Blades at Dawn

Torn in War
Song: Vera Lynn pink floyd

In a flying heavy metal attack ship, I believe based on the words of the Hive Queen, the charge of protecting the friends of Emthri may soon be at an end. Either war or lack of control will defeat me.
I see in the captain’s chambers my reflection and it scowls back at me, darkening my well worn purple skin as if I were a drow. With my eyes closed long enough, I make it go away.
A lizard race pushes us to battle and we are outmatched. All the devices are strange to me, and it is not my place to study
them.

Katryol is doing his job, yet he flirts with the powerful queen for unknown reasons to me.
My…drifts have grown longer, perhaps due to lack of serious meditation. Luc may take up the art.
Kaela is back and is in good spirits.
Kalleron may stay here given how he speaks in admiration of the flying ships. I will ask him not to leave until Emthri returns.
I find notes in primordial sometimes.

View
Banter with One, Flirt with Another
Katryol's Thoughts

I am drawn to her exquisite beauty, for it is unlike anything I have seen before. Deep-seeded urges ignite within my loins, passion escalating through my ‘limbs’. There is something about her that stirs me, intoxicates me, draws me in, and I willingly submit to it. I glare over at Kalleron and Luc – they are threats to my prize. Their eyes burn with the same fervor and lust that I know shows in mine.

The guardians of the hall do pose a problem however, so any advances made on the Hive Mother must be done so with elegance, grace, and order. The others begrudgingly concur, so we do the only thing we can think of to decide who would get the honor of approaching the Hive Mother first – Stone, Blades, Parchment. Luc loses first – he wouldn’t know what to do with a woman anyway. Kalleron and I face off. Blade versus blade, stone versus stone, stone versus parchment – the Gnelf won! Damn trickster probably used his magic. Well, let’s see if he can muster the balls to approach her.

I wait, anxiously, for his failure and his hesitation provides me with an opening. I swear if these two needed to bed a woman, the fate of the world would be in dire jeopardy. Not that they could, or that even a woman would want to.

“Hello good-looking.” I bow low before sauntering over. Flashing the best, most devilishly roguish smile, I proceed. “I have never laid eyes on a more entrancing beauty than as I do now. Women, are such wonderfully pleasant creatures, but you, you are so much more!” I circle around, my heart racing, beating ferociously inside my chest. The pounding is so great it must be close to breaking my ribs. Blood courses through my body, delivering a white-hot passion to all of my muscles and, other such extremities. “You do my soul honor by just allowing me in your presence.”

The Hive Mother smiles, more seductively than any smile I have witnessed. I would take her now, and in all our glory, everyone would behold the magnificence our zealous tryst would produce. None would keep me from her! None would deny me what I yearn for! None shall hinder me in my quest to…

“Stormlit?” I spin as her hand grasps my shoulder. “What are you doing!?” She looks haggard, worn, and beaten. Her cheeks are hollow, her eyes dark with circles under them. Her skin is flawed, unceremoniously so. She looks aged, horridly aged. I find Kaela beside her, her hair unkempt, filthy, and knotty. Her jaw seems off-set and her lips cracked. Her face is pale, lifeless, and uninviting. Her skin sags off her frame, splotched and leathery. I have never been as underwhelmed by a woman than I am looking at her.

“Leave him be. He doesn’t know what’s good for him.” There is a bit of resentment in Kaela’s voice.

Catching Kaela’s eyes, I shoot back, “I know what isn’t good for me. Besides, it isn’t like you have anything to offer. Judging by the way you handle your dagger, you wouldn’t know what to do with a real man anyway.”

“I’ll let you know when I see one!” Anger quickly rises in her voice.

“And I’ll let you know when I see something a blind vulture wouldn’t be repulsed by.” I stare long and hard. Her face flushes with rage. I turn my attention back to the Hive Mother. “My Lady, it would be a great distinction to take your side. I assure you, I am both strong and fertile. Ideal qualities I’m sure you hold in high regard, judging by the stature of those in your presence.” I gesture to the guardians.

Her eyes hold me and I feel my…temperature…rising. “You are a curious little creature, but before you may ‘have’ me, you must prove yourself worthy.” My eyes widen, my curiosity and self-preservation piqued. “A contest of strength against one of my own. Your victory shall be your reward. And your reward shall grant you your wish.” My heart flutters as one of the larger guardians steps forward, standing easily thrice my height. The glow of the hall flickers off of his midnight black armor. His tail thrashes in eager anticipation of a fight. The halberd he wields hums with a strange delight all its own. My self-preservation begins to take over, but I do not wish to upset the Hive Mother. After all, she would be missing out…

Luc has approached the Hive Mother, Kaela having distracted me from my singular objective. Standing before her, Luc pitches forward. The Hive Mother speaks a few words of some nonsense. Something about truth-reading and mind-powers. Who rightly cares?

“Are we going to be disappointed?” A painful expression enters the Hive Mother’s face. Could she also desire me as much as I her? One would be so lucky! The halberd whirls again, and common sense enters my mind, just long enough.

“Though it would be my honor to fight for a chance to further your species, I must decline the opportunity, for I wish not to bring harm upon your subjects who have been utterly gracious thus far. I cannot, in good conscience, engage in combat with one whose respect for you is so adamant. And as you have said so yourself, you can see into our minds and read our thoughts. If you can indeed do as you say, you know my desire for you is true. It would not be a disappointment though, I assure you. But you know already the purpose of our visit and what and who we seek.”

The Hive Mother contemplates my words, however needless they were. “You have been brought here to save us. You are the fulcrum on which the fates do balance. I see your task and will aid you as is necessary. Please, take solace now and rest.”

With that, a table appears before us, lined with fruits, drink, and other delicacies. I give a quick inspection of the food and recognize some of the fungi from my journeys in the wilds. The toxins of these particular fungi are known for their potency. Just as I am about to warn the others, Kalleron picks one up and tosses it in his mouth. Kaela follows her brother. To each their own – maybe the Gnomish blood will counteract the toxins potency.

The others eat, but I find my thoughts drifting back to the Hive Mother. Her graciousness has betrayed her initially harsh exterior. She is grander than I first perceived. She is Heaven incarnate.

She tells of a tale, of the recent past. Of their war waged with the short-tails. I half-listen, my ears failing when my eyes and – other things – are engaged. Some more words float by, but I only catch sporadic phrases. Something about suicide being a foul magic, or some such. Great, a morality lesson. I continue in my work on admiring the Hive Mother when a name breaks my concentration.

“K’rul and I have discussed your roles, Sky Lords.”

View
Small Places and New Devices
Katryol's Thoughts

I open the closet door and am greeted by an intriguing sight. A glossy sheen reflects light from the surfaces of numerous knobs, dials, levers, and handles. Imbedded into the wall is a large mirror that provides a perfect replica of my face. No cracks or chips mar its surface, no stains or rust obstruct the mirror’s reflective properties. Also before me lie two basins; one smaller, sitting chest high, and the other, larger one, extending from the floor. I move to the larger one and peer inside. A strange blue liquid swirls around the base. This must be what she was referring to. This container must hold the raw components of a potion!

A sudden jolt rocks the closet and I feel acid rising through my innards. Fighting to keep myself within myself, I plunge my hands into the basin and scoop up the light blue substance, gulping it down, hoping it will quell my lurching stomach. My impatience has gotten the better of me it would seem, for as soon as it touched my lips a foul, rank, taste overtook my senses. If I hadn’t wanted to heave already, I would now. Strangely enough, the sensation passes quickly. I guess the potion worked.

