Blades at Dawn

Epilogue : Searching
Katryol

The sound of birds chirping in the thick canopy of the forest unsettles the traveler. He should, by design, be comfortable with his natural surroundings, but there is something about this forest that doesn’t seem right. The bird’s songs are empty and hollow, where they should be ringing with life. Even the wind that rustles the leaves feels devoid of energy.

A break in the greenery exposes the sky. The sun, perched on the horizon, grants its warmth to the forest. Stretching, the Half–Elf hopes to bring life to his weary muscles, but even the sun seems cold and distant. Faint wisps of cloud scatter around the light blue canvas. A quick flutter of feathers pass across the opening as a hawk chases its meal. The limbs of the trees, where unclumped, sway in the wind. Moss dots the trunks, as a few scraggly vines swing from the outstretched branches. His boots sink into the soft earth around the roots of the trees as he presses forward. A shiver erupts over his body as he is unable to shake the uncomfortable feeling around him.

Pushing aside a large fern leaf, the traveler slips on a moist rock. Quickly regaining his footing, he notices a small brook before him. Even the trickle of the water is unappealing in these woods. Not large enough for fish, but maybe some game. Turning to follow the brook to its final destination, he trudges on, unsure of how much time has past; how long has he been in this infernal forest?

Another break in the crown of the trees paints a starkly different picture for the traveler. No birds sing, but rather an owl in the distance hoots, greeting the night. The crescent moon, mostly visible from behind a lone cloud, provides some light on the wooded floor as stars scatter the sky. A lunar flower grows in a small clearing beneath the opening, searching for its home. Its white petals catch the light of its namesake and let it dance off the phosphorous dust within. A snap of a dried twig beneath his booted foot echoes off of the surrounding trees and causes something to stir in the underbrush. Standing alone in the clearing, the feeling of unease still rattles his mind. How long has he been traveling?

Worry sets in and he finds the brook again and sets off. The trees blur together, all merging into one horribly, similar repeating scene. Leaves and limbs scrape against the Half–Elf’s face and skin, pulling at his cloak, trying to slow him down. Forcing his tired muscles to push on, he continues through the wooded prison. How much further must he still traverse?

The brook winds around rocks and cuts into the earth, stalling temporarily at a fallen tree before forcing its way underneath. No sign of creature has been spotted since the hoot of the owl. No tracks greet the brook and frustration replaces worry in his mind. He unfurls a primal scream that bounces off the trees and pierces his own mind. He pauses, listening intently, hoping for a sound to emerge from somewhere, a sign of life, anything. Nothing answers his call.

Shoulders slumping in resolution, he trudges on. Time passes in dead silence. Even the leaves on the floor and the fallen twigs refuse to make a sound when stepped on. Foot landing in front of foot, arms hanging loosely at his side, the Half–Elf calms his breathing. Panic would be the killer. Follow the brook to its end and get out. Pushing on, he notices the brook beginning to widen as the trees begin to thin out. Hope escalating in chest, he breaks into a hesitant jog, hoping his eyes and thoughts do not betray him. Bursting through a growth of brush he staggers back at the sight. Before him lies a deep blue, crystal–clear lake. A startled waterfowl squawks and takes flight through the opening above. Sinking to his knees he places his head in his hands and slowly weeps. The exhaustion, too much to bear, overwhelms the traveler.

“Uh, ‘ello there, sir. Are you alright?”

Startled, he looks up. A cloaked man, elderly judging by the voice, leans in. His weight is supported on a walking stick, and he peers inquisitively to the weeping traveler.

The man’s tone softens. “If you need a place to stay, there is lodging up ahead.” He points to the other side of the lake, through the trees. A faint path can be seen leading away, winding through the sparse woods. “No more than a few minutes walk.” The tone seems almost friendly now. “Go on and get yourself some rest. Looks like you need it.”

The young traveler nods to the man and stands up. Working his way around the lake, he comes to the well-worn path and continues on. A few minutes later the trees recede and the path opens up to a clearing. Ahead, he sees the back entrance to a large, wooden lodge. Above, the sun shines down, its warmth penetrating the cloak, easing his muscles. A feeling of elation flows through his body. This is how nature should feel. The windows of the building are a little dusty, and a few cracks can be seen creeping through the glass. The sound of voices within though, put the traveler at ease. Nearing the entrance, he looks up to the creaking sign above the front door. A faint smirk rises on his face as a feeling of nostalgia washes over the traveler.

“The Oak Inn”

“Finally,” the Half–Elf mutters under his breath, “time to begin.”

