Located on one side of the main town square in Hareford was a three story building. Its walls were of old weathered brick for the most part but in many places newer bricks were visible. The ground floor had a pair of large doors tall enough and wide enough to admit a horse and carriage into the interior. Beyond those doors lay one large room that occupied the entire ground floor. It was filled with all manner of tools and benches. Hammer, tongs, chisels and other unidentifiable tools dangled from hooks driven into the walls and ceiling joists. The entire back wall was filled with a huge brick forge that glowed with fire and heat. In front of that forge was a massively muscled figure who held a large pair of tongs in the glowing coals while stoking the flames with a large bellows.
The woman stepped into the shop making her way past the workbench’s, tools and boxes that littered the floor.
In spite of all the sound and noise coming from the forge the figure seemed to sense the woman approach. The smithy put down his tongs and turned to see who was approaching.
The effects of the curse had left the smithy in a form never seen before or since. He had a massive and heavily muscled body that looked like a bear’s. But he had the head, tail and paws of a wolf all covered with a dark brown, striped fur. It was months before a visiting scholar had produced a box full of old, brown bones with a skull like his. A Beardog was the name of the species. Long extinct everywhere.
“Marcia!” Panno said and he hugged the woman. “How is my baby sister doing today?”
“I am well,” she answered. “I guess.”
“What’s wrong?” the beardog asked.
“It’s Edmund,” the castellan answered. “The leader of the latest group of cavalry sent here.”
“I’ve noticed a new group,” the smithy answered. “But they tend to come and go so quickly that I pay them little notice.”
“Three times Edmund has asked to meet with Nestorius,” Marica explained. “And three times I have been forced to turn him away with some excuse.”
The beardog shook his head. “Why?”
“Edmund wishes to meet with Nestorius but Nestorius does not want to meet with him. I cannot honor both. What do I do?” Marcia asked.
"Do what you think is right,” Panno suggested.
Marcia gave a wry smile. "Of course! But what is right? He doesn't want anything to do with these people, he grew tired of these imitation warriors long ago."
Panno nodded. "I can understand that. We have all seen the troops come do nothing and then leave as quickly as possible.”
"But Edmund is different. He is dedicated and very experienced." she explained.
“Then speak with Nestorius,” the beardog suggested. “It is him that Edmund wants to meet.”
“I already have,” Marcia explained.
“And what did he say?” Panno asked.
"There is nothing he can ask me that you can not answer,” the woman answered coldly and shook her head.
Panno shook his head sadly. “Nest can be an arrogant fool sometimes.”
“Sometimes?” Marcia questioned.
The smithy gave a short bark of laughter. “Good point. But there is not much you can do. Nestorius is our overlord and we are sworn to follow his orders.”
“But this paladin is persistent and he not going to just forget this insult.”
“Then our friend must learn this lesson by himself,” Panno answered. “The rough way.”
“Excuse me but how do I find the bath house?” Stealth asked.
“It’s easy to find,” the guard at the gate said. “Go straight down this road till you come to the corner with a green house. Turn left and go straight till you come to the inn with a blue door with a rearing horse on it. Take the second right and the third left and it will be straight ahead!”
Stealth walked out of the castle and into the town of Hareford. He walked straight till he came to a corner on which there was a house painted a bluish-gray color. The feline turned left and walked till he came upon a small wooden building with a blue door but no horse.
“Hello Sir. How can I help you?”
Stealth turned to the voice and saw and small wooden and plaster shop. The ground floor had a small door and a large window that was opened up into a counter. The young woman behind the counter smiled at him.
“Hello Sir, can I help you?”
“I was looking for the bath house. Can you tell me how to get there?”
“AH! The bath house. That is easy to find.” She raised her hand and pointed down the street. In her hand was a fine silver chain that dangled just at the feline’s eye level.
“That’s nice!” Stealth said.
“You like it?” She said cheerfully and extended her hand to the cat. “Here try it on. See if you like it. It’s cheap.”
