“One, two, three… five, six… Nope—we’re still missing one!”
The upper floor of the Legends’ Guild wasn’t usually this lively, but today was one of the three times a month when the guild members would meet for lunch—or sometimes just cakes and tea, like now—and catch up on what great things they might have been doing lately. Or rather, that’s what they would have been doing, if not for the fact that their little group was short one head—short one purple-haired head, to be exact.
“What could be keeping her?” Ariane wondered aloud, tracing a finger along the edge of the tablecloth. “I do hope she’s alright…”
“Maybe she was delayed by a pack of demons, and is bravely fighting her way through them now?” Ozan suggested. “Or she’s finding her way out of a deadly trap-filled dungeon, all kinds of monsters hot on her tail?”
Sir Owen rolled his eyes. “More likely, she would’ve been sidetracked by something mundane. Tending her plants perhaps or—hopefully—offering a quick prayer to Saradomin?”
Xenia snorted. “I would hope that she would be true to Guthix, like her parents.”
“She doesn’t really seem to have any particular allegiance,” Ariane said. “Perhaps she’ll retain a more neutral outlook towards the gods? That way she might not limit her potential quite as much…”
The sound of the guild doors downstairs slamming open silenced everyone before the discussion could escalate, and within seconds, the very girl the heroes had been speaking of rushed in, her bright purple pigtails bouncing behind her.
“Hi all! Sorry I’m late.”
Linza looked up from the rock she’d been scraping at with a small pick. “Hiya, Jaina. We were wondering when you’d show up.”
“Sorry about that…” Jaina smiled awkwardly, her face flushing a bit red, and then motioned to her outfit. “So how do you like my new dress?”
The heroes turned to study her, except for the Raptor, who hadn’t seemed to react to her arrival at all. She was wearing a silvery-blue, almost-white dress and matching overcoat, which, while pretty—and it certainly went well with the air staff on her back—was quite a bit different from the simple purple dress and cape they usually saw her in.
“It looks very nice!” Ariane said with a smile. “Where did you get it?”
“It does look lovely, but what kept you?” Sir Owen asked.
“Well, both of those questions are kind of related actually.” Jaina gave a nervous-yet-gracious nod to the Raptor, who had pulled up a chair for her when no one was looking, and took her seat. “See, I’ve made quite a fortune selling magical staves—well, had made one, anyway, but just last week when I was at the Grand Exchange…”
The next set of staves had just been exchanged, and Jaina was wondering what else she could possibly do now. She had a lot more unfinished staves and unpowered orbs on reserve, but she didn’t really want to run all the way back to the air obelisk again today—besides, she was getting really tired of making so many staves. Her fingers were sore, and her legs still ached from running to the obelisk and back so much. Besides, she had quite a bit of money now, more than enough to handle her needs she thought…
“Lass! Over here!”
Jaina stopped short and blinked, looking around at the crowds going by. She wasn’t sure if that voice was calling out to her or not, but why would it be for her?
“You—the purple-haired woman! Look behind you.”
Still a bit startled, she turned around, and soon enough she spotted a red-clad warrior standing by the fountain, motioning to her. Strange that he would be fully armored while doing business transactions—wouldn’t the exchange clerks and salesmen just find the whip he carried and the spiked armor-full helm look intimidating?
He must really like dragon platemail, she surmised, if he was walking around in it off the battlefield. She wondered how he could even stand it—couldn’t he take just the helm off? It had to be really, really stuffy in there.
As she approached him, the dragon-armored warrior bowed in greeting. “Afternoon, Purple-Pigtails. Considering that staff you’ve got, I presume you’re a mage?”
She nodded slowly, wishing she could see his face. At least then she’d be able to better tell how friendly he might seem.
“Uh-huh, I’m a mage—why?”
In response, the warrior knelt and opened the bag at his feet, and produced a folded white bundle. “You seem short on proper gear for a mage. Can I interest you in a little rare something that a fine young woman with magical talent such as yourself could make better use of than I could?”
Jaina eyed the bundle curiously. A closer look revealed that it wasn’t actually white, just a very, very light shade of blue.
“A rare something? Whatever it is, it doesn’t look that rare…”
“It may not seem special, but it’s a valuable relic of the Third Age, believe it or not.” The warrior carefully unfolded the bundle, revealing that it consisted of a stylish-looking little dress and matching overcoat. “I found it quite by accident on a treasure hunt in the Wilderness—but I haven’t got much use for it, as you can probably tell. You, on the other hand… Here, have a look-see.”