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What's my age again
from the shifter

I seem to be missing memories. I remember coming here to the Myinns, and I remember that strangely dark-haired eladrin woman telling me to drink something as the snow fell, and then I woke up with Katryol and an unknown shifter boy standing over me. And I was in badly fitted, blood-stained leather armor. And I was a child again.

The boy’s name is O (or Ahdi), and he’s a mute member of Tex’s little group up here, apparently. Katryol gave me some idea of what happened when I thought I was simply asleep. Least of which was me ridding Lencia of that minotaur.

But why am I a child again? It’s nice not to feel old, but I’m younger even than when I first met Sucaeva and Miria in those caves. If we did go back in time, why didn’t I change back when we returned, even if I was dead like Katryol says? Either Katryol can’t explain everything, or he doesn’t want to. It’s enough to know this was all a Tex plot, but why us?

And where is Tex? He’s never here when I need him. He summoned us here somehow, but won’t even show himself? I want to go find him, but I have to return Katryol, and I told my children I’d only be a couple of days. But Tex must know something. If not about Miria and Raven’s Tooth, then about what happened to me. Why he chose us. Can he give me back these missing memories? Will I return to my real age soon?

But besides all that…it’s been a while. I’ve kept up with Sucaeva and Shira, but I lost him somewhere along the way. It’s time I found him again. He can’t deny seeing a friend and tribesmen, right?

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Finale
Katryol's Thoughts

I awaken from a disastrous nightmare. My soul had been ripped from my body, and faded off into oblivion. As I take in my surroundings, I notice a reddish hue cast over everything I see. A giant Kaela looks down on me and my brain tries to rattle away the dreamy sequence. Yet, nothing happens. I look down and notice I’m completely exposed. This has to be a dream. I gaze outside at more giants – Kalleron, Stormlit, and Luc are all running about. Luc runs off and returns later some women. The sly dog!

The others seem to rejoice in seeing one of them. Luc seems especially ecstatic. I close my eyes and try to force myself awake. Still nothing happens. I try to recall my last memory. The giant lich crumbling away, its floating head, the piercing gaze, the brilliant red… Oh, crap.

I start to pound on the walls of my confinement, realizing now that this is not a dream. Talking and gesturing are going on outside, but I can make little of it. There are several young woman, unclothed, being brought into the room. This just got…exciting! Pounding on the glass, I yell, as loud of my lungs will allow, “Take me over to the naked chicks!” A man has his priorities! I hear a snicker from the mage and a sigh from the thief. Seeming to make up her mind on controlling my world, Kaela, with me in hand, heads into a nearby room, with Kalleron following. Luc and Stormlit are left with the others. As they search for my remains, I start protesting. Who wants their clothes when there is a mass orgy forming?!

Finding my remains and grabbing my gear, the twins head back to the others. So more words are exchanged and the women are tended too. Suddenly, the group turns and I adjust my sight to find Nightchill standing before them. Furious would be an understatement. One of the women, the one Luc was concerning himself with most, raises a bastard sword and meets Nightchill’s gaze, standing defiant. And then, with a flick of a hand, and a blink of an eye, the woman falls to her knees. Luc snaps and rushes to her. Nightchill cackles and vanishes. I have to say, this little prison is probably the safest place to be.

Luc weeps over the woman as three more figures appeared. The others seem to know all of them, yet the atmosphere seemed rather forced. Another figure, a Drow by the looks of it, materializes from a portal. Stormlit runs to him with a child-like eagerness, though does not offer any physical contact. In the midst of the massive reunion, Kaela hands me off to Stormlit to hopefully break me off my prison. Before I know it, I’m standing in front of Kaela (in all my grandeur), surrounded by everyone. Kalleron shoots some sparks in front of her face, hoping to shield her from my “awesomeness”. I hate magic. I gather my clothes and dress myself. As the others chat, I slip Stormlit a note, and, while attracting as little attention to myself as possible, exit through the portal. Anywhere I would wind up would be better than this tower.

Reemerging inside a temple, surrounded by people offering up prayers, I am approached by a priest. “We are in no mood for your antics, sir. You may please dismiss yourself from these grounds.”

Nodding to the man, and pulling my hood over my head, I head outside. Finding myself in the streets, I stop a passerby and asked where I am. With a curious look, the stranger replies, “My dear sir, you are in Lencia.”

As I gaze around the outline of the city, flames rises from buildings, smoke shooting up into the sky, partially blotting out the sun. People run around in chaotic fashion, pulling bodies from rubble or crying out to the gods. Panic floods the streets, inviting those of ill-content to thrive.

