Nethri’s head snapped back in his armchair startling him awake. The candle was extinguished, having burnt out hours before, and the gentle crackles of a few embers remained in the fireplace. As his eyes started to drift back to sleep, seeking comfort in the bliss of relaxation, a knock caused them to halt their advance.
Another knock quickly followed and forced him grumpily out of his chair. Lumbering over, he reached out to the handle as a third knock resounded in the room. Mumbling to himself, he opened it with a sharp word on the precipice of his tongue.
The sight of Meiri softened his thoughts, her bow deep as the door slowly creaked open. “Ay, Meiri, always reliable, even when I’m busy trying to forgo the day.” A kind smile slid across his face.
“I’m sorry, my Sir. If you wish me to come back la–”
“No, no, that’s quite alright.” He reached out and touched the old maid’s shoulder, reassuring her. Her voice had been pained and a tad hesitant. “Even after all these years…” Nethri straightened up, cracking his back. The chair had not been as kind to his back as he thought. “I have some errands to tend to and should have been up hours ago…”
“Apologies, my Sir, if I had known I–”
Nethri couldn’t hold back his laughter at the sudden ironic twist, which caused Meiri to cringe a bit. “You are too good to me, Meiri! Need not worry about me. Do what you need and I shall stay out of your way.” Chortling to himself, Nethri headed out of his room, his exhaustion completely forgotten.
Luc raced across the square, sweat streaming down his reddened face. A stitch had formed in his side as he ran, but he pushed through the pain, time being something he could not afford to lose. Sharply turning a corner, Luc nearly bowled over Sir Nethri in his hurry.
“Luc! Just who I was looking for.”
“Not now, I need to get to my mother’s mansion!” With that, Luc continued his way, not even apologizing to the Dwarf.
“Hmmm…Something doesn’t seem right about this.” Nethri hurried after Luc who had turned into the Stables. Reaching the structure, the Dwarf saw Luc mounting a steed. “Luc, I’ll come with you.” Turning to a stable hand, Nethri called for his pony, Jeirid, who was quickly brought out.
“This needn’t concern you Sir D’Orinda. It is a House D’Urban issue.”
“Your House became my concern the second I was assigned to watch over you. Your mother’s trust is not to be trifled with. I wouldn’t dare cross that woman.”
The two companions arrived at the mansion just before midday. A servant met them at the entrance and took the tired equines away. Luc rushed to the front doors, throwing them open, Nethri walking slowly behind. “No need to overreact. The boy is doing that enough for an army.” As the Dwarf entered, he noticed Dame Syral in the main foyer. Bowing deeply, he waited for Luc to address his mother.
“Where are they? Are they ok? Who did this?” Luc’s voice was shaking and tense anger could be felt emanating from it.
Syral strode to her son, her long, powerful legs carrying her gracefully across the floor. She was strong and feared before, but since her journey to the Myinns something had changed the Dame. With her youth regained, she appeared more vibrant, more commanding. But there was a touch of hesitancy, of self-doubt that wasn’t there before. Still, no one in any of the Houses would dare cross her if they valued her life, but Syral was not the indestructible force she was once thought of to be. With her youthful appearance restored, she now seemed…lacking.
“Sir Nethri,” Syral turned and addressed the Dwarf, “an unusually comforting sight you bring to me. I am sorry to meet you again in these circumstances, but this is a private matter. Please, make yourself at home. I wish to speak to you, but it will have to wait. My son,” her eyes fell upon Luc and Nethri could feel the motherly love and scorn raging within, “has matters to be informed of. If you’ll please excuse us.”
“Of course, Dame Syral.”
The two left the foyer through a set of grand oak wooden doors, which slammed shut behind them. Nethri stood, hesitant to move for a while until he heard Syral’s berating of Luc sounding through the walls. “I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes…ever.” With that, the Dwarf slunk away, happy to be exploring the home instead of facing Syral’s wrath.
