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The Claymore Quest

Methril Rundran
MethrilRundran@hotmail.co.uk

December 18, 2009


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Contents

I Tenebrous Tangle 5
1 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service 11

2 Burglars Afoot 33

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Dedicated, in equal measure, to the lost and to the found.
Part I

Tenebrous Tangle

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T his was long ago and far away. The world was new-born,
its rough edges not yet rounded and smoothed by the epic
tides of history. In crystalline splendour, the Dragon Goddess
Veeshan soared through the universe, rainbows of refracted
starlight heliographing from her wings. Heavy with eggs, she
cast her burning gaze through veils of nebulae until finally she
spied this likely-looking perch.
It was a great smoldering rock, formed recently in the
universe, still soft and crumbling in the fires of its creation.
Veeshan took her perch, and embryonic continents crashed
and folded one upon the other as her claws found purchase.
The orbits of two moons cast a trail of pale light over the
dark side of the planet. Under that light, the primordial crust
heaved and boiled. Veeshan spread her wings for a moment
as she scrambled, twining her serpentine body around this
world.
She named it Norrath, even as a swoop of asteroids ex-
ploded from her talons. Pressed within the gleaming coils of
the Goddess’s body, the surface of Norrath hardened, crag
and contour, fissure and fault, all magnified under the perfect
oceanic lens of her body. As she made herself comfortable, a

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miles-thick sheen of ice began to form on its surface. It was
a good place, some instinct reassured her of that, plentiful in
prey and large enough too, its rocky body at least twice as
massive as her own.
The Dragon Goddess marked her possession of the new
planet by scratching titanic claw marks into its surface, raising
mountains and splitting continents. In the darkness, magma
flared with fierce incandescence. Finally, coiled about her
dominion, Veeshan laid her eggs in the great canyons she had
broken into the frozen continent that would become known
as Velious. Satisfied with her labours, Veeshan recovered her
strength and with one incredible contraction of her crystalline
musculature, sprang up and away from Norrath.
The world continued to develop on the course she had
set it upon. As its climate became more hospitable, the ice
receded away from the equator, leaving only Velious to the
south and the northernmost region of Antonica to the north,
permanently snow-swept. South-east of Antonica, Kunark re-
mained a primordial, volcanically active land. In the east, rich
emerald forests sprang forth abundantly across the continent
of Faydwer. Antonica itself was a continent of great geo-
logical and climatic variety: Frosty Halas to the north; the
infernal Lavastorm mountains in the north-east; the temper-
ate grassy and forested regions of Rivervale lying in a central
band across its middle; steppe and desert in the south east;
and dead swampland in the south-west.
In Velious, the eggs of Veeshan hatched and the First
Brood was born. These mighty dragons, whose like shall never
again be seen on Norrath, grew to build the first draconic em-
pire. In thrall to the memory of their legendary mother, they
raised a great temple on the far western boundary of Velious.
Revelling in their dominion over this world, construction of
the Temple of Veeshan was followed, in time, by the estab-
lishment of the hallowed Skyshrine tower. Lord Yelinak, he
of the red hide and white patagia, led a group of dragons
eastwards to establish its design and oversee its construction.
From these settlements, the fledgling draconic civilisation con-

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tinued to grow. This growth gave rise to the inception of lesser
draconic species: drakes, wurms, wyverns, and racnar.
As their numbers rose, Velious was consolidated ir-
refutably as the dominion of the children of Veeshan. The
First Brood established a high council to serve as its head
and to maintain control of the realm. It elected Kildrukaun
the Black as its arch priest. He would interpret and channel
the will of Veeshan on Norrath. Under his leadership, the
dragons prospered, amassing and crafting treasures as they
gained geographical and intellectual mastery of Norrath.
The draconic civilisation came to realise the opportunities
afforded by the exploitation of magical power and the chan-
neling of mana. Several of the First Brood became obsessed
by the study of arts that would remain esoteric even as aeons
passed and increasing numbers of researchers sought to gain
this power. The relationship of Veeshan’s progeny to magic
was a primordial one, closer and stronger than any that would
be earned by the other Norrathian species.

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Chapter 1

On Her Majesty’s Secret


Service

S training forward, hand braced against his knee, Methril


Rundran could see nothing of promise over the gleam-
ing, shushing precipice of the waterfall. There did seem to