This is the city the young ’uns were trying to save?

Not knowing the layout of the city, I follow a group of citizens around, hoping to hear some gossip, or gather some information. The masses are struggling to recover from the obvious devastation, and, needing contacts, offer my assistance. I move from fallen building to fallen building, removing massive blocks of stone and timber with others. The destruction to this city is immeasurable. War, the harbinger of death, has used this city as its playground. No one deserves this.

While tackling the remains of a fallen inn (unfortunate, I know), a dagger flashes across my face. Grabbing my dagger and raising my crossbow, I wheel in the direction of the blade’s origin. The blade flies back to its owner and I recognize Kaela, waving, with a huge grin on her face. I shoot her an unpleasant look, and her smile broadens. The urge to fire my bolts into her face are overwhelming. She waves again. Forget the face – I’ll kill her slowly.

I close in on her quickly, darting between passerby’s. “What the hell are you doing?! You know there are people around here! Is this your way of helping? Who goes throwing daggers around into groups of people?!” She breaks into a frown, and motions me to follow. Exasperated and flustered, I begrudgingly follow.

We meet up with Kalleron and Stormlit at the entrance to Old Town. Kaela tries talking her way in, apparently wishing to find Luc and his ‘mother’, Miria. The guards are steadfast in their duty, denying passage. This is getting pointless. In a city that has been ravaged by a demented and obsessed goddess, they want to comfort rather than help?! This is their city! They are supposedly Lencia’s champions! Surely they can help out the commoners! Does no one ever think about those less fortunate? The lack of action by the youth frustrate me to no end. Their single-mindedness infuriates me so I leave without a word, to help the common folk. Information is needed, help is necessary, and action must be taken.

As I depart, I catch Stormlit’s eye, and I feel a twinge of regret. Yes, to stay would be comforting, but I stand for others, and in my gut, I know, these people need me. She looks up, and a hesitant hand rises. She knows what I will do, and I know she will stay with her charges. A slight, yearning wave in my direction is a gentle twist of a knife in my chest. With a heavy heart, I smile softly, nod, and make my way back into the city to help those in need.

And, with luck, I will find a thief or two…

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Tick Tock, Tick Tock
Katryol's Thoughts

We entered the Tower, barely eluding the demon guardians. The rooms of this monstrous castle are maddening. We have seen little resistance compared to what I expected from the enemy’s domain. My mind wanders and doubt persists.

Everywhere I turn it’s these infernal gears – grinding, churning, squeaking, clicking. Incessant noise is tearing away at my sanity! Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock. Will it never stop!?

We rest now in a safe haven away from the Tower but still within its walls. Fate lies beyond, the goddess’ story will come full circle soon. Who will rise the victor?

What do I do? What will I do? Do I try and carry out my mission? The decision is easy, but why does this doubt linger!?

Who am I? What will become of me? What will become of her? Her – she is the source of my doubt. Why?

These infernal gears. I should end it, cease the torment. It would be so easy, so simple. Just fade away into obscurity…into the shadows.

So easy…

So simple…

Just to fade away…

Into the shadows…

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The Clock of Midnight
Katryol's Thoughts

The ooze that dripped from me started to dry, as the group of us looked down on the bodies of Fen and his Bandarhop cohorts. After another confrontation, I wonder if this whole thing is worth it. Is getting in the tower worth it? Is stopping this goddess worth it? Hell, is it even plausible?!

I emerge from the tent and notice that the pop-up city is starting to bustle once more. Quick to forget, I guess. We have not lingered long when another small Bandarhop approaches us. I subtly cock my crossbow as it speaks.

“Prisoners, you need not, yes? Price, want you for them?” Its tongue slips out and wets the outer ring of its mouth. “Many have you. How much, how much?” The happiness and eagerness it displays raises my worry at an alarming rate. Though its overzealousness can be beneficial to me in this situation.

“What are you offering?” Kaela slips into place beside me.

“Offering?” The Bandarhop looks confused, so Kaela spells is out in more simple terms.

“How much gold per slave? How many jewels? And you better make it worth it.” She deepens her glare to drive home the bargaining chip.

“Gold and jems not I have, but information can I give.” Its fingers twitch and I can tell that it’s running figures through that miniscule brain it has.

“Information?” Kaela and I glance at each other, seemingly reading one another’s thoughts perfectly. “Do we need your information? How do we know your information is even good? What is it about?”

“Good, I cannot say. About, you need, maybe. Who knows, but you.” It’s playing games, well, too, I might add. It is coy and evasive, dangling just enough to entice us.

