I was in Lletya when I heard the news. The speed and ferocity of the Dragonkin’s attack on Varrock left only smoldering ruins. The Grand Exchange destroyed, King Roald dead, almost every building north of the south gate made uninhabitable.
But why did they stop? For that matter, why did they stop when they laid waste to Edgeville? Each attack a bit larger. Each a bit more thorough. It was clear we had little time. I cracked my Falador tab.
Pleasantries omitted I joined Sir Tiffy, Thaerisk, Idria and Sir Amik in the White Knight’s dungeon war room under Falador Castle. Scouts entered, information was quickly passed and results totted on the situation board. 3,508 dead, 341 injured, 208 unaccounted for. A devastating blow.
Sir Tiffy: Good to see you old man – though I wish it were under better circumstances. Here is what we know. The Dragonkin mounted a pre-dawn raid yesterday. The lone surviving guard from Varrock’s north tower reported a glowing horizon to his commander – in the region of the volcano - just minutes before the assault. He was returning to post when his guard house was engulfed in flames. The castle guard used every cannon at their disposal, but in the darkness there was no way to properly aim. One by one the fire teams were incinerated from above. As citizens fled the destruction they found themselves funneled into the narrow streets and alleys headed south – making them easy pickings for the attackers. I fear the sight of that carnage shall haunt me the rest of my days. Based on past encounters and the amount of damage done, we estimate there were no more than two score Dragonkin involved.
X: A complete rout? Did the bane bolts I discovered while investigating the Mahjarrat’s ritual provide no defense?
Sir Amik: They did, but the Dragonkin knew exactly when to attack. Even after the rooftop bonfires were lit, they provided insufficient illumination to concentrate our fire. Although two attackers were downed, their remains were removed by their comrades before we could make an assessment.
Thaerisk: And speed was a problem. Even with the strongest crossbows, it was almost luck that we hit anything what with the way they moved about the sky.
Sir Tiffy: We all know the extent of the damage…and the need to formulate some viable defense, but we also need a plan of attack. We need to find and exploit some weakness in our attackers – if only to delay the next attack until our defenses are more fortified. That is where you can help. You have experience with both the Dragonkin and their source of power - the Stone of Jas…certainly more than any of us here. We need you to find that weakness – for the people of Gielinor – or we are truly lost.
X: Of course Sir Tiffy. It would be best to start straight away while the Dragonkin think we are focused on repairs and damage control. I propose to make my landing in Daemonheim. There are several ruins which may provide cover along an eastern approach to the volcano. I would hope to make observations from the northern rim before proceeding further.
Sir Tiffy: And then report back here with any findings.
X: Of course.
Walking out of the war room I passed the wards of the injured and dying. Had they any information to share? Unlikely. Their distant stares told the tale. Sanfew himself administered to the most severe burn cases. Vial after glowing vial of silvery serums relieved the searing pain while the surgeons tended to the flesh.
The Sergeant at Arms, a man I have known all my life, dares not look at me. He is holding a scout pack in his hands. I laid my hand on his shoulder.
X: Thornton, what is it?
Thornton: My wife and son were visiting her sister’s in Varrock on the night of the attack. I have not heard…
I felt him stiffen. Nothing more need be said. I took the pack.
At least Al Kharid was undisturbed. Clad in the darkest of robes and carrying little in the way of supplies, the Fremennik regarded my request for passage with curiosity. Was it the adrenaline or was the trip as quick as a blink of the eye? The port was clogged with long ships. Every plateau held an encampment. It was clear that our warrior friends would not yield their island without a fight.
Working my way west, I noted the isthmus was unguarded. Climbing up to the ridge I looked down into the valley of the green dragons. All at peace. When the bots go to ground you know these are dangerous times. I arced northward.
From ruin to ruin. Stopping. Observing. A patrol of elite black knights passed. Cowards! Selling out humanity to save their worthless skins. On to the next ruin. A survivor! The poor fellow was beyond anything I could do.
I offered a drink from the pack’s canteen.
X: I am on a mission to scout our attackers. What can you tell me?
