Blades at Dawn

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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Interlude 12
Facing the end.

With a thud, the burned body of the last blue dragon defender fell to the ground under the flame blades of a dozen archons. Around it, the bodies of its brothers and sisters littered the big cavern surrounded by piles of ash and pools of water marking the remains of the attackers.

The goddess Nightchill entered the dragon´s lair flanked by several archangels. A half smile appeared on her features when she saw her the force cage behind the big treasure hoard. Brazenly she walked towards the cage ignoring everything around, her mind locked on the future and the fall of the gods.

The jagged breath of a dying dragon brought her back from her reverie. Stopping for a second Nightchill looked on the ravaged body of the mighty beast.

“My…Dark Queen… will avenge us…”

“Ha! you were but a mere divertissement. Your goddess failed you and will fail again when she finally gathers the courage to stop me.” Nightchill laugh filled the cavern “Tell Tiamat when you meet her that I´ll be waiting her and her minions. My time approaches and they all will pay.” approaching to the dragon she daintily put a foot on its neck. “Tell her that I haven´t forgotten the eternity of pain they caused me.” with a sudden move she crushed the dragon´s neck at the same time that she spread her arms to her followers.

“Look at me my beloved! Listen to my words in the moment before our ultimate victory! Today the seal falls and Lord Nero rises again. Today we start the war against the gods and Creation!” pausing for a moment to gather the full attention of the beings in the cave, she looked at their expectant faces. “They hunted us, they denied us, they toyed with us. And in the moment of our need they threw us away.” she finished looking at her three adopted children. “What do they deserve?”

“Repayment!” the male eladrin was the first to shout “Repayment for every death.” “Repayment for every pain.” “For every sin the gods have committed against us!” others chanted.

One by one more voices joined his, weapons hitting shields or the ground until the cavern was a maelstrom of wrath against the gods.

Smiling Nightchill walked to the force cage where a young girl awaited. “I know that hair color, you are a D´Urban!” the true Adrianne D´Aubry said “I am so glad somebody came to rescue me at last. These dragons were dreadfully boring and never bothered feeding me.”

Nightchill´s smile became feral. “I´m afraid I´m not here to rescue you.” she said forcing her hand through the cage´s arcane energies. With a flash, the whole spell dissolved and immediately the Highborn turned to stone, a look of surprise on her face.

Satisfied with the resulting screams of panic picked up by her godly perception, Nightchill gestured to her daughters. “My dears, take a flight of angels to the city and raze all the temples to the ground. Spare the mortals if you feel generous but secure the south part of Lencia and open a portal to my warren. It´s time to bring Lord Nero back to the living.”

The twin sisters knelt in front of the goddess “Your will is ours, mother.”

“Dayereth come with me, I have a special mission for you.”

View
Stormlit meets Tex
A year and a half ago

Bonepowder cove is on the white rocky west coast of the Southern Meugge Island. Here, many an adventurer had come to do battle with the foul drow who had cast a shadow over the nearby fishing villages. Countless times adventurers fell, even though they had numbers, yet today there is only one person on the beach, soaked wet from having to swim from her sunken boat.

There on a jutted rock above stood the drow. Cape flowing in the breeze, no weapons drawn, hand extended in the air, in fact, looking as though he was about to entertain the genasi girl any moment.

They spoke simultaneously “You are…pardon?…”

Stormlit, skin a sea foam color, bows her head, and that act raised a slender white eyebrow over a bright crimson eye. “Dear girl, if you wish to speak first, do so, I had become unaccustomed to visitors here doing much more than casting or yelling. Don’t shy away now.” In the rocks to the right and left, snickering could be heard if the waves weren’t so loud.

She doesn’t look up, but her teeth shine with happiness like pearls in the shadow her head casts. She had found him! Her heart’s beat picks up pace “I know who you are, and forgive me for speaking out of turn for I use my new freedom from slavery to openly. You are a powerful sorcerer and a man I have sought for many years.”

“There is no threatening tone there. Have you not come for my head, my treasures, or even to make a name for yourself?”

“No sir, I have come to you because I am your long lost dau-” Heckling laughter came from the rocks and the waves seemed to have subsided enough for the laughter to clearly reach Stormlit’s ears. She broke procedure to look up to the rock again finally, but Tex was not there. He had used magic to appear behind her left shoulder.

“Forgive my brothers and sisters. Piaxella!” From the rocks came a young drow woman, confident in walk and with cloth covering the minimum amount of skin. She walked up to Stormlit and locked eyes with the genasi.

“I admire your lie, but Piaxella used the same one when I was murdering her allies on this very beach. She was very convincing, my people just have a knack for deception. You however need to practice.”

Stormlit, as she had been trained her whole life said nothing. She dropped her gaze from Piaxella to avoid confrontation, and it was enough to make Piaxella lean in to whipser “good choice” as she bumped her shoulder into Stormlit’s and move behind her, behind Tex.

“A freed slave? Do you have any skills? I sense the arcane in you, but…you are no swordmage.”

“A Bard sir, a Karmic Shaper”

“Are you going to clean my floors bard? Do not call me sir. I myself am a Magister and the brother of all those who are laughing in the rocks. Tell me why you chose to follow a path of luck?”

Stormlit fought the desire to make eye contact again “I…am disciplined in ways that bring karmic retribution urgently to those who deserve it. I allow allies to see how karma will be there for them by coaxing it to help quickly Magister.”