“Can you tell us about Nightchill?! Can you tell us about the Clock of Midnight?!” The Bandarhop peers dumbfounded at Luc, shrugging its shoulders nonchalantly. “Forget it! I’m not selling slaves to that thing! They won’t ever have a chance at freedom!” Luc is fierce in his protest. I shoot him a look. It wasn’t I who sacrificed a boat full of strangers. It wasn’t I who denied these people their freedom. Hell, I even set them free. They wanted to stay! We can get more use out of them for information that anything else. If he doesn’t…

“Luc! Shut up!” Kaela seemed to snap him of his will. “Look if your information is of no use to us, what do you have that is? Ruby or diamond jewels would work.” The Bandarhop mulls this option over. “How about four rubies and a diamond, one for each of five slaves.”

Almost wetting himself, the Bandarhop agrees. Stormlit hands over a parchment and the Bandarhop sifts through the contents, circling five names. Then, reaching into its robes, pulls out a small coin sack and tosses it at Kaela. “What’s this?!”, she exclaims eyeing the size of the bag before pilfering its contents.

“Make is the deal. Deal as you say. One diamond and four rubies.” With that, the Bandarhop bounds away, laughing, as Kaela tosses me the bag. I open it up and see five gems – one diamond and four rubies – all the size of copper coins. I shoot Luc another look, but he’s busy with Kaela. Apparently she didn’t take to the idea of being swindled fondly either. I toss the pouch in my bag. Huzzah for learning experiences. Never let Luc say anything. By Sehanine, why haven’t I learned this yet?!

We begrudgingly regroup and head back towards the bridge. The chaos still reigns on the bridge, inhibiting our passage. Arguing breaks out again about what new tactic to try when I decide to suggest the more obvious choice – to go as Nightchill.

Now, if I say this was received warmly, I’d be a liar. It looked like everyone walked into a Dwarven flatulence contest and then took a swig of warm, bitter, Gnome piss to wash down the taste. But, really, it seemed like an obvious choice. And the more they thought about it, the more likely our chance of success seemed to be.

Stormlit used her Veil spell and we took on the appearance of Nightchill and her Eladrin escort and proceeded across the bridge. No demons even glanced our way. Simple, effective, and easy. This worries me.

Passing through the gates into the inner sanctum of the tower, we found ourselves in a room with two exits. Wonderful, a labyrinth of a maze. Yeah, that’s sounds redundant, but once you’ve tried to navigate that place, you’d say it too.

We know the clock is northeast, so we do our best to maintain that direction. We come across countless gears, all stuffed with massive pieces of lumber. We stumble across a few small parties of monsters – a Mindflayer and some snake-like creatures. We also see the golden suits of armor hard at work, stuffing the living daylights out of the gears with the large pieces of lumber. We are at our wits end to decide if we should unstop the clock’s gears (destroying the hard work of the automatons) or leave the clock still. Well, personally, I don’t care, but the others sure fear this clock, so we let the wood remain. After hours of trekking through this endless maze, we come upon a huge set of doors, at which point, Kalleron casts a spell and conjures us to an alternate dimension to rest. Yeah, who sleeps well in alternate dimensions?


Knowing what lies ahead of us, I look around at the faces. Most are calm, Luc, surprisingly so. Kaela is as jovial as ever and Kalleron seems enraptured with the inter-dimensional properties of the house. Yeah – way to focus guys. Stormlit is still the same stoic woman. She looks over her charges too much, puts too much stress on herself. Her dedication is admirable, but I wonder if she has ever lived for herself. What would it be like for her if she did? Could she manage? Does she always need to serve? From what does she take her joy? She is intriguingly complex.

The moment draws near and I start to fidget. The constant straining of the hampered gears in the tower annoy me to no end and I dread going back to that place. Here, away from the clocks, I find peace and my mind is at ease. I do not feel the pain of the gears, nor would I want to.

Tick Tock, Tick Tock


We exit the magical housing refreshed and hopefully ready to meet this destiny. I found myself eager to fell this goddess. Opening the doors that loom before us, we come across a giant room with a single enormous gear resting in the floor, with hundreds of smaller gears beneath it. Cautiously making our way through the room, four figures emerge – two knights clad in plate mail and two females. Neither of the women are the one we seek, and we ready for battle.

Before I can even load a bolt, one of the women gestures to Stormlit and she is engulfed in black flames. She quickly puts them out as I move down the stairs near the large central gear. The Knights each rush forward, quickly closing the space between us. Luc raises his swords, accepting the challenge. He meets the first of the Knights and grapples with him, luring him to the precarious edge by the large gear. With a show of brute strength, Luc heaves the Knight into the pit, and the sound of its armor clanking off the gear as it plummets down rattles in my ears. The metal clanging on metal sound in this whole place is driving me insane!

