Adasunu waited outside the Temple of the Raven Queen, pacing back and forth. “Where are they?” he wondered. It was well past eight, the sun already fully in the morning sky. Few people passed by the temple this early, but Adasunu couldn’t risk any chances. Sticking to the shadows, hood still pulled over his distinctive ears, he waited. “Something will have to be done about this,” he thought. “Drastic changes for my Blades are sure to come.”
Luc was up early, eager to get a head-start on the day. Adasunu had asked for a morning meeting to explore options at the Raven Queen’s temple, but he knew the chances lay better in asking the local historians and librarians. “That ego-driven Drow can just wait for me,” rationed Luc. “I’ll just make sure I’m there before midday. Technically it will still be morning.” Splashing water over his face to wake himself up, Luc mentally sifted through the information he had come across. The sword was connected to the Raven Queen, but was actually part of the deceased god, Nethril. The sword trapped or captured souls when it struck them. He needed to know where they could go and figure out a way to get to wherever they went. His mother could help him with that last part.
As he left House D’Urban the town bells rang, signaling eight o’clock. The sun was peaking over the city walls to the east, casting long shadows along the ground before him. A cool morning breeze stirred his cloak as he passed the Guardhouse, Lieutenant D’Ouros already hard at work sorting through the morning assignments. Luc waved as he strode by, drawing a welcoming smile from Bren. “He’s a good and loyal man,” admired Luc, “Well respected, too. Maybe I’ll join the Guard after I find Mother.” A pair of songbirds chirped overhead as he made his way through the city streets towards the library.
“Today is going to be a good day.”
Nethri cracked his back as he slipped out of bed, a gratifying shudder rippling through his body. Craning his neck, stretching the muscles into compliance, he lumbered over to his dresser. Pulling out his robes, he pulled them over his night clothes, tying them off with the satin belt. One last pop of his back sounded with a quick jerky motion.
“There we go,” said the Dwarf with a sigh.
He entered his dining area to the smell of grilled bacon and Meiri’s scramble – a mixture of pheasant eggs with diced ham and sausage, fried together with fresh peppers and onions from the morning market. A hint of garlic to be discerned, which told Nethri one thing – Meiri was in a good mood. Her cooking was always a reflection of her moods; the better they were the more spices and flavor made it into her meals. Luckily for Sir Nethri, she wasn’t prone to bouts of sadness.
“Splendid breakfast, Meiri! Will you stay and join me this morning?”
Meiri poked her head out through the kitchen entry, her face aglow. “’fraid not this morning, Sir Nethri. I have much to do, and your clothes won’t wash themselves! So much earth cakes into that fabric. You did enjoy yourself quite well, didn’t you?”
There was a teasing reprimand in the older maid’s voice, which caused Nethri to chuckle. “Ay, that I did, that I did. Well then, I will not keep you.” Meiri bowed quickly before returning to her duties. Nethri picked up a fork and plunged it into the egg scramble and began shoveling the delicious morsel into his mouth. Specs of food fell and littered his beard, adding to the childlike immaturity of eating that Dwarves are infamously known for. Not that anyone every said so much about it in the presence of one. Unless you wanted a thorough beating.
The town bell chimed in the distance as Nethri approached the steps of the temple, the tenth and final ring echoing through the streets. Adasunu emerged from the shadows of a nearby building, striding confidently up to the Dwarf.
“You’re rather late for a morning meeting, Sir Dwarf,” said Adasunu dismissively. “Can’t be helped, I guess, with those legs of yours. Now, if you will just go inside and get what we need…”
Nethri ignored the racial comment, mostly because he was ignoring the Drow. Glancing around, he asked, “Where’s Luc?”
“…stay and wait for him. Hmmm? Oh, who knows, you Lencians seem to share a lot in common,” batting away the question with his hand. “So, if you’ll be heading in. We are pressed for time, you know?”
“Not without Luc,” Nethri said, forcing a short, cold laugh. “You are aware that I am not a disciple of…her. They won’t let me near anything of importance in there.”
“Foolishness! You are of the Houses. Certainly your can use your substantial influence to get what needs to be gotten.”
“Aye, that I am. But I don’t get a particularly warm feeling-” Nethri stopped short in his sentence, looking past the Drow. Coming from the north was the young D’Urban, looking like he was in no particular hurry. “Aye, Luc! Glad ta see you here.” Turning back to Adasunu, Nethri beamed, “Now we can head in – together – like companions should.”
