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Running out of time

imma____

Novice
The dry sound of pages being flipped at regular, monotone intervals kept cutting through the dusty silence of an almost empty library. Sat at a long, wooden table by flickering candlelight, Olmund Valebloom patiently continued his research for a fifth day in a row. In front of him, surrounded by tall piles of tomes and expensive parchment, rested a small book bound in charcoal black leather.

‘The Drow’ by Lu’st Duskryn

Valebloom dipped his pen in ink and swiftly copied another verse onto a blank page of an empty book purchased from the librarian at a decent discount. The passage described how the ascension to power in the drow society was often resolved with force through assasination. It was not uncommon for rivaling drow families to go to war with each other. This nefarious race put ambition above anything else in their continuous service of the spider goddess.

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Valebloom resisted the overwhelming feeling of crippling helplessness. It’s been years since Queen Xadia disappeared but new leads came to light only recently. Ever since an earthquake revealed entrances to the Undermountain, he had trouble sleeping. Too many expeditions into the treacherous caves resulted only in bloodbath and death as adventurer parties clashed with a vile, dark force brutally emerging in Avadon.

It was a force to be reckoned with.

The scribe closed his tired eyes recalling a recent visit to the newly discovered dungeon. Soon upon entering the dark tunnels he realized his arcane magic won’t be able to defeat the relentless bloodlust of the inhabitants. He needed more research, more preparation and more reinforcements.

More time. Time he wasn’t sure he had.

He lifted his heavy eyelids and glanced over a report from the Academy of the Arcane Arts once more. There was enough evidence suggesting Queen Xadia was brought to the depths of the Undermountain and perhaps even subjected to mind tortures in a mysterious ritual. The exact motive behind her kidnapping, however, remained unclear.

Valebloom let out a long sigh and nodded in resignation. It was about time to visit the section of the library he’s been so scrupulously avoiding for the past five days. He got up from the wooden desk, walked down the stairs to the basement level and followed along the shelves towards the far end of the library. He stopped to notice the blue and purple sign covered with cobwebs, hanging on a brick wall behind a barred metal door.


‘Dark Lore and Forbidden Texts’
 
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imma____

Novice
Valebloom entered the room and slowly closed the creaking door behind him. The silence in the library was stark and trying. He could hear the distant noises of Prevalian streets drowned in the sounds of rain water dripping down the gutters.

To his right he saw two rows of old bookshelves, clearly untouched for a long time. The faint light coming from four candelabras in each corner flickered disturbingly, casting elusive and grotesque shadows on the red brick walls. Atop one of the bookshelves an old skull held a glowing candle. Valebloom found himself staring in the empty sockets of who could have once been a promising scribe, a powerful sorcerer or a very unlucky librarian. Layers of drying wax were slowly dripping down the scalp.


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`I envy your smile,` muttered the scribe, trying to fight the overwhelming grim mood with a bit of mirth. `But you must know a library is not a place to die in.`

He walked up to the bookshelf on which the skull sat and pulled out a dusty tome at random, opening it in the middle. The yellowed page contained a meticulously drawn figure of a tilted square on top of two crosses. Valebloom noted a stark similarity to the symbol of Chaos and glanced over the inscription. His eyes stopped at the last word at the bottom of the page.


Etheng

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There were many reasons why he found this place so disturbing. The dark energy fizzling in the air, the way in which the tome spines seemed to mock and disrespect him and the awareness of how much suffering and hatred was contained among the bookshelves together with the evil lore. There was also the unpleasant, musty scent.

Valebloom closed his eyes and tried to think of something calming to counter the growing distaste. Life used to be much simpler when he was younger. He thought of hunting for game with his father among the Andarian landscapes, the beautiful mountain tops covered with snow and the sweet smell of potions and concoctions that his mother would never cease to work on. But that time was long gone.

And then he thought of his brother.
 
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imma____

Novice
* * *​

Raleiq stopped his horse-drawn wagon in front of a small mage shop by the southern gates of Andaria on a sunny winter afternoon.
`Last stop, boys!` yelled the ranger cheerfully, then jumped down and began unloading the crates. The older of his teenage sons stood on the wagon keeping track of the inventory. The younger boy entered the shop to fetch the owners.