“Hmmmph, you find a way out of calling me sir and a way out of calling yourself a gambler. You are going to take some getting used to. Is anyone chasing you former slave?”

“No Magister”

“Do you plan to get fat an lazy after a life of slavery?”

She shook her head.

“Will you ever let your past life go?”

Her lips parted to answer but her eyes said it all. It would take time.

“I cannot welcome you as a false daughter, but you are decidedly a sister to us all.” Tex bumped the other shoulder of Stormlit in a playful manner, and beckoned her to follow him into the rocks. A few words of his ultimate goal made Stormlit stop for a moment, but Piaxella slapped her ass to move her along and then held her waist as if they were fated to become the best of friends.

Tex’s true daughter had found a home.

Almiccopy

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Bridge to Nowhere
Katryol's Thoughts

Some time passes and the commotion beyond the confines of the cage lessen. Trying to gauge the location of the angels through the bars is impossible. I know we must venture out to find Luc and the others, but we are in no shape to do so. Given Stormlit’s ability to attract attention, the risk would too great. I tell her I will search for the others and that she should remain here and recuperate. I know being surrounded by slaves again must torment her – conjure a past she would rather leave behind. I know I would hate it. But we must locate the others and we have better odds if I go forth alone. I remove my Assassin’s Cloak and give it to her. The cloak is tattered and dark with a low hanging hood that should help conceal her features. Remaining hidden is of the utmost importance now. She gives me her amulet, saying that its magical properties may aid me. An unexpected and generous offer from the Genasi woman; she may be warming up to me. Before I leave, she offers a song to sooth my weariness and calm the slaves. Another wise and strategic move on her part.

Her voice is deep, but soft. I do not comprehend the words, but I understand the meaning; and it is beautiful. I close my eyes and lose my thoughts in her song. My heart swells and worry vacates my mind. The tension releases from my muscles. I feel…relaxed and at peace. Reopening my eyes, I meet hers. Her expression remains as stoic as ever, but her eyes, there is a softness hidden in there that I hadn’t noticed before. She finishes her song and I find my ears not wanting to let the sound of her voice go. I have never felt so comforted in all my life.

I emerge from the slave pen and begin to track down the others. They were on the south-western side of the main thoroughfare, though I cannot be sure of their exact location. Wanting to be as quick as possible, I start at the tents nearest to us and trek in a northwestern fashion. Listening closely for hushed or panicked voices, I peer into a smaller tent, finding two chests. Knowing the direness of our situation, I check to see if either are unlocked (time is of the essence!), and, low and behold, one was. Giving a speedy one over for traps, and seeing none, I pop it open. Apparently, I was too speedy. A faint, yellow gas explodes in my face, and I immediately start hacking. Wonderful, it’s Grendal gas. After a brief rest, coughing out a lung, I grab the massive amounts of coin (50 silvers worth of copper!) and some slave documents. Who knows when I’ll need to be a slave trader?

I stare longingly at the other chest, but seeing as how I must find the others, I just make note of it and vow to return. I do have some friends relying on me after all! I approach a few more empty tents before I come across a fairly large one. Peering in, I find an unusual sight – a large green frog, not unlike the one hawking slaves in the main tent earlier, stuffing food down its throat. However, this “delicacy” is attached to a boot! Now, I’m not too familiar with these frogs – they may very well enjoy eating discarded accessories – but as he removed the boot with a look of satisfaction, the white bone sticking out made me hesitant to ask how much he enjoyed his meal. With a raucous burp from the beast, I decided to try my luck elsewhere.

As I near the southern portion of the vicinity, the number of tents start to thin out. Maybe they are here. I pull back on a flap, hoping to sneak a peek without spilling too much daylight into the dark environs when I’m blasted with a dazzling display of sparks! Cursing, I pull back in surprise, shield my eyes, and try to maintain my surroundings.

“Katryol?” Half shock and half surprise coat my name.

Rubbing the glare out of my eyes, two shadows start to come into focus. Before me stands Kalleron, a mischievous grin sliding out across his face. Behind him sits Luc, looking completely wiped.

“Ugh. Thanks for the greeting. Remind me again why I hate magic?” I shoot him a look. I’d rather shoot him a – well, just shoot him right now. “Where’s Kaela?”

Apparently she has gone out to look for us. After briefing the two on our situation, I tell them to stay put while I get Stormlit. Being separated is never a good thing, though sometimes it is inevitable. Returning back to the slave pen, I notice the Fimorian from before, as well as two crystalline guardians in front of the cage. The giant seems to be “talking” to someone and it doesn’t seem to go well. Getting Stormlit out is not happening, not now and not by myself. Keeping hidden near the rear of the cage, I call for the bard. She emerges, and I tell her that I found the others. A look of relief washes over her and I feel a sense of pride. Unusual. Heading back to get the others, I find Kaela has returned. Before we head out, I ask Kalleron a favor. He doesn’t seem able to follow through, but understands my concern at the moment. He does have some combat sense after all.

Returning, again, once more, for the twelfth time it seems, to the slave pen, I notice the giant and his guardians gone. Immediately, I think ambush. The lock on the door has been changed, this one with a faint light emitting from the mechanism. Kalleron looks it over, mutters something, and the light fades away. Eager to open the cage, I hurry to unlock it, but am butted out of the way by Kaela. She seems keen to actually contribute something, so I let her have at the lock. As it clicks and slides open, a glittering stream jumps from the lock and fades off to the distance. Stormlit emerges out of the cage and, for the first time in what seems like hours, we are all reunited.

