Written By Thomas Marshbanks and Spencer McGhin
“Safe Travel and Safe Paths, I walk the road alone.
I go forward and step soundly into the unknown.”
The three Wayfarers took their seats around the great wooden table that occupied most of the stone chamber that was commonly referred to as the Castra D’Fortis. Sochari Ri’mor, Saezel Zvanturi and Mirelyn Kainn each planted their staves into the small holes that had been bored into the oaken floor just akin to their seats for precisely this purpose; the uneven edges of the great round table made for poor support. A great fire crackled and spit in the huge hearth that occupied the western wall. Coffee boiled in a pot while various roots and vegetables simmered in pans strewn about the floor of the cooking pit. Bottles of liquid in every hue of the rainbow lined shelves that were likewise occupied by curious knick-knacks and objects that could most certainly serve no other purpose than to please the eye. The shelves of curios gave way to even larger beams, which supported texts of all shapes and sizes. Tomes with titles like, Archibald Endeavron’s Explorer’s Guide to Memora, A Brief History of Temporal Occurrences, The Philosophy of Qi of Yuan Xian, and Fritz’s Guide to the Low Fugue, dominated the northern and southern walls and permeated the air with the smell of aging parchment and animal hide. A slumbering dog turned over so that his back now faced the roaring blaze. He rested atop a vast and intricately woven rug, which had seen its fair share of feet as well as its fair share of napping canines. Student servants came in and out intermittently, tending to the cooking, checking on the levels of wine in cups, or simply to scratch the chin of Cerberus, the great hairy thing that occupied what was surely the warmest spot in the whole room. The name Cerberus was a prank that the students who had found him played on Grandmaster Sochari, as once he had heard a group of students located a Cerberus this far into the Fugue, he had responded in kind and rallied the Inner Sanctum to meet this new threat. What actually burst through the front door was what was currently snoring very loudly in front of the old hearth, a large dog of some mutt breed.
A few moments later, the other members of the Wayfarer elite entered the room and took their seats at the table, being Zephyr Tar’El, Axiom Darrow and Yrkoon Yildiz. A servant quickly approached and provided each of the new arrivals with a full goblet of some potent libation and a small pewter plate to use at the impending feast. There was one chair left empty, though, and each occupant, upon entering the room, had given it at least a forlorn glance if not some other gesture of condolence. This was the chair of the late Al’Hazred Tar’El, the master Nightmare Walker whose life was taken at the hands of the bastard Anton Barr, or who was more commonly known as Black Anton. A man of some repute, Anton Barr was personal Wayfarer to none other than the Countess Carzen herself. He was later seduced by the powers of the Quelling Tree and its agent, a man known simply as Philippe. History contains many, albeit conflicting, accounts of just how this came to pass, but suffice to say that Anton now has a new master and serves him in some dark errand.
As everyone finally got settled in, Sochari stood up in his chair and tapped the ground three times with the butt of his staff, signaling to all that the gathering of the Inner Sanctum had come to order.
“Thank you all for joining me on such short notice,” said the Grandmaster in a voice that the others marked as more frail than was usual for the old Elderkin. “There is no small amount of business that needs our immediate attention and with my memory being what it is, I’ve seen fit to employ the assistance of Master Zvanturi and Mistress Kainn in helping me to address these matters.” “In fact, I would like to take a moment and recognize the efforts of these two as of late.” “They have been indispensible in continuing the day to day operations of the Order and for that they have my eternal gratitude.”
The two stood to take their obligatory applause and sat back down, their attention rapt on the man they had called Master for all these many years.
At this, Axiom pushed out his chair and stood up, placing his wrapped hands on the table and leaning over, interjected, “Enough with the pleasantries Sochari, what in the Abyss happened to Haz?” “And don’t give us any of that ‘We’re still looking into it’ Org spit either.”
Yrkoon leaned back in his chair and placed his hands behind his head, “That’s quite enough, Axiom.” “We all want to know about Haz, so let us cross that proverbial bridge when we come to it.”
Axiom looked around the room, searching for a sympathetic eye yet could find none. They were all concerned about the Master Dreamwalker, yet no one seemed able to fully accept that he was no longer of the Primal. He pushed his chair back out and slunk down, a deep scowl on his lined face.
Sochari continued, “Now as I was saying, Axiom, there is much to discuss and little time in which to do it.” I’ve outlined an agenda for today that will leave plenty of time to discuss and honor Master Tar’El.”
There was a knock on the door followed by an audible creak as the great oaken doors to the chamber were pushed open and three students entered, bearing large trays of all manner of victuals. They hurried in quietly and sat them down in the middle of the large meeting table. Circling the party, they then topped off cups and left the room.
“I will let Saezel begin and then he may pass it off to whomever he wishes when he is ready.”