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be another reef of island down there, shimmering like a mi-
rage in the distance. Its jagged grey shape was surrounded
by a depthless cobalt sky. The sight of sky below as well as
above consistently staggered him, inducing a dizzying and ir-
reconcilable feeling of vertigo. He looked around quickly and
saw Bise wading hip-deep through the deceptive calmness of
the river. The cool force of its flow was strong and the ranger
could see her dark hair beginning to float on the wake building
smoothly behind her. As she approached him, Bise stepped
up to place one foot onto the cap rock over which the river
tumbled. With a grace belying the effort involved, she planted
her other foot onto one of the five sombre hunks of sandstone
perched along the lip of the cataract, resting on the ridge of
cap rock. Methril clasped her hand and hauled her light body
and its waterlogged accoutrements out of the river.
“Well,” Methril breathed, “there it is.”
Leviggh had reached the great sandstone boulders too and
dragged his frail form out of the river to stand beside his
companions, having waved away all offers of assistance. His
sodden eyebrows swooped into what looked, to all but the
very few who knew him well, like unpromising skeins of ill
humour. “A test of faith, that’s what he said, wasn’t it?”
“A plunge of faith... those were the exact words, I believe.”
“This... hooluk... whom neither of us have ever met be-
fore!” Leviggh sighed. “Methril, you know I can see by your
face that you’re planning to go ahead with-” Even as his ad-
visor spoke, the ranger cupped one shaped hand to his lips,
pursed them, and produced a single short hawk whistle of
great precision. The other hand, he held out away from his
face, fingers loosely curled in a fist. With a ruffle of feath-
ers, and a brief cry from Bise, Iynsara was perched on the
talon-nicked cuff of his vambrace. It gave three quick, dis-
tinctive whistles and flew off in the direction of the trees by
the river bank. Tronosse and the others would interpret the
arrival of this predatory messenger as a signal to follow along
after. Guided by the hawk, and the minute sign left by their
companions’ trail, they’d make short work of the trek.

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“Hmm...” Tronosse’s broad face was shadowed by the
prospect of the leap, brow furrowed with concern.
“There’s no question we should all make our peace with
such Gods as watch after us before we go over.” Termass was
grave. “I’m aiming this particularly at you, madam” he said,
looking pointedly at Bise.
“Oh don’t worry about that. Thule, I can scarcely see
anything down there. My faith in the Eternal is equalled only
by my faith that there’s enough water down there to actually
land in. Can you see where the river actually falls to?”
Leviggh shook his head slowly. “Surges out too far to see
safely.”
Methril nodded. The merest flutter of a smile was playing
at the edges of his lips. It was a smile that his companions
had seen before. A glint of defiance in the darkest situations.
Bise lay on her belly, toes hooked over one edge of the
sandstone rock, hands pressed flat to it, surveying the view
below. For all their apparent height, the waterfall was quiet
save for an ambient hushing sound, torrential water striking
nothing within earshot. Far below, the thief could see the
greenish shape of the western-most edge of the island. Per-
haps it was formed of the same kind of sombre sandstone that
she lay upon, the uneven shape bristled over one third of its
surface by a growth of distant trees and vegetation. In the sky
below, a flock of small finches flew above clouds bathed in the
orange twilight sun. Perhaps one would dive like an osprey
into the surface of the waterfall and emerge with the sun-fired
gleam of a struggling fish. With an indistinct drowsiness, Bise
murmured “Ohhh... river’s running between the clouds...”
Their horses stood skittishly on the river bank, burdened
by all manner of straps, saddlebags, rucksacks, and harnesses.
The beasts were bristling with weapons and armour, weighed
down by provisions, bedrolls, and sundry camp-making equip-
ment. The Arch-Mage, Leviggh Armone looked over his com-
panions and turned to Methril, one bushy eyebrow raised

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quizzically for confirmation. The ranger nodded.
“We’ve seen the hostility of the denizens here, those
dragon men slavers. We can’t leave the horses and equip-
ment unattended so I would ask three of you to stay here to
guard the camp.
“Tronosse, Mournglen, Termass.” Methril put out his
hand. “Our inestimable colleagues.” Those fellows clasped
his hand in theirs. Bise and Leviggh added theirs to the knot
of fingers. “We shall meet again.”
“Soon” they nodded, carefully doubtless.
“Until then, care for the horses and gear is yours. Be
true.”
“Godspeed.”
Methril nodded and turned to Leviggh and Bise, one eye-
brow raised inquiringly. “Faith? I would have us test it to-
gether. Are you with me?”
Leviggh was definite. “Always.”
Bise gave a firm nod. “Always.”
The three companions turned to stand at the lip of the
waterfall. Cobblestone monuments stood on each bank of
the river, forming a kind of symbolic portal through which
the relentless water flowed. They were broad, quadrate and
many-cornered for sixty feet of their height. Each was sur-
mounted by four large stone totems suggestive of reptile heads
that gazed out to the compass points. Below each head, per-
haps three times its size, a monolithic raptor beak projected,
braced by iron ore. Leviggh was reminded of the iconogra-
phy he had seen in ancient tomes of primitive dragon cults.
Veeshan and her offspring.
Far across the lurid sky, with titanic inexplicability, sev-
eral immense craggy islands hung. Leviggh could only specu-
late at the colossal forces that seemed to have uprooted them
from some greater planetoid, baring their geological strata
and root-riven foundations. Bise estimated some of the sky
islands to be as many as six furlongs wide, towering to a
height of perhaps five, measured from highest peak to nether-
most bedrock. Some of them resembled lumps of frostfell

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cake topped not with icing, but a thick layer of foliage and
trees. She pondered the deal struck between the gods of air
and stone to hold them there. She’d heard Mournglen, the
expedition’s cartographer, grumbling to Methril about them,
asking how he was supposed to guess the position and span
of such non-contiguous land masses.