The interior of the temple mirrored what Nethri imagined the realm of the Raven Queen would always be – dark, desolate, essentially empty, and not very inviting. He closed his eyes quickly and thanked Dumathoin for his blessing; Nethri couldn’t imagine having been blessed by her. As they entered, the door clanged behind them. Startled, they spun quickly, Nethri’s hand reaching to the Dawn Rune on the front of his armor. Before them stood a man, a priest by the looks of it, who greeted them cordially. He exchanged a few words with the Drow as Nethri concentrated as the sparse number of people inside. Aside from the priest, there were only four others. “Might as well ask.”
Nethri approached a man sitting alone, near the entrance, who seemed to be silently praying. Getting closer, Nethri understood why he was alone; the man reeked of feces and urine, a foul-smell that enhanced the tattered heap of a being that was before him. Clapping the man on the shoulder, Nethri engaged him in conversation. “What is it you ask for?”
“For deliverance from this horrid world.”
Taken aback by the morbid answer, Nethri tried to perk the man’s attitude. “Surely your life is not as bad as it seems. What troubles you?”
Standing up, a whiff of the man’s stench knocks Nethri back, causing bile to rise in his throat. What Nethri saw caused him to stagger back again. Where there were supposed to be eyes, empty, vacant holes stared back. “Oh, um, well…” Nethri paused and recollected himself, “…would you happen to know where the temple library is?”
A pitiful moan escaped the man’s throat. “Why would I care where that is?”
“I, uh, dunno. Maybe historical references and maps interest you?” Nethri replied, slightly befuddled.
The man’s head dropped in his hands. “Why am I tormented so? Please, just end the pain!” Sobbing quickly followed as he slumped back into the pew.
Unsure of what to do, Nethri hesitated a moment before turning from the man. “I should just leave. There are no answers here.” He was quickly joined by Luc who had been examining the walls around the perimeter of the interior. “Find anything, D’Urban?”
Luc shook his head as they headed to the front door. Apparently both of them came up empty-handed. Just before they reached the threshold Adasunu appeared at their side, though he seemed distracted. Luc and Nethri didn’t seem to mind.
Once outside, Adasunu asked if they had found anything, to which they both replied they hadn’t. His own suggestion stymied, the Drow started issuing orders again. Nethri sighed and took a step back; the sense about Luc was evident.
“…and once we locate some adequate supplies we should be able to…“
Coolly, definitively holding his temperature in check, Luc addressed the orders of Adasunu, “I’ll have you know that I’ve already taken action to learn about the Raven Queen’s domain. If you’ll just accompany me to the library –“
“…board a ship and be on our way.” Adasunu paused briefly. “Now, what would a library know about such things? Just do what I tell you and we’ll get this taken care of. Besides, you don’t have time to dally on such things.” The berating felt similar to that of a mother and her think-headed child. Nethri took another step back.
“I’m not sure why you’re here exactly, Adasunu,” replied Luc, through gritted teeth, “nor why you’re a part of the Blades?”
“Well,” the Drow admonished, “there has always been a member of the LFD in the Blades. And seeing as how Stormlit isn’t here right now, that duty falls to me. Besides, what would you do without me? You need someone to help you along.”
Luc’s temper was boiling close to its limit. ”There are no more Blades. They’re all gone. Kalleron, Kaela, Katryol, Stormlit – they’re all gone! Gone, not here, it’s just me, there are no more Blades!”
“Don’t be silly. You’re here, I’m here, Sir Nethri is here. We’ll do well as long as you listen-“
“Whoa, don’t bring me inta this,” stammered Nethri.
“Who put you in charge?! What makes you think this is your problem?!” shouted Luc, completely lost in a rage. “What makes you think you know everything?”
Adasunu stood stoically at Luc. “I am here to help you. You are too young and quick tempered. And you are not decisive. Leader’s need to be constantly relied upon. You run back to your mother’s skirt at the first sign of trouble. You do not trust yourself enough to be a leader.”
“And you are too arrogant to be one,” chimed Nethri.
The Drow turned upon the Dwarf, but said nothing. Nethri simply looked on, with a slight shrug.
“Ok, Luc, I will take the Dwarf and retrieve your documents from the library. Can you use your influence to secure transport for us? We will meet at the docks in two hours to leave on the afternoon.” Nethri gave Luc a slight nod. Luc, still fuming, closed his eyes and inhaled deeply before slowly exhaling. His shoulders relaxed and he lifted his head up, staring at Adasunu.
“Fine.” With that, Luc returned to the Houses, hoping his family could assist in the matters of transport.
“Come, Sir Nethri, if you care to learn about where we are heading. If that is of interest to you?”
With a grunt, Nethri followed Adasunu to the library.