Raleiq was happy to see them helping with the family business. Despite the uncertain times brought by Orc invasions and Luka the Cruel, the ranger’s services continued to be highly valued. Under Regent Marius the markets were bustling with life and opportunity, even though Andaria no longer resembled the powerful empire it once was when Queen Klara and Lord Landau ruled the kingdom together.

Raleiq made a living selling quality leather, hides and fur to Andarian tailors. As his reputation grew, he began collecting blank scroll shipments to be dropped off at local mage shops. It was a highlight of the journey for his sons, who were easily drawn to the curious interiors filled with magical items, jars with bizarre specimens and mysterious books.

`If it isn’t the industrious Valeblooms... Fortunate meeting! Come inside, Kelli has just put a kettle on.` A tall woman in a dark blue robe appeared at the entrance door, welcoming the guests with a generous smile and twinkling eyes. She wore her reddish-brown hair in braids decorated with small ribbons.
The older boy jumped off the wagon holding a small notebook.
`A fifty thousand blank scrolls, no less!` he announced triumphantly. `Yes, Olmund, the very same amount we loaded on the wagon not so long ago...` said Raleiq, exchanging knowing glances with the mage. Undiscouraged by his fathers sarcastic remark, the boy entered the shop and headed towards the bookshelves. Inside, his younger brother Alvik was carefully inspecting an array of magical items in the display case.

The shop run by sisters Shani and Kelli was small and cozy. A narrow set of stairs in the corner led to a scribe’s study upstairs. There was a small table in the opposite corner of the room, where another woman with short, ginger hair was pouring fresh herbal tea into clay teacups.
`Have a seat, Raleiq,` said Kelli. `Have you thought about sending your sons to the Academy? They seem to be more keen to learn about spells and scrolls than hunting and carving leather…`
`They must have inherited those unhealthy tendencies from their mother, you see.` replied Raleiq laughingly. `I was never one to waste time reading old books.` The ranger sat down at the table and immersed himself in a good-humoured conversation on contemporary affairs with the two sisters, allowing his sons to explore the shop.


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The display case was filled with all sorts of magical items from luminous crystals, through jars with small insects to ancient scrolls and wands. Alvik Valebloom’s attention, however, was focused entirely on a small metal cube covered with symmetrical patterns and ornaments. Occasionally, the mechanical contraption would emanate faint light accompanied by a barely audible buzz. It was not the beauty of the object that accounted for its fascination to the young boy. Alvik knew that if he had been pressed to explain the significance of the artefact, he would fail in the attempt. He stood in front of the display case, mesmerised, as his world became an underwater mirage, interconnected with copper wires, laid with a woven metallic tapestry. For a moment he could swear his mouth was filled with the taste of blood. Suddenly, a light pat on the shoulder broke him out of his trance.

`Look what I found,` his brother was handing him a large, blue book with a celebratory smile. `It’s the famous “Manual for the Way of The Wizard”, second edition by -` Olmund frowned. `Well... it is a wizard so powerful that pronouncing his name would unleash a dangerous arcane force! I’ve been looking for it for a long time now. This new edition must have been released recently, after a ruthless Orc clan destroyed the Lyceum...` Alvik’s attention immediately shifted back to the metal cube, as his brother's tedious monologue turned into a distant, muffled noise.


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`Time to go, boys.` Raleiq finished his tea and was ready to leave.
`Send our best regards to Yellika,` said Shani, handing him a purse filled with gold coins. `And let her know we will happily purchase her produce. The healing potions sell best in uncertain times.`
`I would much rather enjoy peace within the kingdom,` replied Raleiq. `After all, that madman Luka wouldn’t invade his own, would he?` The question was met with silence, as he led his sons outside and onto the wagon.

Back inside the shop, Kelli collected the teacups into a cupboard behind the display case. `His young ones seem thirsty for magic, don’t they?`
`You know how it ends,` said Shani with a sudden hint of resignation in her voice. `Before they know it they are going down paths that are best left unexplored. Isn’t that exactly what we did when we were young? Hunting monsters in a never ending chase for glory and treasure…`
`Speaking of which,` said Kelli, puzzled. `Remember that device we borrowed from one of the sentry’s in the sunken hold of Pulma? That is, of course, after calming him down with a few spells... I thought we put it in our display counter a long time ago, didn’t we? It’s not there...`
`All I know is that we should have never set foot in that wretched place, Kelli.`
 
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