Survivor: Very little I am afraid. A large number of us were herded northward after the attack to be replacement workers… under the black guard’s lash. I was a carpenter, so I was set to work on the catapults. There were furnaces. Huge furnaces. And large casting beds for making massive weapons. I cannot imagine what type of creature could possibly wield them. And stacks of runes. A sea of.. runes…
I propped him up with my arms and offered the canteen. He brightened slightly… then clutched my tunic.
Survivor: I have a daughter. Her name is Lydia. She is all that is left of my family. Please Sir, save her. Promise that you’ll save…her….
At least he was not alone. Small comfort. I held him as his soul left his body. I’m not sure he heard my response.
X: I give you my word.
After wrapping him in my shroud, I positioned his body in the ruins to avoid discovery and departed. Cold seemed the least of my problems.
In his escape, the citizen had provided me some useful information and, most importantly, a trail to backtrack. Rather than scout from the north rim, his path led inside the volcano. I crept from boulder to outcropping. Looking… Listening.
A ghostly silence. No ankou. No skeletons. Nothing was alive here. Only the dimly glowing monolith remained and I concealed myself amidst the boulders and rubble at its base. Straining my eyes, I searched for some clue as to where to go. The survivor’s tracks had entered the volcano – I was certain. But the trail stopped and so I sought cover while I considered my next move.
At first a scuffling. Then footsteps. A group approached. They were Fremennik. At the head, two elite black knights. In the rear, one flying Dragonkin. Has Daemonheim fallen? Did I just miss the invasion? The column shuffled to a stop along the volcano’s edge. A series of shrill shrieks came from the Dragonkin…and the wall dissolved into a torch-lit portal. A panicked warrior bolted from the column at the sight of this fortress and ran in my direction… but was quickly cut down with one fiery blast. Had he, with his last gaze, seen me crouching near the monolith?
As all entered the cavern, the mirage of the rock face returned, erasing all evidence of what existed there. And my hopes of getting inside. One door? That’s it? A crimson glow hung over the western rim of the volcano. It would be dark soon. I racked my brain for options. There are always options.
My eyes, scanning the wall for any sign, any glimmer, that another entrance existed did not perceive its movement. Nor could I imagine it really. Slowly, the skeleton of the fallen Fremennik began to move. First arms. Then hands and knees. Then upright. Shakily. And with the unsteady gait of a new foal it began to walk in my direction. Dear Guthix save me from the evil that pervades this place!
A hardened warrior yet I tell you my legs would not obey me – such was the fear. The skeleton neared my position…then stopped. Its right arm rose and pointed directly at me. Then… to my surprise… reached out with its left to touch the surface of the monolith…then beyond the surface, as if dipping into a pool of water, the bony appendage withdrew a tarnished pendant. In due course, as if overcome by the exertion, the skeleton stepped backwards and collapsed into its numerous parts. And in the center of the bone pile, the glitter of the pendant.
Clarity of thought is its own gift. I regained the use of my limbs. My dark-adjusted eyes allowed me to reach that spot, retrieve the pendant and retreat to my hide. I cast a gaze apon the strange object using the bluish glow of the monolith as my light source. An oval, about as long as my middle finger and twice as wide; the surface appeared worked but worn. The string was unexceptional in its quality but notably strong for its diameter and attached mid-way down what I thought might be the back. It was not a locket as I could see no mechanism or clasp. What was I to make of this? For lack of secure pockets and wanting to keep it close I put it on.
As I rose to a crouch to resume my observations I felt the pendant vibrate. The blue glow of the monolith had transformed into a vapour which was creeping onto my right hand and up my arm. Instinctively I tried to pull away…but this was not permitted. Embathed fully now, I lost my fear and trusted Guthix would protect me. And in an instant, the glow vanished.
On my limbs the armour of an elite black knight commander. I felt for my head and found the horned helmet associated with the rank. Had anyone seen this transformation? I looked around. Pitch black night had given way to an amber twilight. I could see all around me. Thinking I might have fully spent the evening in transformation and that this might be dawn I removed the helmet. But no, without my helmet, the world was still black as pitch. I began to understand. Replacing the helmet, I stood. Up ahead, the entrance I’d witnessed before was wholly revealed.
Passing by the sentries presented no problem. I was their superior, out for a review of the grounds and now returning. The entrance gave way to a large arched room leading downwards and off to the north. Smaller chamber to the left and right were devoted to stockpiling arms and supplies. Then there were the lines of siege machines – my survivor had informed me of those.