Stealth took the necklace. The chain was made of finely wrought silver. Each link was a work of art in of it’s self. He put the chain around his neck and admired himself in the mirror the woman held up. “How much?”
“A mere one gold piece,” she said. “A real bargain.”
The cheetah dug a gold coin from his purse and handed it to the woman. “Now how do I get to the bath?” Stealth asked.
“That’s easy! You take the third right, then the second right and the fourth left,” the woman answered pointing vaguely to the right. “Then you go all the way to the end of the street and it will be right in front of you.”
“Thank you!” Stealth slowly walked down the street following the woman’s instructions. He took the third then the second right and the fourth left. Then the cheetah morph walked straight to the end of the road and found himself staring at the curtain wall. There was no bath house anywhere within sight.
After a moment the wonderful smell of baked bread came to him. He sniffed the air and used his nose to follow the smell to it’s source. It was a small stone shop sitting separate from the other buildings. Thick, black smoke slowly billowed from the two chimneys that sprouted from the roof. He walked through the door to the shop and found himself in a small bakery. His nose was assaulted by a thousand delightful smells.
“Good morning!” an old woman said cheerfully. “Can I help you?”
“Ah,” Stealth said slowly as he looked around. He spotted a dozen loaves of bread each a different type. “A loaf of mint flavored bread please. OH! And a dozen of the oatmeal cookies!”
In a moment the cheetah morph was holding a small paper wrapped bundle that was still warm. “Thank you!” he said and handed her some coins.
The feline left the shop and stepped into the street. He walked around the street for a moment nibbling on a cookie. In front of him was a man busy repairing some broken paving stones in the street. All he saw around him were buildings of various types none of which looked like a bathhouse.
The feline approached the man working in the street. “Excuse me but where is the bath house?” Stealth asked exasperated.
“That’s easy,” he said.
“Everyone keeps saying that!” Stealth said sharply. “But I can’t find it!”
He laughed and nodded his head. “Turn around.”
Stealth turned around. There in front of him was a single story with only a single door and a few small windows located high up, close to the roof.
“That’s it?” Stealth asked, confused.
“You were expecting an emperor’s palace?”
“Well, thank you!” he said and headed to the building. The door was made of some nice, light colored wood and had been carefully and elaborately carved with the image of all sorts of fanciful sea creatures.
Stealth opened the door and stepped through. He found himself surrounded by marble and granite. The walls of the small room were covered with a white marble that was highly polished. Every visible part of the floors was covered with intricate mosaics made of the most vibrant colors. He saw scores of sea creatures cavorting and dancing in an ocean of a deep magenta.
“Wow! This is beautiful,” Stealth said.
“Thank you Sir. I’m glad you like it.” Standing in a doorway off to his right was a black haired man wearing a white tunic that covered his body down to the knees.
“This is beautiful. I never expected a place so fine and expensive” Stealth commented as he looked around.
“Well, Lord Nestorius donated this building and he likes a nice bath,” the man explained.
“So I see!”
“I’m Nathaniel and I’m the attendant here. How can I help you?” the man asked.
“I’d like to take a bath. How much would that cost?”
A single copper for a bath,” the man answered. “For two coppers you get a bath with “Belurian soap and scented shampoo. For four copper you also get a grooming and fur clipping. Guaranteed to make you look wonderful. I can also supply refreshments if you want.”
“For a small price?” Stealth asked.
“A trivial price sir. Home made by me and my wife,” Nathaniel explained.
The cheetah nodded. “All right. Lets go all the way. Bath, shampoo, soap, grooming, clipping and a good meal.”
The man looked at the feline and shook his head and made a clucking noise with his tongue.
“What’s wrong?” Stealth asked looking at his body for some problem or injury.
“Your clothes,” he explained. “You can’t put dirty clothes on a clean body! It would be a shame if we cleaned you up and you put back on those old rags.”
“I see,” Stealth said slowly. “And you can supply me new clothes?
