Interlude: Twelve Years Ago….

Year 32 of the New Calendar – The Southern Masaan Range

 

An old man, a woman, and a twelve-foot-tall stone giant follow a ridgeline high in the mountains amidst gale-force winds and biting snow.  She stumbles and nearly slips down the slope to her death, but is caught by the old man, who plants his staff in the snow and uses it as an anchor to pull them both back to the path.

 

“We can’t go on like this, girl, you’re leading us to our doom!” he shouts.

 

“Just a little farther, there’s shelter!” she responds.

 

“How can you possibly know that?!?!  No one has ever lived up here!”

 

She smiles and pats him on the cheek with frostbitten hands and continues trudging ahead.

 

Another hour passes, and the two human travellers are obviously at the end of their strength when the woman sees some landmark and races behind some boulders in a rockfall with a squeal.  Sheltered by several huge stones is a cave entrance, largely protected from the elements.  The three rushed to enter, the giant on his hands and knees.

 

The shelter was such that, less than a dozen steps in, it was nearly impossible to tell that a storm raged outside.  The giant sat hunched on the floor and began working to light a fire from the detritus collected at the cave mouth while the older man wandered deeper into the cave, the top of his staff glowing softly to light his way  The natural stone walls gave way to perfectly flat planes of a smooth black material that was neither metal nor stone.  It was fitted together in strange, geometric patterns that were dizzying and unnatural.  The old man ran his frozen fingers over the wall and traced the perfect seams for a few meters before coming to a stop.

 

“You knew this was here,” he said quietly.  The woman looked up from where she was melting snow in a small pot over the sputtering fire.  The giant looked between the two curiously.  “I’d been wondering,” he continued, without turning, “why you’ve always had this infatuation with warpstone.  These walls…these walls are made with it, aren’t they?”  The woman and the giant shared a glance.

 

“Yes,” she said after a moment, “they are.”

 

“What’s next?” he asked, turning finally.  “We’ve lost our weapon.  We’ve lost Peruppi.  What’s next?  She was our shot.  It seems our war is over.”

 

The woman wiped away tears and shook her head, “No, my friend.  History rarely lets her champions rest.  There will be something.  Someone.  Somewhere.  We just have hide.  Wait.  Look for the next opportunity.”

 

The old man examined the strange stone wall again.  “There’s only one other thing I know of.  One other thing anyone knows of, made of this.  And you bring us to an entire cavern lined with the stuff in the spine of the world.  You seem to have a very deep affinity with all of this.  Who are you, Shara Tev?  You’re certainly not one of us….”

 

“Told ya,” rumbled the giant.  The woman bounced a small rock off his forehead with a “Hush, you.”

 

“Jacob,” she replied after a deep sigh,”there are some secrets I simply can’t…”

 

“Don’t tell me you can’t, woman!” he roared, the very fabric of reality warping around his person, “I am an Archmage of the Teribain School, holder of the key to the Vault of Dumar’tan, AND I WILL KNOW WITH WHOM I SPEAK!”

 

She sat in silence for a moment, gazing at the ground at his feet.  After a few moments, the old man deflated slightly, raised one bushy eyebrow and tapped his foot impatiently.

 

“As I was saying,” she continued softly, not meeting his eyes, “that there are some things I am simply constrained from explaining.  All I can say, unequivocally, is that I have a singular viewpoint on the Kisharans, where they came from, and how they got here, and I am supremely motivated to thwart their every desire.”

 

The old man huffed at that and turned back to stare into the darkness.

 

“What lies here, Shara?”

 

“Go take a look.  You’ll be struck breathless by what you see.”

 

The old man muttered and huffed again.  Then sighed, deeply and sadly.  

 

“I cannot,” he said, finally, “There’s a family of cave bears hibernating down there.”

 

The woman blinked, then smiled.  “Come have some tea, Jacob.”

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