- For object, see Moon of the Spider (object) (possible spoilers!).
Driven by nightmares to the ruins of a mysterious tomb, Lord Aldric Jitan hopes to awaken a terrible evil that has slept since the fall of Tristram. Drawn by the growing darkness in the land, the enigmatic Necromancer, Zayl, stumbles upon Jitan's plot -- unaware that one of his own brethren has set these dire events in motion. Now, as the celestial Moon of the Spider rises, the nefarious demon, Astrogha, prepares to unleash his minions upon the world of Sanctuary.
The thick, gray clouds enshrouded much of the northern side of the mountains. A chill wind cut deep into the flesh of every man in the party save the slim cowled figure in the thin, black travel cloak guiding the party. At this level, there were even traces of snow and, especially, frost. The frost was very prevalent, giving the forest of firs through which they stalked a deathlike sheen.
Two paces behind their guide, Lord Aldric Jitan drew his own thickly furred cloak tighter. From under the hood of the rich brown and white garment, the red-haired noble's narrow eyes -- one deep brown and the other ice-blue -- darted back and forth along the landscape, seeking. His square jaw clenched in impatience.
"How much farther, sorcerer?" he muttered, his words accompanied by dense white clouds.
"Not much farther at all, my lord," the black-clad figure calmly replied. Unlike the noble and the five burly men-at-arms, he strode along the uneven path as if on a pleasant afternoon hike. His voice was surprisingly deep for so thin and studious-sounding a figure, even deeper than Lord Jitan's. He glanced back at the broad-shouldered aristocrat -- a man built much like the fighters who served him -- revealing glimpses of a head with short-cropped gray hair and an angular face with matching eyes so narrow they made Aldric's seem round. The skin had a darker, slightly yellowish cast to it, almost as if the speaker suffered jaundice. "In fact, I daresay, the first hints will soon manifest themselves."
"I sense nothing."
"Your skills are not honed as mine are, my lord, but that shall be remedied soon enough, yes?"
Aldric grunted. "That's the point of all of this, isn't it, sorcerer?"
The lead figure turned his gaze forward, leaving the noble only the back of his black hood at which to gaze. "Yes, my lord."
They fell to silence again. Behind Aldric, the five servants struggled under heavy packs. In addition to foodstuffs and blankets, they carried pickaxes, huge hammers, and shovels. Each man also wore a sword at his side. As desolate as this forest seemed, there were dangers, especially from wendigos. The huge beastmen were rare to find -- not that most were so foolish as to go hunting for them -- but when encountered had to be slain quickly. Wendigos thrived on meat, including human flesh. Legend said that they had not always been so monstrous, but no one in the Western Kingdoms cared about such legends. It was the blood-soaked facts that mattered. The only good wendigo was a dead one.
After all, as Lord Aldric Jitan could attest, the dead ones at least made for fine, warm cloaks like the one he wore.
Several more minutes passed and still the noble sensed nothing. He probed for some distance ahead and only noted the continual emptiness of the mountainous land. Even for this part of southeastern Westmarch, the region was desolate. Not at all like the lowlands, where the lush, rich soil and pleasant rainfall made this part of the Western Kingdoms the envy of all other regions of the world. Even the thick fir forest through which they trudged felt sterile, more a ghost than a living thing.
Lord Jitan grunted. And this had once been the heart of ancient Westmarch? This had once been where the vast, dominating estates of the Sons of Rakkis had loomed over the first, burgeoning kingdoms of the land? The moldering parchments and crumbling stone slabs through which Aldric had for months pored had spoken of a much warmer, much more regal land, of huge city-sized estates, each of them run by one of the five lines descended from the legendary paladin-lord.
Few today knew the origins of King Rakkis -- founder and first ruler of Westmarch -- and most of those, Aldric included, understood only that he had come from somewhere in the east, possibly even beyond the jungles of Kehjistan. As one who believed himself descended from that very same lord, Aldric thought this most definitely the case and the explanation for the narrowness of his own eyes.
What had happened to the last of the Rakkis line was up to conjecture, albeit by very few since the legacy was all but forgotten in modern times. Lord Jitan gathered from what little existed that, somewhere deep in the past, there had been a struggle for power between factions over an object of power. In fact, there had been more than one reference to it, and that had been what had first instigated him to search on. Yet, until the chance encounter with his foreign companion ahead, the noble had found only dead ends.
And dead ends were not something Aldric needed. The dreams were growing worse with each night. They tortured and beguiled him at the same time. They hinted of enemies seeking his weaknesses, shadowy figures who had become so very real to Aldric despite never having clear faces or intelligible voices. Each night, the whispering phantoms drew closer to overtaking him, and each night the fear in him swelled greater. Often, he woke full of sweat, certain that his screams had been heard throughout his estate.
