The Shadow of the Rose
Copyright© 2012 by R22CoolGuy
The next morning they packed their belongings and began the trek out of the catacombs. As they left the lit storeroom into the darker hallway Reg noticed that Aaron became harder to see.
"Aaron, you are almost invisible. No that is not right; more like you faded into the shadows," Reg explained. "Step back into the storeroom please?"
Aaron complied with Reg's wishes and sure enough he was much easier to see.
"Aaron, just bear with me a moment?" he asked and pulled his sword.
As Reg stepped closer and brought Timekeeper up into a striking position, Aaron's image shifted back and forth, making it difficult to target him. Reg put Timekeeper away and Aaron's image settled back into place.
"Your position shifts back and forth, similar to a displacer beast," Reg said. "I think your cloak has those properties as a minimum."
"Well, that was certainly interesting!" Reg exclaimed, walking out into the hall. "Now, let us try something else. Aaron, step out into the hall."
Aaron again complied with Reg's wishes and walked out of the lit storeroom, into the darker hallway. Aaron blended into the shadows, almost, but not completely disappearing.
"Interesting," Reg remarked. "Now, go back into the room, pull up your hood and step back out."
Once again Aaron went into the storeroom, this time he pulled up the hood of his cloak and stepped out into the darker hall and into the shadows and vanished!
"Gods, that is remarkable!" Reg exclaimed, astonished. "Timekeeper, where did he go?"
"He has shifted to the Shadow Realm, My Lord," Timekeeper replied. "Do you want me to bring him back?"
"Not quite yet," Reg replied. "I will give him a little time before pulling him out."
Aaron was not really sure what Reg was up to, but if his experiments revealed anything about the cloak then he was willing to go along. When Reg said to bear with him and then brought his sword up to a killing strike, Aaron's natural instinct was to block and attack. Standing there waiting for the sword to fall was certainly an uncomfortable position to be in. When Reg told him he was shifting around that was definitely a surprise, and a happy one at that. The stepping in and out of the storeroom was becoming tedious, but Aaron accepted it with good grace. He had decided though, to tell Reg that the last time with the hood up, was going to be the last experiment. Aaron had not expected this result.
Aaron was still standing in the hall, well, sort of. Where he was, he did not know, what he did know was that everywhere he looked it was gray - shifting shades of gray. A drab reality with an irritating background noise, like ringing in his ears, or a low droning buzz. It was chilly and damp and the air was thick and fluid, worse than the most humid day he had ever been in.
Aaron could still see the walls and substance of the hallway, but he could see right through it too, as if he could walk right through, and he did. He walked right through the earth, ending up in the small hallway with the steps leading up to the dungeon level. It was as if this plane of existence was within the Material, but separate somehow.
Looking down he saw that the ring that came with the cloak, and was now on his index finger of his right hand, glowed with an eerie gray aura. The sudden cry of some fell thing caused the hairs to rise on the back of Aaron's neck.
What Aaron did not realize was that he was a beacon in this gray, eerie world. Every wraith, stalker, and demon that called this plane home was converging on his position. Aaron could see movement within the shadowy mist and drew his swords and began to pull power. Wherever he was he still had access to Eldritch, and that was good.
Aaron was surrounded by monsters straight out of the worst childhood nightmares, or grown-up nightmares, for that matter. His swords glowed with bluish light and pulsed with power, as the creatures closed in on him. Just when Aaron thought that battle was inevitable, the creatures stopped and genuflected! Boy, he had not see that coming!
Looking around Aaron saw some twenty or so creatures, all on their knees or what passed for knees for some of them. There were wraiths, stalkers, and several demons, as well as a creature that looked like a dragon or something similar, all around him, all waiting for something.
"My Lord, I think they wait on you," Black Rose said. "You are their lord, command them."
"You may rise, or whatever," Aaron commanded, sweeping his arm around. "And return to your previous duties." The creatures rose and began to fade away.
"Red Rose, where are we?" Aaron asked.
"The Shadow Realm, My Lord," the sword replied. "It is another plane of existence, within the Material plane yet separate. Your movement in here will be reflected out there. Be careful where you are when you reemerge on the Material plane."
"So, if I step into the Shadow Realm and move to a different location, I can then step back into the Material plane at that location?" Aaron asked.
"Yes, My Lord," Red Rose replied.
"No more locked doors," Aaron laughed, and then sobered up. "What is the cost?"