We rush out of the camp, hurrying to get to the Clock of Midnight. I suggest we rest, as does Kalleron, but Luc seems insistent that resting here would be a folly. His logic, though sound, is folly too, since we’re completely exhausted and at our physical and mental limits. Right now though, it’s a matter of picking our poison. Still, I’d choose the one that would let me sleep.

Approaching the outer edges of the Clock of Midnight I’m brought to a ghastly sight. Before us looms a large lake, tinted in a grotesquely yellow-green hue. Standing beside the lake are large demons, their black bodies getting distinctly more foreboding in the mirror of the lake waters, holding cages above their heads. From within each cage can be heard the screams and pleading of people, begging for mercy. Cackling can be heard among the demons, and, with cheering from the smaller demons lining a large bridge, the cages are chucked into the lake. The cages sink and the people disappear beneath the surface as crucibles are dipped into the lake and collect the water. The crucibles then pour their contents into sets of mechanized armor, which come to life, file themselves, and are taken across the bridge. Are they creating an army?! Pondering what to do next, we sit for ages. The sight disgusts me. The casual demeanor with which the demons dispose of life infuriates me. The sight of our inaction irks me to no end either.

There is something strange, though, about this whole predicament. We have sat in front of this massive army of demons, the five of us squishy, yummy morsels, and none have approached us. I look to my left and see a crate. I just want to walk over to it, slump down, and rest. And, of course, that’s when it’s decided that we should just walk across the bridge. Ugh. I’d rather just run across the underside of the bridge with my Wallwalkers. Now, that would be a challenge! As we start, two demons approach us and prevent our passage. Luc tries “sweet-talking” them, Kaela throws a fit, and I try to use the slave papers I grabbed from the chest. The demons “laugh”. They want our souls to pass. Good luck – mine’s promised to Sehanine already you greedy bastards. Seeing no other way around, we turn to go back and are stopped again. Great, payment to come, payment to go. This time all they want are gems. Again, the others protest. I laugh to myself about their naivety. Removing a ruby from my pack, I toss it to one and walk away. This is getting ridiculous. I’m going to find a bed and sleep.

The others must have clued in and followed, because we were all soon plopping into a tent and asleep.

Waking up, I head out of the tent and see the Fimorian and his guards perusing goods in the market. I set out to replenish my supplies and get some breakfast. The others slowly wake, likely thankful for the much needed rest, and move outside. As I purchase some skewered Pumplik from a nasty-looking Orc in the main thoroughfare, the Fimorian yells, catching my attention. Though I couldn’t see him, I had heard enough of his incessant complaining to know it was him. Scaling the main tent, I see him and his guardians move toward the others. Stormlit looks particularly taken aback. She yells something at the giant, and he responds back in turn. Great – I don’t even get to enjoy breakfast.

Stuffing the Pumplik into my mouth, nearly choking, I load the skewer into my crossbow and fire at the Fimorian. The skewer digs deep into his right shoulder. Mmmm…for breakfast I guess I’ll have skewered Fimorian.

The crystal guardians float closer to the others and light flashes, enveloping the party. Kalleron slips away and that’s when I notice two more figures closing in on the group. A closer look and I see what’s approaching are two frog-like beings.

“What the hell are those?!” I yell, pointing at the approaching figures.

“Bandarhops!” responds Kalleron.

Ah, so the little frog was referring to himself. Katryol thinks that is a good idea.

Keeping as far from the commotion as possible, I pelt the Fimorian. Bolts litter its body, sticking out like porcupine quills. The others are tackling the crystals and Bandarhops. Kaela lands a shattering blow on a crystal and a large, midnight-black, cloud erupts from its fractured shell. No longer able to see the others, I return my focus to the giant and move atop the slave pen to maintain my barrage. I see the others emerge from the cloud – foul magic that cloud – and start bashing the other crystal. Just then, a large appendage wraps around my leg and drags me across the roof of the pen. Grabbing onto a bar, I barely prevent myself from sliding off the edge. What the hell was that?! Repositioning myself on the roof, I continue my assault on the Fimorian, more of my bolts tearing into its back. I really do make beautiful portraits.

As soon as I released my bolts, a Bandarhop leaps up onto the slave pen and bounds toward me. Ugh, great. As I move to slide off the pen and dash into the tents, I feel a restraining tug hold me tight. I look down and see an old man pulling on my gear.

“Help me. Don’t let the demons take me. My soul, it cannot be theirs!”

“You crazy bastard! You should have run when I tried to free you! What in the nine Hells are you doing!? Can’t you see that –– !”

Shit.

I stare up and see the Bandarhop gleaming at me. Wrapped in its tongue, its arms squeezing tight for good measure, an image of a boot flashes into my mind.

Double shit.

I finagle my arm to fire my last loaded bolt into the giant. I try to heave myself off the Bandarhops belly to escape, but the tongue clenches tighter. A whooshing sound is the last thing I hear as I am encased in darkness. My surroundings smell acidic and are squishy now.

Triple shit.

My confines are…confining. I try to squirm my way up, but am unable to grab onto anything. My footing slips and sloshes through stomach juices. I’m unable to reload my crossbow, so I strike the stomach lining with my dagger. Nothing. I strike again and still no reflex. You would figure slashing at the innards would cause, um, I don’t know, INDIGESTION. What are these things made of?! I strike again and the belly quivers. Oh, must have hit something vital or at least important. Maybe I gave him gas.