Another blast of lightning rocks the ship and I fall against one of the levers by the large basin. An eerie hissing sound escapes from the foundation and blue liquid is sucked out of the base. As quickly as the ichor vanished, more streams in to replace it. I guess each person must partake of its purest form. Removing a flask from my pack, I fill it with the liquid. This concoction may come in handy later. Who knows how many more ships I will see on this journey? I turn to examine the smaller, higher basin, perchance to see if I may acquire another potion in mid-brew. No such luck, as this basin is empty. I do see a hole however, and it dawns on me that this may be a “depository” of some manner.

Damn it! If I hadn’t thought of it, I wouldn’t have to use it. Too late now. Contemplating the absurdity of the situation, a curious thought enters my mind: Who in the 9 Hells build a complicated crapper? I find a few footholds and start to clamber up to the basin. I knock a post down and hear a clunk – I hope that wasn’t important. I manage to plant myself in a rather humorous and strategic location to make use of the facilities, and execute a moderately successful exploit, with minimal splatter. Needing to lower myself, I reach for the silver handle above the basin to sturdy myself. Shifting my weight, the ship gets jarred again, and I have to brace myself against the wall. My foot slips and my weight shifts to the handle. A loud crack ensues as the handle snaps, sending water gushing into the basin. It is then that I realize that the drain had been blocked somehow. My previously successful act, in one fell swoop, has been nullified as a mixture of urine and water are propelled over my legs and torso. It is all I can do to topple out of the way as a wave lunges toward my face. Reaching the ground, my foot slips in the accumulating water on the floor and I fall, face first, into the basin. Irony, you are a cruel, cruel bastard. My gear, saturated, reeks of human excrement. Hey, at least it’s my own.

View
Dwarven Irony; Anthelas Uproot
Katryol's Thoughts

The lesser-Captain checks the unconscious hunter and shakes its head. It shares a few words with the remaining member of our escort, and the hunter nods in reply. Raising its crossbow, a streak of lightning jumps from the lesser-Captain’s arm and through the companion; the body slumps to the ground. The others gasp – I shake my head in understanding. The hunter would slow us down, and time is of the essence. In war, decisions must be made that no one wants to make. That is the harsh reality of it all. I hope the others are ready for it.

Haste is now stressed by the lesser-Captain – the short-tails are still in pursuit. If there are more Biologicals, then we surely stand no chance. We continue to pass through the ash-covered valley, our bodies heavy and slow. This trek would be less taxing without the constant battles we have faced. The others seem like they need rest – especially Kalleron and Stormlit. If we are caught in another confrontation now, Kalleron has no defenses, and we would be without Stormlit’s healing powers. Time is of the essence.

Luc curses. I spin around and chuckle. In the darkness of the blackened, cloud-covered sky his Human sight fails him. He seems to have trouble on the terrain. That is one aspect I’m glad I didn’t inherit from my mother.

We approach a hill and the lesser-Captain exudes a sense of excitement and urgency. We hurry over the hill, and I stop. It is unlike anything I have ever seen. This contraption that sits in front of us is like an elongated bubble. Made completely of metal, the massive structure demands my awe and respect – this is our transport; this is the helipod. As we approach, a hatch opens from the side and another lizard emerges. This one is different than the others – no weapons are grafted into the arms. Instead, the arms are like those of an octopus – tentacle-like things, similar to what I saw in the Oracle’s Tower. Are these the creatures from the walls? If the Mimic was an Ancient, and we are truly in the past, one would assume a connection. Great, now my imagination is running loose.

We go inside the helipod and Kalleron closes the hatch behind us. The spacing inside is cramped for such a large vessel. How are we going to move this thing? I saw no sails or wheels. Is it a magical vessel? Are we going to burrow into the Earth or skitter across the land? A hum begins to echo through the helipod and the metal walls start reverberating. The hum grows into a loud roar, bordering on deafening. We make our way down the corridor to find the lesser-Captain and find a large open room with lizards bustling all over. At the far end of the room I can see a large window and make my way over to it. Peering outside, I have to catch myself against the window. We are not traveling through the ground or even on it. What I see before me is the land, slowly fading away beneath me! We’re in the sky!? My stomach lurches again. The lesser-Captain motions me to the back of the room to a closet, and lets me know I may find relief in there.

Small Spaces and New Devices

I emerge from the closet, the foul taste of the liquid still lingering in my mouth. The others peer quizzically at me, and I notice Kaela cover her nose. The lizards, however, are eyeing me with a hint of desire. How much I would give for a bit of normalcy right now. I move back to the window, my stomach now unpleasantly settled. As we pass higher through the clouds, lightning streaks by. The sheer newness of this sight made following these young ‘uns worth it. As we break through the clouds, and vast expanse of sky opens before me. Before long, I am able to make out specks in the distance, growing larger, and we hurry towards them. As we draw closer, it looks like a naval armada preparing for war. Continuing to draw nearer, the insignificance of my existence knocks the wind from my lungs. Each of the “ships” dwarfs anything I have seen. From rooftops, I have been able to see whole cities at a moments notice; these behemoths make the cities seem like trivial miniatures – an ant in a world of giants. Lightning crackles from the hulls of the “ships”, displaying their potential for offensive power. Whatever is brewing is going to result in a lot of casualties. Let us hope I am not on that list.

We are instructed that we are to see the Hive Mother and the lesser-Captain motions to a mountain to the east. The Hive Mother? What are these things, lizard bees? And we must not be as high in the air as I thought if I can see a mountain top. The helipod banks to the east and (surprise!), I eat my thoughts. The mountain looming before us is above the clouds. The earth and rocks hang off the bottom like a dwarven beard. Heh, if Mhelor could see this now. He would say it is a travesty – a mountain in the sky. It would serve him right, the arrogant prick.

“We are here – Anthelas Uproot.”

Maneuvering closer to the flying mountain–fortress, the landscape comes into view. Littered about the crags and rock faces are citadels, hundreds if not thousands of citadels. The destructive capabilities of this mountain I cannot even begin to fathom. Our vessel continues on, and we hone in on a large opening within the side of the fortress. Strange green light emits from the rocky interior, guiding us inside. The roar of the ship lessens back to the hum, and then ceases, jarring me from my stasis of wonderment. We are directed toward the hatch from which we entered and taken outside, to the interior of the mountain.

As the hatch opened I am greeted by a large grotto. The rock walls are covered with a grey mossy substance and water seeps out and trickles down the edges, sending a dripping echo throughout the cavern. Stepping out of the helipod, we are flanked by massive sentries clad in midnight-black armor, adorned from head to tail. Wielding large halberds, with small spikes protruding from the tips, the four sentries are an intimidating sight. They all tower above me, twice my height and at least five times my size. This is ridiculous. If we say anything wrong, or act out of accordance to their customs, we are easily done for. Easily.

We’re turned over to our new escorts and taken through the rock halls. A faint green light escapes from narrow crevasses along the sides, illuminating our path. We have to quicken our pace to keep up with the giants as we make our way to the Hive Mother’s throne room. On the way we pass a wide assortment of lizard creatures, ranging from the hunters and helmsmen to lesser-Captains and hound-type creatures. The hounds are fascinating beasts, shifting from walking on their hind quarters to running on all fours. The biology of these creatures is remarkable.

We enter the Hive Mother’s Hall and find alcoves littering the passageway adorned with more armored goliaths, each wielding a halberd. The sense of sovereignty abounds, setting me on edge. At the end of the hall we come to two massive golden doors, inlaid with intricate patterns and designs. The craftsmanship is surreal. Even Mehlor would have his breath catch in his throat. Standing on perches high above the doorway are two sentinels. They glare down at us, their muscles twitching with an unsavory eagerness. The weapons they possess are strange, like every other one I’ve come across. They possess tube-like apparatuses attached to packs worn on their backs. Projectile weapons perhaps? I really should stop being surprised.

