Picking Up The Trail
Delagraad Campaign


Delagraad Campaign

The fog rolled softly over the exposed roots of the trees, cascading over their chipped bark like gently lapping waves of the ocean’s rim. Worming in out of the murky waters of the mire, the roots rose and fell like the mythical serpent of the seas. Dark green algae and lichen hung loosely off their arches, lifeless tendrils draping across the landscape like curtains hiding a window’s view. It made the trek into the depths of the mire even more treacherous, a journey of caution and apprehension as no one knew what existed behind those troublesome shades.

The lantern’s light carried only a few yards beyond the steps of it’s holder, unable to penetrate the thickness of the fog and chase away the night. While this seemed initially a troublesome inconvenience, as the voyage deeper into the mire went, the more substantial the realization became that this was beneficial. As no unwanted attention was garnered and no unwelcome visitors interrupted to sniff and pry about, it became clear that the limits of the lantern were more a blessing than a curse. Traveling was slower, yet safer, something all set foot in the mire would pray for.

Amidst the faded yellow glow of the lantern’s light emerged a dim, iridescent glimmer of an emerald green light. It cut through the haze with ease, though its shine did not illuminate far beyond the outstretched palm of the hand that held it. The light rolled over itself, rotating gently in the flesh, as though searching for something. This continued mostly in silence, the plop of lichen in water or the creak of a branch the only greetings of the mire. Soon, the light yielded to a singular direction, rocked quickly once more, and was flushed out as the hand clasped over it.

The course changed, the figure leapt from the arching root they were perched on in the new direction. Occasionally, a mat of algae proved treacherous, but the figure kept their balance as they cautiously plowed ahead. One hundred yards further in the new direction, the emerald light emerged once more and began its spinning dance. Once settled, it was snuffed out and the figure continued on through the mire’s night, disappearing into the folds of shadows.

The Past Comes Alive : Part 2
Delagraad Campaign

Lan emerged first, followed closely by the hooded man. The moon was near its apex and the monument from which they emerged was cloaked in its silvery light. As Lan stepped into the fresh air, an obvious weight off her shoulders, she noticed the runes along the perimeter of the obsidian structure beginning to radiate. The moonlight slowly transformed into the same deep purple of the mage’s symbols as a feeling of excitement and unease rose inside her.

“Hey, you! What do you think you’re doing?”

The woman’s voice erupted through the night like an explosion, startling Lan and causing her to drop the lantern. The light snuffed out almost as quickly as she wheeled toward the voice, daggers drawn. In the light of the moon, the loss of the lantern proved to only be a minor inconvenience as Lan quickly found her inquisitor. At seeing the source of the voice however, a devilish grin appeared on her face. The hooded man continued past, ignoring the situation in its entirety, as the woman spoke once more.

“If you play nice, I won’t have to kill you. Now tell me, what were you doing?”

“Lan, take care of this inconvenience. It seems we will not go undisturbed tonight. Watch the progress and report to me in Kalien. Do not fail me here. We can afford no more set-backs.”

The man left quickly, disappearing into the shadows of the woods. Lan, despite the sterness of his orders, never watched him go, her focus squarely on the woman charging in. Lan watched intently as she catapulted off a nearby boulder and flung herself through the air. Two sets of lips wet themselves moments before impact.

de Geffriel’s feint caught Lan off guard as she moved to parry her rapier’s high thrust. The rogue had not expected a leg swipe to happen so abruptly after the landing. In one swift motion, Lan found herself crashing to the ground with de Geffriel standing over her. She winced in pain as she felt a rib crack from the impact and could tell her breathing had become instantly more labored.

“It seems the pup has a new bitch,” she muttered through a bloody smile. “Where is the little tail-wagger now? Too scared to fight his own fights, he needs to send his nursing maids?”

de Geffriel stood over her, eyes burning in an unfamiliar anger. Her rapier glinted in the moonlight as it stared menacingly at Lan’s throat. “Last chance – what were you doing?”

Lan simply smiled – a soft, sweet, seductive smile. “It’s too bad, really. You…excite me.” In rapid movements, Lan kicked at de Geffriel’s leg while the other foot knocked aside her arm. Somersaulting backwards over her shoulder, she soon found herself upright, though still face to face with her assailant. Her smile grew wider. “As I said – excited.”

“No, don’t!” Stoyan and the others crashed through the woods and onto the hilltop clearing. “We need her alive to find Veth!”

Lan risked a glance and thrill exploded in her eyes. “Yes! Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! They’re here. This…this is perfect!” “In time, little puppy, you’ll find him in a matter of time.” Her laughter echoed off the trees as de Geffriel pressed the engagement, wasting no time waiting for the others.

A flurry of strikes erupted as the steel of de Geffriel’s rapier clanged and echoed sharply off of Lan’s two daggers. Both wielded their weapons with a finely honed expertise, though the Scout’s superior reach earned her an advantage. Their shadows performed an intricate ballet across the trees as the lantern’s light had reignited and flickered from the ground. It was a mesmerizing performance to behold – dancers at the peak of their careers, ebbing and flowing as a river does, with grace and beauty shared brilliantly with lethality and death.

Lan, realizing the precariousness of her position, backed herself up against the obsidian monument, one of her hands carefully guiding her along. A quick parry of de Geffriel’s strike and Lan seized her chance to retreat over the structure, buying her some much needed space. Her eyes darted to the base of the monument quickly before she locked in again on her assailant.

“You…have me…wet,” muttered Lan, with her same seductive smile. Her breathing was heavy and labored, her tunic dyed with fresh blood. But she still stood and looked ever so confident. “We should dance together some more, but in a more private location. Just the two of us.”

With a sudden move to the tree line, Lan drew de Geffriel away from the monument as Stoyan and the others continued to close in. The moon had risen now to its apex in the night, the fullness of its light covering the hilltop in a silvery river of illumination. The only sounds of the night were the clang of metal, the source of which continued to fade as the two women engaged closer and closer to the woods.

Stoyan, Alaiya, and Elias caught themselves mid-stride, about halfway across the hilltop, when they saw a shadow rise up from behind the obsidian monument. As it extended above the crest of the structure it seemed to thin out and fade from view before returning. It swayed in a gentle breeze that had picked up and, mimicking the lantern’s fickle light, halted de Geffriel’s aid.

“Now!” shouted Lan.

At the command, the shadow darted over the monument and a soft, green glow began to emanate from the carvings. The moonlight falling upon the hilltop seemed to swirl about them, glimmering in the night as though being broken into tiny shards of glass. And then the hilltop darkened, slowly, but visibly, as the silvered light coalesced upon the obsidian rock structure. The shadow righted itself and thrust into the sky above and, for the first time, the features of a man became visible. He stood, presiding over the monument, arms reaching high above his head, chanting to the moon. Fully immersed in a trance, the mage gave himself to his magick as a cloud of greys and purples rose from the surrounding ground.

The fight between Lan and de Geffriel continued, with the latter only vaguely aware that something was happening behind her. Relentlessly focused, she was determined not to let Lan escape her. Lan, however, was on the full defensive, merely baiting de Geffriel into positions that were momentarily disadvantageous. But Lan never sought to capitalize on the opportunities; she seemed more concerned with what her companion’s magick. This only served to infuriate de Geffriel as her anger began to blind her.

Behind them, Stoyan and the others could only watch in confused abjuration as a figure, cloaked in faded greys and purples, rose from the top of the monument. As the form took shape, it leapt to the ground and closed in on de Geffriel. It moved with such remarkable swiftness that no one had time to warn de Geffriel of the incoming attack.

The figure met de Geffriel the moment Lan had offset her footing. The blow was struck perfectly, piercing the Scout’s supple leather armor easily, tearing away a portion of her side. The attack caused de Geffriel to howl in pain as she found herself instantly flanked and dually pressed, fending off the attacks of Lan who had suddenly taken up the fight.

Stoyan, outraged, ran on instinct, still not fully comprehending what was happening. He said a prayer to Tempus as he unsheathed his longsword and the blade began to glow with a soft white light. “At least the gods have not abandoned us,” he thought as he charged forward. He reached de Geffriel’s newest assailant quickly, it’s back still turned, and swiped across it with his sword. Stoyan noticed that his weapon did not travel as expected, refusing to cut through the shadowy figure. Wrenching his sword free, he raised his blade defensively as the figure wheeled, bringing its own blade arcing through the air, meeting steel to steel. As blades clanged together, Stoyan’s stomach churned as a putrid, unholy smell, assaulted his nostrils. “Death,” concluded Stoyan, “This thing reeks of death.” Then the Paladin gasped as a gaunt and hallowed face began to materialize before him, lightened by the eerie glow of the monument.

“U…Uthal?!” exclaimed Stoyan in disbelief.

The large man merely stared down at him with cold, unwavering, lifeless eyes. His face, a mere void of Stoyan’s memories, was that of a statue, full of stoicism. The Rogue’s body flickered before Stoyan, the unnatural colors dancing upon his limbs like a marionette’s strings. Before the Paladin could recover from his shock, Uthal adjusted his own blade and made a low thrust, cutting into Stoyan’s upper thigh.

“Oh, you know this one, little puppy? Is he one of your pack? It would make it that much more satisfying knowing that we turned one of your own against you.” Lan’s mockery rang clearly, the devilishness of her words striking deep as she and Uthal pressed the two companions.

“Uthal, why? I thought you were looking for her,” Stoyan thrust his blade toward Lan, “to help us! Orcen, he sent you. Why –,” but Stoyan was cut short as a globe of magick hurtled past him at broke upon the left arm of the Rogue. Uthal stumbled back from the impact and fell, but uttered no words of pain, nor even a hint of agitation. Instead, what came to be was revelation for the companions. They were not fighting Uthal, not as they had known him. As the man stood, grey and purple mist twirled about the wound to his left shoulder, escaping like smoke from a fire. There was no sign of blood, no gimp in his movements, or concern for the injury. There was nothing to Uthal but those cold, lifeless eyes.

“The mage! He’s a Necromancer!” screamed Stoyan, the pervasion of life and death stumbling back towards him. “Kill him or we will fall to this foul power!” Stoyan’s eyes flared as his vigor returned. He charged back into the fray, but not at Uthal. “You’ll die for this!”