In a particularly large side chamber, black demons with glowing collars were being fitted with special armour and given enormous weapons to wield. A dark mage tested his battle spells against one of the outfitted terrors…and finding they had no effect, proclaimed the designs a success.
Descending one floor I found the scores of furnaces and casting beds. It was as the survivor had described. The capacity to build an unbeatable war machine lay here. We had nothing that could compare. There was no defense from this. It was all so overwhelming.
A huge room but no workers. Evening meal or sleep period? I scoffed that the oppressors would offer such luxuries. The inconsistency added to my sense of urgency. I set off to find the captive workers.
Down another flight of stairs I did find my goal. Through a large portal, several smaller stone doors with posted guards held what appeared to be dormitories for approximately 1000 workers in tight quarters. Two guards each dormitory entrance and levers for raising and lowering each door. Their sergeant sat behind a substantial stone desk near the entrance. I tracked backwards in my mind to estimate the distance to the exit. Even if I were to distract these guards, someone on that long path would certainly notice the exodus. I needed a bigger distraction.
Up two flights and moving even deeper into the complex I encountered a massive circular room with a central elevated platform. Seven other exits into equally large arched corridors as I had previously seen spoke to the vast quantities stockpiled beyond. As I began to move toward the central platform, the pendant began to throb against my chest. I was but 20 meters away when the throbs turned to shocks. Message received – don’t get too close. As I stood there rubbing my chest a ghostly apparition did glide past me heading towards the platform. It paused at the base, then seemed to point to a particular place on the framework. The spot glowed briefly… then faded… and the throbbing of the pendant returned. I understood my task.
What seemed more like a hissing than words began to exude out of the complex’s speakers…
D: All battle groups assemble in the central chamber for inspection and final orders in one hour. Power all transit portals. Prepare siege groups 1, 3 and 6 to depart after first strike. That is all.
So it was to be tonight. One hour from now. Must focus.
Making my way back in the direction of the captives I passed one of the rune store houses. The multitude of dark mages busy filling their pouches with battle runes paid no attention to me. What possible use a handful of telegrab spells. I placed them in my pants pocket.
As I descended the stairs to the captive’s quarters, a ruckus just ahead. Three Fremennik warriors, bloodied and abused, were being pushed forward by several guards towards the cells.
The detail snapped to attention at my command. Rounding the corner at the entrance I spoke with the sergeant and obtained access to a separate room under the guise that I would be questioning the captives. We are shown the way and once inside, one of the guards assumed a post inside the door.
X: Do I look like I need protection from these simple savages?
Guard: No Sir, but I was taught….
X: Be gone…and shut the door behind you. When I am finished I will call you. And soldier, leave me your sword.
After he departed, I stood, listening for any movement outside the door but heard none. I turned to face the three…slowly reaching up to remove the pendant from around my neck. I was revealed. They squinted and rubbed their eyes as if disbelieving that hope could ever exist is such a place. But I bade them remain quiet as I relayed a plan for our escape. I told them of the levers and of how I would assure that they would have unhindered access to them shortly. With the majority of the fortress’ occupants at assembly there would be no better time. Wait until they heard a disturbance from the direction of the central chamber, then open the cells and make their way to the surface.
This had to be convincing, so I took the guard’s blade and cut a gash into my left palm. I tasted the injury more than felt it. Odd how that goes sometimes. I placed the pendant back on my neck and exited the room.
Having coordinated my plan with the captives, it was time to stop the invasion. I strode back into the guarded area with a blood-soaked sword. No questions were asked.
X: All soldiers prepare for assembly.
Sergeant: Even us Sir? Who will guard the prisoners?
X: They aren’t going anywhere. Now follow me.
With a salute, each of the guards fell into formation behind me.
A tone issued from the speakers. We were right on time as we walked up two levels and joined the others moving towards the great room.