Saezel nodded and stood up. He walked over to the fireplace, resting his right arm on the great mantle and began, “Greetings everyone, I wish I could say it was a pleasure to see you all,” turning his head slowly to meet Axiom’s cold stare. “Let us get right down to it, shall we? For those that have been paying attention, we have had quite the influx of new students and of those, many show great promise and inherent talents. We have come to discover that one of them even possesses Haz’s staff, and was there at the time of his death…but more on her later. There is to be an advancement ceremony scheduled for early Darkhollow wherein we shall promote current Gradus and induct many more. Mirelyn, I trust you will be able to instruct those who are new to the Order?”
Mirelyn simply nodded her head and looked on, waiting on what Saezel had to say next.
“And to our next order of business, some weeks ago I sent word to some of our current Gradus to join us here, at this gathering. They are waiting in the other room. Sohcari asked that they be here as he has something exceedingly important he wishes to relay to us all and that it would affect not only those of the Inner Sanctum, but those new to the Order as well.”
The doors opened and a great, ethereal wind rushed in, coming from everywhere and nowhere. One by one they entered, each accompanied by one of the student-servants. First came Teyacapan, bearing the staff of the late Al’Hazred Tar’El, its candle still glowing, and around which the veil between the Dream and the Primal seemed to break down. Xsawah or no, a person of any race would call her beautiful as she stepped with a deadly grace into the meeting hall. Teyacapan had notably planned for the evening, her frame adorned with the rare furs and ceremonial armors reserved for only the most hallowed ceremonies. She held her head aloft with all the pride of her people, looking straight ahead and acknowledging no one. She came to a stop a few paces in and leveled her gaze, looking through everyone in the room. Saezel made a small beckoning motion with his hand and Teya nodded. She resumed her huntress’s stride and came to stand next to the Master Dreamwalker, the picture of composure and silent primal elegance.
She was followed by the thunderous steps of the Entgrown called Cedar. He lumbered across the threshold, head down, supported by his great gnarled staff. As he entered the chamber, he brought it to a rest and looked up at those sat around the table, his visage a combination of relief peppered with a longing sorrow. His slow gaze finally found the attention of Grandmaster Sochari, who, in meeting it, only gave the slightest of nods. Cedar once more placed his staff out in front him and, like the rustle of a great wood before a storm, continued in his gait towards the Grandmaster’s seat.
The otherworldly wind began to carry with it the dancing and melodious sound of some piped instrument. Rising in a crescendo of sonorous beauty and then down to a soft pianissimo, the goggled head of a Crowned peaked around the corner of the doors that made up the entry and egress to the meeting hall.
In a voice that was perhaps too loud for the pomp of the occasion, the head inquired, “Is this it then? Sochari is that you?” as the man placed his hand above his furrowed brow and leaned in further to get a better look at the crowd.
“Excuse me! I don’t think pushing me will do any good. I can make my own way, thank you.”
The man simply known as Chenny stepped into the threshold, straightened his coat, dusted himself off, grabbed the absurd maul that had been leaning just outside the door and began to make his way into the hall. He stopped as he entered the room and looking up, turned in a slow circle, obviously mystified by what he was seeing.
“Wooooowwww. We should have meetings here more often Grandmaster! So this is where all the Inner Sanctum Masters relax? No more casual meetings in the deep fugue right?!" announced Chenny.
Sochari shook his head slightly, which would have perhaps offended Chenny, had it not been followed by a mirthful grin. He walked to the back of the room and leaned against the great hearth of the Castra D’Fortis, its flickering flames playing off the lenses of his Arcanist’s goggles.
Chenny felt the sudden chill of fear creep up his spine as he heard the startled cry of a student whose origin was the hallway from which he had just come. Leaping into the frame of the doorway and coming to a low crouch was the outline of a small, cowled Moonsworn.
Taking out his flute, once again, Chenny mused, “Ah yes, that must be Moonshadow. She does know how to make an entrance. Too bad you often don’t realize it until it’s too late.”
At this he let out a playful laugh and began tuning his flute. Moonshadow rose to her feet and stalked across the stone floor, through the entry way and into the meeting room. She scanned the room from under her cowl, her nostrils flaring, marking any new smells and those familiar to her. She raised her hands to her hood and pulled it slowly down, revealing the piercing eyes that betrayed her as a Moonsworn.
Crossing something out on a piece of parchment, Saezel announced, “That’s it then. Everyone’s accounted for. Please get comfortable all. As I told the others, there is much to discuss and little time in which to do it.”
Saezel took his seat next to Mirelyn and the others and then began, “Now that the others have joined us, our most important order of business…the future of the Order.”
