“This is all your fault!” Eden rattled the Orb of Many Ways frantically, but it offered no response.
Eden’s self-proclaimed stellar sense of direction had failed him in this strange new land. Despite his half-hearted wanderings, he hadn’t come across a single trace of civilisation (apart from a few orc patrols who angrily told him to ‘wait for the next beta’). For all his aspirations of becoming a loner in Middle-Earth, he soon found that being alone wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, and his present isolation was making his brain behave in strange ways… the fact he had all-but-made an imaginary friend before becoming stranded didn’t help matters.
“Now are you sorry you abandoned me? If you were wearing me, you could have fled from Novan and not needed to use the farportal…”
“I hope those ballyhooed Frost Treads have sturdy soles… you’re going to be wandering for a long time…”
“Quiet I said! Quiet! I…” Eden’s initiation into the insanity club was postponed as he spied the telltale entrance to a cave mere yards away. Approaching the entrance he saw that the cavern was submerged.
“An underwater cave… Shouldn’t be too difficult to traverse. Right…”
Fortunately, the sound of approaching hoof falls brought Eden away from his premature death on the end of a naga’s trident. A patrol was approaching him, and not just any patrol – a patrol of humans and elves in shining armour. Sun paladins!
“By Eru’s knapsack, I’m saved!” The paladin patrol (or palatrol) came to a halt by Eden’s side as he gasped, “Thank you, thank you! I-I-I’ve been lost for days! I went through this portal and it dropped me in the middle of nowhere and I haven’t got a clue where I am! But now I’m saved, hahaha! Please, won’t you help me?”
“High Lady Aeryn. We found some vagabond not affiliated with the Sunwall out in the wilds. Probably a spy.” The pair of paladins that had dragged Eden’s bruised body the distance of the journey to the Gates of Morning dropped him unceremoniously, “Deal with him as you will.”
Eden got to his feet, tenderly feeling his many aches and pains as he did, “You’re the boss here? I’ve gotta tell you, I don’t think much of the hospitality around here. Would it hurt ya to roll out a red carpet for new arrivals? I just think that with this treatment I’ll…” Eden looked up, noticing who he was talking to for the first time, “… okay-I’ll-be-quiet.”
The woman who stood before Eden was glaring at him with such intensity that he imagined she was trying to melt him with imaginary heat vision. Not that it would’ve been necessary; the sheer gleaming of her armour was enough to give Eden a mild suntan just by standing there.
Eden waited as the woman perused him. When no greeting seemed imminent, he coughed and began, “Anyway, my names Ed--”
“I am High Sun Paladin Aeryn, ruler of the Sunwall.” The woman spoke over Eden, “Followers of the sun, who wield the power of the sun to punish the enemies of the sun.”
“Thanks for clearing that up. So, anyway--”
“Who are you, traveller?” Aeryn sniffed with distaste, “You have the smell of orcs about you.”
“I should imagine so! I’ve just fought through a whole dwarven-hallsworth of them, and I haven’t had the chance to fit a bath into my schedule. I don’t suppose you warriors of the sun have a bath house of the sun I can use… of the sun?”
An entirely humourless smile crossed Aeryn’s face, “You seem to be under the delusion that you are welcomed here, rogue. I, for one, doubt your story. We have heard of no dwarven halls in the surrounding lands, and I find it hard to believe someone as un-shiny as you could have performed such a feat anyway. I find the idea of you being an orcish spy far easier to believe…”
“How can I be an orcish spy?! They barely understand what they’re seeing half the time, let alone what others are seeing for them!”
“High Lady Aeryn!” A sun paladin approached Aeryn, who had entirely ignored Eden’s speech, “News of another spider attack reaches us. Scouts saw a group of the fiends dragging an anorithil into Ardhungol.”
“Anorithil?” Exclaimed Eden, “You mean like Beturin?”
“Indeed! That was her name!”
Aeryn scowled, “And how did you know that?” Drawing her sword, she advanced on Eden, “Not an orcish spy, but a spider spy? A spy-der?”
Eden drew his knives, “Oh, whatever. You’re obviously itching for a fight of the sun, lady of the sun. I’ll give you a fight, of the sun!”
Both Aeryn and Eden turned to the sun paladin in confusion. Raising his visor, he was revealed to be Belebeth, the sun paladin Eden had assisted in the Trollshaws. “Is that you? Never thought I’d see you again! How fare you?”
“You know this knave?” Aeryn mumbled, sheathing her sword.
“Indeed. He was the rogue who helped me to my recall portal I told you about.” Belebeth turned to Eden and grinned, “Come quite a way from your home in Bree, haven’t you?”
“We cannot control our circumstances, only our responses…” Eden replied with humility, but not before shooting a smug look at Aeryn.