A pummeling rings throughout the gut and I can imagine the others striking at the fatty. Hoping to aid from the interior, I try to strike at the stomach again, but the fumes are starting to make me nauseas. I wonder about the irony of throwing up IN a stomach.

The thought doesn’t last long as I feel a quick constriction on my body before a pulling sensation rattles my mind. The pull feels similar to the spell Kalleron cast on the boat, though not as intense. Suddenly, I regain my internal balance, and gain a feeling of stability. A quick stab from the back resonates through the body and I feel the body cease moving. For a moment, the insides warm, but that sensation quickly fades. Pummeling resumes and I can feel the muscles surrounding me loosen their grip. Finding some inner strength, I strike out at the stomach again and again. A teetering sense overcomes me and I feel like I’m falling over. Stomach acid jumps up my nostrils, burning the cartilage and causing blood to gush out. The muscles holding me shudder and relax. They must have felled the Bandarhop. Took ’em long enough!

I worm my way out of the throat and stand before the others, intestinal gunk dropping off my clothes. At least they won’t smell my urine – or at least give me crap about it. I let loose a deep sigh, turn around and cut off a chunk of the Bandarhop.

“Let’s see how you like it…”

Breakfast is gratifying.

View
Reavers and Creepers and Bodocks - Oh My!
Katryol's Thoughts

Peering off in the distance to the north, we can still make the outlines of an encampment. The wisps of smoke in the distance let me know it’s inhabited, though by who – or what – I do not know. We continue to make our way through the fields of Red Lotus when that eerie hum rises behind us. The Reaver has continued its pursuit!

I glance at the others and make ready. It seems that we must make our stand now, whether we wish to or not. As the Reaver rounds the bend, I hear the familiar slithering in the weeds; the Creepers have maintained their pursuit as well. A small groan escapes my lips as I ready for the encounter.

With heavy legs, I try to outmaneuver the Creepers while providing assistance to fell the Reaver. The others are feeling the effects of a long day of battling as well, their movements slow and sluggish. The first few Creepers explode into the all-too-familiar clouds of poison gas – at least it’s consistent. I focus on the Reaver – it’s the only thing I know I can hit with how groggy I am. And yet, that proves false. My first few shots miss the Reaver completely, thumping into the ground well past the mechanical monstrosity. Shaking my head, trying to clear the wooziness, I steadied my stance again and take aim. Once more, my bolt flew helplessly past. Unable to clear my head, I begin to doubt my capabilities. Is my age catching up to me? Is the Rend affecting my stamina? These sensations are new, and hopefully unfounded. But the doubt persists. Readying another round, I fire again. The Reaver swats the bolt away, shrugging it off as a pest. Dejected, I fall to my knees, exhaustion taking over.

As I kneel into the field of the Red Lotus, I feel myself drifting off. Slowly a haze enters my mind. Looking at my hands, I see, in disbelief, my blood dripping onto the ground. The eerie red glow of the lotus is emitted from the petals of the bloom, reminding me of the precarious situation I am in. This feeling, this drain I’ve been experiencing, is because my vitality has been sapped by the field! I hurry out of the field, a glimmer of hope returning. As I ready my next shot, a grinding, clanking sound radiates from the Reaver. Luc, it seems, has handled the atrocity. Redemption, it seems, will wait. Just as well though, since the effects of the lotus still linger.

We move on through the fields, finally able to approach the encampment. We take a short rest to hopefully recuperate a little energy for this last push through toward K’rul’s realm. Apparently the others recognize a structure as the “Clock of Midnight”, whatever that is. This continues to get more confounding and intriguing. My assurances of finding what I seek remain strong.

As we get to the outer rim of the site, the terrain morphs into a grey, soot-covered landscape. The land is not desolate as bushes, trees, and other vegetation are visible – it just all happens to be covered in a thick layer of soot. We can see smelters of iron throughout the tent city. Ash falls like rain, blanketing the ground, tents, and us. In the distance, west of the clock tower, is the source of the smelts liquid fire; a volcano that is providing an endless flow of molten rock, feeding the ironworks. Scanning the routes to the tower, it seems the only passable way seems to be through the make-shift city.

While we are preparing for our approach, a group of five “individuals” stride toward us. There is one large one, obviously in charge, and four smaller ones, likely his cohorts. The large one reminds me of the Hunters we had seen, though his appearance is demonic and a shadow flickers about his outer shell. Sharp protrusions extend from its body, and I notice scythe-like claws for its hands. The aura is sickening. Cautiously, I glance at the others, and we all read one another’s thoughts – this won’t be easy. That’s when I notice Stormlit; she has turned a dull, earthy grey, mimicking the falling ash – her skin has begun to camouflage with her environment! What an intriguingly convenient trait!

Skittering over to some cover, and to assess their intentions from afar, the “greeters” continue forward. Luc, being his ever-cautious self, sees something shiny in their direction and runs over to it. However, he forgot to put his swords away and they saw him as a threat – poor Luc. One of the smaller beings moves toward him and suddenly Luc falls to the ground! Sehanine, save us! I didn’t even see contact between the two of them!

Kalleron, seeing Luc felled near instantaneously, raises his had towards Luc’s assailant. A strange glimmer radiates from his palm, and his eyes shoot open. A look of dread sweeps across his face.