Lan easily side-stepped the Paladin’s charge, deftly avoiding the unbalanced attack. The charge, however, had served another purpose, exposing Lan to de Geffriel’s strike. The blow caught her in the back of the leg, and she dropped to a knee.

“Next,” she screamed. “I want to see their faces!”

She rolled out of the way and got to her feet, clearing favoring the injured leg. The Necromancer’s voice rose as she moved, and the light seemed to shake in the sky as runes adorning the monument glowed brighter.

Alaiya saw a second figure rise up off the surface of the obsidian structure, blue and grey mist willowing around its shadowed edges. The spell upon her fingers shot out, but her concentration lapsed and it struck Uthal with nothing more than a fizzle. As the new shadowy figure stepped down from the structure, it turned to face Alaiya, its face a dizzying blur of smoke. As the mists took form, a body emerged. Tanned leather armor appeared over slender legs and arms. The creature withdrew a longsword from a sheath and the air around the mists became to hum. A high-pitch sound erupted as the magicks in the air fought one another for supremacy until the mists gave way. Instantly the air grew chill and harsh, and Alaiya felt her body shiver involuntarily. The cold was biting, bypassing her clothing and causing goose bumps to rise on her skin. Then, she was forced backwards as a wall of cold struck her and Elias where they stood. Frost had formed on her clothing and she heard Elias mutter something about a draft. She did not have time enough to collect her thoughts before the figure strode forward – tall, powerful, and elegant. The mists, now a light hue of icy blue, continued to take shape, but, as had been with Uthal initially, the face was a formless mask.

As it neared Alaiya, sword raised, the last of its features began taking shape, revealing a young, beautiful woman. Her hair, tainted by the light blue of ice, was a deep brown, tied back in a braid that hung over her shoulder. Her eyes were vacant, but maintained a deep bluish-grey color. Wisps of smoke poured from their corners, giving the appearance of an ethereal being. The clothing was familiar as well, like those worn by the elder men and women of Fareen, but it was adorned with sigils that Alaiya did not recognize. Five moons swung over the ocean, each a different color and representing a different place in the moons life – waxing, crescent, half, waning, and full. Her jerkin, a midnight blue fitted with golden embroidery, fit shapely around her body; it had been crafted in a unique way that did not impede her arms movements like traditional leather armor. Her arms were bare aside from small armguards that extended from the top of her hands to kiss the elbow. She wielded a sword in her right hand, small in size to properly to fit her frame. A sight the blade was, as it appeared to be constructed of solid ice at the moment. The blade was such a sight, as it appeared to be constructed of solid ice at the moment. Alaiya’s eyes widened as she began to sense the magick being poured into the blade – strong, powerful magick she had witnessed only the Masters using.

“The marks of…Torin?” Elias’ voice was stuttering through the blast of cold that still rattled his body. “We’ve never met anyone from Torin. Well, not since I met you guys.”

“No,” squeaked Alaiya, “No, that’s impossible.” She took a hesitant step forward, and she could not stop herself even if she had wanted to. “It can’t be you…Mother?”

The blade crashed down, burying itself into the ground as a thin sheet of ice overtook the land. Alaiya raised her hands defensively as she tried to scurry away from the blast of magick. Losing her footing on the slick sheet of ice, she fell, landing hard on her side.

“The Necromancer, damnit! Kill the fuckin’ Necromancer!” Stoyan’s voice rang out as he and de Geffriel continued their respective battles. The women were both bloodied and breathing heavily, seemingly on par with one another, but Stoyan had been able to recover from his initial shock to press Uthal to the brink of defeat. With his focus clearly drawn, he had not yet seen who had risen from the Necromancer’s foul magick.

As Alaiya tried to comprehend the youthful image of Winn Terafin, her head swirled; full of confusion, disbelief, and foreboding, she stood transfixed. Her stomach turned into knots as she watched Winn turn a dull, unyielding gaze upon her. The air shimmered around the soulless reincarnation of the Swordmage, a display of power Alaiya had only seen in the Tower of Astyr. It felt familiar, yet entirely different, as though Winn was harnessing the very air around her body. The atmosphere cracked and snapped as tiny electrical bolts of energy manifested in a shell-like pattern around the woman, a testament to the overwhelming power she possessed.

The flash of light blinded Alaiya and brought with it a new sensation of pain. A moment later, the pain resonated again as the Sorceress felt a blade bite into the side of her ribcage. Clutching at the wound, Alaiya spun, willing herself to look and focus, forcing the blindness from her eyes. As she found her bearings, she saw Winn, sword outstretched, standing behind her. The shell of magick surrounding her had dissipated, having vanished with the casting of the lightning spell.

Around her, the scene had turned chaotic. Lan had played de Geffriel to a stalemate, even going so far as to position some rough terrain between the two of them. Both had neared to southeastern edge of the clearing with Lan’s back to the tree line. The Rogue could easily have made a break for it, but she seemed determined the watch the Necromancer’s work. He still stood behind the monument, hands skyward as though beckoning to the gods to aid him in his defamation of the living. His eyes had rolled back into his head, the whites clearly visible, as he stood unflinching. The obsidian structure before him still possessed the purplish hues and smoke, as though striving to hang on to the artificial lives that now walked these unholy grounds.

Elias stood a few yards away, his face a mixture of astonishment and curiosity. He seemed just as eager to study the risen as he did to fight them, but, regardless, he wielded his mechanized rod and a flask. His eyes had grown large and calculating as he studied the movements of the two opponents. Then he caught sight of Alaiya and her wound and tossed her the flask in his hand.

“Can’t take many more of those.” Elias’ comments were a touch snarky given the circumstance, so Alaiya heeded them with a handful of proverbial salt. “Best pour that on the wound and drink the rest. Won’t taste good, I wager, but it’ll do your body more good than harm.” He moved over to flank Winn, his mechanized weapon whirling and spinning in his hand. “Especially if she’s intent on making you eat that steel of hers.” He cackled in that extremely annoying Gnomish fashion, a mixture of a deep throat resonance intertwined with a high nasally sound of a dying pig.

Alaiya could afford to pay him no heed as the potion caused her to grimace involuntarily. The bitter, revolting taste nearly caused her to retch on the spot, but she did sense the pain numbing away and her mind focused as she found her resolve to fight.

“Forgive me, Mother.”

The words were poison on her lips, not for the meaning but for the actions they would encompass. Hearing them leave her mouth to greet the world of ears created a similar feeling within her as had Elias’s potion, but she steeled herself against it and instantly felt the magick swell inside her tiny body. “Those words – they can never be unsaid, not to me, nor can the meaning ever be taken away.”

The magick coalesced into the traditional sphere in Alaiya’s hand, as Cyrxx had taught her so many years ago.

“The key to magick, little Allie, is to preserve as much energy as you can. It drains us you see, saps our strength and weakens our mind. We can train, enhance our endurance and make ourselves stronger, like a fighter who sees to his practices. But remember, a fighter who swings his blade wildly with no sense or purpose, will tire quickly and soon be defeated. The wiser fighter, who chooses his strikes carefully, expends less energy and is more apt to achieve the victory he so desires. Magick is much the same, little Allie. Our focuses and shapes may be unique to us all, but it’s how we use them that make the true difference.

Take Selmen, for instance. He casts these big, powerful, inspiring spells, his magick taking shapes of creatures heard of only in myth and legend, but how often do you see him cast it? Once a day? Maybe twice, if he’s lucky. And it takes so long to prepare! No, you need something quick to form and quicker to cast. Many of us choose the directness of a bolt or a dart; they are fast, but their aim is singular and their power minimal. Effective for most, to say the least, but only because it suits them. Mine on the other hand, when it wishes, it likes to disperse. It enjoys the flow of the world, moving within it of its own accord. True, yes, I can force a shape to suit my needs, like a needle, but that taxes me more. Best to stay with what suits me, but situations may dictate otherwise. But what about you, little Allie, what suits you? How do you feel the magick shaping inside of you? What does your Craft wish to be?

“Go on now, just let it form. Bring your magick out slowly and let it take its own shape. Yes, there you go, in the palm of your hand, that’s good. Control it, but do not guide it. Don’t watch it, just let it flow. It will move on its own accord, directing itself until it feels comfortable in your hands. There, that’s it! Look now, Allie, look! See the shape your magick prefers!

“You are special, my little Allie. Not so many possess the Craft that prefers the sphere. It is a rare and powerful form; eerily efficient and potentially deadly. A tad slower to form than a bolt, but their range is similar. And the sphere possesses a wider breadth of impact. Yes, you are a wonderfully special girl! Now, let it go and let’s try to accelerate the formation of your magick. Now that you know your magick’s preferred shape, try to quicken the process.

The air shimmered around Alaiya as it took on the coloration of her magick. Violets, blues, reds, greens, and yellows, appeared out of nothingness and raced toward her outstretched palm. Tears streamed down Alaiya’s eyes, but they remained fixated on Winn, unwavering, dedicated to their purpose. The air itself thickened, making its weight palpable to all in the clearing, as a magnificent multi-hued orb spun wildly in midair, awaiting the command of its creator. Then, in a single blinding flash of white light, it was gone.

Elias had been wise enough to hit the ground and cover his head when the air became heavy. As such, he managed to retain some semblance of coherency when the light ceased burning through his eyelids. Lifting his head at the shouts of Stoyan and the clanging of steel, he saw the first of the Necromancer’s abominations collapse at the feet of the Paladin. In his fury, the warrior twirled his blade and thrust it through the neck of Uthal. Wisps of blue mist leaked out of the wound like a fine thread as the body struggled against the blade. Stoyan moved quickly, clasping his hands before laying them both upon the chest of the massive Rogue. Light enveloped the body, dissipating the mist until Uthal ceased his struggle. Elias found Lan to see her reaction, certain she was still watching. To his befuddlement, she merely shrugged while parrying another of de Geffriel’s attacks.