The escorts open the doors and usher us through. Inside are a hundred or so lizards, most of them similar to our escorts. There are even a few larger than our escorts – great, like I didn’t feel inadequate already. I would take in the rest of the surroundings of the room, but I am struck prone by a welling of emotion inside me. Looming before me is the gargantuan Hive Mother of the long-tails.

Banter with One, Flirt with Another

Suppressing the continuously burning passion still welling inside my loins long enough to concentrate on gathering information is hardier a task than I, under any other circumstances, would be willing to deal with. My mind is still cloudy, but I remain coherent long enough to catch the name of Sky-Captain Merelas, the one who will be seeing us on our mission. I give her a once-over, and, finding little of interest, return my attention back to the Hive Mother.

“I see not all of your kind exhibit your stunning beauty.” I toss a wink in for good measure.

Kalleron starts to make a move towards her, and I rush past him. She will be mine! Her lips part and her toothy-grin escapes, searing itself into my mind.

“Funny little things, you are. Quite…amusing.”

And with that, I’m lifted off the ground and taken away from the Hive Mother. One of the black-armored escorts has both Kalleron and myself tucked under his arms. I catch my desire for the Hive Mother begin to wane as I’m carried out of the room and down the hallway, towards our flying ship. As we travel, the crowds of lizards recoil from Merelas, the scent emanating from her is strong, overpowering, and nightmarish. In a short time we arrive at our new vessel, many times larger than our previous one. Inside, I take note that the crew has been adjusted to fit the capacity of the larger helipod, and both disconcerting and reassuring emotions arise within me.

We discuss tactics and routes and destinations – the trifling stuff really. The ship maneuvers towards the opening outside and a feeling of helplessness joins my disconcertment – reassurance had fled quickly. Before us, poised on the horizon of the sky, stand the short-tail’s aerial armada. Thirty fortresses, not unlike Anthelas Uproot, were flying in our direction. Merelas called for the coordinates of our destination. We all turn and look at Luc; clearly, he is just as taken aback. They don’t know where we’re supposed to go?! Wonderful, neither do we! We don’t have much time, and we need to make a decision quickly. Kaela and Luc begin tossing ideas around and Kalleron throws one in for good measure. The graveyard of the gods? K’rul’s palace? Nightchill’s realm? Our coordinates where we started the ritual? Who knows?

“The Abyss; can you take us to the Abyss?!” shouts Kaela.

“The Rend?”, Merelas replies. We all look at each other. What’s the Rend?

“Yeah, uh, the Rend. Take us there; that’s where we’re supposed to go!”

As if on cue, a massive shockwave rocks the ship. White light flashes and streams through the windows, blinding me. The drumming in my head numbs my senses, and I drop to a knee, hoping to avoid the pain of light and sound. It seems Anthelas Uproot has taken to the offensive. Opening my eyes, I see ships darting across the sky, engaging the short-tail’s fortresses. Three of their strongholds are falling out of the sky, while others begin to descend and ascend out of the range of Anthelas Uproot. Our ship pitches forward, and joins the fray of battle. Or so it would seem. We bank hard to the right and head out, away from the confrontation, making our way to the Rend. We are fortunate to escape pursuit. Things seem, finally, like they’re going to calm down.

I should learn to wish for good tidings. Not even a moment passes for the thought to take hold when we’re hit with another shockwave, more powerful than before. We bowl over, and the crew hurries about to right the ship. Looking around, I detect grimness in the usually stoic faces of the lizards. Without even a word being spoken we all know; the inevitable has happened – Anthelas Uproot has been destroyed.

The remaining long-tails press on – their resilience is admirable, especially with the realization that their entire race was just annihilated. Focus on our objective, whatever that may be. Draw strength from the will and determination of the crew. We shall press forward. We shall forge ahead. We shall…

A whirl comes from one of the machines and parchment is spit out. Merelas grabs it and looks it over. Then she looks it over again. And again.

“The short-tails have fired the Doomsday weapon. May the Gods be with you.”

The calamity of the recent events weighs heavily on my soul. Though my body rests, my mind is cluttered. Sleep does not come easily to me right now. We are about to enter the Rend, but for what? We could not save these people. We may not be able to save ourselves. This journey – it is fruitless and pointless.

“We are here. Before us lies the Rend.” The coldness of Merelas’s thoughts do nothing to break me of my doubt, nor do they put me at ease. With a simple exchange of looks, the ship eases forward, into the Rend.

View
Trespassers in Time
Katryol's Thoughts

The cold, hard ice stings my face. My muscles ache and my head throbs. Slowly opening my eyes, I take in my surroundings. A white landscape darts out in front of me. Freezing air bites through my cloak. The terrain seems dull, the clouds blotting out the sun, forcing my eyes to adjust to the dim environment. I rattle my head, trying to comprehend my surroundings. The cargo hold, the strange man and the Elementals, the runic symbol. Kalleron’s unsure face rushes to the front! The others! Pulling myself up, I look around, more frantic that I intended to feel. To my left is Stormlit; Kaela to my right. In front of me are Kalleron and Luc. They start to stir. We are alive. But we are no longer on our boat.

What happened?

I check my gear as I stand. Everything is still there. I peer off in the distance and see nothing but vast emptiness. Behind me, to the north runs a pass, bordered on both sides by high, sheer cliffs. As I turn to awaken the others, I see them; three massive lizards stride up to us. Walking on their hind legs, with long tails flowing behind them, they are a fearsome and imposing sight. Their weapons are strange, and, as I assess our greeters, I notice that their weapons are their arms. Blades have been grafted into the forearms, replacing everything from the elbow down. What sort of foul magic is at work here? My jaw clenches as they let out a screech.

Kalleron hurriedly fumbles through his pack and takes out a pot. It smells repulsive, its odor weaving its way through my nostrils. He dips his hand into the pot and splatters some liquid onto his body. Luc follows suit, as does Stormlit and Kaela. Whatever it is, they trust it. I take some of the liquid concoction in my hand – it feels acidic – and rub it across my forearms. The creatures look beyond us and I wheel around to see another. A larger lizard stands glowering at us. Its gear is more decorated and an air of command hums about it. Grafted into its forearms are not blades, like the others, but a crossbow. Gives new meaning to the term, “hand-crossbow”.

“Are you the Sky Lord?”

The Sky Lord? Who is the Sky Lord? And why would we be him? The looks of bewilderment spread across all of our faces.

“We were told the Sky Lord would arrive here. Are you the Sky Lord?”

They’re an intimidating bunch, more so as they move in closer to surround us. Given our current position, we are in no condition to deny them our answers. That’s when Kalleron speaks the gutsiest words I have heard uttered, “Why, yes, I am!”

The tension in the air resides, and the large one strides towards us. Our ability to communicate is astounding, as it occurs with a simple thought. There are no words mouthed and the gestures are minimal. Their eyes flicker with intelligence as their thoughts flow. The large beast, it seems, is an officer – a “lesser-Captain”. The others are called hunters. Their namesake seems appropriate.

The lizards, our escorts it would appear, are here to take us to a helipod. What is a helipod? As puzzling as this seems, we have little choice. We agree to the escort and head north through the mountainous path.

We tread on, the wind whipping through our cloaks, bringing the stinging cold to our bones. How are the lizards not freezing? They seem similar to Dragon-born, but Dragon-born don’t fare well in the cold. If I’m having problems, then surely they are.

