[caption id="attachment_1363" align="alignleft" width="240" caption="The lightning rail train departs."][/caption]
Amelie leaned her head back against the luxurious seat of the lightning rail car, pretending that she might fall asleep. It had been a few weeks since her death and resurrection after the ill-fated Mistmarsh expedition. The healers at the Order of Corellon had done a marvelous job on her injuries, but, like all members of the Order, they viewed their jobs as an art. And what better way to practice that art than to fix anything and everything that was out of place?
She didn’t mind losing the nasty scar that had run across her left collar bone and shoulder. The pulling of the scar tissue as she moved her arm was a persistent reminder of the unpleasantness surrounding the end of her time with the King’s Own. It would be good to have full motion in that arm again without the accompanying pain that had been her companion since the … incident.
The rogue let her right hand absently trace the smooth skin of her left forearm. Amelie had mixed feelings about losing the faint parallel tracings that had run from her left elbow. They had been with her almost as long as she could remember. She was barely seven years old. She had been playing “warrior and dragon” with her older brother Leukis, and, naturally, she was the dragon. Leukis would chase her all over their large home in a fashionable neighborhood near Morgrave University in Wroat. Amelie always managed to stay a step ahead of Leukis’s deft stabs with the wagon-wheel spoke that doubled as his sword; she would tumble, dive, spin, and otherwise keep her bigger, slower brother off balance.
One afternoon, their scampering had led to the magnificent balcony on the second floor. Amelie had planned to fool Leukis into committing to a lunge, then dart out of the way and through the second door on the far side that led to her mother’s private library. When she dashed out onto the balcony, however, she found her way blocked. A small team of the house servants had moved a huge wardrobe to the balcony to paint the family seal onto the polished oak. The wardrobe and the surrounding artists were blocking the library entrance. Caught up in the moment, Amelie made the mistake of allowing herself to believe that the old blankets tied to her arms as her “wings” would really let her fly. Before Leukis could capture her, she leapt from the railing, stretching her arms wide – and fell directly into a supply wagon carrying writing materials to the university. She had landed directly onto a box of sharp quill pens with her elbow, and took home some deep, nasty scratches as a souvenir. Her father told her she was blessed that was all she suffered, though the way he grumbled as he paid the driver for the ruined supplies, you would have thought parting with a few gold pieces was just as painful for her father as the fall had been for her.
The marks she carried from that fall were a talisman; by fingering them, she could slip into childhood memories almost instantly. Now that she couldn’t possibly go home again, those memories were more important than ever. She worried that when the monks removed her scars during the resurrection and healing ceremony, they also removed the key that let her remember what seemed like another life – or, since her resurrection, was it another life in truth? Amelie had learned to live as a fugitive, accepting the Order's sanctuary and only leaving to go on missions far from Wroat, the smaller the town, the better. Due to the rather public nature of her escape, she at least didn't have to worry about the rest of the King's Own - or any other cell of the King's Shadows - coming after her. She only had to avoid the King's Shields to stay free. Amelie took comfort in the fact that Leukis, himself a distinguished member of the King’s Shields, was secretly working to expose the threat that had landed her in hot water when she accidentally discovered what was going on in the King’s inner circle. She had faith that he’d complete what she started; then, she could go home again, and her questions of life and death and resurrection and memory wouldn’t matter any more, so long as her father lived to see that she was no traitor after all.
A whistle pierced Amelie’s wandering thoughts. The conductor’s booming voice called out, “Sterngate Station! Sterngate Station! Now arriving at Sterngate Station!”
Amelie nudged Petrick awake with her elbow, “wake up! We’re in Sterngate already.”
“Oh,” Petrick mumbled, rubbing his eyes, “I feel like I just fell asleep a minute ago. First Class is the only way to go!”
The couple made their way to the front of the car and onto the station platform, where Ghejhann and Lucatro were already waiting for them. “I trust you had a pleasant trip,” Lucatro beamed, “but I can’t wait until you hear what we’re going after next!”
“I’m surprised the Reverend Father sent us anywhere after that little setback in the swamp.” Amelie stretched, working out the kinks from the long lightning rail ride, “are you sure we’re not tracking down some saint’s third cousin’s best friend’s recipe for chicken soup?”
“Not at all,” Lucatro’s excitement was contagious as he led the party down the platform and through the mostly empty station, “the Reverend Father wasn’t all that upset with me. He said the important thing is that we made it back. But… he still sent someone else back into the Mistmarsh to get that musical score from whatever cave it’s holed up in. My guess is that this is just a lucky break: something very valuable just happened to be relatively easy to get. Something to get our confidence back, I should say.”
“You still haven’t told us what it is!” Petrick interjected.
