Call to Orders (Part 1)
Location: Audience Hall, Stormholm Caer, Harkania March, Cymeria
Timeline: Mid-November 3550
As often happened with a Mage's life, Song's plans did not exactly work according to...well...plan. Soon after she and her new Sentinel, Aramil Moonshadow, had entered the hold at Felonwood for their meal, a storm had blown up. It had raged strongly throughout the night leaving them unable to travel. By morning, the skies had cleared, so they set off for Stormholm Caer, only to be waylaid by a Theurgy courier with a missive demanding they return to Sanctuary at Mt. Cysegr immediately for a new assignment. If Song were the suspicious type, she would think the Guild Mistress had employed a Cymry to send the storm their way.
Song and Aramil had arrived as ordered but then been left to their own devices for several days. The benefit to the delay was that Song and Aramil had had the time to get to know one another a little better and practice their swordsmanship.
When they had finally been ushered into the Mistress's chambers, they were told that they were being assigned as liaisons to House Stormdanovich, given letters of introduction and orders to report to the High Lord forthwith. Song had stopped herself from pointing out with some asperity that she had actually been on her way to Stormholm Caer when summoned to Sanctuary. She had contented herself with an eye roll when the Mistress turned her back to seal the letters they were to carry with them.
With the delays, it was nearly mid-November when Song and Aramil finally found themselves on approach to the entrance to Stormholm Caer. The trail had allowed them glimpses of the massive keep where it perched on top of the holm. The sight of the twin waterfalls bursting from the holm just beneath the keep never ceased to thrill Song. If she were willing to admit the truth, the thought of seeing Gero again gave her something of a thrill as well.
Song reined in her mare just before the bend that heralded the final ascent to the cavern entrance to the tunnels. Twisting around in the saddle, she fished the letter of business out of her saddlebag and offered Aramil a bright smile, "I hope you are not claustrophobic. The ascent through the tunnels can be quite unsettling for some."
The delay and detour did not surprise Aramil. The Theurgy often worked in mysterious ways. It was fortuitous, though, in that they had the time to become acquainted. More so than a few days on the road would afford. If he was to be her Sentinel, it was better to do so in a place of safety and serenity.
When they received their assignment, it was all Aramil could do to keep himself from laughing at the irony. Especially when Song rolled her eyes. Ah well, the Theurgy was a place of pomp and ceremony. A few weeks of detour was worth it to get the ritual in. Right?
The approach to Stormholm Caer impressed the hybrid. He couldn't help but stare, letting his mount lead. He tore his eyes away when Song pulled up, doing the same aside her. Aramil leaned forward on his steed and shook his head. "As long as we are not climbing through minuscule gaps between boulders I should be fine." He gently stroked his horse's withers and added, "Will we be hitching our mounts below, or above?"
"No, we ride. The cavern trails to the keep have been steadily improved over the centuries. They are well lit by moonglobes and fire troughs although the unwary can still become lost. Some of the trails are lit simply to mislead would-be enemies," Song explained the cavern system to Aramil. She nodded to the guards who had stepped from within the massive stone entrance. "There are more guards, of course, but the system is easily defensible and the only public access to Stormholm Caer. It is also well-warded against the Shadowed One and his minions. Few people know the other ways in and out of the keep."
Aramil nodded and gazed into the opening. "Very well defended then." Though his face took on a look of concern, "Then again, it is only one entrance for an enemy to blockade." His eyes turned to Song for a moment, "Most sieges aren't won by invasion, rather by starvation."
"There are unknown routes in and out and, while it might be exhausting to the High Lord, he can move people through portals. Not the most pleasant of experiences and wearing on the Cymry, but it can be done in small increments," Song said as they were gestured into the passages by the guard who handed the letter back as they passed. "And, you forget Harkanus Gaer stands between an enemy of any force and this keep." Considering the massive fort that guarded the road to the Highlands and the vast wilderness that surrounded it, she had a hard time imagining an enemy of any size making it this far. Then, there was the Thunder Lord's magic. Trapping him in the fastness of his keep would, in her opinion, be a very bad mistake.