“It’s at this point that many would ask for an enchantment


to ease the fall...” said Leviggh.
“Only those ignorant about the meaning of faith.” Methril
spoke off-handedly. Leviggh put a hand on the ranger’s shoul-
der and chuckled. Methril and Bise set about unfastening
their gear, stripping to their underwear. Rundran took some
fine rope and tied his luggage into bundles, struck as he did
so by the bronzed perfection of Bise’s athletic body. A svelte
beauty in the orange sunlight. Leviggh’s attire was less cum-
bersome, tailored from fine cloth as opposed to the hard
leather and metal that his companions routinely wore. He
simply wrapped it tighter about himself.
“So be it.” The arch-mage began to transfer as many as
possible of the pouches of herbs and chemicals that he used
for spell craft into a waxed leather sack.
“We have one consolation anyway. If our faith is mis-
placed, we’ll need nothing more than a paté jar as a
burial monument,” Bise commented, unabashed by Methril’s
scrutiny.
“Aye, but think of your ancestors, Bise, the shame! ‘Here
lie adventurers of note. We know not the cause of their inex-
plicable jump’.” The two had finished fastening together their
shed bundles of equipment. “I’m thinking we should keep hold
of our gear for the first few seconds and then release when we
see where we’re landing.”
“Agreed, we don’t want to be holding it when we land.
Presuming we land on water.”
Leviggh nodded, “And if your presumption doesn’t hold,

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then all is irrelevant anyway.” Lighting a candle, he water
fastened the leather sack with a plug of molten wax and was
finally ready.
Methril leapt to a higher rock that projected slightly fur-
ther out over the edge of the waterfall. It was only his fear,
but for all its mass, as he walked toward the edge, Methril
was sure he felt the rock tip forward slightly. He staggered
for a moment, bare arms and chest taut as he managed the
weight of his leashed weapons, armour, and goods.
“Wait, Methril, we’re with you.”
Methril turned to see Bise closely followed by Leviggh
clambering onto the rock with him.
“I go first.” Methril swallowed and with a nod, shouted,
“Tunare! I am yours!” and jumped out into the golden sunset.
Bise softly bit her lower lip, closed her eyes, and paid
her respects to Bristlebane. She opened them again, steeled
herself, and leapt off the rock.
Taking one large gulp of air, Leviggh threw himself off the
dragonfly flitted precipice.

They crashed through the falling water like revenge on rain,


creating a drenching wake, falling, falling, falling some more.
Ten pounding heart beats of chaos. Water shooting up the
nostrils, arms windmilling and splashing. Methril struggled
to take a breath, drowning in quick cold effervescence. A
distinct sullen river taste on his tongue. Falling blind in a
soaking avalanche.
Suddenly the island was visible, a two hectare wide eye
of sandstone with a gleaming aquatic iris. Leviggh could see
lush vegetation, deciduous trees, and the bright green leaves
of palms spread like the outstretched fingers of the devout.
The cataract was like a living thing, rainbows flickering in the
corners of each clear, crystalline eye. It fell into a shallow
plunge pool set in a clumsy, geologically hewn chalice of rock
bounded by sandstone crenellations.

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Bise angled her body away from the pupil of the island,
a trio of large rocks half-sunken into the centre of the tiny
translucent green iris. She could see Leviggh making the same
manoeuvre.
The arch-mage supposed that in time, more of the rocks
resting at the lip of the waterfall would be carried over to
join the three down there. The plunge pool looked distinctly
shallow at its edges.
Methril was scrabbling, spinning uncontrollably down-
wards like a sycamore seed as he choked on the waterfall. Bise
could see the tension quivering across the muscles of his body
a little below her. She released her bundles of equipment. It
drifted up and out as she out-plummeted it. Methril’s was
still held fast in his clenched fists.
The ranger crashed into the centre of the aquatic green iris
with a thunderous boom. Shattered fragments of Methril’s
equipment exploded into the air like storm wreckage. Bise
felt sick. He’d landed on the rocks at the pupil.
Bise and Leviggh plunged into the water, the thief’s ex-
clamation lost in an explosion of froth whose force seemed to
yank at her skull. Bise cringed and tucked her chin against her
chest as her luggage plummeted after, the impacts breaking
the surface of the pool with plosive thundery sounds.
The effervescence was a dense constellation of one million
tiny crystal balls, each foretelling a drenching. Methril hissed
through clenched teeth as a hot flare of pain tore through
his arm. He had struck the submerged corner of one of the
sandstone rocks. Snapped arrows scattered from one fractured
quiver. Gasping for breath, Methril took a deep lungful of
waterfall. Bise saw one of the ranger’s hands, a desperate
claw, rise up from the surface of the plunge pool.
Leviggh could see how lucky Methril had been and sup-
posed that some things never changed. The young ranger had
been carried like deadwood in the current of the falls and had
landed in a tiny space between the three rocks. The relentless
fall of the river had created that space, Leviggh’s hair-trigger
mind made the inference instinctively and immediately. The

