We are pawns.

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 ~