A loud, high-pitched screech echoes through the winds and bounces of the canyon walls. Our escorts look at each other quickly and ready for combat – we follow their lead. They turn towards the canyon’s crest and, appearing over the edge, are more lizard beasts. Growling in unison, they leap from the canyon’s ceiling and start down the walls towards us. Their stubby tails sway side to side, matching their stride’s gyrations. They descend quickly and meet our escort head-on, pulling them away from our flanks and rears, leaving us suddenly exposed and vulnerable. A fourth short-tail stays in our vicinity and engages the lesser-Captain.

I will not let others fight on my behalf, not when I am able. I load my cross-bow and take aim at the attacking beast. My bolt lodges deep within its bicep, blood spewing across the walls of the canyon, contrasting stiffly with white backdrop. It howls towards the sky and lashes back at our escort, who parries the blow. A low rumble begins to shake the canyon; rocks, loosed from the holdings, fall to the floor. A massive gust plows past, knocking me slightly off balance.

“Biological!”

The lesser-Captain motions towards the rim of the canyon, and I scan the horizon. A feeling of nausea overtakes me as I stare up into a giant shadow descending upon our path. The earth shakes as a two-headed monstrosity claws at the ground, each head snapping in eager anticipation. The beast reminds me of a dragon, but the resemblance is about as close as these lizards are to Dragon-born. It looks like it’s about to start warming up…

The two-headed beast towers over us, gnashing and gnawing in our direction. Its teeth are chipped and cracked, showing that our armor will not halt its bite. It rises up on its haunches and spreads out its wings, spanning over half of the width of the canyon. Running is not an option. We either fight or we die. A commotion brings me to my senses, and I am reminded of the other short-tail. We must not allow him to roam freely. Better to rid ourselves of the easier annoyance and then concentrate on the real threat.

Dropping back away from the “dragon”, I take aim at the short-tail and fire. My movements cost me and the arrow misses its mark, glancing off armor. The others take note of my priority though and focus on the short-tail. Luc charges in, ripping into the beast as Kaela joins the fray. She moves quickly and efficiently, her strikes finding an opening in the armor’s overlapping flaps. She is much more competent than her doppelganger. Not that she could be much worse.

The beast spins towards the majority of us the fray and inhales deeply. Shit! I shift back, knowing what’s coming. Crystalline water is exhaled from the mouth of the beast. Stormlit is hit first, blocks of ice forming around her legs. Kalleron protects himself by casting an Immunity spell. The others are not so lucky and befall a similar fate. Kalleron raises a shield just as the “dragon’s” second head lunges in for a bite. It’s fast and it seems that the heads act independently of each other. Distracting one head will not aid in distracting the whole creature. The situation just accelerated from bad to worse.

I find the short-tail and fire again, making sure to steady my feet on the slippery terrain. My bolts find their home in its lower leg. Spinning, it bares its teeth at me, a fire burning in its eyes. I need to end its life quickly if we are to have any chance of survival. Our escort takes advantage of the distraction and fires its crossbow. Lightning streams from the weapon into the soft part of the creature’s neck, just above the armor. The beast wails and staggers forward, blood gushing from the wound and streaming down its neck. Reaching down, it tears free my bolt in obvious annoyance, a renewed fervor in its eyes. It will find no easy quarter here.

I check to see how the others are faring with the “dragon”, and see that it is continuing to beat on Kalleron and Luc. The half-gnome is expending his magic in vain attempts at harming the ancient creature, but it seems to have little effect. Luc, through shear will it seems, tries to entice the beast and draw its attention away. The beast roars and inhales deeply once more. The two companions have no time to get away, and they are hit with another burst of icy breath.

Kaela continues to assist me in taking down the short-tail. With her support, we are able to end its life quickly. Finally, we can concentrate on the “dragon” with all our energies. Stormlit lends her aid when she is able, but the dual attacks of the heads are overwhelming her healing powers. The longer this battle drags on, the more certain the outcome.

We need to gain an advantage and quickly. Luc rushes in and strikes the legs of the beast, taking a flanking strike from one head having expected retribution from the other. Kaela, unfortunately, becomes the focus of the second head, and gets drug towards the beast. She takes advantage of the close proximity and unleashes a flurry of strikes into the soft tissue connecting the left wing to the torso. The combined attack of the two knock the beast down, albeit briefly. The opening presents itself and our advantage is nearly gained. If the dragon cannot see, then we might escape with our lives. I launch four bolts, one at each eye, and three find their way home. One head is now completely blind and begins thrashing about. The other is crippled and, having to adjust its movements to compensate, leaves its connective tissues around the legs and torso exposed. If we can keep this going, it just becomes a matter of time.

Moving to protect her brother, Kaela strikes again, drawing an ample supply of blood from the creature. It howls in torment at this unseen attack. Understanding its inability to strike with its teeth and claws, the dragon unleashes another blast of bone-chilling air, severely crippling Stormlit and the twins. Kalleron collapses, the exhaustion and constant battery fatiguing his body faster than he can be healed. Stormlit falls to a knee as well, breathing heavily, sweat dripping from her face. I find her gaze and she shakes her head sorrowfully. She’s out of magic.

With our mages damaged and down, our only chance is through sheer will power now. I continue to pelt the beast, not sure if I am having any effect. The battle draws on, and exhaustion begins to cripple my body. Soon, I will fall. Kalleron has already been down for a while and has not stirred. He might be dead. I hope he’s just unconscious.

The beast’s movements start becoming sluggish. Blood continues to trickle from its eyes, flowing into its nostrils. Luc has now severed a tendon in its hind quarters and its left wing is torn and broken. It cannot take flight to gain advantage, and its lumbering movements are now too slow to keep up with us. But will our strength hold? Kaela works her way around to the beast’s blind-side and slips in underneath the broken wing. She traces a line down with her eyes from the shoulder joint to the rib cage. Sliding back just enough to gain momentum, she jabs her dagger into the side of the chest. I hear a sickening crunch as she breaks one of its ribs. The beast erupts with an ancient cry to the heavens. Its body convulses and shakes then shudders and falls, nearly crushing Kaela. She retracts her dagger and searches again. Finding the spot she was looking for, Kaela plunges her dagger deep into the neck, slicing downward, spilling blood across the trampled snow. The creature’s breathing becomes labored and the heads snap around, but they no longer strike like vipers, but restrained hounds. Stormlit moves towards the beast, gazing down on its head. Fastening a bolt into her crossbow, she fires into the last remaining eye of the Biological. The creature gives one last final sigh. I cannot help but feel a tad bit of remorse at the magnificence of the “dragon” whose life we just ended. But it had to be done, and done it now is. We gather our belongings and regroup with the escort. They are bloodied and tattered as well. One hunter is missing an arm, pulling with him another unconscious hunter possessing a large gash in its neck. The third hunter is nowhere to be seen. It seems we were not without casualties either. Such is war. There are sure to be more of those in the future. Now, on to the helipod.

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Interlude 11
Paying the price.

The seven girls had been marching under the blistering sun for so long that they had forgotten where they came from. They were not even sure of what they were running from, the only thing they knew it was that they had to continue forward, that to stay was to die at the hands of what they had left behind.

Crestfallen, the three siblings teleported into the dark mansion. They had been overconfident of their abilities to erase those annoying upstarts and their failure was inadmissible.

The march over the broken terrain was a continuous hell, the sun never set, scorching winds whipped their sun-charred faces and every step over the gravel desert got its toll on their swollen feet. Still they marched on.