“Ah,” the half-elf turned to face the rest of the party, easily keeping up as walked backward, his hands illustrating his words in wide motions, “that is an interesting story. A gnome agent the Order works with in Zolanberg has been collecting information about the old Dhakaani empire for years, specifically any information related to the Shaking Emperor’s ancient scepter.”
“Surely, that can’t be the object we seek!” Ghejhann’s surprise showed as a small puff of smoke.
“Well, no.” Lucatro waved the matter aside with a shake of his hands, “but Lhesh Haruuc has been sending his goblins into the Seawall Mountains searching for the Shaking Emperor’s hiding place – and his scepter – for quite some time. Rumor has it that some of his minions found a minor stash of weapons in a network of ancient tunnels. They took a few swords and called it a day, but one of them talked about all the strange things laying about, specifically, spiked chains, flails, and …”
“Dhakaani weapons!” Ghejhann’s eyes lit up.
“Exactly! But the real prize is a curious piece of jewelry one of the little creatures seemed captivated with. It was a flaming red jewel, its facets swirling with inner flame; it was set in burnished gold, shaped like the rays of the rising sun…”
“The Dawnfire Amulet…” Petrick whispered.
“Got it in one!” Lucatro was nearly hopping with excitement, “The goblin had tried to grab the ‘jewel’ but found that it burned with unspeakable heat. He showed his hand to our agent’s source; the flesh of his fingers had been melted together.”
“That seals it.” Petrick couldn’t believe what he was hearing, “The Dawnfire Amulet can only be handled by those who have pledged themselves to good. It seeks out true darkness, darkness of the soul, and seeks to burn it away…” Petrick’s words trailed off as he fell deep in thought.
“And we will bring it back to the Reverend Father! Think what this will do to rid our Order of spies, once and for all!”
Lucatro continued to expound on the powers of the Dawnfire Amulet, but Amelie could no longer hear him. All she could think about was arranging a meeting between the Amulet and a certain member of the King’s inner circle. Was clearing her name worth betraying her Order? Should she continue to wait and trust that Leukis could handle the traitor from the inside? She doubted sleep would find her tonight.
[caption id="attachment_1372" align="alignright" width="385" caption="Ancient Mining Road"][/caption]
The next morning, the party set out from Sterngate early and made their way south. The Seawall Mountains were full of old mines and mining roads, some of them older than the human race itself. The concentration of mines was much heavier toward Zolanberg, but there were still plenty of mines near Sterngate, though few of them were active today.
Lucatro lead the party swiftly and steadily, following the map sketched by the Order’s mysterious gnomish agent. The agent’s efficacy was proven quickly, as every turn and twist was exactly as drawn. “How he got this level of detail out of a goblin, I’ll never know,” Lucatro mused. The gnomes had their methods.
The mining tunnel in question was deep in the mountains. It was several days’ travel along the twisting roads, and in several places, the old mining road was little more than a narrow ledge, barely enough to step carefully across, pressing backs firmly to the side of the mountain behind and trying desperately not to look down. Ghejhann thanked his ancestors that Dragonborn did not inherit dragon tails along with their dragon fire. He had a hard enough time finding places to put his large boots on the narrow ledges as it was.
The Revered Father’s everlasting provisions proved their worth once again, allowing the party to travel lightly and swiftly. The journey turned out to be uneventful, with only local birds and wildlife to keep the party company.
After three days of travel, the party finally stopped in front of the entrance to a particular mining tunnel.
“Looks just like all the others,” Petrick opined, “how do you know this is the one?”
Lucatro folded the map and put it back into his pack. “This map has been fantastic so far. I have every reason to believe that this is the ancient mine the goblins were searching when they found the Dawnfire Amulet. Let’s go. Petrick, some light, if you please.”
Petrick lifted his hand high to the air, cupped as if around a piece of fruit, and rotated his hand as if screwing something in. A ball of magelight, barely visible in the sunshine, formed in his palm. He willed the light to follow Lucatro, slightly above and behind him.
The party filed into the old mine and let their eyes adjust to the dimmer magelight.
“It still looks like every other mine I’ve ever seen,” Petrick said as he took in the surroundings.
Amelie raised an eyebrow at him, “You’ve never been in a mine before.”
“Doesn’t mean I haven’t seen one. I do read a lot, including books with pictures.”
His wife sighed and shook her head at her husband’s odd manner of reasoning. Her amusement was interrupted by an unwelcome thought, and a knot formed in the pit of her stomach. Would betraying the Order mean betraying Petrick, too? Would he side with them over her? He knew the truth about the incident that had her falsely branded a traitor. Was that enough for him to understand?
Amelie shook herself and tossed aside her thoughts. None of it mattered if they didn't find the amulet in the first place.
Stay tuned for part two!