His smile thin, the host leaned in And bade them all to sit “Do rest yourselves and gather close, For now we come to it:
“The risk is great, and what we’ll face Is rightly yours to fear But present jeopardies aside, I hope to make this clear:
“In time you’ll know by you alone Can triumph be attained So please remember all I’ve said And think of what’s to gain.
Our quest is this: the Bright Abyss, Beyond the Fire-Fountain; The Man in Black, the Strange Device, The Gully of the Mountain.”
None could reply, each spellbound by The fear each name invoked A moment passed in troubled thought And all at once they spoke:
“The Man in Black,” the third shot back, “The WHAT?” replied the fourth The first and seventh mirrored each: “You’ve have us all be cursed?”
The eighth raised hands in calm command: “It’s foolish that we shout. We’ve risked enough to venture here; Let’s hear him fully out.”
“If we proceed, we risk indeed A death of ash and fire; I wouldn’t call on each of you Unless the need was dire.
“That bleak frontier in recent years Has worsened as we’ve idled The forest falls, the rivers drain, The Black One grows entitled.”
“I’ve seen no sign along this kind,” The second interrupted “If you’d been out, you know it plain; By days, he grows corrupted.
“We’ve sat alone amidst our homes Content with deeds long past Ignoring that forsaken land, The power it’s amassed.
“The rivers seem to turn to steam Beyond my tender forest A blight now stifles life itself The fields grow poxed and porous.
“It’s also said a further dread Contributes to our plight: The forest folk now disappear Commanded to the blight.
“Stealthily they’ll leave the trees, Compelled by silent voice, Some odd design corrupts them so; For none would leave by choice.
“Dark times befall and threaten all Their fate we’re now assigned Know this about our lofty goal: You’ll save your homes in kind.”
In silent thought, they sat distraught And gazed upon their shoes Choice was lost to charge, it seemed, Considering their news
“You look displeased,” the master teased, “So let me try to cheer you: Were he to know we came for him, He’d rightly come to fear you.”
“You mentioned this; what have we missed? For why by us alone Could victory be gained,” one asked, “What more is there to know?”
“I can’t explain in comments plain Yet time will soon reveal it; It’s what the trees suggest to me— In full they still conceal it.
“If that imparts no lightened hearts I’d also tell you this A secret that you know too well: His power isn’t his.
“You seem surprised. Yet have I lied?” The host proposed in jest “Yes, the source behind his strength Has never been addressed!”
The eighth spoke low: “From long ago He claimed his foul dominion. The only stories left are but Conjecture and opinion.”
“All stories start with fact, in part, And though I haven’t proof Even legends grandiose Contain a dash of truth.”
“Then have it listed,” one insisted, “Of all we think is true: The Great Abyss, the Man in Black, The Fire-Fountain, too.”
“The air is thin,” the third led in, “Inside the Great Abyss. There’s nothing to be found therein Except for fog and mist.”
“But fires spread,” the master said, “By air and that which burns. The Great Abyss is barren, true; So what is there to learn?
“It’s by a spell unnatural, It’s by the Strange Device.” The eighth began, “of course, perhaps; But guessing won’t suffice.”
“It’s not a guess!” The master pressed, “The correlation’s strong: The fire and the Strange Device, And neither each belong.
“It’s fire-based, I’d make a case For flamecraft he employs it Through fire—or its opposite— We may in turn destroy it.
“And then we can suspend the man, His power thus denied. He’d be the Man in Black no more Like mortals, you or I.
“You’d question more of what’s in store, But I’ve no details yet; Let’s talk no further what may be, Or what we should expect.”
The master stood and said they should Retire for the night He left them to their open room The hearth still burning bright.