“Well,” the man said. “My sister is a tailor and her shop is right next store.”
Several hours later
Thank you Nathaniel,” Stealth said as he stepped out of the bathhouse, clean, groomed, fed and wearing new clothes. “How do I get back to the Castle?” he asked.
Nathaniel smiled. “That’s easy! You go down this street and take the second right . . . “
The invitation arrived late that afternoon, delivered by a teenage boy who announced that it was for Lady Bridgette.
Bridgette opened the envelope and unfolded the letter found inside. She read the words slowly. Edmund was still teaching her to read but she had come a long way. The letter said:
“Greetings and welcome to Hareford! I cordially invite you and a friend to lunch and entertainment tomorrow at 11am in my home.
“C o r d i a l l y?” Bridgette asked slowly.
“It means friendly,” Edmund explained. “She wants to have you over for a friendly lunch.”
“N i c e,” Bridgette commented.
“I am due out on patrol tomorrow,” Edmund answered.
Bridgette snarled in disappointment.
“But I think Stealth is not busy then,” Edmund suggested. “I am sure he would be glad to attend in my place.”
“Stealth!” Edmund asked as he walked into the barracks. He spotted his friend sitting on his bunk eating something. “My friend!” the paladin said and walked towards the other feline. He got within arm’s reach and stopped. He sniffed. “Stealth you smell . . .” Edmund paused as he searched for the right words. “Like flowers.”
“It is called Mountain meadow,” Stealth said simply. “You like it?”
“Yes I do,” came the answer. Edmund looked closely at his friend. The feline was wearing a brand new shirt and trousers and on his paws was a fine pair of sandals. The feline himself was clean and well groomed to the point that his fur seemed to glow with cleanliness. “It that a new silver chain around your neck?”
“Yes it is!”
“That’s nice! Not overly done as it is all too often,” Edmund commented.
Stealth held out his hand and in it was a large, tan cookie. “Have an oatmeal cookie!”
Edmund slowly took the offered treat and nibbled on it. The cookie was fresh and tasted delicious. “Good!”
“Very good. Want to take few back to share with Bridgette,” Stealth said and handed the paladin another cookie.
“Thank you. Where did you get all this?” Edmund asked.
“I visited Hareford today,” Stealth explained.
“A fine little town. What parts of it did you see?” Edmund asked.
“All of it.”
The room had walls line with wood that was a warm golden color. The floor had a beautiful carpet decorated in rich blues, greens and golds. The furniture was of a wood was grain was so dark as to almost be black. In one corner rested a massive bookcase filled with all manner of books and tomes. Next to it was a large desk piled with parchment, papers, scrolls and four inkwells each with it’s own quill pen. In front of it was a large massively padded chair. In the center of the room was a small table with two large chairs at either end and four smaller ones spaced two per side. One corner of the room held a larger cedar chest that had brightly colored figures painted on it. Scattered on the floor around the chest were a variety of toys. A pile of blocks, some tiny wooden figures and a small piece of slate covered with random doodles.
Stealth realized that this not some formal parlor or meeting room but the families own private retreat.
The woman in front of them looked to be in her late twenties had the slim,
well muscled body of a warrior. She was wearing a dress of blue and gold and
a belt of silver. She had a long dagger in a silver chased sheath on her belt.
“My name is Amelia Sentilus.
Good morning Bridgette,” she said is a soft voice as she smiled at Bridgette. “Thank you for coming!”
Bridgette curtsied briefly. “T . h . a . n . k . . y. o u,” she said slowly measuring each letter as she spoke it. “F . o .r i. n. v. i. t. i. n. g m. e.”
Amelia gave a wave of the hand towards Stealth. “And who might this handsome gentleman be?”
Stealth grinned and blushed. “I am Stealth... I, I’m here to assist Bridgette.”
Amelia nodded. "Thank you for your assistance and giving up your own time to be here."
The feline nodded shyly as his tail swayed about slightly.