Entering the corridor before the throne room, Quelena was the first one to voice the thoughts that haunted the three eladrin. “Brother I am so sorry that I panicked. Mother will be furious at our failure, her wrath will be terrible.” Meriele simply avoided her sister’s gaze and said nothing but Dayereth did “Your feelings do not matter Quelena, only the fact that with you two running away after I fell we failed our Queen.” looking at her sisters he shook his head. “We lost our chance and now we must be punished for it.”

Onward they trudged, every time one of the youngest ones fell down with exhaustion it was always the biggest girl, barely over twelve years old, the one to pick her companion and to carry her on her back so she could recover, never stopping, always forward.

The doors opened slowly at their approach, the buzz of multiple conversations reached them from the brightly illuminated room. The brothers stopped at the threshold daunted at the sight of the whole court in attendance, such rare thing that forebode a terrible punishment for them.

The stones on the ground were sharp yet they marched on over the blistered earth so dry that even pests could not find life to prey.

Gathering his courage Dayereth stepped into the room followed by his sisters. Silence spread at their wake as hundreds of immortal eyes followed their path through the primordial and angelic host.

Later in the worst of the never ending heat, the girls saw a cloud on the horizon. It was not rain but sand buffeting the desert as in punishment for unaccounted sins. One by one the young girls dropped to the ground their desperate strength gone until only the eldest stood facing the storm. Turning she gathered her charges closer and tried to cover them from the howling winds. Parched lips opened and she tried to find her voice, to start the story that would take their minds from the pain that was to come. “There was a land far from here called…”

Upon reaching the steps to the throne, guardian angels appeared blocking their way, flaming blades bared. Their right to approach Nightchill had been revoked.

“Then the paladin plunged his shinning sword in Zamush´s heart killing the evil dragon at last…”

The eladrin girls were stunned as their brother fell to his knees in defeat. Nightchill had denied them for their failure. An anguished expression on her face, Quelena called on their goddess “…mother?”

“…mother?” heard the eldest girl bringing her back to the storm of pain that racked her body and soul. Squinting her eyes against the flying sand she rose her head to see a young boy kneeling at her side an anguished expression on his face.
“Mother?” he repeated.

“Mother?” she repeated.

The girls tried climbing the steps to throw themselves in front of their beloved mother in penitence. The guardian angels lifted their blades barring the way again. Slowly the sisters retreated and huddled with their brother weeping freely at their pain. Around them music started as Nightchill’s court continued their fette.

The girl´s heart lifted, they were being rescued from the immense pain at last. “Are you my paladin?” she managed to say before the storm took the boy from her. The wind started howling in triumph

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Blood Sacrifice
Katryol's Thoughts

Kalleron tells us that Kaela is in the mirror we retrieved. Powerful magic was at work for such a thing to happen. That explains much about his actions; it is not often one finds their sibling trapped in a mirror. We contemplate how to get her out – the magic seems beyond what the Mage knows. I think we should break the mirror, as does Luc. However, I don’t think it wise to handle such a device and offer a game of skill instead. Prop or hand the mirror on the other side of the room and we’ll see who the best shot is. A small wager and this could be a bit of entertainment. Kalleron refuses. I would have thought he’d be up for a game. He pulls Stormlit upstairs and sets about solving that predicament. I am left with the joyous Luc.

I break out some cards to pass the time, inviting him to join. I learn much about him in these moments, about his adoption, his mothers, his journey. I still don’t understand it all, but the fog of unknowing is clearing away. I feel for the young man. He is on a journey that he wishes he were not. Mine was at least my own choice.

Eventually, the others return, with the real Kaela I presume. They discuss their next course of action when we hear an eruption in the distance. Great, more trouble. I run outside and see billows of smoke in the distance. Scaling the wall of the Inn, I search for a higher perch and a better view of the commotion. It’s coming from the Market District – again. Luc has joined me outside, and I tell him I’ll be back shortly. I take off across the rooftops, making it to the surrounding houses of the market in a few minutes. The smoke has not let up and the roof is dotted with falling ash. The scene below is chaos. A mob of villagers has started making trouble for the local militia, and they retaliate in full force. Blood splatters the ground, coating it in a deep red hue. Blood has been shed once again; needless blood.

I listen to the roar of the crowd. They’re demanding something from the militia. I concentrate, hoping to glean some information from this turmoil.

“Bring us the Half-Elf!”
“They killed the Oracle!”
“Kill the bastards!”
“He is responsible for this!”
“Kill them, kill them all!”
“He will pay for what he has done!”

Shit! Things are way out of control. I pull my hood further down, making sure to conceal as much as I can about myself. The mob starts off in the direction of the Inn. If we’re caught in this uprising, there will be no quarter. I return to the others. Luc wants a report. I tell him we might want to leave – quickly. The mob can be heard getting closer. The others join us, and we come to an impasse. I feel we should stay and search for clues. We have K’rul’s guidance and the mimic’s defeat. Surely there is something here! However, they feel they should return to Lencia, their homeland, and renew their search from there. To start again? To throw all this progress away? Time is not on their side, and two weeks at sea are two weeks of no progress. I turn to Stormlit, their voice of reason. She is silent. It seems the Assassin’s toxins are still coursing through her system. Begrudgingly I submit; survival over sense. Alone, in Coral Beach, my fate is sealed.

We make our way towards the Docks and come to the Ivory and Ebony Bridges. Militia has set up barricades on both structures, 20 men each. There would be no way to avoid a confrontation. Kalleron offers a magical solution, mentioning a water-walking spell we can use to traverse the bay. Why not an invisibility spell and walk through the barricades?! Yeah, that won’t draw attention. And then we’re open targets? Not thanks; I’m already doing the boat – I will not test the waters! I wish to take my chances with the militia. Not to fight but sneak. The others seem reluctant. I mention the spell we used in the tower, and worry appears on their faces. They do not wish to be separated again.

The voices of the mob are getting clearer, louder, and are ascending to a fever-pitch. The ground shakes beneath my feet as they march towards us. Time is of the essence. They seem to grasp the situation and Stormlit casts her Veil spell. Better magic on land than over water.

Luc starts to dart ahead, but I stop him. We do not need to bring unwanted attention to ourselves, and running, full-steam towards the enemy seems like just the way to make us noticed. Discretion is the better part of valor. We collect ourselves and head towards the barricades. We’re approached by some of the militia and I can feel the others fidget. Kaela worries me the most with how quickly her hand moved to her daggers. I salute the guards and tell them we have news for the Captain. After a few questions and a sly verbal jab at me, he sends us through. Nearing the end of the barricade, we’re approached by a small group of men. Never a break. Our banter goes a bit less smoothly, but my bluff works nonetheless. We clear the checkpoints and duck into a side street and continue to make our way to the Docks.

We get to the ship and board quickly. They check on their men, and we head off. It does not take me long before my stomach turns itself over and the feeling of retching begins to take over. I hate ships. As we pass the gates to the bay, Luc lets out a quick warning. I follow his gaze upwards, towards the top of the gates. I see three figures staring back – the Eladrin. Their stares pass by each of us, acknowledging none but Luc. They are transfixed on him, and he on them. I ready my crossbow and assess the distance. I can strike easily, but they have the higher ground. Initiating combat here would be suicide. But, should they make a move, I will not hesitate to retaliate. I will not go down without a fight.

We pass through unimpeded. As we reach the outer sea, amid the sloshing waves, my stomach loses its grip on reality and the upheaval begins. The most unpleasant, unsavory, bile-soaked vomit flows from my insides. This will be a long two weeks.

Seeing my discomfort, Luc helps me downstairs to the inner cabins. A sailor brings me some wheat bread, telling me it will calm the stomach. I thank him and continue with Luc to the sleeping quarters. Sleep is what will get me through this journey.