As we approached the central chamber, each soldier broke away to form with his legion. Armoured black demons nearly as tall as the chamber’s ceiling in a phalanx to the left. Dark Mages and Arcane Rangers…in quantity 3-fold larger than the whole population of Gielinor…stood at attention at the right. And at the center, on a raised platform, the Stone of Jas in all its brilliant glory. So much for hiding it I thought. Spell fail I thought. I had forgotten how beautiful it was..but this was no time to linger. I assumed the correct place adjacent to the platform and waited. The rafters resounded with the beating of Dragonkin wings as they circled the stone and basked in it power. Exultant in anticipation of their future victory, a primal roar emitted from the gathering…only to be quieted by the Leader’s gesture.
HD: For too long my brothers we have inhabited the dark recesses of this land. We have been hunted. We have been banished to the wastelands. No longer I say. Tomorrow we take back our rightful place as rulers. We shall purge those who have oppressed us. Nothing can stand against us. Ours is the ultimate power!
Inspiring speech for a lizard I thought. As we all turned to face the stone that portion of the framework again glimmered to my eyes. And the pendant began to hum against my chest. I reached for the pendant.
In all the self-glory and raised arms, nobody noticed one commander leaning in a bit closer. With but a slight hiss, the body of the pendant fused with the frame. And as the pendant fused, the string began to disintegrate. And shortly afterward, my disguise followed.
Shock is an understatement. The collective gasp nearly evacuated the oxygen from the chamber. Orders were shouted. Seal the chamber! Let no other spies escape! And in short order the eight access routes to the chamber were indeed sealed by great portcullises.
I was seized and taken up the stairs to the platform. There I came face to face with His Darkness, the leader of the Dragonkin. One puny human. Not exactly a threat, but certainly unwelcome. His demeanor seemed somewhere between disgusted and amused and he appraised his captive.
HD: I’ve seen you before. Haven’t I?
X: I was present when you killed Lucien.
HD: That stone toucher! He did not respect that the great stone belongs to us.
X: And what have you done with it but murder the innocent? Claiming an object of the Gods to be your own – how arrogant. And by the way, this whole “take over the world” thing is so Third Age.
HD: Be silent! You are not long for this world regardless of who owns it. Now tell me, who has come with you? What was your plan? Surely it was not to try to stop us? One solitary human. He laughed at me…and the other joined him.
X: It was. And I had help. But you don’t need to know his name.
HD: I demand it! Tell me now or die!
X: I think you have bigger problems.
As I looked beyond his face I noted that the glow from the collars around the Black Demon’s throats had started to fade. They were becoming restless. A murmur began to grow in the room. But when the first slash of a Black Demon’s blade laid low fifty rangers, the murmurs turned to panicked shouting. Then screams.
It was certainly not the last fire blast he ever cast, but it was enough. I had been a guardian for a short time, so the stone tried to heal me. But it was shutting down. The element I had inserted had given the correct instructions. Soon, all that glowed in the great hall were the clusters of torches on each large column…and the occasional blast from one of the Dragonkin.
As I lay dying I could see groups of Black Demons sectioning squads of mages with their oversized blades. The host of Dragonkin, trapped by the low ceiling, had lost their advantage. It was now a contest of attrition.’’one which they looked to lose. And the black knights, wanting no part of a battle against superior weapons, piled against the great iron grids. All in a frantic attempt to escape. There would be none. Not for anyone here.
I will admit – I’ve died before. Lots of times. Respawn, talk with Death, better luck next time, Cheers! But not this time. A hazy semi-dream of people I had met in my travels. The Wise Old Man. The fallen heroes. Juna. A golden bowl with water.
Just to prove to myself I could, I sat up – and immediately regretted that decision. Where is the chocolate milk and snape grass when you need it? Holding my head in my hands I strained to focus my eyes. I saw feet. Scanning upward, a man in robes. Nobody I knew. Kind of a common face to be honest.
X: Where am I? Last I remember….
G: Not to worry – that is all past now.
X: But I usually respawn in Camelot. How did I come to end up here?
G: We needed to talk. My name is Guthix.
X: Wait, *The* Guthix?
As I snapped back to reality.
X: I don’t know what to say.
G: You have performed a great service to me. Your selfless sacrifice has prevented the destruction of the world I created. So I wanted to thank you personally.
X: So let me understand, you’ve been here all along? You’ve watched the fight over the Stone of Jas, the death of our Heroes, the destruction of Varrock, everything?