Amelia looked behind her and down towards the floor. “Come out and say hello.” The woman’s skirts moved without her hand touching them and there was a soft sound.
“Come on out. He won’t bite,” Amelia said to the back of her skirt.
The skirt ruffled again by itself and a small girls head poked out from behind it and shyly smiled at them. She waved her little hand at the two visitors. “Hi,” she said in a faint voice.
Amelia gently stroked the little girl’s long, black hair. “This is my daughter Samantha.”
“H e l l o ,” Bridgette said.
Stealth waved back to the little girl but didn’t speak.
“My two sons are out riding with their father and they won’t be back till later. Samantha is still a little too young to ride.”
“She gets to spend the day with us here at home,” Bridgette commented.
“I thought we would have lunch and then perhaps I could show you our home,” Amelia explained. “Then perhaps a game of Senet?”
“That would be nice,” Bridgette answered slowly.
Amelia waved a hand towards the table. On it had been laid out three settings. Roast lamb sliced thin and assortment of vegetables, noodles several loaves of bread along with a bottle of wine were laid out. “Please! Both of you be seated!”
Amelia picked up her daughter and placed the little girl in a chair at the table.
“How long you live here?” Bridgette asked as she sat down at the table. Stealth took a seat opposite Samantha.
“Seven years,” came the answer. “We arrived in the middle of the year 700. Of course it didn’t look as pleasant as it does now.”
“Oh?” Stealth asked.
“The entire fortress and town were in ruins and held by the Lutins!” Amelia explained. “We had to take it by force and the hold it when Nasoj tried to take it back.”
“Nasoj,” Bridgette snarled and uttered a deep growl. “He’s taken my past from me.”
Amelia sat down next to her daughter. She shook her head sadly. “They have had no success with restoring your memory?”
“No,” the maned wolf answered. “Many have tried. But Metamor is my home now and I have Edmund to watch over me,” Bridgette said confidently.
Amelia smiled. “I have heard good things about Sir Edmund. Strong, brave and intelligent!”
Bridgette nodded vigorously. “And he’s cute!”
Amelia smiled and laughed. “He certainly is!” She took a plate and placed small amounts of vegetables, noodles some small slices of lamb and a single roll. This she placed in front of her daughter.
Samantha seemed to be more interested in playing with her noodles and lamb then actually eating it. She amused herself with trying to balance a noodle on her nose.
“Honey, eat your food, don’t play with it,” Amelia admonished her daughter with mixed results.
Suddenly a noodle flew across the table and bounced off of Stealth’s nose. This was followed by a loud giggling from the little girl.
“Samantha Sentilus,” Amelia said in a stern voice. “That was not nice.” She turned to Stealth. “I am sorry about that.”
The cheetah rubbed his nose. “No harm done,” he said. “She was just having fun.”
Amelia smiled. “She has my boldness but without her fathers tact and diplomacy.”
“Does she have his magic skills?” Bridgette asked.
“She’s shown great promise but my husband has yet to start any formal training.”
"She could become an archer." Stealth mumbled.
“An archer?" Amelia asked a little confused.
The feline rubbed his nose and winked.
Amelia laughed. "Just like her mother."
It began simply enough. Terrant needed a message taken to Nestorious and wanted Stealth to deliver it. The old woman at the front door of the manor was as rude and blunt as she had been the last time. “Why are you bothering me again?” she snapped. “You know where the servants entrance is. USE IT!”
It took Stealth ten minutes to find the servants entrance. Finally he located a small doorway tucked in around a corner of the manor that Nestorius called home. Slowly the cheetah opened the door revealing a stairway leading downwards into darkness.
After a few minutes of walking Stealth found himself stepping up a tightly curving circular stairway. Soon he came to a small wooden doorway. Stealth pushed it open slowly and found himself in a small hallway. The floor was of bare wood varnished to a dull glow. The hallway itself was lined with countless doors all looking exactly like the one he had just come through. He looked up and down the corridor for a moment trying to decide where to go next.
