Chapter Three

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(Art Source: Roshiko Amanogawa by kizalon)

"ARE WE GOING in there, Oen?" A timid little voice whispered from his rucksack. He twisted his neck around to study the freckled face poking from beneath the flap.

"Keep your head down, Sprite," he growled for the hundredth time since arriving on the Isle of Wise Ones.

"It's very scary." The nymphling shivered before she ducked back into his rucksack, pulling the flap closed like a turtle hiding in its shell.

"This tower is called the Spine. This is where the Archlord of the Isle lives." Oenghus squeezed his bulk between the shrubbery at the base of the monstrosity and scanned the strange stone.

"There's no door," Isiilde pointed out from her concealment.

"It's a secret one. Now hush." A well-concealed entrance, Oenghus thought, searching for the invisible rune with a clumsy eye.

After a time, he grunted with triumph and placed his hand on the cool, wind-worn stone, sliding his rough palm around the general area where he vaguely remembered the door being hidden. A slight tremor in the stone brought him up short. The stone had not changed, but Oenghus knew better. He spread his fingers and uttered the words that would awaken the dormant power.

The shrubbery offered ample cover, but all the same, he glanced over his shoulder, searching for watchful eyes before stepping into the teleportation rune. A cold, ancient weight embraced him, sucking him through the rune before spitting him out a heartbeat later.

A gasp rose from his rucksack, but he thought it more excitement than fear. Shaking the chill from his bones, he stepped into a thick sheet of cobwebs that stretched from one end of an empty alcove to the next.

"You have to be on your best behavior, Sprite," Oenghus instructed as he emerged from the alcove into an equally deserted hallway.

The nymphling poked her head from the rucksack with an inquisitive tilt of her ears. "I'm always good," she stated, puzzled as to why he would even say such a thing.

"Aye, that's what I'm afraid of."

Oenghus walked straight into an identical alcove waiting at the opposite end of the corridor and placed his hand on another unspectacular bit of stone, summoning the Lore. The familiar chill tugged him through the stone.

Another empty corridor greeted him. But this passage was slightly different than the first—there was a large, ornate door waiting at the end. Oenghus strode purposefully towards the door, taking it as a good sign that his old master and friend hadn't taken him off the guest list. He stopped in front of stately wood, gathering his wits and resolve.

The Archlord of the Isle was completely immune to Oenghus' bullying, so he'd need all his meager powers of persuasion to convince him to let Isiilde remain. Perhaps blunt honesty would do.

"Keep quiet 'til I tell you different," Oenghus murmured over his shoulder.

Obedient silence answered. He took a deep breath and pounded his fist against the wood. At his persistent knock, the door flew open. Isek Beirnuckle, advisor to the Archlord, stood at the threshold. Isek reminded him of a balding weasel with dark, calculating eyes, and taut muscles that were perpetually poised to flee at a moment's notice.

"Oenghus," the wiry Wise One said with a startled breath. But the Archlord's assistant recovered quickly, offering a smooth grin as he grasped Oenghus' hand in greeting. "By the Pits o' Mourn, I didn't expect to see you here."

"Me either, but it appears I'm still welcome," Oenghus said, ducking beneath the lintel. There was a question in his words, directed to the back of a tall, thin man who stood in front of a crystal window. Moonlight streamed through the crystal, illuminating his long, white hair, and a collection of artifacts, each a power in its own right.

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