I awake feeling much better than I had previously. The adaptation to the boat has settled my stomach. I stand up and an over-taken by dry heaves. Well, my almost adaptation. I set out to find the others. I have no idea how much time has passed, and wander around for a good hour. This ship is huge! Eventually I find the others in the eatery. I swear I had checked here already. I slump down on a stool to relieve the stress on my legs. The sea may very well take my life.

Apparently they were visited by K’rul while I was asleep. However, they were not sleeping, but rather she manifested in this plane. She brought them news about the next stage of the journey, bestowing upon Kalleron a method by which to get us to our destination. Luc seems distraught. K’rul’s magic requires blood, much like that to the mosaic in Coral Beach. However, a ritual of this magnitude requires a pretty hefty toll. Luc’s distress is understood. His goal or his conscience?

Luc acknowledges the sacrifice must occur, but refuses to sacrifice his crew. Instead, he would travel to the nearest port, send his crew to Lencia, and board another shipping vessel. Doing so would take more lives that what would happen here! Families would be destroyed! Why can he pass judgment? Who is he to decide another’s fate? Do the unknown innocents weight less on his conscience? Is the monetary value of his ship really worth more lives? He is no better than those he seeks. His soul is darkening.

Also, it would involve getting on another boat…

We arrive in the town, and Luc sends his crew on its way to Lencia. We board an out-going vessel (how lucky we are…) for 25gp and I find the bedrooms. Hopefully my insides comply with my wishes. We set out and after a day, we begin to hunt for a space large enough for Kalleron’s spell. We find our location in the cargo hold. The hold is littered with extravagancies; jewels, pearls, gold all litter the walled, filling up massive crates 15-hands high. If not for the pressing matters at hand, I might be able to enjoy this trip more than the last. Positioning themselves in the far end of the hold, I move to the stairs to keep watch. Shortly, after I set down, a robed man appears at the front of the hold. Slinking back into the shadows, I watch closely. He moves with purpose, but not malice. He is calm and collected. Driven by something, he starts down the corridor.

Perhaps he is a merchant, checking on his goods. I let him move in, watching him closely. As long as the others remain out of sight, behind their crates, nothing should come of this. He passes three sets of cargo though, making for the end of the hold. Shit, they’ll be seen. He cannot raise an alarm, or our plan is finished. But I will not take his life, not yet. I ready my crossbow at his back. As long as he is unaware, he shall live.

He reaches into his robes and flings something through the air. I loose my bolts as soon as he motions. They strike, square in his back, piercing his robes. His head turns quickly in my direction, his eyes darting back and forth, passing over my location. Then he smirks and vanishes. Gone, nothing there! More magic! Can I not be rid of it!? Kaela and Luc yell, and I make my towards the back of the hold. Surrounding them are four beats, not unlike the ones we fought outside the Inn. Two glisten as the dim light bounces off their crystalline bodies – Ice Elementals. The others flicker and cackle and I can feel their heat on my face – Fire Elementals. Ugh…

Kalleron concentrates on his ritual. It is our fastest means of escape and the priority now. The rest of us engage the elementals, and we quickly wound one of the fire beasts. It erupts in a howl and fury, sending blasts of heat searing those nearby. We finish it off a few moments later.

The man reappears by Kaela. He says something. “…you…prize…with…” is all I hear. He is focused on her. What is going on? More gods? Kalleron is nearing the completion of the runic circle as we cripple an ice beast. We might be able to make it out of here after all. I move closer, making sure I am within the symbol being drawn. Kaela forces the beasts away from her brother and joins. Stormlit and Luc move in as well. The beast blast us again – first ice, then fire. One of the crates ignites, adding to the dilemma. If we don’t complete the ritual, we will meet our grave beneath us. We fend off another attack. I move to a defensive position, hoping to stave our deaths until Kalleron is finished. The beasts move closer, one entering the circle. Kalleron looks up and groans.

“It doesn’t matter! Finish the damn rune and get us out of here!”

The man moves closer, grabbing at Kaela. She twists out of the way, kicking him back. He cackles, “…ours…”

Luc jettisons the last beast from the circle and Kalleron rushes to enclose us. Then, with a panicked uncertainty about what he’s about to do, he erases the chalk.

The screams of hundreds of people pierce my mind. Their pain is fleeting but more powerful than anything imaginable for those few seconds. It’s excruciating and transcends life itself. The pain is of their soul; a soul consumed. And their pain is shared with me.

I’m being ripped apart. My arms are dislodged from their sockets, pain replacing my limbs. I am stretched beyond my physical limits, spread out past mortal constraints. The scenery around me blitzes by; I cannot comprehend what is happening; my vision is blurred by the searing pain. My mind shatters, crumbling away, washing aside like dust in a storm. I feel myself losing control, losing my senses. I have power over nothing in my body – not speech, nor hearing, nor sight. All I feel is torture. This is what death must feel like. I am dying. Time for the eternal slumber…

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Dream - Meeting K'rul
Katryol's Thoughts

I awake to a strange room. At least, I think, I am in a room. There are no walls, nothing discernable to provide edges or boundaries. It is space, infinite yet contained. The feeling welling inside me is not fear, or bewilderment, just acceptance. I understand where I am, what I am, and who I am. But it is nothing more than just a feeling.

I feel the others beside me. I can’t see them, but I know they are there. It’s like I’m endowed with a power beyond my mortal sight. It’s like an intuition, only greater. I know presences. Shadows hide nothing now; nor does magic nor potions. The ground, the oceans, and the sky cannot shield any from my “sight”. This power is intoxicating, but it not my own.

A growling erupts from my stomach. I haven’t eaten in what feels like days. Suddenly aware of my hunger, my thirst, my mortality, I panic. But the panic is fleeting. Almost as soon as the thoughts enter my mind, do they vacate. Before me now, as if it had always been, looms a large, oaken table. Intricate designs are etched into the wood paneling, depicting stories of my past. The streets where I grew up. The jeers, taunts, ridicule, and insults crammed into my ears. The mother who hated, despised, and resented me.

I look closer and the story flows with time, skipping scenes, turning pages, reading like a book where the connections ring truest to me. My solace in the shadows, the rooftop passes, the alleys of safety. The figure from the dark – the Thief. My training, my joy, my sanctuary. Hope burns within as I reflect on my history. The power to overcome what few have forges my resolve. But my desire to be my own and no one else’s trumps this resolve and forges a new one. I seek to understand life; to travel and explore.

The pictures scurry along the border of the table’s awning. I hear the drawings now. Guttural cries of pain and anguish. Bodies and carcass remnants are strewn about the fields. A hand grasps my shoulder and I see the Half-Orc. He nods. His toothy grin and wizened eyes relax the tension in my forearms. I lower my cross-bow and slap him on the back. It is done for the moment. Tomorrow we can start again. The feeling of acceptance stirs within my chest. I am happy here. Outside, with others seeking meaning, however trite, for their lives. Searching, as I am, for acceptance. For belonging. For peace.

The smell of food and drink awakens my senses. I pull myself away from the table, yearning for the feast before me. The food sates my appetite; the drink quenches my thirst. I cannot tell the taste, but I know it is there. All of my senses seem dull externally. However, my mind records vividly through venues of naught I know, what they cannot seem to grasp.

How long have I been eating, I cannot say. How long have I been here, I do not know. Just as I start to become aware, she appears. How is she here? How did she survive? She raises her hand, halting my questions.

“I am not who you believe, just who you think.”

She pulls back her hood, revealing the full of her face from the shadows. It is her! Impossible! I look closer. Yes, the curl of her lips, the shape of her eyes, the scar on her temple. The smell of her hair. Her high cheekbones and long, sensual neck. But, there is something different. Her eyes. They are not the same.