At this, Sochari slowly rose as Saezel once again took his seat, looked over those of the Inner Sanctum, bowed his head and in a low, serious tone said, “My students, it has been my great pleasure to be your master all these many years but like the great guidewinds of the Fugue, all things must change their direction. Saezel. Mirelyn. Axiom. Yrkoon. A time of great transition is upon us. We must see to it that we let ourselves be guided by fate and live on the path of Zae'Zurel. As of late my visions have become much more frequent.
Sochari looked towards the lower segment of his staff. His grip tightened as a column of ice began to creep up the twisting spire, until finally frozen blue and purple crystals engulfed the entirety of the focus.
Saezel rose quickly to his feet as Mirelyn phased back towards the blazing hearth.
"Damn... Not this again, shouted the young Zeph'yr, "I'm out!"
Axiom grabbed his shoulder tighly and moved him to the edge of the room.
"Excuse me...but should we...... be worried...? We... should be worried... I'll be..... moving...now..."
Slowly creeking backwards, Cedar moved towards the doors.
Teya peeked over the moonshaped scepter," Master Yrkoon?"
Without a turn of the head they hear him speak,"I'm fine...the rest of you should take cover. Looks like this one is going to be rough."
"This one what?!" shouted Chenny.
As the room began to mist over and drop in temperature, the students saw the Grandmaster slowly lifting his head. To their surprise, piercing blue markings began to etch across his face . Axiom phased to the darkened corner of the room in an instant.
"My apprentice... the shadows hold no safety for you here," mused Sochari.
Now standing tall, with a fierceness most had yet to witness, the Grandmaster grasped the staff with both hands.
Saezel spoke,"Sochari, listen to me! I know you can hear me, please listen! Put the staff down... you've become confused again... we are your friends! These are your students!!!"
As Saezel attempted to break through to him, the room continued to freeze over, ice crawling up the walls and the hearth coming to but just a flicker of light.
"My friend, please stop this," shouted Saezel, "everything is fine, just come back to us. Your friends, your students, we are your family Grandmaster!!!"
And in an instant, the staff which had been raised to the skies slammed to the floor.
"You are not FAMILY! You are not friends of mine! You know not what you do. I've done nothing but try to help all of us... and this... is how you treat me..." Sochari continued to speak, "Pillar, this will be your greatest downfall... people will know what happened here!"
Mirelyn spoke quietly from the corner of the room,"Grandmaster, Pillar isn't here... You need to relax."
Snapping back, Sochari replied," You stay out of this Pan!"
Those gathered there stared around the room at one another, perplexed. With the floor nearly frozen over, they heard the snapping of ice. From behind Cedar, Chenny stepped out towards the group.
"Enough! Have you learned nothing?... If I remember anything about him, it is that words do no good."
A small murmur of whispers began to rise from Chenny's side and he vanished from the room. Frozen winds, as from an arctic tundra in deepest Grimfrost, began to swirl over the room. Yrkoon sat relaxed, seemingly annoyed, and began to summon a small sandstorm which engulfed him in the golden dusts of the wastes. Saezel ignited the area around him with flames.
"Sochari, don't make me do this," Screamed Saezel!
The voice of Chenny came from all around. Chenny reappeared in front of the grandmaster, with both hands grasping the shard covered staff.
"Look at me! BLIND OR NOT, we knew each other once, and it was you who tested me! Your friend and student! Remember ME!"
The screams bounced around the room, echoing through the walls, "Brother of mine, in Grimfrost and Shadowmaw... remember me Koranos..."
Slowly the color began to fade from The Grandmasters face. The deep purples returning to his eyes and mouth. His blind eyes glazed back over and the staff dropped to the ground.
"I am sorry... and this is why... I brought you all here...please everyone... forgive me." said the Grandmaster, softly.
Saezel dropped the flames around him and and turned towards the students,"Please everyone take a seat...let us begin."
Axiom appeared from the corner with Moonshadow and whispered under his breath, "I think the old Elderkin has finally lost it."
All the masters took their seats, next to them, their respective student.
"Thank you Axiom for your lovely comment," said Sochari, "As I had mentioned before I've had some time to think and I've spoken at length with the current Masters of the Inner Sanctum. Many of you know that I have had the gift of prophecy these few hundred years, yet for much of that time it was lost to me. It has come to my attention that I am suffering from a... most complex... disorder, if you will."
Saezel tapped his staff twice on on the ground,"Master it is not a disorder! This is a blessing in both forms, you own the rank of Apotheon! The Grandmaster Wayfarer."
