Two weeks pass while Karl and Ambrose live their lives out of Hart Manor. ’Master’ Karl tends to the daily business of his orchard. Ambrose, on most days, studies the books Uncle Hart’s library, and once briefly helped the laborers in the almond grove with their chores. One morning, Karl and Ambrose are eating their breakfast in the dining room when they hear a noise from the main entryway. In a moment Gerrick enters the room with a letter in his had proclaiming, “A messenger just delivered this Master Hart. It’s for you and Ambrose.” Ambrose raises his eyebrows in surprise. Karl lazily motions Gerrick to hand the letter to Ambrose who begins to open it.
ON BEHALF OF THE CROWN, COUNCIL, AND CITY OF ILLIVAN,
KARLADRON HART AND AMBROSE FRANCOIS
ARE TO BE HONORED IN CELEBRATION IN THREE DAYS TIME.
IN RECOGNITION OF YOUR SERVICE TO THE CITY,
AND FOR THE ACT OF DRIVING THE WEREWOLF MENACE FROM ILLIVAN,
YOU ARE HEREBY INVITED TO THE QUEEN’S BALL,
QUEEN BELLAMY ALLENGAR
Ambrose seems elated, “Is this an invitation to a noble ball?” Karl sets down his food and groans, “Ow, no more nobles.”
“I take it you’ve had unpleasant encounters with nobles.”
“Ugh, well, on account of the orchard and my uncle’s wealth, the Hart family is considered a ’lesser house’ by the Noble Council. As a result multiple noble families have tried to curry favor with me in exchange for favors.” Gerrick comes to remove their dining plates. “I hate them though, the lot of them; they’re all greedy and selfish,” Karl ends rather tartly. Finished with breakfast the two begin to make their way to the parlor through the front room.
“Well I don’t know about you, but I think I actually like to attend this ball. It would be nice to receive at least some recognition for what we did.” Followed by Karl, Ambrose opens the double doors to the parlor but stops. There a hooded figure seated in the parlor already. They have pulled one of the armchairs to the small table where Ambrose had left the lantern, sitting in the dark in silence. Frozen in the doorway, Ambrose calls to Karl behind him, “Um, Karl, where you expecting a visitor today?”
“No, why-” The two stand staring and unmoving; the blue-hooded figure perched in the armchair seemingly to large for their frame. Karl begins to push himself in front of Ambrose, “Who are you?” He raises his voice to a butler in another room, “Gerrick, did you let anyone into the manor today?” The figure, almost startled, turns their head slightly towards the two men. They raise their hands to their hood and hesitate for a moment before pulling it back; revealing what appears to be a young girl. Her head is bald and covered in some type of white makeup giving here a ghostly visage in the dark room; her ears come to slight points. Karl and Ambrose are taken aback by their new visitor.
“So you two are the ones who found my lantern,” she says in a slow drawl. Ambrose and Karl are now standing fully in the parlor, light spills into the room from the foyer. Defensive, Ambrose asks, “What do you mean, ’your lantern’?”
She adjusts her head back so that she is again staring directly at the lantern. “Long ago there was a great darkness that was sealed away into this lantern,” she recites as she lifts the broken lantern, “And should the seals ever be broken, it would be unleashed unto the world once more.” Her small hand begin to follow a crack in the blue pane that Ambrose had never noticed.
"How do you know this?" Ambrose slowly lowers his guard, Could she be?
Her head whips back towards the pair, “Because I was there, fool.” Those words hang in the parlor; she prevents baring her teeth. The girl stands out of the cushioned armchair and her height betrays her persona, as she barely meets Karl’s waist. Taken aback by her height, the men are reminded of the situation by the glare of her eyes. “I see you two have already destroyed the first seal.”
“So you must be the Blue panel…” Ambrose mutters.
“What?” both men ask simultaneously.
“I am High Priestess Veera of the Red Elf Empire.” Veera boasts with pride, but at the apparent lack of reaction from Karl or Ambrose she seems to deflate momentarily. “But alas, it appears the Empire is no longer. I suppose just Veera will do for now.” A quick burst and she is pushing past Karl and Ambrose into the lit foyer, clutching the broken lantern to her body. “What are your intentions with my lantern?”
Ambrose follows her into the front room, "We met another… apparition like you, Alton. We were helping each other find a way to restore the seals. Though since he was not so helpful, we hoped to release another guardian. One who I assume was meant to be you?"
"Yes. While I do not recall any by that name, he was right to have sought for me. Where is this Alton now? I wish to speak with him."
"I haven't seen him in weeks," Ambrose replies. Veera looks down to the lantern in her hands. She seems almost disappointed, does she really not know Alton? "Now that you're here though, what do we need to do?"
“While I appreciate your earnestly, I believe I need you to recite your experience thus far with the lantern.” Veera sniffs at the air catching the remains of breakfast’s aroma. “Perhaps over a meal, I feel I have not eaten in a millennia.” She quickly pivots on her bare heel and wanders into the kitchen.
Chasing after her Karl erupts, “Wait just a moment. This is my home and you are an uninvited guest. Don’t Just wander around like you are supposed to be here.” But it was too late, Veera was already scarfing down the leftover eggs and sausage that Gerrick prepared. “I am grateful to learn that human’s tastes never change,” Veera bows her head as she cleans another plate.