The library Nethri found himself in was immense. Maple bookcases lined the walls, varnished and lacquered a deep, solid brown. Books, held together by bindings laced with twine, adorned the majestic shelves, full in their capacity. The scent of history hung in the air, the kind only scholars could sense, and it drew Nethri in. Stepping inside the vaulted room, hundreds upon hundreds of tomes looming before him, the Dwarf felt unburdened. Unburdened by his charge, his goals, and his ambitions; unburdened by the confines of Highborn society, his duties, and his status. He was at peace – sweet, knowledgeable peace.
Roaming through the case markers, Nethri was surprised to see the detailed accounts of the libraries catalogue. Ranging from the ‘Third Dawn’, to the ‘Settling of Lencia’ and to today’s current struggles, history seemed to be being recorded as he stood. But something made Nethri feel uneasy; for as vast as this literary compilation was, no scholars could be found.
Nethri continued to search the shelves, scouring, hoping to locate something about Master Shu or Inistrad that the Great Library in House D’Orinda had not possessed. After finishing up an aisle dedicated to the ‘Ancient Harvesting Rituals of Rancor Flesh’, Nethri tripped over a stack of worn volumes of ‘Earthen Primal Magics’, sending the books to the floor with a resounding thud.
“Shhh! You’re in a Library. You must oblige by standard Library protocol.”
Nethri nearly leapt out of his armor at the voice, hurriedly scooping up the tomes and restacking them. Delicately brushing some dust off of the last tome before placing it atop the others, Nethri glanced up. Standing before him was an older man in his mid-fifties, adorned in white robes trimmed with brown, was a clerk.
“Sorry,” Nethri blushed while uttering his bashful apology, “didn’t quite see them there.” The Dwarf waited for some kind of acknowledgement, but instead felt the calculating eyes sweeping over him. Nethri started to amend his apology to sound more remorseful, but his voice caught in his throat.
“It is fine, young Dwarf, our fault for not being more fortuitous and leaving them out.” He picked up the last book Nethri had placed, ‘Dragons – For Better or For Worse’, and, turning it over and examining it carefully, replaced it once more. “Nothing to worry about now.” Nethri breathed a sigh of relief. “So, my young Dwarf, what might I be able to help you with?”
Luckily for Nethri he found his voice. “Well, um, Sir…,” Nethri paused. He hadn’t caught the name of the scholar before him.
Recollecting his thoughts, Nethri continued. “…Sir Haiser. I was wondering if you have ever heard of a Master Shu? Or perhaps the Inistrad?” The scholar peered quizzically at the Dwarf with the last sentence. “Ah, yes, that’s right. You might better know it as Raven’s Tooth. Do you happen to have anything on that? You see, I’m helping House D’Urban and am seeking more answers than I’m afraid I am privy too.”
A casual wave of his hand caused Nethri to raise an eyebrow. “I know of the name, Inistrad, though I was surprised you possessed such knowledge.” Turning around, the scholar disappeared behind another bookcase, and the Dwarf hurried after him. Finding him perusing a shelf, he stopped short. The man reached up and withdrew an average sized tome and handed it to the Dwarf.
Nethul was transcribed on the front cover and the Runepriest felt his hand quiver. “Where did they get this?”
“I think that will have all the information you are looking for, my young Dwarf.”
Nethri looked at the title, his eyes held fast by the word. Opening the book, he started to browse its contents. Turning page after page, being careful not to tear the delicate papyrus, Nethri combed through the text, picking apart words. Suddenly a name jumped out at him – Miria D’Urban. “What is she doing in this?” Starting to read, the Dwarf discovered the text went into eerily specific details about how the Lady came by the sword and her uses of it. “None of this is known by any of the Houses. And the detailed account of how the sword works is…” Nethri let out an audible gasp, nearly dropping the book.
“Who wrote this,” he demanded, turning to Haiser, but the man was gone. Peering around a few shelves, Nethri could not find him, and knew he had no time to waste. Making for the entrance, the Dwarf knew he needed to find Syral. He broke into a full sprint back to D’Urban’s quarters, slamming into the great oaken doors with a thud. Banging his fist on the door, shouting for the Dame, a slow crack opened. Inside, he could make out the shamed face of young Luc, his eyes wet with tears, his head hanging like a dog with his tail between his legs. Nethri pushed through the door, exclaiming, “Your mother, where is she?”