G: Yes. And to answer your question in advance, I as a rule do not interfere with what happens day to day there.
X: But you gave me the pendant.
G: Exceptional circumstances required exceptional methods.
X: I will bet there is a big picture here, but frankly I am not seeing it. Wait, how long have I been here?
G: Time is not sequential here…so that makes it hard to say. Did you have something you needed to do?
X: Sorry if I sound rude, but I did have a group of citizens I was trying to free from that fortress. Did they all get home safe?
G: No, I’m sorry. Once the power from the Stone of Jas faded, there was nothing to operate the doors. Eventually the air ran out.
X: More deaths? For what? I made a promise to a dying father that I would save his daughter. Isn’t there anything that can be done? If time means nothing, put me back where I can help her!
He eyed me for the longest time. In his mind, searching through the consequences, the multitude of timelines, being careful not to upset some grand balance mortals would not understand…. until he reached his own justification...and wrinkled his nose slightly.
G: The solution is not without its problems…as is always the case. Until we meet again.
No sooner had he said this but I was standing in front of the large door leading to the prisoner’s quarters. I could hear the roar of the assembled hoard from far down the hall and the beginning of the speech. I quickly engaged my Fremennik comrades to assist me…apologizing for the change of schedule as we went. Each of the levers was thrown and doors opened.
At first in two and threes, then in clumps of twenty, the citizens moved purposefully up the stairs and towards the exit into the volcano. We looked to be about half way evacuated when a rumble began to run through the whole complex, startling those attempting to flee.
X: Hurry now. We have less than 5 minutes. Warriors keep your groups moving.
The gates to the central chamber had just been closed. But worse than that *all* of the larger doors in the complex were starting to close…including the one leading to the dormitories. No way to over-ride using the controls – we tried. A quarter of the way down. We looked into storage rooms. Everywhere. Nothing seemed useful. Half closed now. Then a tickling at my pant leg.
X: Hold them back!
As I positioned myself just outside the entrance….I reached into my pocket and threw a cast of telegrab at the sergeant’s desk. Another. Then one more. Its weight stubborn and unyielding. In desperation I double cast – and that helped. A triple – and it edged closer to me. No time now – I attempted a penta-cast…and just in time the dense stone of the desk occupied a space below the closing door…leaving room to pass on each side.
Though my palms were burned, I dove back towards the cells to make certain all were evacuated. Only a minute remained, scant more. I called out. Nothing. From room to room - running.
It was the rustling of a blanket that caught my eye. Dashing to the far wall I scooped the sickly child up and ran as fast as I could. Past the open cell door. Sliding past the right side of the desk then back to my feet to vault two and three steps at a time up the stairs. A deep rumble echoed through the forge area. The supporting columns were beginning to crack. I spied the stairs just as a blast of flames burst into my path. Back pressed against a wall I timed the eruptions. One, two, run. One, two, run. One, two, run! Now on the stairs. No looking back. We were singed but whole.
100 meters to the volcano exit and I could see archways beginning to fail. Torches falling from their mounts. Running… up that slope… into the dim glow. Crashing boulders; avoided. I ducked and darted… then one last leap to the volcano floor as the fortress’ entrance sealed behind us.
I had landed on my back to avoid crushing the child. Those nearby reached to help. Now desperate to see we had both made it, I pulled back the corner of a blanket to expose a face.
Are you ok? Anything hurt?
No. Who are you?
I am Sir Gassity. What’s your name?
Stefano: Oh Grandfather! Last time you told us that story you said you were chased out the entrance by a hoard of Arcane rangers!
Julia: Nooooo. Don’t stop there. I want to hear how mommy and daddy met!
SG: That will be enough out of you two. Tomorrow is the start of Festival and I promised you would both be well rested.
As I blew out the lamp I thought back to the frail child in my arms. How, in the absence of any living relatives, I had taken her into my home. How she had become my daughter - the only child of an old adventurer. The re-building of Varrock. The re-population of the lands north of the barrier.
Sitting in my chair by the living room fire, I reached into my waistcoat pocket and withdrew the gold coin and rubbed it between my fingers. A gift. The only memento of my journey into the darkness so long ago. And on its face the visage of someone I hope to meet again. I have many questions. Perhaps he will provide some answers. One never knows.