"Cost, My Lord?" Red Rose asked, confused. "I do not understand."
"Lord Azrael, you can come out now," Aaron called out.
"Well done, Lord Whiterune," Lord Azrael laughed, fading into view.
"Your gifts are truly spectacular!" Aaron began. "Why?"
"Why not?" Lord Azrael replied. "Before the ascension I was a thief. So consider this a gift from one thief to another."
"And you expect nothing in return?" Aaron asked. "You heard me say that my desires were simple. I do not want to be involved in intrigue or politics. I will remain Lady Rannath's Champion, I owe her that, but that is the extent of my involvement."
"I understand completely," Lord Azrael replied. "I had hoped that perhaps I might receive the same involvement. That I might be able to call upon you in time of need."
"What? I would be your champion as well?" Aaron asked. "Could there not be a potential conflict of interest?"
"No, not exactly a champion," Lord Azrael replied. "More in line with the services you performed for the Guild Council in Aithen."
"You want a troubleshooter?" Aaron replied. "An Assassin?"
"Would that present a problem?" Lord Azrael asked. "There may be circumstances where my direct involvement could pose problems. I would need someone who could act on my behalf."
"No, I guess not really," Aaron replied. "I would want right of refusal though. I had a broad charter with the Council, and could refuse assignments. I would want that same understanding."
"I understand completely," Lord Azrael replied. "So, is that a yes?"
"Yes, with reservations," Aaron replied. "I accept under those terms."
"That is acceptable to me," Lord Azrael replied. "One thing you should know. Never enter the Shadow Realm without that ring. The cloak will gain you access through any shadow on the Material plane, after you draw the hood up, but the ring denotes you as a Lord of the Realm. Without it, the denizens will eat your soul, but with it they are your willing minions."
"Lovely," Aaron replied. "I will keep that in mind."
"There are other things I would like to talk to you about," Lord Azrael explained. "Things you may not know."
Azrael discussed several things with Aaron; all of which were revelations in one way or another.
"Thank you for the information, Lord Azrael," Aaron nodded. "I guess I owe you for that as well."
"No, not at all," Lord Azrael replied. "I just thought you should know."
"Good day, Lord Whiterune," Lord Azrael faded from view.
"Well, it looks like I have a new job," Aaron sighed. "I had better get back, before Reg calls out the bloodhounds."
Reg was getting a little antsy when Aaron pulled back his hood and faded into view.
"I was getting a little worried," Reg said.
"Sorry, I was just following your experiments," Aaron replied, smiling.
"And, what did you find out?" Reg asked.
"The cloak shifts me into the Shadow Realm when I stand in the shadows with the hood up," Aaron explained. "The ring gives me passage within the realm. It makes me a Lord of the Realm."
"Aaron, look! You cast no shadow!"
Aaron turned and looked where Reg was pointing at the wall. There was Reg's shadow and where Aaron's should have been there was nothing. He no longer had a shadow! He explained what had happened, leaving out his discussion with the Shadow God. He also described the local inhabitants, causing a shiver from Reg.
Having decided to check on the front gates, they continued through the dungeon and out into the main hall. After listening at the door and hearing nothing they prepared themselves.
Aaron continued to pull in power to the point that blue sparks jumped from finger to finger. All three had their swords at the ready when they removed the timbers and Aaron opened the door. A beautiful morning greeted them when the doors were opened. The front gates were open, the portcullis was up, and most importantly not a single undead warrior could be seen.
Aaron asked Red Rose if a warding rune could be a tuned to a person or thing. Red Rose confirmed that it could and explained how, so Aaron had Red Rose ward the doors after they left the keep. Aaron directed Reg and Rac-Nur to place a hand on the door while Red Rose warded it. At some point it would need to be re-occupied, but that would come later. For now the runes of warding should protect the keep. Swords at the ready, they made their way to the front gates, which Aaron shut and warded as well. Taking the highway back toward Dria, they went looking for the sidhe tree village.
They had only been on the road for a few moments when a Sidhe hunting party stepped out of the forest.
"Lord Whiterune, there are patrols out looking for you," the leader of the hunting party said. "I will inform Cael that you have been found. If you will follow me?"
They arrived at the city several hours later to find Cael, Moira, and the village elders on the forest floor waiting for them.
"Was your trip successful?" Cael asked.
"More successful than you can imagine," Aaron said. "Reg has something he wants to share with you."