“B-b-bodocks….and the large one is a…a Nightwalker!?”

What the hell ever happened to good ol’ fashioned Goblins and Bugbears? Really, now – demons?!

Kaela rushes in to help look. Grabbing her second dagger from its sheathe, she slides into the fray, intercepting the movement of the Nightwalker and another Bodock. Jetting her right leg out, and kneeling practically on the ground, she uses her momentum from her run and whirls around in a flash – arms outstretched, fending off the foes. The force she propels them with is spectacular, utilizing the body’s natural joints as leverage. She sends the two adversaries backwards, clearing the way for a retreat. Reaching down and grabbing Luc, she moves back toward the others.

The Bodocks look distracted by this, as does the Nightwalker, and I take advantage of my hiding spot. Unleashing a few bolts, finally focused and unhampered, I take out the trailing Bodock. Hopefully now, out of the Red Lotus fields, I can be more effective. I check how the others are faring against the Nightwalker and I see Luc lying at its feet. Luckily I see his armor rising and falling so he isn’t dead – yet. That boy has more lives than a swamp rat has fleas. Looking to my right I see that Stormlit has taken two of the Bodocks away from the Nightwalker, attempting to limit their group’s strength. She is a wise tactician, though she puts too much onus on her shoulders for the success of this group. Her dedication to them is unquestionable, though I wonder her role. I have heard her refer to them as her “charges”.

Not wanting Stormlit’s valor to go for naught, I focus on the remaining Bodock with the Nightwalker, since the twins seems to have the big guy under control. Well, for as under control as a demon hunter of unfathomable malice can be. Striking from the shadows of the foliage, I hone in on the Bardock as it looks to flank Kaela. The creature never stood a chance. Leaving the Nightwalker to the others, I shift positions behind the undergrowth. Stormlit seems to be holding her own, but she is not making progress in destroying the Bardocks. Flanked on both sides, it is only a matter of time before they break through her defensive stance and exhaust her.

As she turns to her left to parry a blow, the one on her right moves in for a strike. Seeing an opening in her stance, she won’t be able to readjust for the blow in time. I take aim at the “arm” and fire, knocking the strike from its intended destination on Stormlit. She recovers from her parry and strikes down the Bardock on her right with a sickening thud. Casting a quick glance in my direction to figure out where the bolt came from, I stand and wave, and sheepish grin coming across my face. She does that strange little cock of her head and, though it may be a figment of my imagination, almost smirks.

Shifting on her heels, she dodges another blow. Grabbing a hold of my senses, I reload my crossbow and fire again from the shadows. My bolts strike true and the Bardock emites a painful scream. The clanking of armor and the rustles of robes coming toward us tells me the others were successful with the Nightwalker. Kudos to them! Now, onto the encampment.

Leaving the others at the edges, I scout ahead. I need the time to clear my head and besides, getting a lay of the land might be useful. Noticing patrols of the Nightwalkers weaving up and down the corridors between tents, I figure the safest route is over the tents. Climbing up a pole, I make my way across the larger of the structures, coming into the center of the encampment. Teiflings scurry across the dirt roads, busying themselves like ants in a colony. A multitude of races line the shops, hawking goods and weapons. Most of the place is like a giant outdoor bazaar. The focus of the business though, seems to focus on the lager, highly decorated tent I find myself at now. A large, wooden stage is set up to the east of the structure and behind it I can see a cage. Peering into the cage, I see eighty or so people, huddled together. They reek of something foul and look hungry and disheveled. Slaves! This whole place is a slave trade! Sneaking through won’t be as easy for the others as I thought. I need more information to devise a good alternative. Working my way to the flap entrance of the main tent, I hunker down and examine the interior. Two individuals are talking – one a Fimorian giant, the other a little frog-like creature wearing a hat and sporting a red face. Obviously, this is a heated conversation – any talk with a Fimorian is.

“The price was 100 golds! You said that covered everything, including transport!”

“Never was that said! The price was for 2, as you received, and got you here to view them.”

A menacing glare crosses the giant’s face. “Get me and my property back! Now!”

The frog’s upper lip tightens and he stares dead on into the eyes of the giant. “You can take that concern up with my employer in the City of Brass. For now, the Bandahops work only when paid. And THAT –“, the frog jabs his hand right into the lower diaphragm of the giant, “– is another 50 gold!”

I peel away from the entrance as an alarming growl rumbles throughout the tent. The City of Brass…why does that…Oh, yes! The man on the boat! Stormlit has said something about them wanting to take Kaela back with them to the City of Brass. That must mean…Wait, we’re in a different time now. The coincidence cannot be more than that. Too many loose ends; too many variables. Too much thinking.

I hurry back to the others, making sure to make note of the least crowded walkways. I let the others know what I heard and gave my suggestions as to how to best make it through. It didn’t do any good. Oh well, you’re only young once – then you die. Average age of an adventurer – 18. Average age of a dead adventurer – 18½.

It’s finally decided that Kaela and I will flank the others from the tops of the tents, providing lookout and support if necessary. Stormlit, Luc, and Kalleron will disguise themselves and act like drifters, hopefully blending in. Yes, we do that oh so well. About halfway through the encampment, I spot an Eladrin. Funny – I didn’t see any on my initial scout. Knowing Luc’s giddiness around such wonderful people, I try to steer the group through an alternate route – our goal is still the tower. But my efforts are too late – Luc had already spied her. Against the protests of everyone, the stubborn, single-minded Luc follows. Gee, I wonder what will happen? Let’s all cause a commotion because we can’t stay focused…IN THE MIDDLE OF A SLAVE TRADE!!!!