Aramil inclined his head with the answer to his concern. He was the newbie here, and surely the High Lord would have such a contingency plan in place. He felt a little foolish in expressing it and fell silent as they began the journey through the caverns. His head swiveled from side to side, in an effort to remember each passageway and their journey therein. At last, he queried, "Is there just the one path in, or do multiple routes reach the keep?"
Song shrugged, "I have heard rumors that these caverns and passages encompass all of the three great peaks surrounding Stormholm, clear to the Throne of Ages. The truth of the matter is that I do not know for certain. I have only been in and out through the one passageway."
Aramil made a low whistle. "If that's the case, it will take a lifetime to map," he commented. Idly, he considered an enemy becoming hopelessly lost in the complex, a virtual and literal prison. He fell silent again, partially because the echoes of his voice unnerved him slightly, but also to take in the surrounds while they traversed the approach.
"The cavern maze has certainly been an effective barrier for the residents of Stormholm Caer," Song agreed. Bringing her Stygian desert-bred mare to a stop next to Aramil's horse, she pointed upward toward an arched opening. Moonglobes lit the area, so it was easy to see that the archway had been shaped by human hands. Carved into the dressed stone that lined the arch were runes. "The runes are ancient. The High Lord once told me that some of the arcane texts say these arches and carvings were here long before Stormholm was constructed on the holm over two-thousand years ago." They were going to be living within the keep, and she always enjoyed sharing knowledge.
The hybrid craned his neck to gaze up into the hollow where Song pointed. He was appropriately impressed. Two thousand years? "Has anyone deciphered them?" He certainly wasn't a linguist and wouldn't be able to do so himself, but perhaps someone from the Theurgy could look into it... if they hadn't already, of course.
"Studies have been made, but to date, none of the really ancient runes have been deciphered. The more recent ones are a form of ancient Heniaith and govern the wards that protect this place. Trying to decipher them results in confusion and disorientation. It doesn't serve to gaze at them too long." Song gigged her horse with her heels to quicken her pace.
The passage opened into a huge cavern that had been turned into an indoor riding arena and the place where larger parties could muster before riding out of Stormholm Caer. The courtyard entrance to the area had been carved out and widened to allow fresh air and light in. At the rear of the main arena were a smaller paddock and the entrance to the massive cavern system that housed the stables, barns, storage areas and much more. A stable lad appeared as they dismounted to take their horses. Song tugged her saddlebags and the scabbards holding her butterfly swords free of the saddle. Settling the scabbards on her back, she stepped aside to wait for Aramil. Once he had his gear, Song led the way out to the keep's main courtyard. She indicated another massive wall that lay on the far side of the courtyard, "Stormholm Garrison. There is a portal in the Guard House tower, but it is thoroughly trapped and warded. We should ask for the key in case we need to move from here quickly. I know of two other portals that I have access to within the Theurgy - one is within Caer Arcanus, the other is at Sanctuary."
Aramil hopped off his steed in turn, grabbing first the scabbard what held his longsword. He clipped it to his belt and, as a sign of respect to the High Lord, peace-tied it with a length of ribbon. He then retrieved a satchel from behind the saddle and systematically rummaged through his saddlebags to retrieve some specific items. Primarily what would spoil or were particularly valuable to him. That done, he donned the bag, the strap going from left shoulder to right hip.
He fell in step behind Song and strayed his eyes to the garrison she pointed out. "It is good to know we have access to the Theurgy in an emergency," he commented. He had seen the Sanctuary portal. Well, at least the room what contained it. The Theurgy tended to keep it inaccessible to all but Master-level mages. He, himself, had only just attained Journeyman. Part of that promotion came some rather abbreviated portal orientation. Enough for him to know about its existence and location, but not the key.
Song led them through the great main entrance and down a wide corridor. Most of the Guard and Morrighan on duty recognized her and did not challenge their progress. Song and Aramil were only brought to a stop upon reaching the audience chamber. Here, they were stopped by an attendant in the outer chamber. Song provided her letters from the Mistress of the Theurgy which was, in turn, handed to the Herald. All that remained was to wait and see when they would be admitted.