Alaiya and Winn were still standing, though Winn was no longer where she had been. Winn’s left arm hung limply at her side, the armor she had been wearing torn away, exposing pearl-white flesh that had been mutilated. Smoke, imbued with purples and greys, ran from the wound and danced along her flesh. As it streamed forth it began to condense, the moisture soaking her tunic and slowly dripping off the lifeless fingertips onto the hard, sun-baked soil of the clearing. A thin strand of blue mist willowed out of the wound like smoke from a snuffed out candle, but Winn did not seem to notice. The Swordmage instead lowered her eyes to her blade as six bluish-white prongs emerged from it. She raised her eyes then and charged Alaiya, the air humming as she whirled the sword through the air.

Alaiya was ready this time though, and deftly dodged the blow, rolling to her left. Bouncing up near Elias, she turned to the Artificer, directing him with some quick gestures. He immediately stood and circled around the backside of Winn, trapping the Swordmage between them. By then, Alaiya had caught sight of Stoyan’s victory, saw the man stand and begin his advance on Lan.

“No!” Somehow Alaiya had found the strength to shout, to cast away the doubt and self-inhibition and fear. Or had she? As she watched, de Geffriel turned on Stoyan and directed him toward the Necromancer, shouting words of protest and insistence. Begrudgingly, Stoyan obeyed and changed course, closing the space between his and the mage in a few strides. His blade shone, a brilliant radiance emanating from the steel itself. “Magick?” thought Alaiya briefly. As she watched the sword though, she felt something powerful, almost mystical, and suddenly felt uneasy and insignificant in her mortal husk. “His god…his god favors him. But will that guard his heart?”

The strikes of the longsword pierced the supple robes of the Necromancer with ease, but the caster did not flinch, too ingrained in his spell casting. His robes darkened, tainting themselves with the crimson coloring of his blood as Stoyan hacked away without mercy at the defiler of death. Alaiya stared in abject horror as the Paladin gave way to his innermost animalistic instincts, sparing no quarter for the man. Despite the damage being done to his body, the Necromancer remained standing, persevering where few would, accepting the brutality of Stoyan’s assault as a mother would an embrace from her child, for it was his child he was raising.

The obsidian monument darkened in the fading light of the full moon as it continued to creep across the night sky. The rune work upon its surface began to dim as the lifeblood of the Necromancer soaked into the ground, his sheer force of will and magick keeping him upright in spite of Stoyan’s relentless attacks. As Stoyan looked on, in hatred and fury, a third shadow rose from the recesses of the monument, bathed in the similar mists as Uthal and Winn had been, though these were unyielding to the illumination of the moon. Cloaked entirely in the absence of light, the being strode forward and dropped down off the precipice of the structure, landing with a resounding quake on the ground.

Alaiya looked upon the monstrous shadow that loomed before them, her body trembling uncontrollably. There was evil in this last figure, a detestable hatred that it seemed to possess for itself and for those around it. The shadows swayed of their own accord, as they turned from the Necromancer to Stoyan, and then surveyed the landscape. Everyone stopped as the heaviness of the creature’s presence fell upon the hilltop. Silence, the words of death, was all that anyone heard or dared to speak, as the shadows began to warp and twist. Legs and arms, young and powerful, emerged from the depths of the darkness, as the shadows merged inward. Upon his left arm hung a shield, unadorned, but reverently polished. The black sinews of magick continued to crest ever upward, revealing a suit of chainmail carrying a scratched out insignia over the breast. Attached to a belt hung a massive mace with an onyx-polished head that radiated darkness. The shadows pressed upward, peeling last off the face of a young man in his mid twenty’s, before settling in to the long braid of jet black hair that hung loosely from his scalp. He spun again, taking in the sight upon the hilltop once more with cold, black eyes, eyes that burned into the souls of those they fell upon.

A cackle of laughter went up near the edge of the woods. “Yes!” bellowed Lan, as the silence was shattered. “Yes, yes, yes! Look now, little pups! Look upon the power we possess and know fear! Fear me!” Her laughter turned delusional as she broke for the woods.

The man pulled out his mace, raising high above his head, and held it in the moonlight. As they watched, the head of the mace appeared to drink the light, sucking it out of the air without consequence. But the sight only lasted a moment before the man slammed his mace into the ground with earth-shattering force as a blanket of shadows broke over the hill, shrouding everyone with a blinding darkness. Then the blanket burst apart with a concentrated explosion of moonlight, searing everyone’s eyes from the sudden and sharp contrast.

Stoyan had released his blade to rub the pain from his eyes, and when he could finally start to make out shapes again, he noticed it had been left embedded in the lower abdomen of the Necromancer. The man was still in his trance-like state, but his wounds were great and Stoyan could tell he was near death. The black-haired man had turned toward them now and began to make his way to the duo. Stoyan did not dare waste his time hesitating. Withdrawing his blade, he felt a refreshing power overwhelm him as he spun the blade through the air and cleaved the Necromancer in two. The air shook violently for a moment as the Necromancer’s last shred of life abandoned him, and the two remaining abominations also hesitated slightly in their movements.

Behind him, Stoyan heard de Geffriel curse at the cowardliness of Lan, apparently having lost her. Before him, he could make out two small bodies huddled together, a second figure, that of a woman, slowly walking in their direction. “No,” thought Stoyan, “we can not fall here. Not now.”

He managed to pull his sword free and deflect the mace just as it came crashing down near his collarbone. The man’s movements were quick, and Stoyan was already spent from his fight with Uthal, and the difference in their strength was obvious. He knew he had no chance of winning unless he got some assistance, and he knew not from where that would come. The man shifted, swinging again, and Stoyan had to sacrifice his footing to dodge the blow. The dodge cost him as the mace twirled through the air and caught his squarely in the gut. Stoyan fell to his knee, the wind knocked out of him, the taste of blood collecting on his lips. He felt the man get closer and he tightened his grip on his sword. Mustering a deep, painful breath, Stoyan leapt at his assailant, but was brushed aside by his shield. The Paladin’s momentum carried him further than anticipated and he felt the brunt of the shield land on the small of his back. Stoyan crashed face first into the ground, pain shooting through every part of his body.

“Still haven’t learned, have you, boy?”

The voice echoed, deep and powerful, in Stoyan’s ears. His eyes shot open wide, fear and excitement overtaking his body. He felt his skin bristle and the hairs stand on end as the voice continued.

“You let your anger cloud your movements and become a liability. You fight like a ruffian, not a warrior. I taught you better that this, boy.”

Stoyan’s body trembled and he bit his lip to steady his nerves. Grabbing his sword, he turned himself over, a mixture of emotions overtaking him as his mind raced. “It…it can’t be…”

As he turned onto his back and pushed himself up, Stoyan met the man’s eyes. No longer black like the shadows that had made him, his eyes shown with a light bluish-grey, much like those he had looked into for so many years.

“…Veth?” Stoyan’s voice faltered as he spoke his mentor’s name, barely audible.

“Rise, boy, and fight. Don’t whimper there like a dog unless you want her to be right. Now, fight me and put an end to this monstrosity!”

Veth, the father and the friend, brought his mace down upon the hilltop with such force that the rock beneath the head shattered, narrowly missing a rolling Stoyan. Stoyan sprang to his feet, sword in hand, and faced the man who raised him. Tears in his eyes, he shook his head in protest, unable to comprehend what was happening. Words babbled out of him incoherently as he stood staring at the only man he would ever love.

“..We…Are you…It…The vernalbloom…Where…We found…Who did…The plant…Why…Work…Did you…It must…”

“Boy,” the voice was low and haggard, full of tiredness and sorrow. “Listen, my boy. What you see, what I am as I stand before you, the Gods have spoken. My time here, it is done.”

“FUCK THE GODS!!!” Stoyan’s anger swelled instantaneously, striking like a summer storm with the added fury of an unrelenting tempest. “Fuck the gods and FUCK YOU!” Stoyan had found his focus, the unparalleled amount of pain within his heart. Inconsolable pain that had once known relief, but now, staring into the eyes of his greatest betrayer, the pain gushed forth, flooding over his heart and mind, pouring out of his mouth with immeasurable anger. “You, you’re leaving again. And why?! Why are you doing it when I am so close? I almost had you–.” Stoyan’s words were cut off as Veth barreled into him, sending the Paladin sprawling across the earth. Instinct brought Stoyan out of the hit with little more than a few bruises as he rolled into a standing position. Finding Veth again, he saw that his eyes had regained their cold, dark, haunting look. Drawing a deep breath, Stoyan steeled himself for what he must do, and broke for his former master.


“How long has it been, Alaiya? You look the same.” Winn spoke with the same soft voice she always had, though it was livelier, more youthful, and exuberant. Her eyes had turned into the deep, emerald green Alaiya had been so accustomed to seeing that the sight gave her chills. While she looked upon the face of the woman who raised her as a daughter, she could not help but know that this also was not her, not truly. The thought saddened Alaiya deeply. “Tell me, are the children alright?”

“They are, Mother. They are safe. Ruthe is watching over them while I am…away.” Alaiya dropped her eyes to the ground, unable to look upon Winn. Tears had begun to form in the corners of her eyes and her nose had grown clogged. She bit her lip to steady her nerves, welcoming the taste of blood. The soft, padded sound of leather boots pounded like a thunderclap in her ears as she her Winn moving toward her.

“There, there, Alaiya. It’s alright to be sad. Never lose your emotions, or else you lose your connections to people. Those connections are what give us strength, making us stronger than we can ever imagine.”

Alaiya glanced up through blurry eyes, barely able to make out Winn’s shape. She squinted against her will, the salt from her sweat running into her eyes, burning them like a summer’s flame. But then Winn opened her arms, dropping her sword to the ground. Alaiya could not stop herself as she sprinted into Winn’s arms, wrapping her own around the woman’s waist.

Alaiya pulled herself into Winn tightly enough to scratch her face on the woman’s leathers. But it mattered not to her, for she had once again returned to comfort. Snot dribbled out of her nose as she peered up into the face of her mother, meeting her mother’s eyes once more. Alaiya batted away the tears and sweat, flushing them out with her eyelids, and gazed into Winn’s charcoal eyes once more.