Luc tails the Eladrin, who ends up meeting with another one and a young girl. Ok, no worry there. They bought a slave. Big deal. But, Mr. Self-Righteous and his pure hearted soul must continue on. The three of them turn around and head back towards Luc, who tries to busy himself with a display. They stop in front of him and exchange words. Shit. I move down off a tent crossbeam, and ready a bolt. If they make one move against him, it’ll be the last move they make. The little girl strides up to Luc and grabs his face – slave my ass!

“Where is she? The last Highborn!”

Groaning, I fire a shot directed across the face of the girl, hoping to startle her enough for Luc to catch his wits and run. As the bolt nears her, it disappears. A not-so-soft curse escapes my lips.

“Really now, a bolt? You thought a bolt would do what against me?” The voice echoed inside my head. Mirria!

“…Tiamat’s agent…” The voice still rings in my head, growing louder, pounding my temples from the inside. It’s too difficult to concentrate.

“…city to raze…” The pain is tortuous. Fire burns inside my mind. Is this what being in the presence of a god is like?

“…blue dragon to kill…” Excruciating and agonizing. Dragons? Do they still exist?

“Rael, kill them and bring me the bodies!” The finiteness of this command was outstanding. And with a sudden wave of relief, the pain ceased. But as my internal senses balanced out, my external ones were assaulted. A flying, glowing spiral descends upon the area, blinding in its brilliance. Five sparks erupt from the spiral and manifest into heavenly beings – angels! Two are much larger, their auras pure. A look of sorrow is worn on their faces, nearing regret. One of the larger ones descends unto Luc and he begins to raise his sword in protest. The angel shakes its head and I feel both pity and sorrow for Luc. He is punished, and mercilessly. Stormlit jumps between the two and stares at the angel, her gaze unwavering. The angel shakes its head again, and a look of determination works into Stormlit’s face. The angel holds out a hand and she makes no move to defend. Light streaks out and envelopes Stormlit. I feel her pain, but never hear it. Kaela leaps across a tent to engage another of the smaller angels. It is joined quickly by another, and both brush off the rogue’s attack. They look to retaliate, and send Kaela sprawling. Her pain resonates within me as well. Kalleron, throws a spell – I know not what – and darts off to the southwest. A good plan. I jump down from the tents and head northeast, toward the tower. Hopefully the others realize the futility of the situation and follow suit.

As I come around the corner of a tent, I see one of the larger angels enclose itself in its wings. Light begins to emanate from its body, and a bright flash erupts. Golden blades flash, burning with white, searing heat, and they strike Luc. Again, his pain resonates within. I dash for the stage, sliding underneath the wooden planks. With their wings, they should be unable to reach here. Quietly, I make my way under the structure towards the slave pen. We need a distraction and I can think of nothing better than eighty slaves running rampant through the camp. Hopefully the others clue in and we can make our way to our destination, the Clock of Midnight.

I emerge directly in front of the cage. Tinkering with the lock, it opens with ease. Never thought that skill would be as useful as it is right now. The slaves look up, startled at the commotion and sudden opening of their confinement.

“Run! Go, you’re free! Hurry up and escape!”

But not a soul moves. They are too dejected. They realize there is no where for them to escape to. They are no longer willing to fight their fate. Defeated I make my way out of the pen and see Stormlit by the gap between the larger tent and the platform. She is engaged with an angel, and looks bad.

“Stormlit! Get under the platform! They can’t follow you there!”

She looks up and sees me, motioning in front of her. She quickly launches herself underneath, briefly escaping her tormenters. After a few minutes I see her across from me and that’s when I get the idea to hide amongst the slaves. I motion for her to get into the cage, and seeing a gap in the angels patrol around the platform, scurries out and dives in with me. We huddle into a corner. Not knowing how to best avoid the angel’s detection, I go for the full immersion camouflage and soil myself. That should help me blend in!

Stormlit and I stay in the cage for a few hours, hopefully long enough to discourage our pursuers. She tells me a bit about herself and the history of Luc. Not a lot, but enough to fill in some important gaps I had. She is calm still, despite all that is going on. Her confidence in herself and her sorted past are intriguing. She is strong, her will tried and tested. She is someone I can rely on…

Someone I need to rely on…

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Have I Failed?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ww9JS8dJ9fY

In a slavepen, chased by divine monsters that falsely use the title angel, I have lost all my charges.

The heavy metal ship crashed, and reptiles disappeared. We ran afoul of slowing scarecrow in endless fields of poisonous weeds. Katryol I assumed disappeared with the reptiles until bolts not my own felled enemies.Sheer numbers made me resort to hand-to-hand. The butt of my crossbow glistened with walking corpse slime.

Awaiting us was the clocktower seen first by me as a trinket in the tiefling madhouse.

Undead killed Luc, and I…
He came to life again, giving hope to party members. The twins excelled with a magic hand holding my assailant, a spell making them hit like newborn mephits, and Kaela’s blades sticking in their backs.

A few times I lost memory, regaining myself with Luc’s hand on my shoulder with concern. Another time Kalleron is speaking Primordial with a cocky style as if we were in the middle of a long conversation. Luc asks of the writings of his parents in the Meugges. I fear what his mother could do.