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space between those three rocks was large enough for pre-
cisely one man and no more, which explained the scattering
of Methril’s luggage.
Bise was shaking her head, unable to suppress the smile
that was beaming from the left side of her mouth. She swam
backstroke to the southern side of the pool while Methril
dragged himself onto the tallest of the three rocks at its cen-
tre, uttering a quiet thankful prayer to Tunare. The water fell
so hard that it bounced off the edges of the stones, soaking
the ranger in a chilly veil of mist in the warm evening air.
Taking his bearings, Methril saw two froglok scouts crouched
in observant amphibian repose around the reedy bank of the
plunge pool. They were hanging back in the shade of the an-
cient oak tree whose roots were planted deep in the sediment
on the southern side of this shallow, rock strewn corrie. The
ranger didn’t feel threatened by them. The damn dragon men
they had encountered atop the waterfall would already have
launched a volley of arrows at them by now and would be
bracing spears and shields, wings flapping in territorial agi-
tation. By contrast, the few froglok immigrants Methril had
known in Qeynos had always struck him as part of a more
peaceful, thoughtful, and civilised breed. One of their scouts
peered shyly from behind the palm trees growing around the
steep bank of the pool.
One strap had broken on a rucksack, Methril saw, and
tinderboxes, torches, and leaf-wrapped bundles of provisions
floated all around. The ranger dived into the plunge pool to
help Bise in gathering it all together. He uttered a sancti-
fying prayer to Tunare as Bise made a tuck dive to retrieve
one sunken bundle of weapons and armour. Methril discov-
ered that the goddess of fertility was not the wisest choice
of recipient for such a prayer and was just thankful that his
own reaction to the heart stopping view was occurring safely
under the surface of the plunge pool. He busied himself by
collecting as many of his goods in his arms as possible and
pushing them to the western shore, through the tall reeds by
the bank, to where Leviggh was waiting.

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The ranger re-entered the pool to dive for his own armour
and weapons. By the time all was gathered together, Methril
was last to leave the plunge pool. He did so swiftly, haul-
ing his dripping body out of it, springing to his feet. Bise
made no attempt to hide her appraisal of his body, her eyes
drawn dawn over his well muscled arms, chest and torso. The
ranger’s arousal was very obvious under his short waterlogged
braies.
“Lucky bastard!” Leviggh was shaking his head in won-
derment. Her lips parted ever so slightly, Bise nodded with an
appreciative smile. “I wouldn’t have thought that was even
possible. Gods be thanked for... Methril-sized gaps”
Methril smiled, caught Bise’s eye, recalling her tuck dive.
“I second that.”
Bise’s returned a carefully chaste nod that was belied by
the glint in her eye. “Methril-sized gaps.”

After their drinks, Bise and Methril re-equipped their armour


and weapons. The ranger replaced his open-faced helm. The
bright metal was reinforced with jewel studded bronze strips
that guarded the brow and frontal suture of the skull. Ranger
and swashbuckler fastened buckles, checked one another over,
and deemed themselves fit to press on. The three decided to
avoid the frogloks for now. Methril was not in the mood for
negotiation and wanted to err on the side of discretion. He
had learned hard the value of giving bystanders as few grounds
for inference about their purposes and origins as possible.
Methril climbed the western edge of the sombre rock basin
in which the plunge pool had formed. They were maybe fifty
feet up a steep, weedy, and moss encrusted slope of clumsily
fractured sandstone. Further out, faint traces of smoke from
camp fires stained the lurid evening sky. An unpromising
route of descent, Methril led his companions back down into
the cirque and made for a gentle slope that led up and out of
its northern side.

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Looking across from this elevated position to the eastern
side of the water-pressed caldera, Leviggh could see a large
platform constructed from small pale stones. Set into the
surface of the platform was a thirty-foot disk of dark tar-
nished brass. The central hub of the disk was an isometric
bas-relief entanglement of coiling, cris-crossing bronze. Two
golden lengths of bronze chain, also rendered in bas-relief,
were annealed to the the brass disk, one outlining its perime-
ter and the other encircling the decorated hub. A brass bound
plinth stood adjacent to the disk, supporting a bronze stat-
uette. The evening sun sat sullenly in the brass and leapt in
a brilliant glow of furnace light from the bronze.
“One moment.” Leviggh laid a hand on Methril’s forearm
and walked over to the platform. The wizard squinted in the
light reflected from the dazzling bronze. He noticed an in-
substantial smudge of mist swirling gently at the hub of the
disk. The workmanship and style of the bronze decoration
was like nothing he’d ever seen before, the perfect realisa-
tion of some mysterious prototype. The ridges of the ancient
pattern gleamed orange between stark grooves of shadow in
the sunset. It was a purposeful flow of lines of far greater
sophistry than the primitive monuments they had seen atop
the falls.
At the rear of the platform stood the stone plinth bound
with brass. Set into the top of the plinth was a bronze sculp-
ture of ambiguous aspect. From the west, it resembled a land-
ing swan with its wings raised and curved neck gracefully out-
stretched. Viewed from the eastern edge of the island, those
wings were the reptilian ears of an ominous, sharp toothed
dragon head. Altogether, the construction had a ceremonial,
ritualistic appearance. Leviggh wondered whether this was
matched by function. With a brief glance westwards, over
the verdant canopy of the island, the arch-mage rejoined his
companions.
As they took the grassy slope downward, calves and ham-
strings flexing with the descent, the companions could see
that below the plunge pool, under the thick crowns of its