It was the last thing she saw before her body convulsed as lightning ripped through her. Her scream was silence, but all heard the lightning treating the petite woman as a grounding rod. Winn stepped away as Alaiya fell into a quivering mass where she had once been standing. Elias, who had been watching the marvel of the bridging of the two realms, quickly struck, hurling an acidic potion at the Swordmage. It caught her leg, causing her to fall near where she had dropped her sword. She grabbed it up and stood up, the struggle to do so obvious everywhere but on her face. She turned to face the Artificer as a chill wind swept across the hilltop. Elias had a terrible feeling in the pit of his stomach as the winds grew colder and faster, realizing too late that they had been treating Winn as their epicenter.

“Ah, figgleberries,” muttered Elias as he broke for the woods. “Just my luck I piss off a competent mage.”

He took no more than two steps when an arrow whizzed by his right ear. Just as he planted on his third step a second arrow flew by, barely above his right shoulder. Elias wasted no more time before collapsing to the ground.

“Curses and blisters on you, you silliness of a Scout!” yelled Elias. “Think to give a proper warning next time, de Geffriel?” Elias rolled out of the way as a third arrow raced by overhead. He arched his head to catch sight of Winn, three arrows jutting out of her right shoulder and arm.

“Get up and get her out of there. I’ll keep the Swordmage occupied. There’s your warning.”

Elias did not feel like arguing with faulty logic at the moment and crawled back to Alaiya. Horse-collaring her, he managed to drag her away as Winn turned her focus on her new assailant. Elias quickly took her pulse and monitored her breathing. “She’s alive and breathing – all signs point to yes in my book.” Pulling out a smelling salt, he thrust it under Alaiya’s nose and waited a few moments for her to snap to attention.

“Welcome back. Can’t say the same about your friend.” He motioned to Winn, who was magicking her own volley of attacks back onto de Geffriel. The Scout spent so much time dodging magick that she no longer had time to keep up her own attack. “Looks like the lady of charm could use our help. You gonna be ok with that?”

It took Alaiya a moment before she stood. “She is no longer my mother.”


Veth was a behemoth of a man, clearly physically superior to Stoyan in every way. The Paladin felt like it was back in the old days, sparring against the Cleric with his feeble, prepubescent frame, trying to match the battle prowess of a seasoned warrior. Veth, a polished fighter, was efficient in his strikes, nary wasting a movement. Stoyan, unfortunately, had expended much in defeating both Uthal and the mage, and knew his only hope lie in biding for an opening through defensive maneuvers and feints. He could hear commotion all around him from the other fight, and kept glancing back to the woods, fully expecting Lan to come rushing out, or a horde of her little peons, but neither came. This worried Stoyan more than it eased him. “It seems we have all been left to our own devices. Unusually strange for one as psychotic as Lan. What could she be planning?”

The booming of magick on the other side of the clearing told Stoyan all he cared to know about the other fight. He felt safer here, with a blade in his hand, fighting the tangible. He wondered vaguely who else Lan’s Necromancer had called forth. Veth, however, kept his mind from wondering too long.

While the fight between the two continued, Stoyan came to realize that although Veth’s blows were powerful, they were not necessarily damaging. He noted, with grim satisfaction, that the Cleric was physically strong, but not fighting strong, a distinguishable difference to make for any experienced fighter. Stoyan reasoned his initial shock and childhood memories had served to make Veth’s fighting out to be more than it truly was. “Or maybe he’s just toying with me.”

Regardless of the reasoning, Stoyan stepped into one of Veth’s jabs, turning slightly to let it glance off his plate. Stepping within arm’s reach immediately took away the Cleric’s length and Stoyan found himself quickly on the offensive. He lashed out with his longsword, tearing away bits and pieces of flesh, weaving his blade quickly around the defenses of Veth. In close combat now, Stoyan made use of his shield as a secondary weapon, accompanied by kicks when his weight was in mid transfer. Soon, Veth’s face had opened up with cuts and bruises, matching the gashes along his exposed forearms. Stoyan was beginning to feel elated while simultaneously defeated. He was relishing in the victory he yearned for as a child, but not like this – not under these circumstances.

And then Stoyan was blind, falling to his knees. The air surrounding Veth had exploded in a dark radiance. It was difficult to comprehend, darkness that shone brilliantly, but that was what had happened. The pain of the sudden contrast in light staggered Stoyan and he dropped as a startled reaction. The effect did not last long and soon his eyes were able to adjust, getting his feet under him while taking note of Veth’s altered appearance. There was an aura about him now, encompassing him like a shell. It glittered as it swayed between two opposites – light and dark. It was as though the night heavens had cast her million children upon Veth, while wrapper him in her own sweet embrace.

Stoyan steadied himself, trying to anticipate what might happen next, but Veth merely stood there cloaked in a midnight illumination. The waiting wore on Stoyan’s mind more than the battle had on his body.

“What are you waiting for?” he yelled. “Attack me already!”

“And what purpose would that solve, boy?”

Stoyan immediately dropped his guard and took a step forward. “Why are you back now? Is this something you can control?”

“It is not. It seems that Sehanine has seen it fit that we talk some more.” Veth had reacquired his fatherly tone, the familiarity tugging on Stoyan’s soul.

“About what? What is there to discuss? They have turned you into something unfathomable! You said it yourself that I need to destroy you.”

“And yet, you cannot. Not while I have her. The battle you wage – I will win it on endurance alone. I will outlast you as I always have.”

“Then there is nothing to discuss!” The veins in Stoyan’s neck bulged in anger. “Why do they mock me with your voice? Why?”

“Have you no sense, boy? Take stock of the battlefield. Who is your opponent? Do you even recognize the face of the one who loved you?” There was pain in Veth’s face as he spoke those words, apparent even in his stoic demeanor and words.

“Of course I do! You’re right there!”

“Not me, boy. Her.” With a subtle nod of his head, Veth fell silent, waiting for Stoyan to use his head for something other than his helmet.

Stoyan turned hesitantly and watched the other fight, an awkward sense of helplessness washing over him. He was not one to watch a fight without interfering and he had to fight back the impulse to race headlong into the fray. As he watched, each of his companions provided openings for their ally’s attacks, working with such amazing synergy and cohesion, Stoyan became slightly awed of the supposed lesser fighters. The one who drew his attention, though, was the Swordmage.

The woman was battered and bleeding, the first sight of blood Stoyan could recall seeing. Her right arm moved significantly slower than it should have been, but she was a fighter – frighteningly tenacious. She danced the battle dance with ease, skillfully using her magick to cancel de Geffriel’s long ranged volleys and Alaiya’s spells. As she whirled and closed space on Elias, her longsword darted back and forth, greeting the Artificer’s flesh with sharp bites of steel. Magick collided in the air around her adding a sense of wonder and mysticism to the performance. Stoyan stood entranced by the display, strangely drawn to the young woman holding back the onslaught of his friends. His focus took him from her cold, darkened eyes to the other set features of her face – the high cheekbones, the widow’s peak, the scar on the nape of her neck. And then, realization set in.

“No…,” Stoyan muttered, barely a squeak of a sound. He felt the bile begin to churn within his gut and the anticipated taste of vomit made him flinch.

“They have done as much, my boy. I do not approve of this any more than you, though it does set my–.” Veth’s words cut off with such suddenness that Stoyan could not be helped but to be warned. He ducked and rolled, narrowly dodging the arc of the onyx mace.

Sentiment fled Stoyan as a coward to a blade. Popping out of the roll, he swung blindly back across his body, the edge of his sword digging deeply between flaps of plate mail. Blood poured out of Veth like a river following a spring storm, cascading down Stoyan’s blade and crashing into the hilt. The Cleric staggered away from the ferocious attack, clearly injured. Stoyan knew that most men would have crumbled on the spot, but Veth was no normal man. Instead he righted himself, placed a hand over his shattered side, and a dark glow began to radiate.

“Fuck, he can heal.”


The battle raged on two fronts, Stoyan trading blows with Veth while Elias, de Geffriel, and Alaiya managed against Winn. Every so often Veth and Winn would emerge for a brief moment of clarity, toying with the conflicting, deep-seeded emotions within the Paladin and Sorceress. During those moments the tears fell quicker and the movements of the warriors slowed and became hesitant. No sooner would hope start to build within their hearts that loved ones might stay cognizant than the former parents would regress back into their state of relentless attack. The confrontation weighed heavily on the spirit and body for the two war orphans.

The minutes seemed like hours as the evening slowly plodded along. Stoyan proved to be at a stalemate against Veth; the Paladin’s superior sword skill was offset by the combination of the Cleric’s endurance and defensive prowess. Veth, despite his impressive strength, had never been as hell-bent on killing his enemies, instead choosing to merely subdue them; his lack of a killing instinct, in addition to Stoyan’s feverish onslaught, aided in the balance of their battle. To the casual observer, this chess-match seemed to benefit Stoyan, who was somehow staving off the accumulated exhaustion from the day’s harrowing ride and earlier confrontations. However, Stoyan knew better; he knew that the only way to delay his fatigue and not forfeit his life on this isolated hilltop clearing was to grab a hold of a single, solitary thought – he must kill Lan. This fueled Stoyan, nourished his hunger, and drove his sword arm. For the moment, his obsession proved to be his salvation.

Across the clearing, Alaiya, de Geffriel, and Elias had managed to match Winn and her dual assault. Not wishing to risk skewering her allies, de Geffriel had abandoned her bow and moved into melee combat, providing a tangible pest and effectively halting Winn’s offensive. With her blade unable to compliment her magick, Winn’s ferocity became split – her steel matching de Geffriel’s and her magick spreading thinner and thinner between Alaiya and Elias.

Winn was a marvel to watch, holding her own against three separate assaults. Quick and elegant, her movements flowed seamlessly as the wind. Matched up in singular combat with any of the three, even two, would prove her the victor. Three, however, presented a more substantial risk, a risk that was beginning to be capitalized on as she fatigued. It became more and more difficult to parry the rapier on her right, and her mind reached, helplessly at times, for the proper strands of magick, as though she were trying to take grasp of the ocean itself. The only solace in her plight was that the Sorceress, eyes doused in tears, seemed equally helpless. Mustering a show of force, she shoved away the rapier’s wielder and the pesky Artificer, and made a beeline for the child-like Sorceress.