He handed her the outfit, and she looked it over for a moment. It seemed like it would look decent on her, and it would be a lot easier to move around in than a floor-length robe. But would it fit her? There wasn’t anywhere she could change to try it on…
Tentatively she slipped the overcoat on. She was surprised at how perfectly it fit—it felt neither too tight nor too loose, and though she couldn’t tell quite how it felt against her skin thanks to wearing a long-sleeved dress, she liked the feel of the fabric in her hands. A glance at her reflection in the fountain showed that it looked pretty good on her, too.
She stood up straight and held the dress up in front of her, trying to picture herself in it. It was something she could reasonably wear… She held it up against her figure, wondering how well it would fit her. It seemed to be the right size, and the skirt was neither too long nor too short…
“I see you like it already,” the warrior said. “Well, it does suit you—so, you interested?”
Jaina didn’t need to be asked twice. “How much are we talking?”
“Well, according to the sales clerks, both parts are valued at 100 million apiece, plus another 80 million if you throw in the hat to match…”
She would’ve stared at him wide-eyed and spluttered incoherently just then, but he kept on talking. “But for you, I’ll sell it all for just 75 million. You can even have the hat too if you’d like, at no extra charge.”
Jaina stared in disbelief for a very long moment. 75 million for a dress? That was pretty much all the money she even had! And if she spent it all now in one go… well, she still hadn’t forgotten a good portion of her first five years of life, where dinner was nearly always awfully gross cabbage soup because her family hadn’t had that much. There was no way she would ever willingly eat a cabbage again.
On the other hand… she really didn’t want to give up that outfit. Where else would she find something that was both stylish and suitable for spellcasting? Opportunities like this didn’t strike every day. Besides, she did have staves and orbs on reserve, and she could make a lot of other things to sell quite easily; she would still be able to eat and live decently…
She thought it over for a little bit longer, and then made up her mind. Quickly excusing herself, she made her way to the nearest banker and returned to the warrior’s side with a chest full of coins.
“Here’s all my cash. Deal?”
The warrior examined the chest and silently counted on his fingers for a minute, then accepted it and handed her the dress and overcoat. “Deal. And the hat?”
She shook her head. “No thanks; I don’t like hats and helms that much.”
He nodded slowly. “Thank you, lass. Wear it well, and may the gods smile on you.”
“All of it?” Ozan spluttered. “You really spent all of your hard-earned money?”
Jaina nodded slowly. “Indeed I did. I’ve been making staves again, and I’m getting back on my feet money-wise, but I’m not even close to recompensating for the cost of the dress. That’s why I was late, by the way—all that running to and from the damn obelisk. Believe me, I smelled terrible! So I had to get cleaned up before I came.”
She looked down at her hands. “My fingers are still seriously killing me.”
“This could still make for an interesting tale, though,” said Ozan. “I know just how I’ll tell it in the bar—a fearsome warrior clad in dragon mail comes along and promises the fair Jaina a beautiful new dress if she can be the first to defeat him in battle! Over and into the Wilderness they go, and thus begins a great duel of spell and steel! And of course the dashing Ozan arrives in time to help just a teensy bit… and let’s just leave out the part about you spending all your money, of course…”
Ariane sighed. “Not everything needs to be so exaggerated, Ozan. Jaina, what are you going to do now?”
“Well, I definitely need a break from staves,” Jaina said. “I suppose I could go do some stuff for the Slayer masters; that might earn a bit—but there’s something else I was thinking of, something more interesting than just killing stuff.”
Xenia arched an eyebrow. “Oh? Do tell.”
“This Asgarnia Smith guy found some kind of lead toward treasure in the desert, and asked me to look into it.” Jaina paused to gulp down a bit of her mint cake before she continued. “Something about diamonds if I remember correctly—that might help pay off the cost of the dress. I might even go do that after this.”
“Do be careful!” Sir Owen frowned and eyed her nervously. “I understand you need to earn your keep, but no amount of treasure is worth throwing your life away.”
Jaina scowled at him indignantly. “I can handle myself just fine. I’ve been through the desert and lived before—I even rescued an unlucky traveler from slavery!”
“He means well, you know.” Ariane smiled and passed her the sugar. “Best of luck on your little excursion—who knows what you’re going to find?”
“And when you get back, tell me everything!” Ozan added. “Don’t be afraid to invent some juicy details either!”
As the wind blew through her hair, Jaina pulled her overcoat tighter around her and looked up at the pyramid before her. It towered imposingly, casting a large shadow behind it over the desert sands. Hard to believe there was some kind of distressed damsel in there—wait, what exactly did one call a damsel that was a guy? Or was “damsel” the right word regardless?
Whose idea had it been to put whatever-his-name-was—Azzy-something, had Eblis said?—in there anyway? Couldn’t they have locked him in a tower, where there’d be a window and room to breathe? Or would that have been too predictable?