The docks were bustling, with sailors and Marines scurrying about like ants. The massive vessel, The Avenger, dominated the harbor. An enormous warship, House D’Urban had apparently spared no expense for you Luc’s journey. But the chaos unsettled Nethri, the efficiency of the locale abysmal. Men ran around, barking orders at one another, curses flying in response. Crates were being hoisted up with a jumble of ropes and pulleys. Planks bowed under the weight of men moving ballistae onto the decks as the tethered sails cracked in the sea breeze atop the wooden masts. Nethri sat back and took in the sight, impressed that no one was killed beneath a crate. While standing there a familiar voice found him. Turning, a Rogue bounded before him, waving his hand wildly. Sir D’Eirene greeted his former companion and informed him that he would be assigned to the voyage. After some casual catch-up, and a brief inquiry about Maaya D’Ulrich, he bounded off, leaving the Dwarf as he was. “What a peculiar fellow.”
The Captain bellowed and the crew rushed up the planks. Nethri grabbed his shield and slung it over his shoulder before picking up his craghammer. Reaching the upper deck of the ship, the scene became a compact version of the docks. It was the same number of people bustling about, just in a tenth of the size area. Nethri groaned and headed to the lodgings. Inside was just as impressive with wide corridors and roomy sleeping quarters. Dropping off his ancillary gear, he headed back topside just in time for the departure.
Moving out of the harbor and into the wide ocean waters, the ship took off, accelerating casually as the winds picked up. As they moved further and further from Lencia, the ship continued to accelerate, to the point where it felt like the vessel was flying above the waters. The unnatural speed with what he was traveling upset Nethri’s stomach and he had to hurry to the railings to pay his respects.
After a few hours had passed, Nethri became accustomed to the speed at which he was traveling, as did most of the sailors and Marines. A rush of wind passed over his barren scalp, making him glad he routinely shaved his head. Some of the longer haired men ate as much hair as they had breakfast. “Troublesome thing, hair,” thought the Dwarf.
The journey became almost relaxing as the crew established a routine. Adasunu was busy observing the Wizards and their propulsion ritual, and Luc was tending to the tomes from the library. Things were calm.
“Somet’in’ on da aft, ’proachin’ fast!”
The warning bell signaled from the crow’s nest atop the mast. Sailors jumped into action immediately, as the Captain issued more orders. “Increase the speed! Wizards, put s’more wind in those sails!” Two of the Wizards stood up to join their cohort. Grabbing the rail in front of them with one hand, they raised their other toward the mail sail. It stretched as the riggings groaned under the strain. The ship jolted and picked up speed.
“No good, Captain! She’s still gainin’!”
Another order and another Wizard joined. The sail stretched further out beneath the addition of more magical energy. The vessel lurched once more, but still they were gained on. Another Wizard, then another, and another until the ship was racing along at fifty knots. Sailors and Marines alike grabbed a hold of anything to make sure they did not fly off the deck. But still they were gained upon.
“Brace fer impact!”
The warning came too late as four massive tentacles rose out of the sea and wrapped about the ship. The ship crashed back into the water as it had begun hydroplaning at forty knots. The sudden stop had thrown most of the crew to the ground, sprawled in all manners of unmanly positions. From the starboard side aft, a gushing of water and clacking of jaws could be heard. Nethri looked on in horror as the head of a giant kraken emerged above the upper deck, the peak of its mantle reaching the highest point of The Avenger’s main mast. Crew leapt out of the way as its arms crashed down upon the deck, causing panic and havoc.
Nethri stood up and steadied himself. Removing his shield and unsheathing his craghammer he hesitated at the sight. Grown, battle-hardened men, screamed like helpless women, scurrying about like ants who just had their home smashed. “Useless, good-for-nothings!” Nethri bee-lined for the tentacle closest to him, his battle-plan formulating with each step. “Take out the tentacles if you can, but work to the head; that’s where damaging it will be the most effective.” Just as he reached the first tentacle though, it slid away from the ship. Behind him, he heard Adasunu shout.
“Damn incompetent ‘lock!” screamed Nethri, watching his prey slide further down the boat and out of his reach. “What’d you think you’re doing!?” But the yelling fell on deaf ears, Adasunu already casting spells at another tentacle. “By Dumathoin’s hand, I can’t even yell at the bugger.” Infuriated, Nethri stormed across the deck to a tentacle on the starboard side, frustrated at his escaping prey.
Luc was closer to the aft, keeping another tentacle at bay, while Marines manned the ballistae and fired at the creature. Aiming proved futile though as the ship rocked and heaved under the will of the kraken. The tentacle Luc was fighting seemed to be toying with him, teasing him closer and closer to the edge of the ship. His feet slipped and he had to concentrate fully on maintaining his balance to save himself from being hurled overboard.