I fire on the mage who cast on Stormlit, lightly grazing her arm. She turns to me and grins.

“So, you want to play?”

Her eyes meet mine as she raises her hands and something shoots right into my mind.


I awake to the sights of the others standing over me. Rising to my feet, the body of the women are behind me. Grogginess clouds my brain as I stagger to stand.

“What….what happened?” The looks from the others are telling enough.

“To put it rather simply,” Kalleron offers, “you were, how should I say this…, dominated by this here Vampire.” He gestures to the body of the female mage at his feet. “Luckily for us, you retained some of your awareness and fought it enough to do minimal harm to the rest of us.”

‘Yeah, go me.’

We take a short rest as Stormlit indulges us with her songs once more. A beautiful symphony, that woman. We continue through the room and through massive double metal doors. The sight we came upon was unreal.

We entered the room on the second floor landing. The upper floor travels around in a U-shape, ending on each side just before two rooms outshoot from the main one. Across from us is another room, past a small corridor. Looming before us, however, is a monstrous skeleton, doting over a massive crystal in the center of the room. It’s back is turned to us, so it is unaware of our presence, and, I have a feeling, that I wouldn’t like it to know I am here.

Kalleron does a quick assessment of the creature and his findings do not ease my mind. It’s a demi-lich. I make a break for the under hang of the balcony that we find ourselves on, keeping my eye on the beast as I run. And that is when it catches my eye – a glint of metal that reflects off the shine of the crystal. Reaching the safety of the shadows, I peer closer, sure that this is what I have been seeking; a powerful artifact held by ancient gods. There is no mistake, this has to be it! I hear the others scatter across the balcony, keeping their distances in case this thing possesses any area attacks. Finally, a wise combat tactic. A voice above me addresses the lich and I know it must be Luc – wise tactic gone. The lich turns and faces the boy, allowing me to get a full look at the artifact, to assess its worth and formulate a plan to snatch it away without the others noticing. As the lich closes in on Luc, the balcony, and my position, I am able to fully view the device hanging from lich’s belt.

I cannot believe it! The artifact, the contraption I have spent the last few months tracking, risking my life for, lay before me. The research in the library of the Oracle’s Tower, the clues from the Guild, the informants, all of it has led me here, to this moment, to this location. All of it has led me to this, this sham! What dangles before me is not mystical, or even powerful. Nor is it even useful. There is nothing to it! From the way it shifts on its strap, it is not heavy enough to carry hidden compartments. There are no latches with which to get inside and pilfer contents. There is nothing there! It is no more than a memento! This, this, this is betrayal of our deal! What did they intend for me to do? What was their purpose for sending me? Was it to seek it out, or to never find it? What was…

That’s it! They harbor their secrets and seek to control and manipulate! I have worked for, but never with the Guild. I saw attachment as a negative and the idea of belonging never sat well with me. Yet, they taught me, lent me their secrets and trained me in their ways. For what? In hopes that I would see the benefits and join them? To use me as a pawn? I had grown into one of their most reliable assets, and this is how they view my worth? Do they fear me? If not, they should now. I will seek down the leaders of the Guild and make them pay dearly for their lack of faith and trust.

A fury takes over me, as I fire unmercilessly onto the lich. Bones shatter beneath the force of my bolts. Ribs crack, and the structure of its delicate frame starts to unbalance. Nothing matters to me now than getting out of this cesspool and finding swift justice for the leaders. I know not of the others, or even what they are doing. My singular focus is on the lich, and it will be my prey this day. I am relentless, cold, heartlessly efficient. Phylactery or not, this thing is mine! As I fire another round, the creaking of bones finds my ears. The bones begin to crumble and fall, piling onto the floor. My vengeance begins now!

Not a moment passes before I see it. The head of the lich falls too, but it never hit the ground. Instead, floating above the piles that were its body, the head bobs. From my hidden location of the two-story lich, I was safe. From a floating head, whose eyes can pierce the darkness and find my warmth beating within the shadows, I am vulnerable.

The floating head of the demi-lich turns and focuses its undead eyes upon me. With a sharp cackle erupting from its fleshless jaw, I started to feel a pull on the skin of my right forearm. Looking down, I see my skin rapidly flaking off. My last thought as my flesh whittles away, causes my mind to erupt with an anger and a fury I never knew I possessed.

“It was a fake! I died…for…a fake…!