“HEY! You’re not permitted in this area!” a voice called out suddenly.
Turning to the sound Stealth found himself looking at a tall, male wolf morph dressed impeccably in fine a silk waist coat and pants. “I am looking for . . “
“I am Sir Hedgwick. Address me properly peasant!” the wolf growled harshly. “And bow your head when you speak to me.”
Stealth suppressed the anger rising in him. “Sir. I am looking for . . “
“Keep quiet,” the wolf interrupted. “I will fetch the chamberlain. “Wait here till someone summons you.” With those words the wolf spun about and stalked off.
The cheetah morph made a guttural snarl revealing a muzzle full of very sharp teeth. “That’s it! I’M leaving this place! NOW!”
Edmund could hear his friend muttering to himself and snarling as he walked up the steps to the barracks. Terry had been waiting at the gate to the keep when Edmund had arrived back from a patrol. All Terry would say was that Stealth was upset and had been waiting to meet with Edmund for several hours. Just the look of concern on her face was enough to set the paladin to running across the courtyard and into the barracks.
He walked into the barracks and looked around. In one corner he found his friend. Stealth muttering and snarling as he packed all his possessions into a backpack. “You are not permitted in this area, address me properly, wait until summoned.”
“What’s wrong?” Edmund asked. He had never seen his friend so agitated.
"Use the Servant's stairs, don't enter that passage way, take your leave in the servant's quarters..." Stealth snarled as he paced back and forth across the room.
“Relax Stealth. Please calm down and be more coherent,” Edmund pleaded. “Has Nestorius really treated you so badly?”
“YES!” Stealth snarled baring his teeth. "Do you know what wild cheetahs do?" He asked coldly, "When they see a carriage they take a dump on it for some reason..." the cheetah said and continued pacing.
When Edmund raised his eye ridge Stealth continued, "I hope I go wild someday. I'll shit all over that guy's carriage. Extra points if I make a mess on his mane." Stealth growled angrily.
Edmund placed a hand on his friends shoulder. "Calm down Stealth! I'm sure this is not intentional.”
"How would YOU know?! You're not the one being treated like a door mat! I’ve had enough of this. I’m leaving,” Stealth wheeled about and started for the door.
Edmund grabbed his friend by the arm. "I need you here Stealth," Edmund said earnestly.
“I . . .” Stealth stuttered and fell silent.
“My friend. This mage has snubbed me as well. Not once but several times," Edmund answered in a cold tone. "I have yet to actually meet him. None of my people have. He has been deliberately avoiding me. It is time I meet with this mage. I am tired of his silly antics. I will talk to him today and correct these habits of his.
“Do not leave just yet,” the paladin asked. “Let me speak with Nestorius first. See what this lion is truly like.”
“All right,” Stealth said reluctantly.
“And if he’s still as arrogant afterward. Well. Then you can shit all over his carriage.”
He found Marcia in one of the many storerooms in the keep. The woman turned and smiled when she saw the paladin approaching.
“I will see Lord Nestorius!” Edmund said calmly.
“I’m sorry but .”
“NOW!” Edmund said in the cold tones of a leader interrupting the castellan.
“But Sir Edmund . . “
The paladin put his hand over the woman’s mouth, silencing her. “That was not a request,” he said in a hard tone that was both surprising and frightening.
Marcia removed the feline’s hand gently. “Perhaps an appointment could be arraigned,” Marcia answered slowly. There was a look of surprise and fear on her face.
“If I do not see him before nightfall my troop and I will leave. And I will report Nestorius’s rude and arrogant behavior to Duke Thomas personally,” Edmunds snarled.
“Edmund, what’s so serious?” she asked.
“His arrogant behavior is to stop now. He is commander of this fortress not some mysterious mage living on a mountain top. It is time he start being a commander and commanders lead in person!”
“You wouldn’t leave over something so trivial,” the woman said.
“TRIVIAL?” Edmund snarled. “He has constantly insulted me and my people, treating us like low mannered servants. And his treatment of my friend Stealth is unacceptable.”
