October 28, 794, TR
The city of Tharmis spread out before Aerlin and Maraxus. More than three times the size of Whayn-Fharh, it was the largest city of Dantimos and the home of its ruling council. The two had spent nearly a month traveling the distance between remote Whayn-Fharh and Tharmis, which lay midway between the D'ner river and the western Oor-Taelian mountains. They were at last on the final leg of their trip to Pheodran.
Maraxus led them deep into the city, apparently looking for something that he would not tell Aerlin, and that she could not discern. He was intimately familiar with the winding, unmapped streets, and didn't lose his way, though she became immediately disoriented and relied on him to know where he was going and to get them back out again.
Presently, they came to an unmarked door in an alley, and Aerlin wouldn't have seen it if Maraxus hadn't pointed it out. Maraxus gave it a twin pounding, and paused a moment. The door opened to darkness from within, and the two entered. A hushed female voice greeted them guardedly, hastily closing the door behind them.
"Come quickly, it is no good for you two to stand here," she said. The room they stood in was only a few feet by a few feet, and the cloaked woman was a bundle of rags that threw open a secret exit in the floor, revealing a ladder that went down. Only when all three were down and the hatch was securely fastened, did the woman remove the bindings about her head.
"Aunt Brylene!" Aerlin exclaimed in astonishment.
"Hush child, now is not the time for surprise. Max, my love. Good to see you once more." They embraced in welcome. "Come now, follow me." Their path was lit by torches at spread out intervals, each an orange tint flickering amid the shades of darkness.
They sped their way throughout a winding maze of catacombs which Brylene and Maraxus seemingly knew well, and Aerlin was quickly lost. She noted too that Brylene was aged more, just as Maraxus was, and wondered. Maraxus said that he had only known where to seek herself out, not Brylene. About the time she thought this, Maraxus spoke up in a hushed whisper.
"You're wondering by now why your aunt is here, and why I said I hadn't sought her out, and why I knew she was here." She had indeed been thinking such. "Well, I came across vague utterings of her presence here long before I came to where you were, and we met up again for a brief time. We've had years to prepare for your arrival, and Gandalf's plans can now be put forward into action."
By now, Aerlin was more confused than ever. Gandalf's plans? What was her father up to, and what part did she and Jaron play in it all? But no more was forthcoming. At last, the catacombs widened to a vast hall, and she knew they had gone even further underground than she expected. Several people were there, and it was light in various corners, providing a modicum of illumination while still seeming dark and foreboding.
Maraxus and Brylene brought Aerlin forth to a man sitting in an ornate throne. The man seemed of some great import, but she could not discern what. He began to speak, and removed any remaining questions in that stern, heavy voice.
"Mistress Stormcrow has come at last. You resemble your mother," he said. Leaning and peering forward, he continued. "Well met. This is an auspicious day indeed. You could not have come at a worse time, in an hour of direst need. Come forth! I wish to see you better in the light."
Even as he spoke, she beheld an astounding spectacle, for the darkness played tricks on her eyes. Around the man a shadow shifted, within, through, and all about him. Two piercing blue specks of flame hovered as though a pair of eyes belonged to the shade.
She stepped near, and the shade's flurry of motion slowed to a crawl, and she could almost feel those "eyes" gazing at her with strange notions of memory. The man cupped his hand under her chin and stared at her face, analyzing every supple curve of her body as his gaze followed her form to the floor. The shadow disappeared before the man spoke again.
"You are one of the heirs of His power, but it is not you who wields it. No matter. His blood runs still as strong. Forgive me, Aerlin. I have not introduced myself. I am Tierle, a humble wizard of the Academy of Planarth. We have been waiting for you for years, since Gandalf summoned me to his presence. I'm not on the best of terms with Baltir these days, but his life and mine no longer run in parallel. Please love, sit down."
At the command, she did so, giving it no further thought. Brylene and Maraus joined her at Tierle's table, but remained silent. All told, thirteen people were in the hall, each seated in their own place at the table. Servants busied themselves as well, bringing food and drink. Tierle waited in silence with his index fingers held together before his lips. He seemed patient and terrible, benevolent yet hurried as if the weight of the future hung on this meeting.
"You have among your belongings a special book penned by the Planeswalker Elrohir. Don't be surprised; I was told you would not come without it." She nodded. "Good. Very good. Perhaps there is time yet." The twin eyes reappeared above his head, cold and unblinking. "Bring it to me, please."
So forceful was the command that Aerlin could not but obey. A servant appeared at her side, and conveyed the book to the wizard. Tierle shuddered when he touched its leather bindings, and the eyes disappeared.
"The Edair is safe," he spoke, his voice greatly changed. The whites of Tierle's eyes were instead a brilliant blue. A pang of regret hung with the lilt of his speech.
"Daughter of magic, do you know me?" The form of Tierle carried itself differently, standing now and grasping a staff, leaning heavily upon it. She shook her head. "I did not think so. I was known as Elrohir in life, but death still has yet to dig her sharp claws into me completely. My fabled relation to you troubles your brother more than he can deal with, and I still have unfinished business to take care of."
"But the task at hand is of greater importance than your familial history. The wraith-plague is no longer under the control of the Wraith-kin. Further, it accomplishes no more of their vengeful goals, and they have at last begun to move into the east. No man, woman or child is safe, for they will be slain without compassion. Unless they are stopped, death and true night will sweep across the land..."