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Interlude 13
No matter what happens I always will love you.

Mhand2

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Possible Last Entry (Primordial)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72h3tA4DzwA

There is nowhere worse to send you to than were you are efreet. I speak the language we share because it is mine just as much as yours.

Scratch what I have written above. I instead hope that you Magister Tex find this letter – that you finally studied my language – to know that the grip the efreet used to hold me in has almost slipped away.

Brace yourself – You are not my LFD brother, but my real father.

I hope this isn’t a disappointment to find out. I know your desires and I know I have never been the best LFD. If those you appointed to me – which I think you did just to get me away from the other plots you have going – live through this, perhaps we can reconsider my abilities in other missions? Perhaps we can do more than before in changing the way things are not only in the Meugges but in all the realms. I wouldn’t tell anyone else the truth about us, but it killed each and every time we stood side-by-side that I couldn’t tell you. Now that I think about it, some of the charges know, but if we are unsuccessful it doesn’t matter.

About the mission, again if you are reading this, we are closer to our goal. Miria is within reach we imagine, and my charges are all still accounted for. A rogue is here as well, pulling his own weight. He is very good at stealth, and has yet to ask for any money directly dealing with his assisting me in guarding the Blades. He strikes me as incredibly charming – then he speaks.

The twins are almost ideal. Kaella is great with a blade and makes quips like I read your friend Shera did. We had a few chances to bond and when this is all done, I might steal her away to the LFD. She is that good! Kalleron is how I expected you were before I met you: all full of knowledge and spells and standing firm on the battlefield. He is someone who will shake things up one day.

…Luc is…I understand why you never wrote about his mother. He is all emotion and it never stops pouring out. Piaxella’s familiar would distract me the same way Luc does. I want to lock him up somewhere for his own sake, but I couldn’t imagine not having him around. He spoke of his upcoming sacrifice and made sure I will guide the others home safely. After walking through a maze and door after countless door, he may have built a strange fantasy in his head were he is alone on a white stallion against countless hordes.

Okay it looks like I am going on and on about him, so I will follow your style and say no more.

We are deep in the fortress were Miria is held, and tomorrow we face whatever is the last defense the building has. Cogs, rhythmic bells and other things to remind us of time are everywhere, but I feel time running is away from us.

We rest in this magical house that gives us shelter. I leave this note, since you sent me a note in a similar fashion. Hope you get it. Hope you learned how to read it.

I love you and will finish my assignment.

Hope it was not out-of-line to use that word.

I think I am letting my guard down with these teens, and they accept me, but I just imagine all of you showing up any moment to whisk me home.

Say hi to everyone, and kick Emthri when he is better, then kiss him on the cheek.

Don’t give away my room,
Stormlit of the Meugges
Neartheend

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Ambush
Katryol's History

A soft coo of an owl could be heard emanating from the depths of the western forest, causing the driver to raise his head. A single, soft-glowing lantern, dangled from the forefront of the carriage, bouncing with the undulations of the road. A solitary hooded figure tended to the reins, as he pulled his cloak tighter around him to keep the rain and wind at bay. A wrangled old horse pulled the carriage behind it, slowly and full of discontent, wanting nothing to do with the night’s harsh elements. The creak of the carriage wheels groaned in the night and every rut in the road drew ire from the rigid timber axels. The soft howl of wind whistled through the rotted openings in the sides, creating a high-pitched shrill only the most attentive ears could catch. In the brush on the side of the road, pickerlings could be heard rustling about, tending to their young. The ears of the horse perked as the night sounds greeted them. Looking back towards his master, there seemed to be a question in the snort the horse let loose. With a slight bit of encouragement from the driver though, the horse continued on.

The moon continued to dance across the sky, the stars fading in and out of view as the rain clouds passed overhead. Light was scarce this evening, adding to the overall feel and misery to the journey. The moon, and its pitying light obscured from sight as the horse and carriage rounded a bend in the road. Enveloped in darkness, save for the lantern, the world seemed to freeze. As the night rain patted softly against the wooden roof, another coo echoed from the east. A bat, driven to the light of the lantern, brushed across the hooded figure. As he raised his arm to swat away the flying invader an arrow screeched by his head and wedged itself in the carriage’s raised roof. Just as quickly, another thudded in front of the old mare, who rose on his hind quarters to fend off the invisible attackers. Pulling hard on the reins to still the creature, the driver returned calm to the night and sat, waiting patiently.

From the shadows of the western woods emerged two figures, one, with bow in hand, notched and drawn. The other, larger figure, flashed steel in the dimming lantern’s light. Their cloaks and hoods hide them well from the light, though, but the grace they walked with, one could assume they were Elven.