But those dreams had also given him the first clue, the one that had led to the history of the Lords Rakkis and, finally, to this climb into the chill mountain region. Each time Aldric had nearly been taken by his faceless, horrific enemies, something had saved him. At first, it had been only an indistinct object, one that had appeared magically in his cupped palms. In progressive dreams, however, it had taken on form, gradually becoming a sphere, a huge pearl with odd yet familiar markings. At the same time, hints of the Rakkis ties to it had materialized -- old, rotting banners with the House symbol still intact, dank catacombs with the snarling wolf carved into the stone, and more.
Most men would have simply thought themselves mad, but then, most men were not Lord Aldric Jitan. Even before he had determined that within him coursed the blood of the Sons of Rakkis, Aldric had known that he was of a select few. After all, he had been gifted with the touch of magic. His skills were slight, true, but in the dreams, they had grown when he had touched the gigantic pearl. That had, in fact, been the only reason his dream self had thus far survived.
And if Lord Jitan was to survive in the waking world, did it not make sense that he find what his subconscious kept steering him toward? Did not all his dreams and research mean to culminate in locating what the eastern devil called --
"The Moon of the Spider..."
Aldric stood as if suddenly as frozen as the trees around him. He glared ahead hopefully, but saw only more of the same bleakness.
"Sorcerer!" the noble snapped. "What by the Lords was that utterance for? There's nothing here!"
His guide did not even look back. "Your senses are not attuned enough, my lord. You cannot see what there is to be seen, but I promise that it lies just before us." One arm stretched back, the narrow, yellowed hand gesturing Aldric forward. "Step up and I will show you a taste of what you desire to wield."
Lord Jitan needed no encouragement. Driven by his demons, he battled his way up to where the slim figure awaited him. The five servants, much more encumbered, did their best to follow their master.
"Where? Where, damn it?" All that stood before him were mounds of stone and ice and the same endless forest.
The yellowed hand suddenly reached out and seized his own, squeezing with a strength that made Aldric wince. "See..."
And the western aristocrat did.
Everything was as it had been before, and yet now Aldric saw distinctions that his sweeping glance had so quickly dismissed. The mounds of stone and ice had definition, if one only looked close. Definition that nature could not have created on its own.
Lord Jitan stared up the length of the mountainside and took in the full scope of what those definitions meant.
"Can you sense it now?" asked his companion, releasing his grip on the noble.
Aldric nodded. How could he miss it now? More to the point, how could he have not sensed it in the first place?
The stronghold of the last of the Sons of Rakkis...
Ahead lay what to the ignorant simply appeared a large, oval depression between two ridges. Of course, those ridges were much too uniform and, to Aldric's now-awakened senses, were the flanking walls of the entrance to a much larger structure rising up several stories above. The Lords Rakkis had built their massive estates into the very mountains, carving out the rock where needed, adapting where it was not. Now Aldric saw the stepped city that they had built, each level once luxurious and spanning. There were small terraced villas and gardened walkways, all draped by the culmination of centuries of weather. Higher up stood a tower from which the ruler himself would have looked down upon his realm. Aldric squinted, noting that what had appeared to be an outcropping near the top was actually the thrusting arm of a great statue that might very well have been of Rakkis himself.
The noble grinned as he drank in the truth. Buried beneath the snow, ice, and stone was an erection to rival any of which he had seen or heard, especially in Westmarch.
Behind him, the men-at-arms muttered excitedly among themselves. They no doubt thought of treasure. Aldric paid them little mind. He already knew that anything of such base value had long been stripped away in the aftermath of the Lords' downfall. The riffraff would have to be satisfied with what he so generously paid them.
But as for his own treasure quest...
His eyes were drawn to the depression at the base of the sprawling ruins. Marching up to it, Lord Jitan confronted the layers of earth and ice he was now certain kept him from his goal. He turned back to his servants, snapping, "Well? Drop that gear and come dig!"
They immediately set to work, rightly fearful of their lord's wrath. As the clatter of picks and shovels echoed throughout...
|Released Books||The Sin War||Birthright • Scales of the Serpent • The Veiled Prophet|
|Other||Demonsbane • Legacy of Blood • The Black Road • The Kingdom of Shadow • Moon of the Spider|
|Compilations||Tales of Sanctuary • Diablo Archive|
|Proposed Books||A Kingdom for a Sword • The Fate of Siggard • Angels of Darkness, Soldiers of Light|