“I am not who you believe.”

Her mouth does not move. But I hear her. Her voice is true, her words, powerful and direct.

“I am called K’rul. I am what you would call an Elder God. You have been swept into a circumstance which you cannot avoid, not anymore. And for that I am in your debt.”

My mind is spinning. My knees start to buckle, but I hold her stare. I will not turn away from her, not this time.

“I thank you for your assistance in awakening me from the Abyss.” She curtsies low, her hips jutting back, with a seductive mockery. Her hair falls over her face, and, rising, a speckle of strands remain. The desire to brush them aside with my hand is overwhelming.

Her lips curl higher, the creases of her eyes dance across her face. She knows. She saunters towards me and curls her arm around my neck. Cocking her head back, she holds my gaze. Those eyes, I can be lost for eternity in those eyes. She chuckles.

“Very well. You shall have the knowledge you seek.” She pulls my head down and her lips part, like the arms of a welcoming parent. They are warm and embracing. Yet, she does not break our gaze.

Pain, torment, angst, depression, repulsion, and loathing all assault my mind, tearing it to shreds. In that instant, I relive the moment I have run from for so many years. It’s relentless and unforgiving. My grief grows exponentially. I succumb to my self-belittlement.

Is this agony my own? Visions of a graveyard sear my senses. A citadel looms before me. I don’t know what it is, but I know I must venture forth. My answers lie inside. Our answers lie within. Behind those gates of the Elder God’s domain, we will find her – find Mirria.

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Agents of Nightchill
Katryol's Thoughts

We emerged from the depths of the Oracle’s Tower into not the blazing sunlight of the warm afternoon, but the crushing cloud of dust and the thousands of screams echoing off the falling blocks of the tower. I look around, totally lost amid the chaos. Blinded, I stumble forward through the rubble and find Luc and the others. Their tattered clothing and dirty faces tell me their enjoying this as much as I. They seem eager to flee the area, but what about the people from the tower? Are they so willing to abandon people? They caused the towers collapse, don’t they feel remorse? I ask Luc if he’s willing to abandon everyone as the others begin to hurry away. He pauses, realizing there are others in danger, and scampers back into the destruction. He returns a few minutes later, a grim look on his face. No words are necessary.

Kalleron thinks we should go back to the house with the mosaic. What’s so important about that? He mentions wanting to see that mosaic again, thinking it holds a key to their journey. Others think we should return to the Inn or the boat. As the others decide their next course of action, Stormlit approaches me. Great, all I need right now is her to give me a not-so-subtle “If they’re hurt” speech. But she doesn’t. Instead, she asks for the drawing of the mosaic I possess, going so far as to even offering to buy it.

It is decided that the best (and smartest) course of action would be to return to the Inn and get some much needed rest. We start heading back to the Inn, me tailing the others, when see an Eladrin. She looks like one that I saw in the marketplace during the commotion, but I’m not positive. If she is, where is her companion? I survey the alley, paying attention to the shadows – nothing. I scurry up and check the roofs – nothing again. She makes her way to the Inn. Coincidence? We follow her in. The others heading upstairs and I stay down. They are weary and need to rest; they have yet to work up the same mental and physical fortitude that years of battle have bestowed upon me. I stay downstairs and keep an eye the Eladrin. Time passes, and things seem…normal enough. There is only a bar maid in the Inn, as I assume the others are either helping or looting.

I order some mutton to eat and a mug of mead. As the rest file down (Luc, Kalleron, Kaela, then Stormlit), I buy them dinner and drink. After much idea tossing (and another inquisition from Stormlit), the Eladrin leaves. Everyone’s eyes follow as she exits. Yeah, we’re as subtle as a Dwarven militia. I stand and move to the doorway. Kaela charges out after the Eladrin; stupid good-for-nothing Gnelf. Does subtlety mean nothing to this rogue?! Kaela confronts the Eladrin as Luc and Stormlit move outside to follow her. The Eladrin spins and stares hard at Kaela, muttering something to her. Right then I hear a yell from Kalleron; the bar wench had struck at him from behind! I look inside and realize that an Eladrin Assassin had deftly positioned herself to our rear. The Mage was alone and vulnerable – he’s a lost cause.

With a quick flash of my hands, I remove my crossbow and fire at the Eladrin outside. She throws a sly grin my way and rushes to the rooftops. What the hell is that about? She then starts weaving her hands as her head rolls back.

Damn! An Invoker!

Kalleron breaks through the door past me, sees the Invoker and unleashes a spell. A great acidic cloud rises around her. Idiot! Now she has cover! For as smart as Mages tout themselves to be, they are surely lacking in the smarts department.

We continue to battle the two Eladrins. The Assassin moves in on Kalleron and cleaves a chunk out of his side. He drops to a knee, anguish in his eyes. The Invoker targets Kaela, unfurling lightning from her hands. She screams in torment and staggers back. Another Eladrin appears on a distant rooftop. The bastard had eluded my earlier assessment, and the mistake stared us in the face now. He raised a bow and rained hell upon us. I dodged back inside; Stormlit was not so lucky. Her high pitched scream pierced our ears, her torment spreading through us all. The Assassin moves in for the kill. One swift strike to the ribcage and Stormlit collapses. A fury takes over Luc, as he becomes consumed. He charges the Assassin, swinging wildly. Kaela, still engaged with the Invoker, is not faring well. We need to dwindle their numbers if we are to have a chance at surviving. A quick look around shows the Ranger as being the easiest to finish. I focus and retaliate. My bolts skewered his left shoulder and right leg, crippling him, and he slips off the rooftop. He looks up, not with fear but satisfaction. Kalleron gasps as the Eladrin catches his gaze. He fires and his arrow finds Kalleron’s gut. Blood soaks his robes as he slumps to the ground; not even enough strength to protest the inevitable. Luc moves in and slashes at the Assassin, tearing apart his armor. She is nearly down as well. We might make it out of this alive. Kaela continues to engage the Invoker from a distance, having little success. Is she truly this incompetent?

I move in on the Ranger, firing another round into his legs, immobilizing him. Information is what we’ll need, and he will provide it; if he knows what’s good for him. I turn to help Luc, but the Assassin, seeing her comrade fall, flees to the rooftops. The Invoker retreats as well. If we pursue them, we can take them down, but risk Stormlit and Kalleron’s lives. The decision is easy – we tend to our friends.

We tie up the Ranger and take him inside. Luc grabs Stormlit, Kaela her brother, and follow me in. We tend to their wounds and make sure they stabilize, which, luckily, they do. Priorities addressed, Luc starts questioning the Ranger, losing his mind in the process. Kaela wants to kill the man – understandable given what he did to her brother. But Luc and I realize he has valuable information. I begin asking questions.

I find out his name is Dayereth, 57, and that he is from Elari. The others are his sisters, and they serve a goddess, Nightchill, the same goddess the others are after. She apparently came to the three, and they willingly carry out her will. A will, it seems, that involves the slaying of the companions with the exception of Luc. I am now included in that list. What is Luc’s importance, I wonder?

While I am questioning Dayereth, a dagger pierces his throat. I spin and see Kaela, a vengeful stare emanating from her eyes. Luc howls and leaps at Kaela. The “friends” begin brawling, and I am losing my source of information! I take out my Potion of Vitality and address the Eladrins wounds. They heal, grotesque scars replacing the wounds. He has lost consciousness; we must wait for more information. I have gotten all I can. Kalleron and Stormlit have regained consciousness. They both express surprise at the unlikely scene. One of our attackers, sitting in our midst, alive. The Gnelfs aren’t happy. The Genasi seems indifferent. I share what I have learned, and it is decided that we must rest. I shall not sleep soundly tonight, but I will still be better than the young ones. Luc takes the first watch. His resolve is great indeed.