“Sir Edmund we can work this out . . “
“Nightfall,” was all Edmund said.
“You are bluffing,” Marcia countered.
“I am a paladin. I don’t bluff and I do not lie,” Edmund said calmly.
Marcia nodded slowly. “All right Sir Edmund. Follow me please.”
“Lord Nestorius Sentilus will see you now,” Marcia said. “Please follow me.” She turned and walked out of the room.
Edmund followed after her and into the next room.
This room was a lot larger then the previous one and a lot more lavishly furnished. Expensive tapestries lined the walls and valuable carpets covered the floor. The furniture was of a zebra striped wood and lavishly carved.
Nestorius was standing with his back to Edmund and was looking out a small window. He was dressed in a silk robe of dark red that was covered with elaborate runes and sigils. His mane had gold and silver rings and ribbons woven into it. But the lion morph’s clothes were almost unseen by Edmund. All he had eyes for was Nestorius himself. He had seen many lions in his life and had even seen several keepers who had that as their curse given form. But what was so unique about this lion morph was his coloring. Nestorius was entirely black. Not just his mane as all male lions were but his entire body. Every single strand of fur on his body was as black as ink. No feline he had ever seen had such coloring except for the panthers in the southern jungles.
“My apologies for bothering you Sir Sentilus but there is the matter of your treatment of my people,” Edmund said in a calm, firm voice.
“You mean the messenger,” Nestorius answered in a haughty tone without turning around.
“Stealth is a good friend of mine. I do not appreciate your misuse of him or any of my people,” Edmund said in a cold tone.
“Your people,” the lion snarled. “You and your people will be gone from here in another two weeks and be replaced by another group. And in a month they will be gone too! Groups like yours come, eat our food, drink our wine and then ride a few circles around our home and then complain of how hard your duty is. Leaving my people and me to do the real patrolling and guarding.”
“My people are not like that,” Edmund countered. “I am not like that. I serve the Duke but I serve the Great One first. I came here to fight the evil I’ve seen. My oath is to fight evil not drink wine and take casual rides through the woods. My oaths forbid it.”
The lion nodded. “Your people have done better then I have seen in a long time.” He turned to face Edmund and cast his cold, calm gaze onto the paladin. The lion’s calm demeanor vanished in an instant and he recoiled from Edmund as if the paladin had sprouted tentacles and attacked. “You are a holy warrior and a cheetah!” Nestorius stuttered slowly as he took a step back.
Edmund looked down at his thin spotted cheetah body and nodded. “Yes I am. So? Why are you so upset?”
“I . . “ The lion shook his head, his mane flapping around. He smoothed the front of his robe with his hands for a moment. “I was caught off guard. I was aware that you were a paladin but not that your species was cheetah.”
“If you had met with me when I arrived this surprise would not have happened,” Edmund commented coldly.
Nestorious shook his head. “I did not think it important enough. Sometimes I forget who I am and think only of the power and my position. Pride is a failing of myself and many mages. It has gotten me into trouble in the past and it still does.”
Edmund shrugged. “We all have our failings.”
Nestorius slowly nodded and extended his left hand. “I do apologize for my poor treatment of you and your people. Especially Stealth.”
Edmund grasped the mage’s hand with his own and shook it. “You seem well on your way to controlling your pride. It is an evil we all must fight daily.”
“Thank you. I do have something very important to show you and Stealth. Please follow me and I will explain.” The lion turned and moved towards the far wall on which hung a massive tapestry. It showed the image of a far off snow covered mountain.
The lion pulled aside the tapestry revealing a metal door set into the wall. The door itself had no handle or lock. Nestorius placed his hand on the metal and the door slid silently into the wall. “Do not touch door or the door frame.” And with that the mage stepped through and into the room beyond. Cautiously Edmund followed being careful of what he touched..
This new room was smaller then the previous one. It had no windows and the only door was the one they had entered through. The walls were lined with shelves and cupboards that held all manner of things. In the center of the room was a large table made of a sand colored stone.