Jaina glanced down at the four diamonds in her hands, remembering why she’d looked into the matter in the first place. It occurred to her that they might pick up decent money on the black market… and she still didn’t have that much…
Quickly she shook the thought out of her head. She might need a quicker way to make money than wearing her fingers out making staves again, but there were a lot of ways she could potentially get it. No amount of cash was worth being so heartless as to leave the poor guy trapped in there. She hadn’t stuck out her neck to get these stupid things for money anyway—she was an adventurer, not a merchant. If she left now, she knew she was going to regret not saving the damsel all her life; she’d come so far, and there was only one way to go—keep going.
Tentatively she approached the pyramid, each of the diamonds drawing her towards the four obelisks surrounding it so she could place them in. With the last one in place, she ventured to the door at the top, shielding her eyes from the blinding sunlight with one hand.
Taking a deep breath, she opened the door and slid down the ladder, glad to be out of the bright sunlight. She took a moment to brush the sand off her skirt before continuing on.
She didn’t have long to be glad, though—hardly had she taken a few steps when a mummy appeared from a sarcophagus on the wall, not looking too pleased to see her. Quickly she bolted, managing to outrun it after a short time, and paused in a corner to catch her breath—but then the first scarab swarm boiled up.
The last thing Azzanadra remembered was the world going black around him as he had felt a strange pulling towards the pyramid. He still felt very strange as everything came back into view, but at least he knew he was free—they were fools to think they could trap him here for long.
He took a moment to glance at his surroundings. There wasn’t much of note in the small room, other than the altar behind him—though the young girl passed out cold on the floor was a rather… surprising sight to say the least.
Azzanadra couldn’t help but notice that the girl’s hair was a striking color, a bright and lively shade of purple, as if Zaros himself had laid hands upon her head. Odd as it was to see a human with that color hair, it was nonetheless interesting as well.
A closer look at her indicated that she was mostly unharmed; she seemed merely to have fainted. She did have a particularly nasty bleeding gash on one leg, though—something had to be done about that. Quickly he muttered a chant, healing the wound.
Why was she here? That staff she was carrying—she must be a mage. Most likely, she’d come from Senntisten, and had been sent to free him… but she certainly wouldn’t have been sent off on such a mission alone; she was probably the sole survivor of her squad. The situation must be truly dire out there without him to help. Who knew what perils she must have faced on her way, and what terrible fates had befallen her squad?
Well, she could bring him up to speed on how dire it was. Once the battle was taken care of, he would make sure that her courage and effort did not go unrewarded.
If he could have, he would have tapped her on the shoulder to try and awaken her, but as it was he had to telekinetically give her hair a light pull. She twitched and slowly sat up, rubbing her eyes, after the second time.
“Ow… oh, my head…”
She took a moment to look herself over, her eyes growing wide when she glanced over at her not-so-injured leg.
“My… my leg, I—but…” Slowly and shakily she stood up, staring at him curiously. “Did you…?”
“Yes.” Azzanadra made his way over to her. “Well done, soldier, how goes the battle?”
The girl gave him a blank stare. “What?”
He presumed—and hoped—that she was merely just a little out of it and it would all come rushing back to her soon, but the confused look on her face didn’t fade.
“You… you do not know of the battle? More time must have passed than I had thought…”
Whatever had happened, and even if Senntisten had somehow fallen, he had to know what had happened to the rest of the empire. Surely he hadn’t been in here that long, right?
“Tell me, what news of great Paddewwa? Do the shining spires of Lassar still stand? And what of glorious Annakarl? The fortress is still intact?”
The purple-haired girl continued to stare, looking even more confused. “Um… it’s 169 of the Fifth Age, and I’ve never heard of any of those?”
“What? No… My lord… What happened?”
They had failed… he had failed his Lord. Not only were the great cities gone, she’d said Fifth Age—if enough time had passed that he had missed an entire age, he must have been here a very long time indeed! He couldn’t even hope she might be wrong; she would have no reason to lie about such things.
Worse yet, he couldn’t seem to hear Zaros’ voice in his mind anymore. The Great Lord’s guidance would have been of so much use now, yet there was nothing there…
Well, he wasn’t going to get anywhere by staying here for two more ages—he would be glad to leave this blasted place, and soon. Of course, the girl still deserved something for her efforts.
“My thanks to you, young adventurer, for freeing me from this accursed tomb,” he said, “but it seems I have much to do to make amends.”
Her eyes widened a little, and she looked slightly less confused now. “Oh, you’re Azza-whatsit aren’t you? I—I came in here to free you in the first place.”