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trees, this hidden island was positively bustling with activ-
ity. The ground was covered with lush vegetation, a dense
growth of exotic variants of fern, albo picta, heucherella and
an array of bright tropical flowers, outspread palm and tower-
ing oak trees. Partially hidden amongst them, Leviggh could
see the worn remnants of a small stone temple. Many had
collapsed, but the fractured bases of some of its columns
still stood and the ground was littered with the huge pale
chunks of stone that had snapped off. Froglok knights and
academics were milling all around, speaking with one another
in their croaking, gently honking language. Before one fallen
pillar, a froglok was standing imperiously. Methril was just
able to identify this one as a female. Her skin was the dark
moist green of a stagnant pond, coloured a stark white at
her brows. The froglok’s irises were black, set in brilliant
turquoise sclerae. She was clad in an androgynously func-
tional suit of sparkling chain mail armour. Methril nodded at
her respectfully and she watched them pass, vocal sac bulging
softly. Beyond her, toward the far western edge of this fertile
island, Methril saw a tent that had been erected in the lee of
one sturdy oak tree, a lit fire, and the Qeynosian agents that
they’d been searching for.

The ranger led them rapidly around the edge of the island
toward the waxed canvas tent. He laid his palm on the dark
mail over his chest and bowed low. “Greetings, my lords and
lady.”
“Methril!” Dancer spoke from the depths of her green
archer’s hood. Beneath the yellow edged fabric of the cowl,
she wore a fine uniform consisting of green scale armour. Her
tunic and loin guard were cut from moss green fabric with
flaunches the colour of summer grass. Dancer’s shin-high
boots were of grey leather with a dark studded trim. A curl
of brown hair fluttered at her brow. Like Methril, she had a
long bow and quiverful of arrows slung over her shoulder.

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There was a growl from the leader of the Royal Antonican
Guard who stood at her right. He was a kerra, almost seven
feet tall, his skin covered with the sleek orange, black, and
white fur of a tiger. His head was broad and he spoke through
the snarling jaws and fangs of those jungle cats. His powerful
physique was set deep in a full suit of ceremonial plate armour
cast of a dull and ancient steel with black enamel trim. The
contrast in brilliance between his golden eyes, fiery hued fur,
and this ancient timeworn armour, was startling.
The kerra raised his head in Rundran’s direction and gave
a quick nasalised pant of greeting. Methril stepped close and
chuffed back through his nostrils at the kerra.
“Methril. Well met.” Murrar Shar’s voice was rough, but
deep and warm. Bise thought the kerra must have a chest like
an old splintered timber barrel. Saliva was threaded finely
between his teeth. Aware of the unnerving effect it had on
the humans he spoke with, Murrar Shar removed it with a
swipe of his pink tongue.
“My lord.” Methril’s bow deepened. He recognised Lord
Shar, though the two had met on only a handful of occasions.
At the very beginning of his career in Norrath, Murrar had
helped Methril make the transition from castaway on the Isle
of Refuge to citizen of the city of Qeynos.
“Dancer, you know. You have met Spearhead on occasion,
too?” Shar gestured at a burly bare chested barbarian who
was otherwise dressed in attire similar in style to Dancer’s.
The two were Green Hoods and wore the same two tone moss
and summer grass uniform. The barbarian’s tanned torso was
emblazoned with a great green demon head tattoo etched over
his broad beamed stomach and chest. Its horns were marked
along his triceps and biceps. The tattoo even flowed in a
broad but intricate diagonal stripe across his face.
“Well met, Outrider.” A faint smile played at the edges
of Spearhead’s mouth. His voice was unexpectedly articulate.
He spoke like a politician or courtier. It was a foxy voice, sly
and measured. There was no love lost between them, Methril
knew, but he was not disturbed by the fact. The ranger had

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cause to distrust most politicians, and Spearhead’s speech put
him instinctively on guard, but he knew that the Green Hoods
were a force for good in Norrath. They had long worked
in the shadowy seams of Qeynos’s martial strategies, using
subterfuge and the precise application of force to ensure their
success.
A loud hooting bird call rang out suddenly from the un-
derbrush and Bise turned, startled.
“Fear not,” said Dancer. “This is the Hidden Refuge of
Lady Erillis and her knights. We’re safe.”
Dancer was a Green Hood officer. Methril had worked in
her service on numerous occasions. The trust between them
was strong and mutual.
Murrar Shar brought his gauntleted hands together with a
clank. “Before we begin, can I offer you food and drink? Time
is pressing so the provisions will be cold, but nevertheless...”
Methril smiled. The truth was that, with the furnace-
like metabolism that he shared with all his kind, the ranger
was consumed by a desolate hunger. Had he been travelling
alone, he would pridefully have refused the offer of food, but
he knew that Bise too would be feeling her appetite circling
her stomach like a wolf around a log cabin. “It would be
our pleasure.” On the dark rock ridge behind them, on the
western edge of the island, Leviggh could just see the top of
another brass bound stone plinth surmounted by the gleaming
sculpture of a dragon head or swan.
Dancer smiled and bade the ranger, swashbuckler, and
wizard to sit in the shade of the oak tree. She shared three
small tin cups and three leaf-wrapped cinnamon oat cakes.
The Green Hood officer opened a flask so cold that Methril
could see its surface was dripping with condensation. An en-
chantment, no doubt. Into the tin cups, Dancer poured a
thick frosty drink that looked more like a paste than a liquid.
“Our thanks.” Methril raised a cup and waited for Bise
and Leviggh to do the same.
“Your health!” He drank and found the paste to be an ice
cold, excruciatingly strong concentration of mint that made