We enter a place tied to the City of Brass. A part of me wishes to return. The evil that torments us is present in the image of Lady Miria, who in my books never came across as so little, yet so dangerous.

She summons horrid Astral Sea beings that disperse my charges and Katryol, and offer no room for discussion as I try to stand with weapon down against them.

I run, and now I notice Katryol. He had beckoned me to the slave pens, but with the chorus of angels and the brightness they cast I don’t know how I got here.

I speak of my feelings, because as I retake my old form and sit in the pens awaiting any number of sad endings, I see no reason not to speak of my own thoughts. I failed as a protector, Magister Tex will not be pleased. I failed to maintain my freedom, for not embracing it I imagine, I failed as a teacher, for Luc seemed lost in front of Nightchill, and I failed as friend to all those I travel with.

Sl prison

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Adventure Journal of Luc Urban, entry 13
fool

We were attacked as Kalleron made the rune to send us back to K’Rul’s time. Someone who was after Kaela came into the hold with us and summoned the same elemental creatures from Coral Beach. We fended them off as Kalleron finished the rune, and then with a swipe he broke the circle and everything went dark.

When we could see again we were in a field of ash, surrounded by giant long-tailed lizard creatures. Kalleron took out a pot K’Rul gave us and we spread some kind of musk over ourselves. The lizards breathed in deep and then we could understand them. One of them, a lesser captain, called us Sky Lord and told us to follow her as she led us to something called a helipod. We were ambushed on the way by short-tailed lizards and a giant dragon-like creature, and lost all but the lesser captain. The creatures that exist in that time are not things to take lightly.

We finally reached the helipod, and I never want to ride anything like that again. I understand how Katryol must have felt on the ship. But there were no soothing feel of waves beneath our feet as the helipod took off up into the air, above the clouds, humming with energy and making a constant, dull hmmm sound. I kept my eyes closed for most of the ride and tried to meditate the way Stormlit taught me.

I finally opened my eyes when we were told we were near our destination. A giant mountain floated in the sky before us, surrounded by ships that dwarfed ours. I’ve never seen anything like it. We docked inside and I gladly left the helipod, only to be confronted by even bigger sentries than the lesser captain. They had strange saw-toothed halberds, and as they led us towards the Hive Mother I saw some with strange ceramic packs on their backs. The lesser captain told us that the short-tails followed a different path, while they went with technology. What kind of technology gives them flying ships not powered by magic, though?

Our meeting with their queen was not what I expected. She wasn’t what I expected. Just being in her presence did strange things to us. Katryol acted like a dog in heat, and I’m not sure I faired much better. Most of our encounter with her is a haze as I spent most of the time trying to keep myself from acting like Katryol. I remember the food she gave us was refreshing and sweet, and eventually she sent her warriors out and told the Sky Lord to approach. Kalleron and Katryol kept bickering about who exactly was the Sky Lord, so I volunteered myself.

The moment I stepped up on her dais something hit me and forced itself into my memories, laid all my thoughts and feelings bare and left me collapsed on my knees. She went through my head and there was nothing I could do to stop her. When she finished she told us all to approach, and said she knew we weren’t the Sky Lord. Kaela did her best to bluff her, and Katryol did his best to bed her, and somehow she agreed to help us. She sent us away with her daughter, and we boarded another helipod that dwarfed the one from before.

Outside everyone prepared for war. The queen planned an all-out strike, a suicide mission, to take on the short-tails. We had one flying mountain and hundreds of ships. They had thirty mountains and thousands of ships. But she told us we were the key to their ultimate victory, and after the battle joined we flew off towards something called the Rend, which is apparently what the Abyss is called there.

Entering the Rend was a disaster. It looked like a huge rip in the sky, and the moment we went through it all the lizard-people passed out and the helipod began to fall. I tried to stabilize it at the helm while Kalleron and Katryol pushed buttons and pulled levers. But the ground came up too quickly, and the last thing I remember was the rending of metal as we smashed into earth.

When we came to none of the lizard-people were around, as though they’d never even been there. We left the ship and found ourselves in a large field of red lotus, which Kalleron says are good for poisons. There was no light for me to see by, but in the distance they told me they could see the Clock of Midnight. I started to pull Kalleron that way, but he forced me to calm down and led us through the paths between the high stalks of the flowers.

Unfortunately, we were ambushed again, this time by a giant machine and weird scarecrows that exploded in a cloud of poison. There were also other creatures that could immobilize us, and we barely made it through the fields. I half-exhausted myself trying to fight the large machine, and we still had a ways to go to reach the Clock. Strangely, just before we left, one of the scarecrows called my name and told me to turn back. It wasn’t even worth our time. Do our enemies really think we’d fall for something like that?

Once out of the fields we ran into yet another fight, and I almost didn’t make it. Undead creatures closed in on us, and while the larger one hurt more, the small ones had a gaze that could instantly fell an enemy. One tried it on me but I resisted, although it greatly hurt. I couldn’t resist the other one, though, and fell. I don’t know how I managed to bring myself back, but I tricked our enemies (and Stormlit) into thinking I was down for good. Stormlit got surrounded by two of the small things and they kept dazing her, and Kalleron nearly lost to the gaze of another if not for Stormlit intervening at the last moment. We managed to take down one of the small creatures before the large one came at me and touched my chest with its hand. I don’t even remember going down, but some time later—I don’t know how long—I woke up gasping. I struggled to my feet to help finish the battle, and somehow we killed all five undead creatures, but I was spent long before that happened.