Sochari's hand rose,"Yes, but I am dying because of it. I can not retain both positions, and I must be restored. My students, you all know me by many names, Sochari Ri'mor, Koranos, the Grandmaster, Apotheon of Wisdom and Fate, even a few nicknames I've heard, but the fact remains that I am dying in this form. Sochari was an alias Kellatrix and I created before the founding of the Order. I forgot who I was. My memories faded as my powers as an Apotheon grew. I forgot who Koranos used used to be. I simply became Sochari Ri'mor and moved forward. Zae'Zurel has been keeping me alive long enough for you to find my shards. When this happens I will need a new Apotheon. Pillar's prophecy states that Koranos is to find the heart of the Fallen one and therefore I cannot continue this down this route. The more I become myself once again, the the more my gifts return to me. The prophecy that I spoke of but to few before I left told of a rise in The Order of the Wayfarers."
The Grandmaster continued to talk and ramble on about his history and the rise and fall of the Fuguewalker's Guild, the merging between his old identity and the new found alias that he took on, and his travels and gifts granted him by Zae'Zurel. The night grew long. Drinks were brought to the table and food began to be cooked in the hearth.
"My students, the time has come to tell you of the true meaning of my summons. I...am stepping down from my position as Grandmaster. As Fate decrees, 5 new young Wayfarers will come together as a council, forming a new and improved Inner Sanctum. The current Masters of the Inner Sanctum will continue to be so, and will take seats with you until they feel it is their time to pass on. This was something I never thought would pass, yet by prophecy it shall come to be."
"Master... as of late....I have..... risen to...the ranking of...Orin...for Zae'Zurel... I...have learned so...many things...much has happened... I see... I walk... on Fate's path... Your gifts from The Wanderer... are grand and...a blessing... If your prophetic... sight....... has returned... then what... does this mean... for your... ranking among... Fate's...path...?" replied Cedar.
Sochari spoke with a sadness in his voice,"Cedar...you are wise. I know you mean well. You are closing in on your rank. There is something you need to know. Whomever takes my position in rank will also take on my power...my pain ...my memories and the memories of those that have come before. All of this is grand...as you would think...but it comes with a price."
The Grandmaster fumbled around in his satchel and pulled out an amber colored leaf, then placed it in his hands and crumbed it to dust.
"Listen.........." Sochari blew a cool breath into his palms and blew the tiny remnants of the the crumbled leaf into the air.
Cedar rose to his feet. Standing tall he tapped his staff twice and phased from his spot at the table, appearing next to the blazing hearth.
"There will be more to come my student. Think on the winds." Sochari said, softly. "Now, let's get to business. Moonshadow...Per recent events, I will be appointing you to Master Axiom as promised. You will give him your True Name and bond. To his terms you will agree, and he is your Master. Treat him as if he were the new Grandmaster over the Wayfarers. I suggest that all do the same with your Masters. Things are going to change around here. Under you will form a firm foundation of support, and you will come to know a deeper respect for your new gifts abilites. Up to now, the rules and regulations have not been taken seriously, from what I understand."
Yrkoon slammed a fist full of sand down by his plate, "And I'll be damned if any of my students break my rules."
Axiom raised his glass,"All right, all right guys...thank you both."
Saezel chuckled, "Teya, you will be with me. I will be training you to replace me if such a thing is even possible! Am I right Sochari?"
With a smirk Sochari replied,"Teya, you have a long road ahead of you in order to surpass Master Zvanturi. Although I trust you all will do nothing but your best, difficult roads are to come. Pathways shall close, and new ones shall open. Chenny & Cedar...both of you will train under me. I know I have not been there for you both. Cedar, I was convinced you were you to learn from the Temples. I now know I was meant to be the one. Too much time has passed and you are very late. Training starts immediately. Chenny. You have been walked multiple times without a master, or without approval from a Master. Do not think it goes unseen. I've recieved multiple reports from Masters, students, denizens of of the fugue, and beyond. This goes for the rest of you as well. The final section before we may speak freely to each other is this. Training and crafting of your Master Foci.
Zeph'yr rose from his seat. Adorned in an orange colored coat, and a slight uneasiness in his stance, "Masters, students, as you all know I went on a little relic run and found the old smith room from the Fuguewalker's Master Craftsman. I nearly died, and we lost my brother. Difficult choices were made, however we did gain something great. Once more we now have a Smith available to craft a Master Focus for each of you and those to follow in your steps. Upon ascending to the rank of Master you will be able to receive your final Focus. These Masters of the Inner Sanctum have been here for some time now, and have been holding a weight none of us can begin to bare. During your trials and tests, we will be pushing you all to your limits. And when you are ready I will take you to Master Centrous, and there you will work with him until your focus is ready."
Axiom, Saezel, Mirelyn, and the others rose.
"We will forever remember Master Al'Hazred Tar'El," spoke the quiet Master Kainn. At once the Masters of the Inner Sanctum lifed their staves high in in the air. In a resounding chorus, all spoke, "We open and close by the creed."
All the wayfarers stood tall, and together chanted, “Safe travel and safe paths, I walk the road alone. I go forward and step soundly into the unknown!"