Nethri reared back and brought down his craghammer with a massive amount of force, just as the ship lurched. The weapon passed through air and shattered the rail of the deck. “Damn ship’ll go under if we don’t get this thing offa us.” Catching his balance, the Dwarf raised his shield against the slimy tentacle. The blow sent him sliding back, but no damage was done. “Damn, that was close!” Nethri, trigger his Dawn Rune on his breastplate, surrounding himself with an aura of power. Suddenly the tentacle shot up, black smoke trickling off of its surface; Adasunu’s spell had struck.
“That’s twice, Sir Nethri. Are you sure you’ve fought before?”
“So help me, if this kraken doesn’t kill you, I will!” The Runepriest swung again at the meaty part of the tentacle, his gemmed craghammer biting into the soft, squishy flesh. The kraken clacked loudly from the aft, clearly disapproving the strike. The tentacle came crashing down on the hull of the ship and Nethri dodged, rolling out of the way, making his way closer to the rear of the vessel. As he sprung to his feet, he heard the swoosh of ballistae flying through the air. The sound they made as they settled into the spongy flesh of the tentacle was similar to the sound a child made slurping up the juices of a peach. The kraken clacked again, withdrawing wounded limb back into the water. “Three more to go.”
Surveying the chaos on deck, Nethri was stunned he could not locate Luc. Glancing all along the upper deck, from port side to starboard, there was no Fighter, no swords capturing the sunlight, no glint of armor basking in the melee. Then he heard Luc’s voice, yelling at the beast, but it seemed far away. Tracking the sound, Nethri found him, struggling against the same tentacle he had been keeping at bay, hovering twenty feet above the ship’s deck.
“Again?!” exclaimed Luc, “Why am I always grabbed by things?!” He quickly sheathed his shortsword, freeing a hand to grab the riggings. With his longsword, he struck at the beast, repeatedly plunging the blade deep into the tentacle. The kraken, unfortunately, seemed to be alright with this arrangement.
Adasunu weaved another spell and sent it upon the kraken, striking it where a gaping wound had been carved by Luc’s ferocious strikes. Luc cried out in astonishment, “What are you doing?! I’m right here!”
“You can thank me later!”
The kraken clacked louder, making almost a high-pitched whine, before striking the ship a heavy blow. The ship tilted hard to the left, throwing sailors through the air. Adasunu teleported toward the central mast to brace against lurch of the ship. Nethri moved himself over to the port side where a few of the Marines had managed to tie down a tentacle. The Dwarf’s eyes widened at the prospect of pain he was going to inflict. As he readied his strike, the tentacle broke free of its bindings and wrapped around Nethri, who immediately lowered his stance. “Not today, beast!” The Dwarf matched the pull of the kraken and stood his ground. In the proximity of the kraken now, Nethri bashed with his craghammer, causing the clacks to increase. “Well, this is convenient!” As he continued to pummel the tentacle, the Marines finally managed to hit the head of the kraken with the ballistae, sending a quiver through the creature that Nethri wish he hadn’t felt. Then, without warning, the tentacle unlatched and moved further down the aft, over of the Dwarf’s reach. “What the…?”
“That’s three!” shouted Adasunu.
Not wanting to waste a moment on thanks, Nethri ran toward Luc. The Fighter was starting to lose consciousness and had already lost one of his swords to the frothy sea below. Closing his eyes, Nethri searched for Adasunu’s vitality. Finding it, he increased his concentration.
Withdrawing a small portion of the Drow’s life force, he shifted it toward Luc, careful to direct the flow into him rather than the kraken. The transfer complete, Luc’s eyes slowly opened. He was about to say something when he suddenly was dropped beneath the crest of the ship. The tentacle, now free of an object, went after Adasunu. The Warlock teleported away just as the limb would have grabbed him. Landing safely, he focused on the nearest visible part of the kraken and slung a spell at it. The beast clacked again as it pulled the tentacle back into the safe confines of the sea.
“Two down. We might win this!” Nethri, reinvigorated, ran to the edge of the ship to check on Luc. Luckily, he was treading water. Unluckily, the kraken wanted him back. The Dwarf quickly cracked the diamond in his cincture and sent the opaque mist in Luc’s direction. “Make it…make it.” Luc inhaled the mist a second before the tentacle wrapped around him and pulled him back in the air. Satisfied, Nethri turned to Adasunu to monitor his life force. As he was about to sense it, the Drow disappeared, teleporting again right toward him. Startled, Nethri waited for him to reappear, but heard nothing but a splash behind him. Looking back into the seawater, the Dwarf saw the Warlock, floating precariously close to the kraken. “Damn thing doesn’t even know how to use his power! What kind of fool teleports off a ship?!”