A small flame of hope flickered in his mind. If she had come for that express purpose, she must have been sent after all! Perhaps Zaros could still watch over his followers to a degree. This was certainly not going to be the last he’d be seeing of her—and thankfully she would be easy to find whenever he needed her. Even if he had to search the entirety of Gielinor, her hair would give her away.
“Azzanadra. Remember it well, for this won’t be the last time our paths cross… ah, might I ask your name?”
“Jaina,” she answered politely. “Jaina Katarn.”
“Well, Jaina, you seem to be a magic-wielder…” When she nodded, he continued. “In exchange for your help, I offer you the gift of knowledge. Go and touch the altar over there and I shall bestow upon you the ancient magicks, taught to me by my Lord before his disappearance.”
Curiously she made her way over to the altar and tentatively stretched out her hand to touch it. She noticeably trembled as she felt the knowledge filling her mind.
“Wow…” She turned to him again, and blinked. “Um… thank you so much… I… this is…”
“No, thank you, once again.” Azzanadra paused briefly to form a portal, so she could come and go as she wished easily. “Now I must leave you, but I offer you the blessings of myself and my master in all your endeavors. I look forward to our next meeting.”
With that he teleported away, wondering just what role Zaros meant for her to play in the grand scheme of things. Whatever it was she might do, he was certainly not going to forget her anytime soon.
“Finally, you return!” Eblis straightened up and motioned over to Jaina as she came into view. “So have you spoken to my lord Azzanadra yet?”
She nodded. “Yes—sorry I took so long getting back and all.”
“Did he have much to say? He must have been so worried about us…”
She shook her head. “He didn’t say that much. Seemed shocked to hear that it’s 169 of the Fifth Age, but then he was all ‘Oh, thanks for the help, here have some cool new magic spells, sorry have to go now.’ That’s… actually what kept me by the way; I was taking ‘em out for a spin.”
Eblis nodded in understanding. “There must’ve been something important to be done… He wouldn’t neglect his fellow faithful.”
Jaina blinked and glanced down at her leg for a moment. “Well, he was kind enough to heal an injury I got on the way… Stupid pyramid and its stupid invisible traps. And he did say that we’re going to meet again at some point… I don’t really know what to make of that.”
“Well, your kindness and bravery certainly aren’t things to be forgotten easily,” Eblis said. “I do suspect he saw some greater potential in you… who knows, you might very well be a part of Zaros’ great plan…”
There it was again—that mysterious name that hadn’t left her mind since she’d started looking for the diamonds. With that business taken care of, she could finally inquire further…
“So… this Zaros I’ve been hearing a lot about,” she said. “I—I want to know more.”
Eblis looked thoughtful. “Hmmm. I do suppose you can be trusted—you don’t seem to have sympathies for the Saradominist or Zamorakian filth.”
“Nope.” She shook her head. “I was raised Guthixian… but it didn’t really... stick, you know?”
“Well, someone joining the ranks of the faithful is hardly a bad thing.” Eblis sat down in the middle of the circle of mirrors and motioned for Jaina to sit next to him. “The first thing you should know if you follow the Empty Lord is you don’t talk about the fact that you follow the Empty Lord.”
“So if I do convert, I have to keep my lips zipped?” Jaina blinked and wrung her hands as she sat. “I—I think I could do that…”
“Only until he returns,” Eblis said. “As for what following him entails… well, Zaros is patron of fate, and will always watch over his faithful. I’m sure you’re familiar with close calls, yes? Well, a lucky coincidence, a narrow escape, a chance discovery—that’s the work of the Empty Lord.”
Jaina listened intently, her curiosity growing even more. That did seem like it would be a lot more useful for her than order, chaos, or balance…
Would she even be here now, she wondered, had she not spent all her money on the dress? Might this mysterious god be guiding her path or something like that? She’d never felt like Guthix was guiding or watching over her, as much as her parents had assured her of his “big plans” for her…
“Why do I have to keep my lips zipped, anyway?” she asked.
Eblis looked down at the sand, a melancholy expression on his face. “You can thank the followers of the pretender gods for that.”
He proceeded to tell her about how Saradominists and Zamorakians had tried to wipe out all knowledge of Zaros from the world during the God Wars. Jaina was already shaking her head as she listened—you didn’t have to like other people’s gods, but trying to erase even the memory of your rival’s existence? That seemed a little petty, and that was an understatement.
Well, lost knowledge was made to be rediscovered, and it seemed that task was up to her. Maybe having to sell a lot more staves to make all her money back wouldn’t be so bad, if having spent it all meant she could get to know more about this long-forgotten god.