All Alaiya heard was the grunts as the air shook with the influx of magical energy. She looked up and caught Winn’s terribly cold gaze, the black opals burying themselves deep into the recesses of her vulnerable mind.

“No…,” she muttered as her Mother intertwined magick and steel into one. “No…Mother, no!”

As Alaiya raised her arms to defend, Winn collapsed to the ground before her, rolling over herself. The tiniest of yelps broke from her throat at the sight as Winn struggled to climb back to her feet. As Winn continued to collapse back to the ground, Alaiya noticed the frosted fletching of an arrow jutting from the back of her right leg, wisps of ice escaping the heat of the blood freely flowing from the wound. Winn looked up to find Alaiya’s eyes and a small, gentle smile crept across her face.

“My dearest, little Alaiya. Help me.”

“NO! Mother!” Alaiya bumbled forward, her tears falling as quickly as Winn’s blood flowed. “No! Why?” she screamed, turning on de Geffriel and Elias, “Why did you hurt her?!”

The pain etched on her face quieted any snarky remarks either of them could have uttered, and both knew that consolation was pointless at this stage.

Alaiya slid herself underneath the pit of Winn’s arm to help prop her up. “Elias, quickly, heal her! Stop the bleeding before she dies!”

It was not Elias that strode forward to help however. As de Geffriel neared, she averted her eyes from Alaiya, knowing the protest that was there. The Sorceress continued to beg Elias for assistance, even as de Geffriel gripped Winn’s head and yanked it back.

In the softest and sincerest of tones, the Scout’s voice broke through the frantic yelling. “It must be done.”


The ferociousness of the bellow broke across the mountain clearing as a tumbling boulder shatters upon the ground. As de Geffriel’s rapier thrust forward, a flash of brilliant light erupted, bringing the day to the depths of night. Everyone was knocked senseless and became disorientated in that moment, shielding their eyes against the overpowering brightness, and, for the briefest of instants the battle was not at the forefront of their minds. And then the light was gone as quickly as it had come.

As each person tightened their eyes, trying to take away the painfulness of the blindness, a dark shadow raced across the clearing. de Geffriel became caught up in the shadow, swallowed instantly by the darkness and lifted high into the air. Her feet kicked feebly out beneath her as she pried at the object crushing her throat. Her breathing became shallow as the shadow twirled her about and threw her to the ground with ease.

“You will NOT touch her!”

As the shadows trembled with a dreadful power, they flew to a cowering Elias, reached out, and sent the Gnome flying through the air. He landed with a deafening thud on the ground, his left shin snapped and exposed, having collapsed back on itself. He unleashed a pitiful scream as he struggled for the pouches strewn about him.

“You will NOT–!”

The booming voice was cut short as the shadows withered away, revealing Veth’s massive frame. Protruding from the front of his chest was a half length of a longsword, its steel tip wet with perverse blood.

“No, Veth, you will not.” Stoyan’s voice was distant, cold, and unrelenting. He was staring at the ground, his eyes tightly shut as his tears mixed with snot, both dripping off the end of his nose. His hands had already fallen from the hilt of the sword and he quickly and quietly followed their example. Slumped, he seemed too tired to resist any more, and welcomed whatever end that was about to befall him.

The sound of a sword sliding free of its hold caused the stomachs of those nearest to lurch. The clatter of the steel blade upon the ground became even more disheartening to the ear.

“He is too strong,” thought Stoyan. “I cannot hope to defeat him. I never could. I shall die here, by his hand – by my Father’s hand.”

Then Veth turned upon his former pupil, and assessed the threat of the man at his feet who lay broken before him.

“Rise, Stoyan, and do me one last favor.”

The rage that had possessed the Cleric had been replaced by compassion and eerie, unprecedented warmth. The sound of Veth’s coherent, comforting voice broke the last of Stoyan’s resolve and he began weeping uncontrollably.

“You have finally shown the strength I knew you had in you for all those years, Stoyan. The strength to die is the greatest strength we have. No other strength can match it, and yet, so few embrace it. When you are finally ready to die, as you are now, Stoyan, you will have the greatest strength a man can possess. Now, rise.”

With a trained obedience, Stoyan stood, yet he was still unable to look upon the Cleric. And then, two powerful arms wrapped around the Paladin, lifting him off the ground in a tender embrace. And like that child forever yearning for the love of his father, Stoyan returned the embrace, his own powerful arms finally able to show Veth what he for so many years had felt – love for his father.

The night froze around them as the others looked on in disbelief. The black aura that had once enveloped the Necromancer’s creations had faded, and the moon itself seemed to brighten in her nightly observance.

Choking on tears, Stoyan released Veth and stepped away. Looking upon the man he admired, a million more questions, thoughts, and feelings swirled in his head, but he could not speak them. Veth returned the silence with a comforting smile, a knowing spark in his steel, blue-grey eyes, and both men understood.

Then, the giant of a man, the father figure to so many young men and ladies, fell to the ground, the last of the Necromancer’s foul magick having fled. As Elias and de Geffriel moved to Stoyan, Alaiya hung back, alone and bewildered.

“Where did she go,” she wondered with a sense of urgency. “Why is she not here? What happened to her?”

“I am always here with you.”

The voice behind her startled her and she spun, magick coalescing in the palm of her hands. Two strong hands grabbed her wrists however, and she felt her magick succumb to a stronger will. A sense of panic overtook her as her magick became overwhelmed by another external force imposing itself and suppressing her magick. Alaiya tried to wrench free, but it was a feeble attempt; the grip was strong and held her easily.

“Face your fears, my little one. And never forgo your heart. It is the source of your magick – your strength and resolve. Guard it, but do not hide it away. And, every once in a while, lose yourself to it.”

With that, Winn bent down and placed a motherly kiss on top of her most beloved’s forehead and released her young one’s hands. Alaiya clung to her mother instantly and buried her face in her leathers, tears already taken to her face.

“Now, now, my Alaiya. I must go now. You mustn’t keep me, no matter how you wish it so.”

“But, why? You are here, finally here! If you could stay, then…then maybe we can be of more help. I’ll do more! I’ll study at the Tower, clean and take care of the Orphanage; I’ll do whatever you want!”

Winn smiled gently and brushed Alaiya’s hair back from across her face. “That would not be wise. I should not be here as I am. And that, my little Alaiya, as hard as it is for me and you to accept, is how it must be.”

Winn strode toward the fallen body of Veth as she pried Alaiya’s clinging hands from her garb. Calmly and confidently, she passed through Stoyan and the others, kneeling beside the body of the fallen Cleric. Reaching underneath the body she turned Veth over onto his back and gazed upon his face.

“You were always a good, strong man. Selfless and caring, it was because of you that I was able to persevere all those years. You helped make our little orphanage feel like a home. Thank you, Veth, for everything.” Lifting the man to her chest, she held him close and whispered into his ear as a single tear began to flow from the corner of her eye. Placing him gently back on the ground, Winn looked to the night sky, which had only increased in its brilliance. “He is yours.”

The moon above resonated as a soft, glittering blue light fell upon the two. The moonlight was a warm, soothing presence on that hilltop of pain, and washed away the horror of the evening. The radiant light swirled around Veth and Winn, moon dust twinkling in and out of sight as though miniature versions of the stars above. As they danced, they chased the darkness away.

Stoyan, Alaiya, Elias, and de Geffriel watched, silently, reverently, as the light embraced the two bodies. Without warning, Winn collapsed across the chest of Veth, causing Alaiya to yelp in helplessness. As the foursome continued to watch, the figure of Veth rose, cloaked in the same blue moonlight that swirled upon the hilltop.

Translucent, Veth stood, towering above his own body. He looked from the four companions to his body on the ground, he eyes lingering at the sight of Winn’s body draped across his own. He smiled softly, turned to the moon, and closed his eyes in silent prayer. When he opened them again, it was to watch as Winn rose to join him. There they stood, next to one another in the silence of the forested clearing, beneath the majesty of the moon. The light swirled stronger now, the sparkling of the lights quickening as Veth and Winn turned to face one another.

“The light shall be my road, the moon my eternal home. Sehanine has deemed a place for me.” Veth reached for Winn’s face then pulled away, a painful expression washing across his own.

“A place for us,” Winn returned as she reached out and took his hand in her own.

Veth looked up, his face shifting from pain, to confusion, to understanding, and finally relief. He took Winn’s hands, smaller and more delicate than his own, in his and brought them to his chest, never once breaking from her gaze.

“From the moment I–.”

Winn hushed him with a quick interjection. “I know. I have too.”

With ease, Winn slid her hands from beneath Veth’s and hooked them around the massive man, laying her head upon his barrel-chest. He returned the embrace willingly, his arms as gentle as a spring’s breeze. The moonlight danced at a feverish pace now, lifting the two within its column of light. It twirled faster and faster, condensing into a single sprout, reaching up to the moon far above. As it raced through the night sky, it left a trail of sparkling moon dust behind, which fell as glittering snowflakes upon the clearing and surrounding woods. Then, with a streaking flash of blue-hued moonlight, it was gone.

“Wait,” muttered de Geffriel a few moments later when darkness had returned to the hilltop, “where are the bodies?”

The Past Comes Alive : Interlude
Delagraad Campaign

Lan shuddered involuntarily as she slinked through the make-shift tunnels. The air was damp and hung thick with moisture. Everywhere roots penetrated the walls, refusing to be brushed aside or forgotten as those that had dug the tunnels hurried in their excavation. It was dark, unwelcome, and home to things that she neither liked nor trusted. It was, however, where she needed to be in order to fulfill the wishes of her employer.

With every step further into the earthy tomb, the lantern’s sway created tangles of shadow snakes on the walls. Coupled with the unnatural sounds of her own footfalls, Lan could not wish harder than to be finished with the project. “Once this ritual is secured, the vengeance will be mine. Their pain, I can taste it – everyone will share it. I won’t be alone, not anymore.”

Her thoughts trailed off as she pressed on further into the bowels of the hillside, the yellow glow of her lantern beginning to fade. The pitch black of the tunnel crept toward her, narrowing the light into a dull afterthought. On the fringes of the light’s existence, it turned into a deep, dark mesh of purples, blacks, and midnight blues. “He’s still at work,” she thought as she rounded the last bend into the spell weaver’s room.