“In all time time I was with Alton, I never saw him interact with anything. How is it that you can eat, or move the lantern?” Ambrose asks while hiding his disgust at the sight before him. Veera replies after placing a quarter of a sausage link in her mouth, “A mystery we may never solve.” She swallows, “Now kindly fill me in on what has happened to my lantern.” For the better part of the morning Ambrose and Karl recount their adventures leading up to meeting Veera in the parlor.
“I see.” Veera had finished eating halfway through the tale. “While it is unfortunate that is has come to this, I believe I know our next course of action. First, never cast that spell again unless you wish to ruin yourself.” Ambrose puts up no argument, the pain he felt in his arm is not something he will forget. “Second, the only way that the seals may be repaired is with the same ritual that created them in the first place.”
“And how could we accomplish that?” Karl interjects. “I hate to be the realist, but not all of us are ancient elven sorceresses.” The sting leaves Veera and Karl glaring at each other.
“He’s right though; how do we finish this?” Ambrose eyes the lantern.
“Ages ago I led the communion that sealed the darkness away; to do so I created an object of pure magical energy. A great word of power that we recited to create the final seals. I believe it still exists in this world and that I can find it.”
“When you create something as great as it was, a part of you is left in it. I can feel it out there, like a hook on my intestines gently tugging me towards its location.” Veera turns to her right, extending her arm and pointing to the east. “It’s out there, waiting for me.”
Ambrose turns to Karl, “Will you come with us?” Karl gives Ambrose a look of incredulity. “Of course I will go, I feel obligated.”
“Then we shall leave immediately,” Veera leaves the room back towards the front of the manor. Both men stumble after her. “Wait, no,” Ambrose calls, “While I am certainly agreed to take this on, we both need to prepare.”
It is at this moment that Gerrick enters the Foyer from a nearby side-room. “Master Hart, do you require that I prepare a new hunting pack?” He wrings his hands in that peculiar way that Ambrose finds uncomfortable. “For you and Mr. François, of course.” Karl and Ambrose glance at each other. Veera stands in the center of all three men, still clutching the lantern.
“Yes Gerrick, that would be fine,” Karl accepts. So he can’t see Veera; just like how other’s couldn’t see Alton except Ambrose. I really am deep into this.
“So it is settled,” Veera starts unfazed by Gerrick’s omission of her presence. “When your servant returns with your preparation, we shall depart.” She plants herself at the front entrance, clearly in denial of any attempt to dissuade her. In short time, Gerrick reappears with Ambrose’s limited belongings and a traveling pack for Karl. Soon the newly formed trio were traveling to parts unknown; hoping that at the end they would find the solution to their woes. Not long after departing Hart Manor, Veera had led the two men to a curve in the road.
“Can’t we stay on the road,” Ambrose cried, “nothing good comes from wandering into a forest. Believe me, I know this from experience.”
“We must follow in this direction, it is where we will find our goal.”
Karl nods, “And everyone know the shortest distance is the straightest path.” Dejected, Ambrose follows the pair into the trees. Night came and went and returned without incident. Karl made a few comments on how odd it was that they had not encountered any sort of wildlife so fat, but Ambrose considered it a blessing.
Ambrose wakes at their second campsite in the middle of the night with a powerful urge to urinate. Quietly he emerges from his tent, so as not to wake his companions. Karl had his own tent, but Veera had reluctantly taken to sleeping in the grass. She had begun to complain about a lack of arrangements for her, but it was reminded that she insisted that they leave immediately. It must have been comfortable enough, since she only brought it up the once. Traveling a fair distance from the camp, Ambrose checks to confirm he isn't within viewing distance of the camp and sizes up a large oak tree. Relief spreads over Ambrose body, until he hears the snap of a branch on the others side of the oak.
A figure suddenly steps out from the side, "Ambrose" Alton exclaims.
Ambrose screams at the sudden intrusion of his privacy and attempts to cover himself as quickly as possible. "Alton? What are you doing here? Where have you been?"
"I'm sorry Ambrose, but I've been travelling." Still covering his eyes Alton continues, "Ever since you've broke the first seal, I haven't been tethered to the lantern. I've been all over the world, Ambrose."
"Where did you go, and why choose right now to reappear?"
"I've been far away, Ambrose, and I've only just returned. Places I would have never dreamed of seeing in my first life. There is this place; a place with towers that reach past the clouds. Great chains are the only thing keeping them from floating into the heavens." Alton looks wistfully into the distance. "I came back to check on you, though. Did another guardian appear from the lantern."
"Yes," Ambrose replies still processing all that Alton had said. Where could this place be, I've never heard of anything like it. "A priestess named Veera is guiding us to a device to reseal the lantern."
"Veera? Amazing, you couldn't wish for anyone more suited to the task." Alton begins to slowly back away in the direction opposite of the campsite. "I suppose if you've got her, then you don't really need me hanging around. We'll see each other again, Ambrose. I promise, but until then there is still so much of the world left for me to see." Alton steps behind a tree and is gone as quickly as he appeared.
"Damn it, Alton." Ambrose contains his fury on his way back to camp. Something seems wrong with how he reacted to Veera's name. When Ambrose reaches the campsite, he sees Veera and Karl unmoved from their positions. Perhaps this is something I'll need to bring up tomorrow. Ambrose slowly drifts back asleep, returning to another of his recurring nightmare. Again and again he is chased by the werewolf Giridharan until he wakes; just before being caught in wrathful maw of the cursed man.