The tall one spoke quickly and in Common, a hint of arrogance in his voice. “Late to travel, merchant.” Turning to gesture to the woods around him, he let the moment linger. “Especially through these lands.” Eying the horse and the worn carriage before him, he turned to his companion. “_Estivo dannite ur melakuna_.” Getting an acknowledging nod, he returned to the driver. “You mock us with such coin.”

The driver, with a voice shallow and soft, but lacking fright, gently responded, “Then let me be if I am not to your standards.” Bowing to the Elf, he continued, “I mean you no disrespect, I was simply trying to make the morning stalls and secure a place where I could sell my humble wares. Reed-woven baskets are all I make, and I am sure you have finer goods in your wastes.”

A chuckle escaped the throat of the Elf. “If it is basket you have, and only those, we will see your trade skill.” “_Gui nome whet_.” With that the second Elf raised his bow at the chest of the driver and left the arrow marking his heart. “I would suggest you not move, unless you wish to see an earlier grave.”

Working his way to the rear carriage door, he swung with his sword, breaking the brittle wood surrounding the lock and latch. Scoffing at the shoddy craftsmanship, he flung the door open. Before him laid baskets, littered throughout the carriage. Behind the swarm of baskets though, laid two crates along the back wall, spanning the width of the carriage, one on top of the other. Climbing in, he removed the lid of the topmost crate and a maniacal grin spread across his face. Jewels, coin, and craft items glittered in the low light, betraying the hopeful lie of their caretaker. The Elf reached in and felt nothing but cold, hard coin meet his flesh. Quickly exiting the carriage, he raised his hand to his mouth and let loose a series of three succinct coos. Almost immediately, two more figures merged from the eastern woods, one with her bow drawn, and the other with his hand on his sword hilt.

Pointing at the newly arrived bowman, the larger Elf, pointing to the driver, ordered, “_Gui nome whet_.” She stopped and raised her bow to the driver as well. Motioning the second to his side, they circled around to the back of the carriage. As they neared the open door, two blades flashed out of the darkness, skewering the larger Elf. Leaping out of the carriage, a shorter hooded figure landed, grabbed one of the blades protruding from the collapsing body, and slashed at the second Elf, tearing through his leather armor. With a deft shift of his feet, he whirled, letting his momentum carry through to his second strike, where he punctured the lower bowels of the scurrying Elf. Fidgeting to remove his own sword, the Elf fell to his knees and, looking up with a painful and inquisitive expression, keeled over.

As soon as the large Elf had separated the second group and walked away, the driver dropped the reins over his boot, subtly freeing his hands. When the two were out of sight, he lurched forward as arrows thudded into the seat behind him. Extending his arms from beneath his cloak, he fired two bolts – one from each hand. They found their marks in the foreheads of the unprepared Elves, who then slumped to the ground in acceptance.

“Da’ be anotha’ group down. How many mo’ d’ya t’ink ‘til Kilithein pulls back?” The voice was deep and unmistakenly Dwarven.

“Don’t know, Mhelor. How long have we been out on this task, four months? This is what, the sixth party we’ve ambushed? Wonder how Gaziim fared?”

The two hooded figures glanced at each other and shrugged. Gathering up the bodies, they pilfered the weapons and armor and tossed the bodies into the back of the carriage.

“Clyde stayed calma’ dis time. T’ink he be use ta it now?” said the Dwarf, as the last body was being heaved into the carriage.

“Seems like it. He’s a good horse and suits our purposes well. Just wish Gaziim would stop eying him. Doesn’t seem like he’d taste too good, being mostly bones and such.”

They both laughed as third hooded figure approached from the east. “_Mekdau_.” The voice was deep and rough, though the coarseness seemed curbed.

“_Aktu aktu_.” the driver responded. The two turned to greet their third companion. “C’mon, it was a gentle rib!” The Dwarf muffled a snicker. “You got to learn to ease up, Gaziim! You were well drunk that night, and we were all a bit hungry. It’s only natural…” There was a slight pause. “…to want to eat Clyde.” At this, the horse snorted, seeming to know what the conversation was about. The driver quickly turned the subject. “How many were in the woods?”

“Four mo’ patrols of two. Two in each wood.” He motioned to the flanking trees.

“Bah, you git all da fun!” exclaimed Mhelor. Crossing his arms and firming his stance, the Dwarf looked about to pout.

“Tell you what,” said the driver, leaning closer to the sulking Dwarf. “You can get the sweep next time and we’ll fit the six-foot Orc in the five-foot crate. How’s that sound?”