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his tongue arch its back in an exquisite combination of pain
and pleasure. It was very sweet, full of energy. He instantly
wanted more.
“Gods!” Bise gasped. For a moment she seemed speech-
less, then “superb!” She licked her sweetened sticky lips and
Methril noticed that her tongue had reddened considerably in
reaction to the mint. “Thank you.”
Dancer looked pleased by their reaction. The drink was to
a recipe of hers that she might now claim to have perfected.
Leviggh savoured the drink quietly save for the occasional
satisfied sigh.
Murrar Shar crouched before them with his elbows be-
tween his knees and knuckles pressed to the wild grass and
they sat and enjoyed the oat cakes and mint drink. “We must
make haste.” As far as Bise could tell, the most reliable in-
dicator of a Kerra’s mood was in the eyes. Examining Lord
Shar’s at this moment told her that the pleasantries were over.
“We have much to do to recover the Qeynos Claymore.”
As he spoke, his ears began to subtly flatten and twist back.
“Now the hunt must be hastened.”
“I can assure you my lord, we have not been dawdling.”
The kerra gave a quiet, lip fluttering snort, “I know
Leviggh,” Bise was impressed by the precision of that thick
pink tongue. She knew that the production of alveolar sounds
like the L in Leviggh were difficult for Lord Shar. “But other
eyes are making this... problem... their focus.” His ears
straightened themselves.
Bise seemed about to speak, but then stopped herself.
“My nose has sniffed out the foul stench of Freeport.”
Murrar Shar spoke with utter loathing, ears flattening. “The
Overlord has learned of the theft of Queen Antonia’s Clay-
more, and has sent his agents, the Freeport emissaries, to
recover the great sword.”
Dancer spoke then. “They are quite close. You may have
seen their encampment, here on this island beneath the falls.”
“I’ve seen their trail sign, yes. Subtle though it is. How
do they know of this?”

24
“It matters not.” Shar was wholly dismissive. “Word
spreads easily.”
“The price we pay for liberty,” Dancer put in.
“Aye, but in Freeport, we see that tyranny has its own
costs.” Murrar Shar gave a sudden, harsh, coughing snarl.
With deadly speed, his gauntleted hand swiped the air in
front of Methril’s face. If the kerra hadn’t pulled up short, it
would have been Methril as well as the warm dusky air that
was torn by that clawed blow. Shar’s face was twisted in a
terrible dripping snarl of fangs. Dancer laid a calming hand
on his shoulder. She blew a short series of snorts into the
kerra’s nose, fuh!-fuh!-fuh!
The leader of the Antonican Guard shook his head to clear
it of the killing instinct that had descended. “Apologies, Out-
rider, I would tear them limb from limb...”
Methril smiled softly. “Why do they still live?”
Shar spoke quietly. “Because we don’t know why those
emissaries are in the Overrealm with us.”
“But we suspect they share the fear that flits behind our
thoughts.” Dancer put in.
“That the inhabitants of the Overrealm are raising a great
army. That in time, they will strike at Freeport and Qeynos
alike.
“The motives of Freeport’s emissaries remain inscrutable.
I believe D’Lere is acting the opportunist, ready to side with
the gathering armies and share in the spoils of invasion.
Dancer sees things differently.”
Dancer spoke with an assured certainty. “The dragon
armies will side with no Norrathian. The forces gathering
here are a greater threat to our way of life than Lucan D’Lere.
They are our true adversary.”
Methril realised that it was too easy to see smiles in Shar’s
face where none were meant. “She believes that our enemy’s
enemy is our friend.”
“Murrar implies naı̈veté on my part. The truth is that
we do not yet know. The queen is still undecided... Lady
Erillis tolerates their presence here.” Dancer looked point-

25
edly at Shar, “do you call her naı̈ve?” The kerra shrugged
uncertainly, pondering, saying nothing.
“At present, we are working to clarify matters with regard
to the emissaries of Freeport. Until this is resolved, we must
move quickly of our own accord. Truly, one possible reason
for Freeport’s presence here is to intercept the thieves of the
Qeynos Claymore and take the sword for themselves.”
“A conjecture that has so much to support it that for now,
we must assume it to be true. We must have the sword first.”
Shar’s word was definitive.
“We must make haste, then,” said Methril.
“Whilst making no assumptions about D’Lere’s men.
“And not ending the possibility of any alliance with
Freeport,” Dancer looked meaningfully at Lord Shar, “with a
clash of blood, bone and steel.”
Murrar Shar’s eyes were thunderously dark. “Gods, to
think of allying ourselves with these dogs, whose pastimes
include murder, witchcraft, and and kitten burning!” His ears
were flattened back. That final phrase was carried on a harsh
pair of coughing snarls. The Kerra reached for his sword
and shield, both of which were inscribed with the traditional
heraldic symbols of Qeynos and Antonica.
The Green Hood officer laid a cool hand on his gaunt-
let. With a visible effort, Shar suppressed his outrage, which
trembled as it rose. Methril could see that this was almost a
compromise too far. After some moments, the kerra had re-
gained his composure. He spoke. “Dancer is right. It is why
the queen sent her to accompany me. She calms the storm
brewing within Murrar Shar.”
“While he, rightly, keeps me cautious.”
“What is to be done?” Methril was direct. It was a quality
of this ranger that Dancer had grown to appreciate. Murrar
Shar was beginning to share the sentiment.
“Spearhead?” The bare-chested barbarian had said almost
nothing since Methril’s arrival.
“Of course.” His voice resonant and civilised. “We caught
scent of those thieves, of course we did. The Hand may be

