At last, as the sun drops to the horizon and sunset approaches, Noreeno arrives. He and a force of ten soldiers arrive at the opposite side of the field. The soldiers stop and dismount. Noreeno and his cleric ride out alone to meet Eomer, Enoch, and Thu’fir.
As they feared, Galman the cleric casts Zone of Truth over the meeting place. None of them may speak any lies now. There is a pause as Noreeno looks to the east, towards the tomb. After a pause he seems satisfied, “Good, I can tell you have released Mordan. Well done.”
They pepper him with questions. How do you know Mordan is free? What are you doing this for? Why did you want him freed? Noreeno finally holds up a hand and answers, “I do not intend to reveal my true goal and nature to you, but I will tell you that this is the culmination of a plan begun by others, over a century ago. It wasn’t until now, with the confusion of the war, a populace that has mostly forgotten what was buried here, being in a place of power close to Mordan’s prison, and the right group of outsiders who were willing to do this. Many long years of careful planning have led to this moment.”
Eomer informs him they they will not give him the Orb. Noreeno laughs, “Oh! I don’t want it. All I wanted was for you to free Mordan. You can deal with the orb yourself.” He smiles. Eomer is boiling with rage.
The party is enraged and horrified as this. Noreeno is calm, and continues, “I realize you are upset. I want to warn you: At sundown Mordan will emerge from his prison. I assure you, you don’t want to be here when he does. He will be seeking you. Yes. He will be hunting for all of you now. I’m sorry for the way things turned out, but I do intend to keep my part of the bargain.”
He produces five sets of travel papers and holds them up, “Here are the papers, as promised. I will give you your papers, and what’s more, I’ll give you three horses to ride out of here. But only if you agree to leave quietly. If you want to make a scene or unpleasantness, then I warn you: The battle would simply delay you, keeping you here until Mordan emerges. You don’t want that.”
They are silent for several moments. “What about Endo?”, Eomer demands at last.
Noreeno nods, “Your companion, as I said, was captured and taken south. However, my spies report that he was not sent to work in the mines, but instead was turned into on of the Queen’s special guard. You remember the soldiers with the faceless helmets, with no eye holes? Well, he is one of them now. He will probably notbe in the capital city of Fol Theron, but instead will be in on of the smaller towns between there and here. You’ll have to look for him. “
The party listens carefully as Noreeno explains, “Few know this, but the soldiers are controlled through the helmets. You can’t see it, but below the bottom edge of the helmet, just under the chin, is a leather strap holding the helmet in place. Cut it and pull off the helmet, and your friend will be freed.”
The sun is setting soon, but Eomer can’t resist one more question, “What about the travel papers? How do the soldiers always know they are fake?”
Noreeno smiles, “Because we ask them. Even if the forgery is a complete success and is good enough to fool the soldiers, we simply ask the person holding the papers. You know how fond I am of Zone of Truth. Those that have fakes are arrested and never get the chance to explain how they were caught. Up until now the forgers have always assumed they were doing something wrong, or missing some hidden detail. The truth is, the only way someone can use a fake is if they don’t know it’s a fake.”
All of them want to know what cause they just served, and who Noreeno is working for. He answers, “There are two powers you have seen. To the north are the now-defeated Lormanites. To the south are the Alidians. You have just aided a third power. A rising power. You may learn more soon, but now is not the time.”
Noreeno looks at the setting sun, “It’s time to go gentlemen. If you agree to leave quietly you can have the travel papers and the horses. What do you say?”
They cannot lie in the zone of truth. They cannot hope to beat Noreeno and his men. They cannot linger here or they will have to face the Lich. Angry and beaten, they agree to leave in peace. Before they go, Eomer makes Noreeno a promise, “Someday, I will kill you.”
“Fair enough”, Noreeno smiles, “But not today.”
They take the horses and flee. As they ride away from the crypt, Enoch can see a dark aura of evil engulfing the site. They head south, back to Crossway. As they ride they discuss their next move. They don’t want to to linger in Crossway. They have no idea what Mordan the Lich will do when he comes out, or what Noreeno is really doing. Eomer suggests that perhaps this third force is the cause of the mountain itself? Of Fiore? They have only just read the account of the conquest of the mountain the day before. The book warned that the tale was merely folklore, but they all suspect there is more to it than just a legend.
They want to ask help of Sagemaster, but they can’t reach him.
Eomer points out that Noreeno is obviously an enemy of Queen Alidia. They have heard that she is cold and ruthless, but she might still be an ally against the Lich. Eomer proposes they head to town and find one of her special guards and tell him what has happened. Since she seems to connect with them through magic, she ought to know quickly.
As they ride south, they decide they need to rescue Beck from the town. It is probably no longer safe in Crossway. During the ride, Skeeve studies the Orb some more. He learns:
This doesn’t help him very much, but he does gain some knowledge that will help him in future study attempts.
They arrive in Crossway. It is well past dark now. They ride to the south gate to find the special guards, but find only evidence of battle. The royal guards are gone. They have either fled the city or have been slain by men loyal to Noreeno. The Queen no longer has any royal guards here in Crossway. Could she know already? They are even more convinced that some sort of power struggle is going on, and they must get Beck out of the city as soon as possible.
Beck is not in the tavern as they suspected. Instead, they find him at the Inn. He answers the door in his skivvies, obviously already in bed. He squints in the torchlight as they try to explain that he needs to leave.
He shakes his head, “No more adventures, boys. I got myself a job hauling goods around for a shop and I start tomorrow, I need some sleep….”
Skeeve cuts him off and explains that he has to leave, and the city is no longer safe for him. They relate a few of the events that have happened. Convinced, Beck runs inside to get ready to travel.
The six of them get on their three horses and ride south out of town as if the devil himself pursued them. They are tired. They have had only a few hours of sleep over the last few days, but they want to put some distance between themselves and the city before they can consider rest.
The Death of Half-Life
Valve still hasn't admitted it, but the Half-Life franchise is dead. So what made these games so popular anyway?
The Middle Ages
Would you have survived in the middle ages?
There are two major schools of thought about how you should write software. Here's what they are and why people argue about it.
The Opportunity Crunch
No, brutal, soul-sucking, marriage-destroying crunch mode in game development isn't a privilege or an opportunity. It's idiocy.
The Loot Lottery
What makes the gameplay of Borderlands so addictive for some, and what does that have to do with slot machines?