Excerpt from ‘The Heroes of Xymor: The Great Debate, Chapter 9: Of Loss, Destiny, and Choices,’ by Archmage Hannibal Kahnhari, Head Scholar and Headmaster of Ravencraft School of Sorcery and the Dark Arts.
Roman Khan was dead. He sacrificed his life to give his companions time to escape. He had fulfilled his role in the game and his piece was removed from the board.
As the heroes of Xymor ran away, they encountered Vermelda once more. And once more, they fought her off. They were vulnerable and weak. At the time, they had no idea what had happened to Roman and Arien was afraid for him. She wanted to go back, but Nolofinwe and Varen convinced her that the great warrior was strong and capable of surviving, and the best thing they could do was to wait for his return. But they had no idea that Roman would not return. Varen summoned his magical hut of protection in the tunnels of Xymor and the heroes rested.
Craven and his owl, leading the surviving people of Hactuan away from the giant ants, stumbled upon the heroes. Their chance encounter was initially met with hesitation and suspicion. But with the survivors that followed Craven, Shanna convinced the heroes that Craven might be trustworthy. Of course, no one believed that Craven was a holy man or had any divine powers. Most people in Xymor who claimed to be disciples of the gods were liars or mad.
But Craven didn’t seem disturbed by their lack of faith; he was happy to find the heroes. And when he met Arien, Craven believed that his holy quest had begun. His joy in finding Arien concerned Nolofinwe and Varen at first, but Craven assured them that he had no intentions of harming her. Arien didn’t care for Craven, but wanted to find Roman.
The heroes of Xymor were at a crossroad of choices. On one hand, they had a group of survivors from Hactuan who wanted to go home and needed to be escorted. On the other hand, Roman had not returned and Arien desperately wanted to look for him. She was willing to go back by herself to find him. Varen, afraid that Vermelda would attack his mother again, would not leave her side and wanted to go back to Hactuan. Nolofinwe was stuck between the two and could not decide.
It was Craven that offered a voice of logic.
“If this witch hunts Arien, then wouldn’t she follow Arien?” Craven said.
“No. She hurt my mother, and threatened her life if we didn’t give her Arien,” Varen replied.
“No. She threatened you,” Craven retorted. “This witch used your mother to get to you. I was there when I heard your mother was attacked. I didn’t know the screams were your mother’s at first, but now it makes sense. Your mother was trapped in one of those dirt mounds, like the rest of us, and the witch attacked her when she couldn’t defend herself. But now, your mother is free and surrounded by others. She looks like a strong and capable woman who can lead these people back to their village. Let her. You’ve already demonstrated that you’ll not give up Arien in the face of this witch threatening your mother. The witch wants Arien, not your mother. And furthering any more harm to your mother would do nothing to get to Arien. You can’t let the witch dictate your actions.”
Varen was still unmoved in his resolve. But it was Shanna that heard Craven and understood him, and it was her that convinced Varen to trust her to lead the survivors back and allow the heroes to look for Roman.
The heroes of Xymor gave what weapons and supplies they could to the survivors and allowed Shanna to lead them into the dark caverns toward Hactuan. The heroes then turned around and went back to the ant chambers in search of Roman Khan.
—(transition to first person account by Craven)
As we traversed the pit, we came to a short tunnel. At the end of the tunnel was a cliff, overlooking a massive chasm. We couldn’t see the bottom. I tossed a rock down the chasm and it disappeared into the darkness below and it made no sound. I noticed deep grooves on the wall of the cliff.
It was then that Nolofinwe discovered a foot, torn from its leg. As we approached it, Arien reached out her hand. I took it in mine. She cried out as we neared the foot and she realized that it belonged to her lover.
As I tried to comfort Arien, Nolofinwe and I exchanged glances, uncertain what to do next. Varen was still at the top of the pit.
“What’s going on down there?” Varen shouted. “You find anything?”
None of us replied.
“He could still be alive,” I said, though, I knew we all had our doubts. Arien fell down and started sobbing in despair.
I would not let this end this way. If Roman was dead, then Arien needed closure. We needed to find the rest of Roman’s remains and give a him a proper burial. But first, we had to deal with the beast that did this thing to Roman.
I unhooked my flail and shield, and stormed to the cliff’s edge.
“Craven, what’re you doing?” Nolofinwe asked as he comforted Arien.
I swung and brushed the cliff’s wall. A large chunk of rubble broke and flew off. I swung again, spoke the power word, and hit the rubble in mid-air. The sound of a thunderous boom echoed throughout the chasm and deafened the three of us for a moment.
I ran back to Arien and Nolofinwe and readied myself.
“Get up,” I said to them. “It comes.”
We heard the roaring sound of an approaching beast, and it was then that Nolofinwe and Arien realized what I had done.
“Are you mad?!” Nolo yelled at me.
“What’s going on down there?” Varen shouted.
“Get down here, Varen! We need you now!” Nolo shouted back.
The earth beneath us trembled as the thing clawed its way up the cliff wall and over the ledge. I cast another spell and my skin turned pale, taut, and decaying.
The beast was much larger than I expected, but I noticed that it was weakened by a previous fight; it had cuts and bruises on its body. The thing roared at us and tried to cast a darkness spell on us, but Nolo cast a spell of his own and countered it, protecting us from being blinded. I cast another spell and an invisible spherical shield formed around me. I rushed the beast, swinging my flail and using my shield to guard myself from its massive claws.
Varen had climbed down and he, Arien, and Nolo used their magical energies to attack the beast. Even Artemis flew in to help attack the thing.
I could sense the beast was dying and it knew it too. It roared, stepped away from me, and jumped off the cliff. I tried to hit it one more time, but missed. The beast fell down into the darkness below.
The hunt was on.