Picking up on the sugar-coated sarcasm, as was the routine, the Dwarf furrowed his forehead deeper into his bushy eyebrows. “Ya best bet I’ll hold ya ta dat, Half-Elf.”

The driver smirked. “I know, I know. You always do.” With that, Gaziim and Mhelor hopped into the carriage as the Half-Elf gracefully slid up to the seat, grabbed the reins, and started back down the road.

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It is not easy being green (and a slaver)
You know the song

Kermit the Wart here, I am a slaver and a mean one to boot.

Ah, boot! — That reminds me. There I was, in my fine, climate controlled, swampy tent. I had almost completely finished digesting my slave — you know, sell a dozen eat the thirteenth, when I felt I was being watched from the flap door. I sprung to my defensive stance. For many years I practiced the Cu-roak-te fighting style. After tightening my black belt, which was no small feet after downing some tasty tiefling (roasted), I hopped menacingly forward to thwart the trespasser.

The infester fled. I picked up the boots of the tiefling and set them on the table. Such a fine system we have! The slave owner puts the boots on whichever slave he, or she, or an amalgam of both, want and makes the little fella feel happy for awhile because he has the nice boots. Easier to digest happy slave meat.

Where was I?

The cowardly infester left, but the scent of urine was quite potent, bringing me the slave pens where he seemed desperate to get in. This free half-elf had a friend in the pens. A female with too much coloring (spicy?) so I was about to report the half-elf, when he vanishes from sight again. He didn’t see me due to my more impressive levitation technique mixed with a brewed potion that camouflages me in the sky. If you guessed Hop-skotch, that is the one!

Where was I?

More of these warm-bloods gather and free the spicy one. A wizard that I could tell had a hint of gnome (pickled) unlocked the arcane spell on the cage, and a rogue made short work of the metal lock. The pickle-tasting rogue’s hair is purple, and the slave’s skin is purple…must mean one of them usually eats the other’s kin.

They scamper off to the demon lake. So I thought that would be the last of them. Pity, if I could have just offered the boots to the human (succulent) He would have made a great late-nighter if the boots made him happy.

But they had returned and they took over the leg-stretching tent - a real treat after a long day of sitting -- and I was disgusted to think of those warm bloods extending their legs high in the air using our slime gloss in the barrels to make their legs twinkle with wetness. Too many dangly parts on the warm bloods, no grace like us.

I reported them to Fen. Ah Fen! A great Fomorian if I ever saw one. I tell him a slave got loose and he and his crew immediately set out to rounding her up.

Bad news here, the purple one overcooked next to the demon lake and is now all grey (burnt).

The burnt one talked back to Fen and they draw weapons! Who gave slaves weapons?

Time for Hop-skotch!

The battle is blindingly brilliant! Our side is wiping the floor with these morsels. As I focused on the sour one with a pee sauce, he became harder to focus on, half due to his hiding ability, and half due to one of the light people was broken.

Then another.

Then Sub-commander Gerogero! The horror! The tide changed so quickly after they made Gerogero cough up the pickled one.

I was happy they started talking with Fen, he ain’t so bad once you get past the toe-cheese.

Where was I?

Egad! They started the attack again! The Fomorian father of four fell!

Hop-a-long! That burnt woman put a bolt in him mid-snack!

He almost got away too, but once she pierced his belly button that was it. I think the tall pickled one used magic. Typical of the pickled kind if you ask me. Magic this, magic that, let’s see some tongue!

Wait a minute…Fen is dead, so no trades to the Efreets until a new haggler comes through. I don’t answer to Gerogero anymore, and Hop-a-long was sleeping with Lily-i-pad-with-anything-green.

She is single, I have no boss!

Where was I?

Nothing new to report…. ribbit!
Kermit the Wart

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Assignment
Katryol's History

The door opened with barely a sound. The flicker of the candle was the only indication that anything had disrupted the darkened room. The hooded figure approached, seamlessly, across the ground. A gnarled hand quickly tossed an envelope to the dirt in front of the kneeling associate.

“You will find the papers you need there.”

“What you ask is great. You are aware it will tip the balance of power?”

“We are counting on it.”

“Where shall I begin this task?”

“Our sources have led us to believe Coral Beach would be wise.”

“The Oracle?!”

“The Oracle is a sham. However, our connections there will serve you well. You best make haste.” Snatching the envelope with a nod, the second figure rose and turned away. “Be careful, Katryol. Or, at least, believable.”

A smile overtakes the associate’s face as both figures fade away.

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