“So, you’re not a spy…” Aeryn muttered, “But then, how do you know Beturin?”
“Saved her too,” Smiled Eden, “She’d be fertiliser for Old Man Willow right now if it wasn’t for me.”
“Well then,” Aeryn displayed a smile as gleaming as her armour, “Why not rescue her again, from these spiders? Do that, and maybe we can talk further about your admittance here…”
“Deal! After all, how big can these giant spiders be?”
Eden was hurled against the cavern wall, rolling to the floor in cloud of dust. Turning his head, he beheld the gigantic mandibles only inches away from piercing his neck. He swung his dagger, by luck hitting the scuttling horror in one of its many eyes. The pain was enough for it to flinch, giving Eden the opportunity to regain his footing and bring the creature down with a frantic flurry.
“That’s not a spider!” Shrieked Eden, “That’s… that’s two mumakil tied together!”
Level 30! +3 Cunning +2 Precision +1 Cunning/Packing
“Eden?” Arenji hissed, “Your time comes, and not a moment too soon.”
“You!” Eden spoke to thin air, “This little subconscious ploy shows just how desperate you are!”
“Fool yourself if you will, whelp.”
Eden moved on, ignoring the voice, when he noticed something peculiar. “Arenji… if I’m to die… why aren’t you happy?” Indeed, Arenji’s voice was bitter, “I thought you delighted in seeing people brought to their end.”
“In most cases, yes,” Arenji grumbled, “But there is a meddler in your affairs…”
“Meddler? What do you mean?”
Arenji was silent. All of a sudden, Eden felt a presence behind him. Spinning on the spot, he saw no one.
Level 31! +3 Strength +1 Whirlwind +1 Efficient Packing
The scroll deposited Eden in a new cavern, but from the nearby sounds of roaring and scratching, he guessed that he wasn’t too far from his previous location.
A faint red glow came from the darkness beyond. In its light Eden could almost make out… an orc’s face?
“Hello, something seems to be happening down the--”
“I… I can’t move…”
“Good. That’d just make my work harder. Can you see me?”
Although Eden didn’t feel his eyes open, his vision slowly returned. Unable to move his head, Eden could only see from his current viewpoint that he was in a dark, underground chamber. The air was deathly cold.
“Ahh, quit complaining.” Came Grim’s response. Her familiar face appeared in Eden’s field of view, smiling as always, “You’re lucky I found ya in time.”
“Lucky?” Eden mumbled, “Lucky how?”
“Don’t you remember? You were attacked by this orcish pyromancer and his drakes, not to mention a whole heap of giant spiders. They totally surrounded you. You were in a right state; looked like a crimson jelly exploded.”
“Oh, yeah…” Eden moved to wipe his face, but found he couldn’t move his arms, “I remember that damned pyromancer now. Makes this cold a bit more bearable thinking about it. Where are we?”
Grim offered no response, too busy with something out of Eden’s field of view to reply. Eden asked another question, “How did you find me, anyway?”
“Uh? Oh…” Grim shrugged, “Turned out there was a second farportal to the east that didn’t need the Orb of Many Ways. It’s what all those sun paladins and anorithils were using to show up in the west. I went through it, found that Sunwall place, got told to go to Ardhungol by the scary lady, and found ya in a spider web. Simple. Ooh! I think I’ve got this figured out now…” Grim ducked out of view again. A few moments later, Eden felt the paralysis slowly fade from his limbs. “That better?”
“Yes. So… I’m going to be okay?”
“Right as rain,” Grim twinkled, “Just one thing. You kinda lost a rib. Hope you don’t mind.”
“One rib? Of course not.” Eden sighed. He felt safe, a feeling he hadn’t experienced in a long time, “Looks like I owe you big-time, Grim. Still, I got pretty far for a punk from Bree, didn’t I? I wonder if the townspeople will accept me now, once they’ve seen all I’ve gone through…”
Grim made a long and hesitant noise, tugging the collar of her robe awkwardly, “Well, maybe… I mean, people are a little more accepting now than they were in the old days…”
In an instant, Eden was suspicious, “What do you mean? You have fixed me up properly, right? I’m not disfigured or anything? I have to say, I didn’t know you to be much of a doctor…”
“Doctor?! Nah, I’m hopeless at that stuff,” Grim giggled, “I ended up in prison when I tried to get that splinter out of old man Gardner’s finger once…”
“Then… what have you done? And what is that?!” For the first time, Eden beheld the tool Grim held in her hand – a bonesaw.
“I can hardly ply my trade without it, can I Eden?”
“Trade?!” Thoughts of dread were rapidly accumulating in Eden’s mind, “Why is it so cold?! How did you heal me?! And where are we?!”
Grim smiled, a picture of glee, “The Paths of the Dead, silly!”
You have died!