26
Unseen, but it is not unsmelt.” His nose wrinkled theatrically
in emphasis.
“The Circle of the Unseen Hand? They must want the
Qeynos Claymore, too?”
“They certainly do. Tricked by their own leader, the dark
elf, E’Naire. Those fellows want him drawn and quartered.”
“In P. T. Irontoes, Highkeep mentioned that E’Naire had
a deputy... a gnoll going under the name of Drippy.”
Spearhead nodded. “The Unseen Hand are pursuing them
hard and they are not being especially careful to hide their
tracks. It just remains for us to follow them and let them lead
us to E’naire and the queen’s Claymore.”
“Is the search underway?” Methril asked.
Murrar Shar spoke. “It was. But now, the pursuing mem-
bers of the Unseen Hand are being held captive by the dragon
men atop the falls.
“We believe that the dragon men are in league with
E’Naire. At what level, we cannot say. We ask that you search
the tree houses occupied by the droag up there to learn where
the Circle’s trail has led. Do not return until you get answers
from the burglars being held there.”
“It shall be done.” Methril caught Lord Shar’s eye. “We
arrived in this kingdom of sky not long ago. It appears that
the waterfall connects two floating islands that are otherwise
separate.
“Is there some means by which we can climb those mighty
falls? We noticed none on our trek here.”
Dancer smiled, glancing quickly toward the westernmost
ridge of the island. There, the draco-avian sculpture atop the
plinth was a blurred silhouette in the glorious orange dazzle
of sunset. She looked back to Murrar Shar.
Leviggh Armone’s hooded eyes widened in realisation.
“Dancer, will you show them?”
“With pleasure, my lord.”
With a brief bow, Methril and his companions hoisted
their luggage and set out with Dancer leading the way.

27
“Most people call them cloud platforms, but that’s a little
misleading. They’re really the origins and termini of arcing,
swooping swirls of changing air pressure. Our researchers be-
lieve the effect is caused by shifting temperature differentials
along the course of the swirls.”
“What causes these changes in temperature?”
Dancer smiled, shrugging. “Veeshan? We don’t know.
They seem constant and long-established, but we don’t know
what preserves them.
“When you step onto one of the swirls, cooler air is com-
pressed at your feet and water vapour condenses there, which
can give the impression that you’re standing on a small cloud.
The pressure changes with enough force to carry even a heavy
object along its trajectory.
“If you are that object, for gods’ sake don’t jump, or step
off the path of the swirl.” Dancer considered for a moment.
“Well, at times it can be expedient to. You’ll simply break
the barometric tension or leave the swirl. Either way, you’re
at the mercy of Gods and gravity.” She tilted her head toward
the edge of the island. “It’s possible to fall through the sky,
you know. You’ll land somewhere in Norrath... eventually.
But you’ll already be dead when you do.
“It’s quite a fall.”
Methril looked around at his companions. Leviggh Ar-
mone was nodding, appreciating the mystical complexity of
the system.
“Some of the platforms are nexus points for several swirls.
In the beginning, it can help to sprinkle earth or grit to de-
termine starting points for different routes. It takes a little
experience because some of the trajectories are quite convo-
luted, but in time, you’ll learn where to step to get to the
destination you want.”
“Not this one?” Leviggh asked as Dancer led them away
from the cloud platform at the top of the nearest ridge.
Dancer shook her head. “It leads to an island coiled and

28
slithering with drakes. We think it may be some sort of...
breeding ground.”
Leviggh cast a glance at Methril, his eyebrow raised. It
seemed that the soup they’d started was spicier than expected
and his tongue was finding new peppers in every sup. Dancer
led them back across the hidden island, through the foliage
and toward the mighty waterfall.
“M’lady.” The Green Hood officer bowed respectfully to
the froglok when they passed by.
Methril stopped them minutes later. He had seen some
leopard lily camouflaged among the albo picta and had
stopped to carefully gather it. Tribesmen in the jungles of
the Feerrott called it dumb cane and the ranger knew it would
make a useful component in his repertoire of poisons. Even-
tually he re-tightened the drawstring of his herb pouch, and
Dancer led them onwards.
The companions took their own trail back up to the plunge
pool, following the rocky slope around the rim of the caldera
to the platform behind the waterfall.
Dancer smiled. “Like this.” Without hesitating, she
sprang lightly into the centre of the platform. There was a
quiet rushing noise, like the sound of corn rippling in a sum-
mer breeze. Bise grinned as she saw a small cloud of condens-
ing water vapour collecting under and around Dancer’s feet
as she was borne skyward. The companions watched as the
Green Hood officer was carried due west, rising as she went
through the tumbling wall of water, iridescent and translu-
cent in the orange furnace light of the eternal evening. They
watched her ascend, a tiny figure against the dazzling western
sunset, in a great curve to the north. Eventually, she passed
out of sight, more than six hundred feet aloft, passing over
the rocky root-riven edge of the island above them.
Bise went next. Her first step to the centre of the carved
bronze platform was cautious, and she fell into the forward
splits as her leading foot was taken rapidly away along the
stream of moving air pressure from the one she had left
planted firmly on the bronze surface. “Need to be faster,”