Candles were embedded into the hard rock of the room, their light providing a ghastly illumination throughout as it died in the presence of the man’s magick. All around, symbols were etched into the rock, glowing with the same disturbing purple that snuffed out the light. He was draped in a fine silken cloak with a long forgotten symbol stitched upon its back. He did not wear the traditional robes that she imagined all mages must wear; instead, he was adorned in ragged leathers, all dyed a charcoal black and burned with the same symbol as his cloak. Long and lithe, he seemed to crowd the room with his height, though simultaneously, by shifting his body he seemed to disappear. He was facing the far wall, his back open and inviting to Lan, his hand slowly moving in front of him along the rock face. “He is careless,” she thought as she entered. “It would be so easy to end his life right now. He would never know I was here.”

“Oh, but I would.” The man’s voice was calm, though haggard, like he was straining to speak, but he continued doing so. “And I would not be the only one, Lan. We have a guest.” The man turned and faced Lan, and that was when she saw that he had been working his magick; the whole of his right hand was soaked in blood that dripped down from his fingertips. Upon the wall behind him was another symbol, a mixture of crescents overlapping one another, captured in the finite confines of a triangle. As Lan watched, the symbol began to radiate the same purplish hue as the other symbols. But her attention to it was fleeting; the guest took priority.

The figure emerged from the depths of the shadows, cloaked as always. He was not as tall as the mage, but beneath his clothing, Lan could see he was both broad-shouldered and strong. He walked quickly and more silently than she could have imagined, his cloak never rustling or parting from his body. And when he spoke, it was as though his voice came from all directions at once, filling both the room and Lan’s head with the intimacy of his thoughts.

“They are ready?”

Lan’s voice caught for a moment before she could muster a reply. “Yea- I mean, yes, they are. Placed exactly as instructed. And I, uh, added one for enjoyment’s sake. To spice up the occasion.” A sharp, knowing smile broke across her lips, but it was met with a palpable, deafening silence. “They cannot know,” she thought bitterly, “of the pain, of my need to see others with it.”

“Then let us go. I have arrangements elsewhere, and he should be finished here soon. I shall like to see the fruits of this labor before I depart.” Turning to the spell weaver, the man spoke with finality. “See that this is not a failure. The packs are restless and we cannot go unnoticed much longer with continued follies.”

With the silent exchange of understanding completed, the mage turned back to his symbols. Lan escorted the cloaked man through the tunnels, the strength of her lantern returning the further she got from the magick of the underground room.

“What will we do once this is complete?” She had never been privy to more information than what was immediately necessary, but she refused to continue working for someone whose own goals and intentions weren’t easily readable; she found it harder to manipulate people under those circumstances.

“Simple,” replied the man, whose steps fell into unison alongside hers, “I move to the next phase.”

The Past Comes Alive : Part 1
Delagraad Campaign

Three long hoots of an owl preceded the opening of the hut’s leather flap. The last rays of a dying sun skittered across the darkening sky, casting long, strange shadows throughout the hut’s interior. The smoke still sauntered about the inside, but at the suddenness of freedom, immediately whooshed outside. As it twirled around the man standing in the entrance, he inhaled, welcoming the effects of the herbal concoction.

“The Master of the People greets you, strangers in the wood. We have arranged a meeting, if you are able.”

The group looked up from the platter between them, food in hand. Stoyan had managed to arrange himself on his cot so that he could sit up and eat, whereas the others had gathered around, discussing their predicament. Upon seeing the man in the entrance, Stoyan spoke.

“Who are you? And where are we?” The physical pain of his body was palpable in his voice.

“I am called Paejin and I am Master of the Herb.” His voice was rough, yet tender, unrefined and eloquent. There was harshness to his voice, a scratching throat-based emphasis, that made him seem uncivilized, but the words he spoke were of an educated individual. A heavy pronunciation of the deeper sounds of the Common language made him sound barbaric.

Dismissing the hesitation of the four, the man turned to the smoking basin and grabbed a handful of smoldering herbs. The disturbance sent up another plume of smoke as the flames nipped at the man’s hand. He calmly brushed the smoke into his face and inhaled. A deep, intoxicating breath later, he continued. “I found you in the woods to the southwest of here. You were not in the best of conditions; still aren’t by most standards. If it were not for my assistant, Dyrr, you would surely be dead.”

“And yet we live,” voiced Stoyan. He did not seem entirely grateful. “How is it that we survived such wounds? What kind of foul magick do you practice here?” His tone was spiteful.

“There is no magick, I can guarantee that, Paladin,” he responded, pointing to Alaiya. “She is the only mage around.” Alaiya’s face blushed at the sudden attention. “We survive off the land here, and I, through years of practice and refinement, have found ways to extract the potent restorative power of nature and apply it to the body.” He spoke of his accomplishments with ease, not seeking praise or awe, but simply stating fact. “Now, if you will please join us outside. There are things we would like to discuss.”

As the companions made their way outside they were greeted by the last strands of dying daylight. Gathered beneath the oncoming night was the entire community of nomads, dressed in leathers and pelts, their eyes trained on their every step. The large man named Paejin led them, and, though they noticed scowls and disapproving looks, no one spoke.

Paejin left them in front as he returned to his station near an elderly man with grey-streaked golden-brown hair. He whispered something to the man, who nodded before approaching. Again, the gathered crowd remained silent.

“We greet you, strangers in the wood. I am called Tereson, and I am Master of the People. You have met our Master of the Herb, Paejin. It was through luck and his skill that you are able stand here with us tonight.” Tereson’s voice, though hoarser, was similar in both tone and inflection to Paejin’s and it could be assumed the others gathered around would be as well. “As the day breaks to reveal the night, we, too, broke our vows to reveal ourselves to you.”

“Look, we’re happy you did that,” began Stoyan, who was growing anxious that he had been delayed yet again from finding Veth. “But we need to go. Our friend, he is in trouble, and time is of the essence…”

“Not my friend,” chimed de Geffriel, “I’ve never even met the guy.” A vein started to emerge on Stoyan’s temple as his face reddened.

“Same here,” though Elias, though he was wise enough to keep his mouth shut.

“And we need to go at once.” Stoyan’s voice rose over his companions, trying to drown out their words and thoughts.

Tereson looked hard at Stoyan, then back to Paejin, who simply nodded. He collected his thoughts for a few moments, finding how best to continue. During the lull, a break in the crowd formed as a woman strode forward. Her hair, a unique mix of strawberry red and maple brown, was pulled back in a braid, revealing an unfortunate scar cutting across the left side of her face. The scar traversed her left eye, which had been sealed shut, the likely result of losing it. Her right eye was a caramel brown with flecks of red scattered throughout. Her voice was firm and calm, but angry.

“Why do we keep them? They wish to leave; let them! We have survived this long without outsiders help!”

Tereson’s head fell into his shoulders, as though he had been dreading this specific moment. It was the moment of truth for him and his people and how he responded would shape the outcome of not only his tribe, but the companions as well. Turning to face his small nomadic community, he stood upright, supported by his staff, and addressed them, is voice ringing clearly in the oncoming night.

“Pulcha, you know better than most the pain of the outside world. But that was many years ago when we were lost in our ways. We were guided, unfortunately so, by the prospect of surviving the wars by turning to people when they, too, were in crisis. It was an unfortunate time for many of Delagraad.” He paused, the pain of his memories flooded back to him, before he collected himself to continue.

“Yes, they are outsiders, the very people we seek to avoid. The trust among us is low, but we cannot rely on ourselves for much longer. We need the world, and you can all sense what is coming. If we do not seize this opportunity, we are sure to perish. But know that though these few may be able to help us, it is not of us to demand such things. Let us be clear on that.” Tereson looked over to Paejin, but the Master of the Herb’s face was solemn.

“We will open ourselves to these people. We will tell them the truth, let them hear what we have learned, and, if they choose to aid us, then it shall be. If not, we carry on as we have and fend off the threat as we are able.” Heads nodded in approval of the Master of the People’s decision. Pulcha, wary of the strangers, retreated into the crowd as a few whispered to her. Her eye never left Stoyan.

Tereson faced the companions again, returning to his normal position of leaning on the staff in his hands. “So now, will you hear us out? Or will you run in circles looking for your friend? I believe our Fates are tied, but I will not force you to listen to our words.” As he spoke, Alaiya caught Paejin’s eye, and she blushed sheepishly.

After a brief discussion, Stoyan spoke. “We will hear you, we owe you that much. But please, we must be on our way as quickly as possible.”

Tereson nodded as relief washed over his face. “Very well. The southern woods, where Paejin found you, have been of much concern to us lately. Strange men have been moving freely about, something in which we find no comfort. We try to keep out of sight on our forages, but occasionally their patrols and our trails overlap. It began a few months ago, with yelling and cursing and threatening our lives, but never became more than that. Then, within the five to six weeks, they became violent and easily agitated, as though expecting something that would not come. They increased their patrols and their men grew in numbers. Our lives were in danger and the risk of our community being found increased. We could not allow such risk to exist.”

“We did not wish for violence, so we chose to learn why they were here. We followed their patrols, sneaking through the woods like common bandits. They were loud and careless and we could not be seen if we so chose it to be. However, no matter how long we trailed them, no matter the skill, we would lose them. They would vanish into the woods without a trace. It was Paejin who believed they might be using magick, something none of us are able to do.”

“Then, two weeks ago, a night scout was ambushed. The threat became real, and they began to tirelessly hunt us. Led by a woman whose skill in the woods matched our own, we diverted them away from our home here and took them further north. They pursued for a few days, but retired from the hunt. Since then, we have been trying to eliminate their patrols, but their numbers continued to strengthen. We were forced back, to wait and observe. And though not all agreed with this course, it was the safest for our people.”

Tereson turned to a cloaked individual in the crowd. “Bring the body.”

The figure left and returned quickly, dragging in tow a woman’s body on a make-shift stretcher. She was clad in black leathers, her dark brown hair half torn away, along with her face. She was missing part of her right leg below the knee, where the wound had begun to fester. Maggots were already worming their way through the flesh. Alaiya turned away in protest.