“I, I, I’m not sure. Why?” His voice was shallow and dejected. Nethri didn’t bother to answer; instead he thrust the book in front of the young man and slammed his finger on the page. Heavy panting returned as the Dwarf strode around the room catching his breath. Luc’s eyes started to grow wide as he read, a crease forming in his brow. “How…?”
“I don’t know! Where’s you blasted mother gone off to? She might have answers!”
The voice behind the Dwarf sent shivers down his spine and made the hair on the back of his neck prick up. “And she might be behind you.”
Nethri spun, collecting himself with a long, deep bow. “Dame, this text,” and he motioned to the book in Luc’s hands, “there are things in there that I think warrant your attention.”
Syral strode over to Luc and yanked the tome out of his hands as Nethri continued to mutter and pace around the room. After a few seconds, a hiss erupted from Syral. “Where did you get this?!”
The Dwarf spun to meet her gaze. “From your library, Dame. One of your scholars, by the name of Haiser, gave it to me. Said it would be useful.”
Luc leapt to his feet and Syral closed the distance to the Dwarf, causing him to slide a foot to widen and brace his stance. Syral was frighteningly direct with her next question. “Who?”
“Haiser, one of your scholars, Dame.” The muscles in Nethri’s legs twitched and his heart was racing. Luc looked expectantly at his mother, who returned the look and nodded. Both took off through the doors heading toward the Library. Nethri, exhaling slowly, regained his composure and walked, slowly, after them.
Arriving at the entrance, the Dwarf saw the two D’Urban’s standing beside a large portrait. Looking at the portrait, Nethri recognized the white-haired man, though he was adorned in ceremonial armor, not his white robes. “Ay, that’s the one. Why is he on a huge canvas outside? He special or something?”
Syral’s jaw clenched as she pointed to the placard below the painting.
Sir Haiser D’Urban
887 ~ 945
Nethri stared in astonishment at the label. “But, but that was nearly 20 years ago! Who did I –?” He met Luc’s gaze, and fell silent. Syral was busy thumbing through the pages of the tome, her forehead furrowed as she swept over the story that no one besides her should have known, let alone recorded in a book.
Gathering up his courage, Nethri approached the Dame. “Syral,” started the Dwarf, “there is still a chance to save her. The Hammer of Gond mentioned in the book – it seems it may be able to help us retrieve the lost souls with the blade. But it is said that its location is in the Cold Spire, and for that we would require your help…”
“‘We’? ‘We’?! There is no ‘WE’!” Syral broke into a rage, hurling the book down the corridor. “There is no ‘we’ any more. You can go, but there is no ‘we’!”
Nethri bowed so low his nose nearly touched the floor. “Dame, by ‘we’ I refer to myself and whatever charges I can find to accompany me. But I require your aid in this matter. I know not how to get to the Cold Spire, and even if I could, manage it, we are short on time, for your mate’s body is decaying as we speak.” The look shot at Nethri burned through his eyes. “I wish to help you and learn more about Inistrad, but to do so, I need your help. Will you offer me your assistance?”
“I will not allow Luc to go. I cannot risk it. And I will not leave my children. Not now. I am the only one who can protect them.”
“That is understandable, Dame, and I have no wish to take him. He is your son after all. And as for leaving them, I would not dare ask you to do so.” Nethri paused, gathering up his courage. “You say you are the only one able to protect them, and I would not question that belief. I propose though, that you bring them along. Not to explore, mind you, but just to drop me and my company off. We will find our own way to return if we are successful. If not…” Nethri shook his head, removing the thought.
Syral thought this over a bit before sliding to within an inch of the Dwarf’s nose. “You will have one day.”
The lump in Nethri’s throat was too big to swallow. “I, uh, must first inform my House of these findings and resupply. If I may take my leave, Dame?”
“Yes, you may, but I am not leaving my children here alone. And you, Sir Nethri, shall not ride back, for, as you said, we are short on time. I will get us to Lencia. Meet me at House D’Urban in 3 hours. If you are late, your chance is lost. I have made my peace with my mate, but this shred of hope…I cannot forgo every chance, but if you are late, the decision is made. Are we clear?”
“Yes, Dame, perfectly.”