The lion moved to a small chest that rested in one corner. Edmund could not see exactly what Nestorius did but after a few moments of whispering and hand gestures the chest opened. The mage removed a small metal tube and closed the chest.
Nestorius moved to the table and placed the tube on it. Edmund saw that the tube was made of a metal that looked to be bronze and deep brown colored wood tube about two feet long with caps on both ends.
“This fortress fell to Nasoj’s forces eight years ago just before the now famous battle of the Three Gates,” Nestorius explained. “Seven years ago I was privileged enough to help free the ruins and restore it back to the Duke’s control. During the fighting a good friend of mine discovered this tube. I believe it was deliberately hidden for us to find.”
“Us?” Edmund asked. “Meaning you and me?”
“Meaning you, young Stealth and me,” Nestorius added.
“By who? And what makes you think it was left behind for us?”
The mage didn’t answer at first but removed the cap from one end of the tube. He pulled an impressively large amount of documents and scrolls from the tube and placed them on the table. Nestorius removed one document, the largest of the group and unrolled it slowly. “I believe this will answer at least some of your questions. And probably raise several more.”
The paper was large, about a foot wide and twice that long. On it was a detailed map of Metamor valley done in color and in great detail. It was a fantastic work of art. Every road, town and village was listed in great detail.
“Look at the figures on the top, above the map,” the lion ordered and tapped the top of the document with a clawed finger.
Edmund’s eyes wandered up the paper till they came to the top and he spotted three figures at the center at the top, standing side by side. The paladin gasped. Two of the figures were cheetahs! Standing on their hind legs. The other figure was a lion. There was no doubting that mane and long tail. He looked closer and saw details that unnerved him. The lion figure was completely black in color. One of the cheetahs was clearly wearing the robes of the Order of Protectors and carrying a Follower cross.
"It seems these papers were meant for the three of us,” Nestorius commented dryly.
"Who created all of these?" Edmund asked as he glanced at the papers.
The lion shrugged. “I’ve no idea. The papers are complete in all respects except their author. That is not recorded nor have I been able to discover that fact.”
“Very odd,” Edmund commented. “This is a monumental work that must have taken years.” The paladin unrolled a page and found a detailed map of a Seuilman city.
“Is this a map of the capital?” Edmund asked surprised.
“It is. There are several maps of the city along with maps of the entire valley,” the lion explained.
“How accurate is this?” Edmund asked as he lightly tapped the map with his hand.
“I have yet to find any inaccuracies in any of these maps. But I haven’t been able to fully check the details of the city. It still possesses some formidable defenses. The spirits that still haunt it are a further hindrance,” the mage answered and paused. “And there is the shadow that still guards the ruins.”
“I’ve met him,” Edmund said trying to sound casual. “Several times.”
“You have?” Nestorius commented. The surprise plain to hear. “You are lucky to have survived.”
Edmund shook his head. “Not luck. We have reached an agreement. Of sorts.”
The lion stiffened. “It is dangerous to deal with creatures like that.”
“I am a paladin. A warrior of the Great One,” Edmund said with pride. “We deal with such things all the time.”
“I understand that,” Nestorius snapped back and curled his lip in a slight snarl. “But it is still dangerous.”
“Agreed but with the oath and gifts from the Great One comes many responsibilities.”
“The ghosts,” Nestorius stated calmly. “You are trying to free the ghosts.”
“Indeed. They all deserve a final peace and not that vile torment,” Edmund explained.
“A noble undertaking,” the lion said and relaxed. “Have you met with much success?”
“A little. I have explored portions of the ruins and the shadow has passed along much helpful information.”
Nestorius nodded as his tail whipped back and forth. “Good. Have you taken Stealth to the ruins?”
Edmund shook his head vigorously. “No but if this document is correct it seems both of our fates are intertwined with the spirit’s.”
The mage pointed to the three figures. “The three of us.”