"Cael, I have set time free and can open your gate home," Reg said with little fanfare. "You can leave anytime you want, right now if you desire."
"What, how is that possible?" Cael cried. "I do not understand, how did you set time free?"
"I pulled the Sword of Time from its stone," Reg replied. "Do you want to open the gate now?"
"You have caught us by surprise," Cael exclaimed. "Let the Elders meet and decide. Have you eaten?"
"That is fine, we are no longer pressed for time," Aaron replied, chuckling. "And we have not eaten."
Moira escorted them to the large hall where the adventurers were served lunch while the village elders met to decide their next course of action. After lunch the elders announced that they would leave in the morning. This evening they would have a celebration of their lives on Andor. In the morning they would journey home.
Families began packing their things for the trip. Everything they intended to take they moved into one of the large halls, then they began dismantling their living huts. By the time of the celebration most of the village had been dismantled.
For the banquet, sumptuous morsels were set out and there was lively music and dancing. Reg joined the impromptu orchestra and entertained the audience. Moira sat with Aaron and discussed inconsequential things, just making small talk. Rac-Nur, ever vigilant and silent, stayed close to his liege.
The celebration went well into the night before breaking up. Cael led Reg away to a discussion with the village elders, while Moira led Aaron away for a discussion of a different sort. Rac-Nur posted himself outside the hut were Aaron spent what remained of the night.
The village was bustling early the next morning. A train of Sidhe passed their possessions to the forest floor, while another train finished dismantling the huts and halls. Finally the last of their possessions were down and the large meeting hall dismantled and brought down as well. Looking up at the forest canopy, a person would never know a village had been there as little as a day ago.
Cael brought them to where two trees had grown together forming an opening in between their trunks. The opening was the doorway home - the gate's access. The village elders quieted the crowd as Reg drew Timekeeper.
"Timekeeper, this gate will take the Sidhe home," Reg explained. "Please open it."
The sword's runes burned with a bright silvery light and then went out.
"My Lord, the gate is locked," Timekeeper explained. "I could force it open, but, it would be better if you used the key."
"What key?" Reg asked.
"A tone, My Lord," Timekeeper replied. "The gate's power is attuned to a tone. Your harp, My Lord, play the scale.
"Can you support yourself, while I play?" Reg asked.
"Yes, My Lord, just release me," Timekeeper responded.
Holding Timekeeper out in front of him, Reg let go and the sword stayed hovering in place. Reg removed Belle, and after checking that the strings were still in tune, he played the scales.
"There, My Lord, that tone," Timekeeper told him. "Can you play a melody with that tone?"
Reg shifted to a simple melody with the tone reoccurring. He played it twice through.
"Master Reginald, you are playing the melody to a Sidhe traveling song," Cael remarked, clearly astonished. "If I have it played for you, could you repeat it?"
Reg said he could, so Cael called for a musician to play the song through so Reg could repeat it on Belle. Reg listened to the song and repeated it.
"Yes, My Lord, that is it," Timekeeper exclaimed and opened the gate.
The air between the two trunks coalesced and turned opaque, before changing to a viscous fluid-like substance similar to quicksilver.
"It is done, My Lord," Timekeeper announced. "The gate is open."
Reg completed the song and put Belle back in her case and strapped it back on. Reaching out and grasping Timekeeper, he thanked the sword and put it back in its scabbard.
The excitement amongst the Sidhe was almost palpable as they got in a makeshift line and began walking through the gate and disappearing. The exodus lasted just over two hours until the only Sidhe left were Cael and Moira. Giving Aaron a kiss, she smiled at him and passed through.
"You cannot imagine how appreciative we are at meeting you both," Cael smiled, tears in his eyes. "We had always thought that Andor would be our home, yet you have given us the gift of returning to our true home. We could never come close to be able to repay you in kind. We hope that the blessings of the 'Three' will follow you all of the days of your lives."
Cael hugged them both and then waved, passing through the gate. Silence wrapped the adventurers in her bosom, as they reflected on the Sidhe.
"Timekeeper, you can close the gate," Reg commanded, as the fluid faded away and light once again passed through the opening.
Aaron looking around and was amazed, the forest looked pristine, virgin. No trace of the Sidhe remained.
The Sidhe had taken care of Thorn, as well as Reg's mount, while the adventurers were in the castle. Upon their return to the village the Sidhe had given Rac-Nur a mountain pony. They walked their horses to the highway, mounted and headed off toward Dria.