Adasunu knew the kraken sensed his presence in the water. He also knew he didn’t have much time. Thinking quickly, he conjured a shadow as the tentacle came crashing down upon him. As Nethri looked on in horror, the Drow disappeared beneath an explosion of blue, frothy water.
“Ah, solid footing. Much better.” Turning around Nethri saw the Drow on the other side of the ship, a grin evident even through his masked face. “I’ll say, that was pretty ingenious, even for me!” Nethri stood, mouth agape, as the Warlock brushed some pellets of water from his soaked robes. “Now, now, Sir Nethri, gawking won’t get anything done. Let’s be rid of this beast and be on our way.”
Nethri stood there a moment trying to comprehend what he just witnessed. Surely the Drow was lying in the sea, perhaps even stuck to one of the tentacles. But instead, he was walking over the deck as though nothing happened at all, weaving a symbol in the air so nonchalantly that Nethri began to doubt that he even saw him in the water. If it wasn’t for the water dripping from his robes, he was pretty sure he could convince himself otherwise.
Refocusing on the battle at hand, Nethri spun back toward the tentacle grasping Luc and struck with his craghammer. The tentacle writhed out of the way, and thrust Luc into the path of the blow, forcing Nethri to adjust and abandon his strike. “I can’t do anything as long as Luc is in the way.” But Adasunu could. Another spell shot out from the Warlock’s hands as the kraken clacked again. Nethri, sensing his usefulness dwindle at the fight with the tentacle, reassessed his position. He was close enough now to the kraken’s head, which still loomed over the aft of the ship. Luc was still thrashing in the tentacle and Nethri, sent a stream of vitality to sustain his life force.
The Dwarf rushed to the kraken’s head and brought his weapon just below the right eye of the beast. Clacking sounds rang out beneath Nethri as the creature circled from the starboard aft to the port aft, dodging the Marines ballistae attacks and proving troublesome in its pursuit. Nethri leapt across fallen cargo and dodged a barrel as the kraken clacked again, the tentacle to Nethri’s right sinking back into the ocean. “One more and then we’re done with this foolishness.” As he prepared to engage the monster an impish creature bounded up next to him, taking a place alongside the rail.
“A friend to help you out!” shouted Adasunu.
“I’m going to kill him…,” muttered Nethri, well beneath his breath.
The captain of the Marines was still barking orders, encouraging his men to continue the assault. Another bolt from the ballistae hit its mark, causing the kraken to shudder. The clacking sounds started to slow and grow fainter, as were the movements of the monster.
Off the starboard side, Luc could be seen being picked up and dropped constantly into the sea, each blow to the kraken seeming to release the unfortunate fighter, but the great beast refused to let him escape to the safety of the ship. Nethri struck repeatedly with his weapon, a brownish-green ooze expelling from the gashes in the mantle. Behind him was Adasunu, continuing to berate the kraken with spells. “Gotta admit, we made a good tandem,” thought Nethri.
Luc fought back from the brink of death in the kraken’s grip, showering the last tentacle with blow after furious blow, ooze jettisoning everywhere. The tentacle squeezed tighter and Luc knew he wouldn’t have more than one strike left in him. “Better make it count,” thought the Fighter. With the last of his strength, he hurled his sword towards the Kraken’s head, aiming for a wound newly opened by Adasunu.
The kraken reared and let out a low bellow before it started to sink. Tips of its tentacles pierced the surface of the water only to fall harmlessly back into the sea. Nethri, recognizing what was happening, rushed to the side of the ship Luc was on and spotted the young D’Urban floating, face down, near the hull. Quickly drawing on some of his life force, Nethri pushed it on Luc’s floating body. A second passed before his arms flailed wildly trying to keep him afloat. Grabbing some snapped rigging rope, Nethri lowered it down to Luc.
“Hurry up an’ grab it, lest you be taken under with the kraken!”
Willing his fingers to tighten, Luc managed to take hold of the rope and secure himself. With a strained effort, Nethri managed to hoist Luc up and over the railing, where they both collapsed on the deck, breathing heavily. Around them, sailors were already taking note of the damage and issuing repair team to various spots around the ship. Nethri opened his eyes at the sound of water-logged leather boots approaching.
“Well, that was fun. Now, if you two will stop lying down on the job, we Blades have a town to reach.” A sword clanged to the deck beside them. “Oh, and you dropped this.” With that, Adasunu spun on his heel and walked off.
“I’m gonna kill him.”
Nethri nodded in agreement.