“This is a body of one of the patrols. We managed to kill her a few nights back as she pursued us. Luckily, we were successful. The others of her patrol fled the moment we attacked.”

Stoyan leaned down and examined the woman, turning over her leathers and examining her wounds. They were not made of forged steel and reminded him of breaks he often saw when he was training in Gimlora. The ravaged flesh of her face looked to be of bestial make as well. As he continued his inspection, he found what he had hoped to not find. Beneath the woman’s left wrist, tattooed on the underside of her forearm, was an extinguished candle – the mark of the Dark Light.

Stoyan eyes Tereson and the people behind him. Something about this did not sit right with the Paladin, and he aimed to find out what. “You have confronted these patrols then? And succeeded?”

Tereson nodded. “We have and, for a while, we did.”

“And did you lose any of your people?”

“We did not.” Tereson’s eyes narrowed as he answered.

“I find it strange then,” Stoyan began, eyeing the crowd, “that you would have met with such success. You do not look like fighters. We have fought these men and they do not flee at the first sign of attack. I know of their capabilities and their skills. No offense, but you do not seem like you would last long against them – skilled in the woods or not. What aren’t you telling us?”

Paejin stepped forward and whispered into Tereson’s ear. The elder shook his head in protest, but Paejin said something again and the man relented.

“There is one more thing, though I had wished to avoid it. It is our greatest secret and the pride of my people. What you see before you is not our true strength.”

As he spoke, the light of the moon trickled down into the clearing, settling on the grass. Something unsettling started to arise in Alaiya’s gut, as a feeling of unease she could not shake overwhelmed her. The image of the woman and the wolf she had seen back in the hideout earlier in the week crept to the forefront of her mind. “Are they the same? Are they Werewolves?” As if to answer the thoughts of the young Sorceress, Tereson raised his hand to his lips and gave a long, low whistle. The sound raced through the night and crashed against the trunks of the cedarglenns, resonating back with a haunting ferocity. Then an answer, deep and inhuman, beckoned from the shallows of the wood. No one moved for a moment as two golden-brown eyes appeared from the shadows. A massive direwolf with light brown fur speckled with strands of gold, slowly sulked out to Tereson’s side and nuzzled the elder’s hand affectionately.

“This is my companion, Karyn. We’ve been together, now, for many years. She is my protector and my strength. She has shielded me from the threats of the woods many times. And she is just one of many.” He reached around and rubbed the base of the wolf’s neck, burying his hand deep within its fur.

Tereson then turned to Paejin and nodded, the latter giving a low whistle of his own. A howl came in response as a silvery-white haired direwolf emerged. This wolf’s were stunning, purple in color with striations giving an appearance of a crystalline structure. It was not as affectionate with Paejin as the brown one had been with Tereson, but it stood attentively at his side, its eyes sharply focused on Elias.

“This is my assistant, whom I spoke to you of. Her name is Dyrr. She aids me on my scavenges for herbs, and there is no better assistant among our people.”

“You…you own wolves?” Elias was unable to contain his excitement as he nearly jumped out of his pants. “How long have you had them? Did you raise them from pups? Was it hard to domesticate them?” He took a quick step forward, but was immediately stopped by the silver-haired wolf, who growled menacingly.

“You would be careful to mind you actions and words, young Gnome.” Paejin spoke softly and his wolf understood his intention as it calmed down. “They are intelligent creatures, capable of reading the truth in our words more than we are. They sense our thoughts as well and our relationship with them has been very beneficial. However, they do not like to be mocked or treated as pets. Treat them as your equal and show them respect. Else, they will remind you.” Paejin was suddenly reminded of something as his eyes fell upon Alaiya. “One more thing – I would refrain from using magick in the presence of these creatures. They don’t take too kindly to it, for, though they don’t fear the magick itself, they do not trust the user.”

“This is who we are. People of the land, who embrace what she has given us. We live accordingly and as peacefully as we can. And now, we seek your aid. Will you assist us against this threat?”

Stoyan gathered the others around him to discuss the options before them. Before long, he returned to Tereson. “It seems you were correct in your assessment that our goals are intertwined. The woman you have is part of a greater organization, one that we have been searching for for quite some time. Their leader is someone my blade seeks to greet. We will do what we can and promise no more. But the fact remains that we have no idea where we are or how to get back to where we were. By that time, things might be too late.”

Tereson glanced down at his companion who nuzzled approvingly at his hand. “That will be of no worry. Our friends are willing to escort you back. But, I must warn you. It will be by unconventional means.”

Another two whistles broke from the group of people followed by two more howls. Two hulking creatures emerged from the woods, both coated in jet black fur. They sauntered to the front of the group and acknowledged Karyn, Tereson’s companion. When they turned, their eyes, both as blue as an afternoon sky, sparkled in the moon’s embrace.

Tereson addressed Stoyan and de Geffriel now. “These shall do for the two of you,” he said, motioning to the direwolves. “They are brothers and both favored of Pulcha. This is Mulde,” he said, addressing the wolf on the right, “and this is Etheo. The smaller of your group shall ride Karyn and Dyrr. Between them, they should get you to where you were found within a few hours. Once you are returned they will leave to return to their rightful places.”

As the beasts walked toward the companions, a sensation of fear swept over the group. It was an intimidating sight, staring such natural ferocity in the eyes, hoping the creatures trusted as much as you needed them to. When they stopped and lay on the ground at the feet of the group though, a wind of bewilderment overtook them. The puzzling looks made the nomads laugh amongst themselves as Tereson’s voice rung out once more.

“My advice – hold on tight.”

The woods whipped by in the night with such ferocity, it was all the companions could do to hold on to their mounts. As night eased over the world, the sounds of nature came alive, but they all faded into a blur together was the wind amassed everything into one. Hunkered low on the back on the wolves, the companions avoided most of the snags and branches of the forest, though an occasional nicking did occur.

They had traveled for hours at a breakneck pace, covering an unknown amount of ground when the confusion of sound that was the night broke away for the shrill blaring of a horn. Instantaneously, shrieks and snarls joined in the rampage through the woods as the direwolves took to avoiding the monsters that had lain in ambush. Emerging from the darkness were creatures larger than the direwolves and Alaiya immediately recognized them from her studies.

“Worgs?” she thought, puzzled at the fact. “Are we that close to the mountains already?” Then, riding atop of one of the worgs backs, she spied something else.

“Goblins!” yelled Stoyan, as his direwolf broke to the left, avoiding a spear thrown from his rear.

Through the whipping of branches, de Geffriel saw what Stoyan was talking about. Sitting atop a harness strapped to the worg was a grey-skinned Goblin. Its helmet was pulled down over its face, beady red eyes shinning through tiny slits. It was wielding a poorly crafted longbow, with parts of the branch still with gnarls and leaves. She laughed aloud at the sight as she turned to face the mounted beast.

“This? This is what you come at me with,” she asked while chuckling to herself. “You know not who you’re dealing with.”

As quick as a snake striking its prey, de Geffriel pulled a dagger from her wrist guard and flung it at the Goblin. Throw with deadly accuracy, it struck beneath the faceguard of the creature, slipping into its neck with ease. It lurched, but held itself up, fumbling around for an arrow to notch.

“Here, let me help you with that.”

The Goblin fell from the worg, its legs slipping free of the harness of the mount. An arrow, protruding from the left eye slit in its faceguard, gave a farewell wave through the air as the Goblin descended into the darkness of the forest, crashing against the undergrowth until it broke on a tree.

Slinging her bow over her shoulder, de Geffriel turned triumphantly to the others. “Now, that’s a kill, eh, Mulde!” Mulde, the jet-black direwolf upon which she road, barked in agreement.

The gloating, however, proved detrimental. The worg, now riderless and unguided, leapt at the woman, and raked its razor-sharp claw across her upraised arm. Only de Geffriel’s penchant for survival kept her from falling off her direwolf. The worg now ran alongside her, snapping at the massive black direwolf. The direwolf, realizing the precariousness of its rider’s situation, managed to avoid the blows while providing a steady enough base for de Geffriel to reposition herself.

With the threat now clearly visible, the rest of the group joined the fray. Alaiya, riding atop the silver-haired direwolf called Dyrr, stayed in the rear to avoid combat. Holding onto Dyrr’s mane with one hand, she attempted to harness magick in the other. As soon as the magick was condensed she threw the spell forward, but not before Dyrr jerked her head downward and kicked off her hind legs, sending Alaiya into the air. Alaiya’s spell flew harmlessly into a tree as she struggled to orient herself, mid-flight. “Why,” she thought, “why did she toss me?”

“One more thing – I would refrain from using magick in the presence of these creatures. They don’t take too kindly to it, for, though they don’t fear the magick itself, they do not trust the user.”

If it was physically possible at that moment, Alaiya would have kicked herself in the butt. Realizing too late that she had forgotten, not one, but both of the rules – the other being to hold on tight – Alaiya knew she was in trouble with her mount if she somehow managed to survive. As she twisted, she noticed that Dyrr had separated herself further from the pack, slowing down enough to position herself directly beneath Alaiya.

“I’m only going to get one chance here,” she thought as her hands stretched out for Dyrr’s shaggy mane. Her hands closed into fists as soon as she felt the soft fur between her fingers and she managed to hold on and pull herself up. “Im so sorry about that. I forgot Paejin said you don’t trust magick. I swear I won’t do that again. I’m so sorry.”

Alaiya could not explain why she had chosen to speak to Dyrr right then, let alone apologize, but she did. She was unsure if Dyrr understood, but knew it could not hurt to stay on her mount’s good side. Then, realizing her manners, she quickly added, “And thank you for saving me.”