With nowhere to rest and our goal in sight, we continued on towards a shanty town just before the Clock. Katryol snuck in to check things out while we all stayed back. Even then my head was light, and it was all I could do to stay awake. I asked Stormlit about the Muegges, about what was written there about my parents in a vain attempt to focus my mind. She told me what was written of my Lady Mother, Aunt Shira and Uncle Sucaeva, about how great they are and how worthy of respect they are. And yet when I asked about Mother she simply said she was a good rogue. It shouldn’t bother me, especially not now when so much more is going on, but it kept nagging me as we waited and I tried to recover what little strength I had. I don’t know what happened between them, but it seems Tex hates my mother, from his dismissal of any traits I inherited from her, to outright leaving her out of stories about the Shadow Hunters.

…I hope she’s alright. Please let her be alright. If I’ve doomed Lencia with my foolishness, then at least let my mother survive and I don’t care what Katryol has to say. Yes, I agreed to sacrifice the lives of strangers to get here but this is an entire city and my family and I can’t do anything from here and I walked right into that trap! I’m so stupid!

* a mess of angry scribbles *

This isn’t working. I thought that if I went through everything that’s happened, if I sorted out my thoughts, it could help like Stormlit’s meditations do. But I can’t think of anything other than that I’ve ruined everything! I wanted to confront the Eladrin, I really did. I thought… I don’t know what I thought, but if I could convince them they were wrong, if I could tell them I understand their devotion to Nightchill but that it’s the wrong side all the same… I don’t know anymore. But I wanted to be seen. I didn’t think they’d attack me, but I didn’t think things through, either.

And I never thought Nightchill would be with them. I couldn’t do anything when I saw her face. I just stood there like a fool and let her dissolve Stormlit’s spell and control me. It was worse than when the Hive Mother burrowed through my mind. Nightchill took my memories and she laughed. And now she’s off to Lencia to raze the city and kill a blue dragon(?!) and we’re exhausted in hostile territory and I nearly got us all killed by her angels because I can’t get over my need for revenge.

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Just Let it Ring

Boltsofthe dreaded dawn

Deep within the porous rocks that line the west coast of the Southern Meugges, sunlight is but a myth. Other lights filled with shades of green and yellow emerge magically and are joined down different cavernous tunnels by blue and red lighting. The tunnels become smooth, and square off, as a hidden series of buildings take form out hexagonal windows.

Vacant rooms line either side of one hallway, and in the second-to-last room on the right, a goliath in wizard robes is drinking a glowing elixir calmly as he converses with what most see as the worst kind of people: a drow.

The drow, with long cape and two swords at his side, is Magister Tex. Tex is known too his fellows as a smiling teacher, expressing confidence, and at the same time, sinister intentions. With the goliath Lusk, no smile is shared.

Lusk speaks “The one whose name I will not speak, given the effect she had last time I did” He rubs the back of his head “she won’t speak to you then?”

Tex lowers his glass “Yes, which exhausts my last attempt, short of joining Seucava and that rest at helping the pink ox.” He rubs his lightly bearded chin. “This blade of hers also won’t give up the curse it has on her.”

In a strange silver light, a well-known blade that is black as raven and sharp as a shark’s tooth floats in a slow spin. It is eyed by both conversationalists.

“I have decided this is folly, and too much of our time has been diverted to a cause that more and more seems lost. Tell the LFD to move from Lencia, to the Questless Forest. I will contact the child of Miria directly and tell him to abandon his quest. If he refuses, I will offer the blade of his mother to him so he can go down fighting. I hope he says yes, all of you are precious to me and if Stormlit falls, it will pain me greatly.”

Tex sets about contacting Luc, a task he used to do with two robed figures with shiny metal teeth, but they are nowhere to be seen. He magically finds the husk of a scarecrow that is near his target, and attempts to be direct as possible in telling the youth to abandon hope. The scry however goes unheeded.

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Adventure Journal of Luc Urban, entry 12
choices

I know I’m on the right path, now. Gods help us, but we have to be.

I had another dream last night, and everyone else was there, even Katryol. We were stranded in a desert, and in the distance we could just make out some shapes. Kalleron yelled at me to be cautious, but I still hurried forward to see what was going on. There was a sandstorm, though, and I couldn’t make out anything distinct until we were nearly upon the figures.

Seven young girls sat huddled together, all but one no more than eight years old. The older one was perhaps twelve, with bright pink hair and a calm voice as she recited a familiar story of a brave paladin. I called out to my Lady Mother, but she must not have heard me in the storm, and just continued her story. She used to read this to my sisters when they were young. I remember taking it from her bookshelf and reading it, imagining myself as the paladin.

She finished and started to tell a new story, and I called out again, needing her to hear me. She stopped and looked over at me, but there was no recognition in her eyes. I called to her again as the winds soared around us.

“Are you my paladin?”

She asked me that. I half-heard Kalleron yell at me not to answer, that it might be a trap, but before she’d even finished I was shouting yes. But the winds picked up again, and the sand blocked my vision, and then I woke up.

Tonight Kalleron is going to make the rune to send us back to K’Rul’s warren, and I will be right there with him. I’ll accept whatever punishment I must later.

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