29
she panted as she got to her feet. She tried again, springing
lightly into the centre of the platform. She gave an exultant
yell and was carried off into the blazing sunset, breathless with
the exhilaration of it. There was a small shriek as the swash-
buckler was taken through the tumbling veil of the waterfall.
Smiling, Methril and Leviggh followed after.

Methril went next, putting his arms out and instinctively


crouching for balance as his feet left the bas-relief bronze dec-
oration of the platform. Facing due west to begin with, the
ranger could see the leafy green canopy of the trees below and
the wall of water as it tumbled to crash with a roar onto the
three plummeted cap stones in the plunge pool. Moving fast,
the ranger found himself blinking and choking on the water-
fall as he sailed through it in a westerly direction. When his
vision cleared, he was moving through the golden sky at a
height that rendered the world an abstraction to his eyes. For
a split second as he flew, Methril saw the second cloud plat-
form gleaming far below, just beyond the tree canopy. A tiny
gold coin close to the Green Hood camp on the western edge
of the floating island.
Ascending thirty fathoms in three heart beats, his tra-
jectory sweeping westwards, he flew toward one of the other
broad islands of sombre rock that hung in the twilight. He
could see small copses of oak standing at its northern and
southern edges. The central portion of that island was hilly
and uneven, bristling with sparse yellow grass. Underneath,
huge fangs of fractured bedrock cut a jagged silhouette against
the sky. The shadowed underside of the island was entangled
by tree roots so thick and ancient that they clearly belonged
to no tree that presently stood there. Perhaps they had once
fed some mythic arboreal monster in previous aeons, before
the islands had been broken from whatever landscape they
originated from.
He was soaring through the gusted sky, higher now than

30
that island. He was was able to survey its craggy peaks, shim-
mering grasses, and trees, even as they became blurred by
cloud and distance. Methril leant into the turn as the ascent
continued with a steady leftward twist to the south and then
the east. Across the dusky canopy, away from the setting sun,
the sky was bruised.
In addition to perhaps half a dozen islands with a span in
excess of three furlongs, the ranger also saw what may have
been a score of small sky borne islets. Some were no more than
15 feet wide, stratified fangs of rock supporting deep margins
of earth and tangles of overgrown vegetation. Looking down
to his left now, Methril could see the Hidden Refuge and the
bright bronze cloud platform he had embarked from. The en-
tire six hundred foot translucent stream of waterfall gleamed
and rippled with breathtaking beauty in the sunlight.

The sky swirl brought him around the southern edge of the
island through which the river ran. Over the centre of the
disk, Methril stepped off the buoyant swirl of air. He felt the
reassuring stability of solid brass and bronze beneath his feet.
There had been no feeling of weightlessness during the flight,
just a slight springiness in the air underfoot as he was carried
aloft. This cloud platform lay adjacent to the tapered arches
of the Ulteran spire that had been their means of entry into
the Overrealm. The view to the north was almost entirely ob-
structed by a high stone wall and the mighty square pillared
barbican whose open neck allowed access beyond it. The river
ran smooth and cool some way ahead, from right to left, to-
ward the falls.
Methril stepped aside as Leviggh came swooping from the
south to the platform, dark robes fluttering behind him. He
gave the ranger a small satisfied nod as he left the platform.
The companions were some distance to the east of the river
and the ridge of cap rock that it tumbled over. They had
taken a soaking as they passed through the waterfall, but the

31
combination of their rapid flight and turbulence in the warm
evening air had dried them considerably and their hair and
clothes were no more than damp now. Looking at Dancer,
Bise noted “you’re bone dry...”
The Green Hood officer smiled. “If you look close as you
pass through the falls, you’ll see a small pocket of air. Some-
one as slight as you should be able to slip through it and miss
the falling water. It is a small space... I think your men are
too big to manage it. You should be able to, though, Fencer.”
Bise raised a delicate, cheerful, slightly smug eyebrow to-
wards Methril. The stern hardening in his eyes brought a
smile to her lips.
Finally, Methril turned to Dancer, bowing his head.
“Thank you for your guidance, ma’am.”
“My pleasure, Methril.” She sighed. “I’m afraid I must
return to Lord Shar now. We have much to prepare.”
“Please do, we have caused you enough inconvenience.”
“Think nought of it. Find those duped thieves, Outrider.”
“I will. Fare well.”
“Fare thee well too, Methril.”

32
Chapter 2

Burglars Afoot

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