The Dream

That dream was surreal. Unlike any experience I have ever had. The others, they were there and felt what we felt. I head downstairs and find that the Eladrin has escaped. We are sure to see the three of them again. We must be better prepared. We discuss the dream, contemplating the meaning of the words of Kruel. The journey is becoming more exciting daily! I notice Stormlit’s entire demeanor has shifted as well. Was it the dream? Does she share a connection to the gods? She’s happy, joyful even, and kind. What is going on?!

A man saunters in, in an obvious gossipy mood. He starts babbling about the Tower’s fall, claiming a Half-Elf was responsible. Ugh, time for damage control. Apparently, the arrival of some strange foreigners have also started circulating. I buy him some mead, to loosen him lips, and cloud his mind. Planting false ideas in an inebriated mind is a simple tactic at throwing off a trail. Even easier if the mind belongs to a gossiper. After seven rounds, enough ideas are planted to sow a field. The best way to counter rumors? Better rumors.

Kaela rushes to the second floor balcony from the bath, claiming she broke a mirror – who cares? The scene she makes is dramatic, too dramatic. The others peer around the Inn. Kaela gathers the mirror to throw the pieces away, but there is an awkwardness in her actions. I follow my instincts and follow her, sticking to the early morning shadows. She bypasses the garbage and heads through the back alleys of the town. Her actions reek of ill-content. Is she a spy? I tail her to another figure. Peering around the corner of a building, I see that Kaela is talking to…another Kaela?! Shit, more mimics! But if these two are mimics, where is the real Kaela? Our “Kaela” hands a bundle over to the other “Kaela”. Whatever it is must be important, at the very least, valuable. I line up a shot and fire from the shadows. The angle is difficult. I line up another one, but something causes the ground to stir beneath my feet and throws me off balance. This is ridiculous. Still in the shadows, I hit with my last. The other “Kaela” finds my hiding spot, and I call for the others. Something bellows from my right. The sound is unfamiliar and unrecognizable. I turn and see a giant Ice elemental emerge from the sewer – can I catch a break?! As the Elemental strides forward the ground shakes and quivers beneath my feet – the cause of my unbalance. I move back out of its grasp, and right into another one emerging from a grate. He strikes from my blind-side, his chill seeping into my muscles. I feel them contract unwillingly. I reposition myself again, hoping blood will calm the ice flowing through my veins. It works. The other “Kaela”, turns to run back through the alleys, bundle in hand. She must not escape! I yell to Stormlit to stop the fleeing “Kaela”. She quickly moves herself between Luc, Kalleron, and myself, fires a shot, and I feel myself ripped through space. My mind spins, and my stomach lurches. I open my eyes and find myself not only next to our “Kaela”, but away from the Elementals. Kalleron, moves to the roof and gestures towards the “Kaelas”; both drop to the ground. We proceed to unleash fury, our pain of yesterday’s fight vividly etched in our minds. Stormlit finished off our “Kaela”, coldly, with a bolt through the temple. I pin the other down, my bolts tearing through “her” hamstrings. Luc moves to engage the Elementals, Kalleron using his magic from the precipice of the buildings. I move through the alley way to retrieve the bundle and run into a crowd of villagers, clearly awoken by the early morning commotion. Great, more witnesses.

Stormlit calls for help – the Elementals seem to be focusing on savagely beating the Genasi. Luc moves in and cleaves the thighs, as I puncture the right bicep. Kalleron unfurls a spell, and one of the beasts collapse in a heap, bursting into a wave of liquid. It’s amazing what can be accomplished when we work together. Learning each others capabilities and shortcomings in such a small amount of time is finally reaping some benefits. We quickly dispose of the other Elemental and return to the Inn. Sitting down at one of the tables, I open the bundle. Inside is not what I expected – a mirror. Even though I am not of the Arts, I can tell there is magic within this mirror, and I quickly call Kalleron to deal with it. Inspecting the mirror, a look of shock crosses his face. Rapidly gathering himself, he orders no one to look at it. Puzzled, my suspicions grow. Now, all of them are acting strange. What have I gotten myself into?

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Another Side, Another Story

Syral walked aimlessly through the city, Shira and Sucaeva left sleeping in their rooms. They’d been in Hestavar for some days, but the city still gave the shifter pause with its shining buildings and gem-paved streets around its lagoons, floating on earthmotes across an impossibly beautiful sky. Even if she could have slept she’d still find herself out here, taking in everything she could, body humming with nervous energy and lack of sleep.

Despite the usual busyness of the streets she saw few residents as night descended. The streets were eerily quiet, something she didn’t mind. Undaunted by the strange layout she continued down street after street, never quite lost, and stopped only when she came upon a large fountain in a square, the water shimmering in the fading light and an angel staring back at her through the curtains of water.

“The sands of time are running out,” it said quickly, and Syral nodded.

“Have any of them changed their minds?” she asked.

“The Dwarf-Father will still attack the fallen one,” the angel replied, and Syral shook her head angrily. “He has convinced the Most Holy Ones that it is the only choice.”

“It’s not!” Syral paced back and forth, bare feet clicking against the stone floor, her shadow flaring up against the surrounding buildings. “They’re wrong to start a war right now. At least wait until we can save Miria!”

“He does not deem that necessary.” Syral turned on the angel at that, mouth open to speak, but it raised a hand to stop her. “He has, however, consented to this.” It pulled a small mirror from its robes and held it out to her. Syral barely kept herself from grabbing it as she accepted.

“Thank you,” she said, and turned it in her hands. It was a simple mirror, oval with a dark wood frame and back. She stared back at herself, eyes red and puffy from exhaustion. “What is this for?”

“It will show you what you need.”

Syral’s grip tightened on the mirror frame. “I want to see Miria and my son.”

“I am afraid that only half that wish may be granted. Your lover is blocked from the Dwarf-Father.”

“He’s a god!” she shot back, frustration getting the better of her. “How can anything be hidden from a god?!”

“She is blocked from Him,” it repeated.

Syral turned away from the angel and held the mirror up before her. ‘Show her what she needed?’ She needed her family back, not some cryptic message from a stubborn god.

After a few moments the glass fogged over and she found herself floating in mist. The air cleared in a breath and Luc sat in a small cabin room, carefully cleaning his armor while Kalleron studied his books. Her son looked healthy, if a little haggard, and she darted towards him with a cry, arms extended. As soon as her claws touched his shoulder he warped and faded, and she was back in the fountain square with the angel, the sound of falling water echoing quietly around them.

“He’s alright,” she breathed out, and quickly wiped at her eyes. “Thank Moradin, he’s alright.” She sagged and threw a hand out to steady herself against the basin of the fountain as she crouched down. So many nights she’d been kept awake with nightmares, and now to have them disproven…

“This won’t stop us from trying,” she finally said, and her hand once again tightened around the mirror. “I thank Him for this gift, but I won’t stop trying to prevent this war.”

“Your efforts will be too late for that.”

Syral’s eyes widened and she stood and turned to face the angel. “What?! But you said—“

“I said there was not much time.” It closed its eyes and seemed to sigh. “It has begun even as we speak.”

“NO! You can’t!”

The angel’s eyes opened and flared white, and Syral fell back, shielding her eyes. When the light faded she was alone, the mirror gone.

The sun finally set as the sky blazed one last time, and Syral dashed away from the fountain and back towards Shira and Sucaeva, panic lending speed to her flight.

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