Two more Goblin riders crashed from the trees on both sides of the group as the riderless worg continued to fight in its master’s absence. Stoyan and Etheo maneuvered to the flank of the rampaging worg to intercept the beast. Joining steel and claw, they tore a chunk out of its back leg, sending it ricocheting off a nearby cedarglenn. The worg, unfazed, caught back up with the group and was met with an arrow in its pectoral. Agitated by the nuisance, it thrust its head down, snapping the shaft as blood trickled down the wooden protrusion and matted its fur. The worg’s eyes were bloodshot now as its predator instincts took over, sending it into a viscous rage. Closing the distance to de Geffriel with ferocity, it dodged Stoyan’s sword stroke and swiped at Mulde with its claws. Mulde returned the attack with a kick to the worg’s jaw as de Geffriel pulled out her rapier and struck the beast, but the worg continued its assault. Then, without warning, Mulde broke sharply to the left, leaving de Geffriel flailing and the worg momentarily confused. The crack of the beast’s skull into a trunk of a full grow cedarglenn pierced the night with such power that the whistling of the wind ceased to allow the sickening crunch to be savored in its red-tinged glory.

“Whoo!” screamed de Geffriel as the lifeless body of the beast crashed through the woods. “That’s two!” She spun on the back of Mulde with a calm grace, deflected the sword of another rider with her rapier. “You three won’t get any where if you don’t kill something!” She laughed as she and the direwolf bounded through the undergrowth, engaged in another fight.

Elias, while the battle waged on around him, inched closer to Karyn’s ear, and, like Alaiya, felt inclined to speak to his mount. “Hey there, Karyn, was it? My friends, well, they might need my help. And I know we were told not to use magick, but I’m not really a mage. I’m an Artificer – we’re nothing alike. I can’t even use magick.” As he talked, an arrow flew by his head. He turned to see the second of the worgs gaining ground on him, its rider standing in a harness, bow at the ready.

“I would really prefer not to be completely helpless here, so, if you don’t mind…” A feeling washed over Elias, telling him to cease his jabbering. Karyn lowered her head as she ran, the bottom of her jaw streaming along the roofs of ferns and shrubs as they parted for her powerful legs. Her ears flicked backwards and sat down against her skull, making her as streamlined as possible, increasing her speed and potentially shielding her.

“Got it,” astonished Elias, taken by surprise how easy it was to ascertain the direwolf’s thoughts. “Thanks, girl.” He patted her on the side of the neck, but now felt nothing in response. Briefly puzzled by his own conflicting emotions, he quickly tossed the thoughts aside and rummaged through his pouches for his rod.

Nearing the worg and rider already in combat with Stoyan and de Geffriel, Elias’s crystal rod began to glow with a dull blue light. A shockwave of cold ensued, rushing toward the Goblin, causing it to shiver involuntarily on its worg. Elias could see the direwolves with Stoyan and de Geffriel start to move toward him, but Karyn gave a sharp bark and they help their ground.

The worg beneath the rider, unnerved by the presence of magick, lashed out at Stoyan, catching the Paladin in the shoulder. Knocked off balance from the blow, it was Etheo who save him, snaring the Paladin in his massive jaw before he fell helplessly to the ground. As his arm hung limply from his shoulder bleeding, Stoyan could only imagine what kind of amusement de Geffriel was finding in his situation now. No sooner had that thought crossed his mind than an outpouring of laughter answered.

With Stoyan posing no threat, the Goblin attempted to leap from the worg onto Etheo’s back. A dagger struck its chest in midflight, propelling it back slightly, causing it to fall short of the direwolf. It crashed to the ground and rolled through the woods, soon disappearing into the blanket of night and forest. From his awkward position, Stoyan could make out the triumphant cheer of de Geffriel, “Three!”

Annoyed at the gloating and embarrassed by his position, Stoyan sheathed his sword and grabbed hold of Etheo’s bristly fur. As he took hold, he felt the direwolf’s jaw loosen, allowing a freer range of movement. He pulled himself up onto the back on Etheo’s while small branches and shrubbery beat against him. Stoyan marveled at how smooth the climb was considering the pace at which they were traveling. As he mounted the direwolf, Alaiya’s screams could be heard from behind him. He turned to see the third Goblin firing arrows at the Sorceress and her mount, Dyrr. Green specks of arrow fletches could be seen dotting the silver-haired direwolf as Alaiya clung hopelessly to her fur.

“Shit,” thought Stoyan, as he drew his sword again, “she can’t use magick with the wolves. Paejin said it’d spook them or something. Damned useless –.” His thoughts were cut short as he defended against another worg attack, knocking the beast back with the butt of his sword. “See if you can close the distance to us, Alaiya,” he yelled, but the words died in the whipping wind.

Alaiya had not been paying attention to the others, too focused was she on avoiding the arrows of the Goblin. However, she kept beseeching Dyrr, wholeheartedly, for forgiveness. There was an aura, an overwhelming sensation Alaiya felt, that told her Dyrr was distrustful of her magick. It was not a telepathic voice, or even something that she could tangibly grasp, be them words or actions. It was more surreal than that, like a hyper-instinctive gut reaction, that connected the mount and rider. It was this connection that resonated deep with the direwolf, belaying the sincerity of Alaiya’s pleas, a sincerity that resonated with the direwolf like a pup to its mother. With no prompting, Dyrr pinned down her ears and lowered her head, much in the same manner Karyn had done with Elias. The move took Alaiya by surprise, and she hesitated, unsure if she was given permission or the direwolf just did not wish to hear any more.

Knowing she needed to aid her friends, Alaiya took the risk as magick once more formed in the palm of her hand. The colors swirled, illuminating her face in a dazzling display of reds, greens, yellows, blues, and purples. As she concentrated her power, she felt Dyrr’s apprehension to the magick, but the direwolf simply continued to run. An arrow flew by her head, followed by one that grazed her leg, causing Alaiya to wince in pain. Turning to her left, see saw the massive worg and its Goblin rider keeping pace, and resolved that she would not go down without a fight. Unleashing her power, the spell raced across the forest in a flash, striking the Goblin in the left shoulder. It howled in pain as it dropped its bow and steered the worg into close combat. Touches of moonlight gleamed off of the jagged blade it now wielded in its right hand as it closed the distance, the powerful legs of the worg easily reaching the direwolf.

Meanwhile, de Geffriel and Stoyan were busy fending off the ferocious attacks from the worg. This creature, unlike the one before, lacked the blind fury, but made more calculated attacks against both rider and mount. It would race alongside, waiting for openings in the forest floor, before lashing out with a bite or a swipe of its claws. Twice, already, it had been successful on de Geffriel and Mulde, a patch of fur missing on the latter’s haunch were a deep wound had formed. Stoyan had tried to flank the worg, attempting to keep it pinned between the two fighters, but the beast continually moved in and out of space, insisting on guerilla warfare tactics. With Elias’s healing essentially nullified from the back of the mount, it seemed destined for a battle of attrition; momentum began to swing in the worg’s favor.

Until Elias did the noblest, bravest, and stupidest thing Stoyan had ever witnessed – he charged the worg. Needing to be in closer quarters to be effective, Elias knew he needed to be near the battle, both to heal and assist. As he charged, his rod held menacingly in his upraised hand, yellow light began to illuminate around Stoyan as bolts of light arched around his body. Etheo snarled a bit at the uncomfortable magick on his back that caused his fur to stand on end and gravitate toward Stoyan. The Paladin tried to reassure the direwolf with a pat on its neck, but the electrical charge only made more fur stand on end, agitating Etheo. With a dismissive snort, Etheo became resigned to his fate and leapt, ramming into the flank of the worg. The blow forced the worg to take a small, sideways leap to keep from falling, pinning it between Mulde and Etheo, with Elias and Karyn holding point on its rear. Unable to escape, Stoyan brought down his sword on the beast’s skull, blood immediately pouring out of the wound. The worg shuddered for a moment before kicking out with its hind legs and catching Karyn in the snout. Then, as Elias and Karyn fell back a step, the worg tried to make an escape. As it broke for the opening, de Geffriel struck with her rapier, catching the tender underside of the worg’s shoulder. The blow bought Stoyan enough time to lay another strike on the beast’s head, and this time the skull shattered open. The worg crumpled instantly, crashing to the ground in a heap as blood splattered the trees and flora. Karyn skillfully maneuvered around the corpse, avoiding being taken under by the massive worg’s body.

Stoyan wasted little time in directing Etheo to the battling Alaiya, though there was a substantial amount of ground to cover. Through the terrain of the forest and the craftiness of the Goblin rider, the Sorceress had been pulled away from the others. As he rode, blasts of light exploded in the night as Alaiya’s spells streaked through the woods. Some hit the cedarglenns, while others disappeared into the night’s landscape. Occasionally one would strike the Goblin or the worg, creating an eerie illumination in the darkness of the woods. Stoyan’s could not see much, relying more on Etheo’s sense of smell and direction as they navigated the sprawling wooden landscape. The sounds of battle were Stoyan’s only clues as to how the fight was going, and each time he heard Alaiya’s voice scream out in pain, he grew more frustrated that he was not there to help.

With another flash, the fighting stopped, a blanket of perfect silence falling over the woods like a gentle spring rain. As the silence registered with Stoyan, he felt as though time stood still. The woods still whipped by, an endless blur right now, but it failed to matter. He stayed, focused on the direction of the last dwindling sounds of battle, staring into the darkness from which he hoped for one thing and one thing only – the emergence of Alaiya. For what seemed like an eternity, Stoyan strained his eyes, until a speck of silver broke through the darkness. As the speck enlarge, Stoyan began to make out the familiar shape of the direwolf and his heart, which had been stuck waiting in anticipation, finally felt relief.

“Nice to have you back with us, Alaiya,” he offered, comforting words spilling forth unannounced. “Impressed that you managed to take down both the rider and the worg. You’ve gotten more skilled at fighting, without a doubt.”

Alaiya’s reply was nothing but silence as the silver-furred beast moved closer to the pack, a distinct limp on its front left leg. Etheo moved behind and around Dyrr, bringing Stoyan into view of the direwolf’s flank. Feathered shafts jutted out of the mount like porcupine quills, providing a sharp contrast to the flat, flowing fur surrounding them. As Stoyan scanned the body, calling out for Alaiya, Etheo moved in closer. As the wind bore down on them, the flutter of a robe caught the Paladin’s eye as it drifted up and back down amidst the fur. Moving in closer, Stoyan found Alaiya, white-knuckled and terrified, latched painfully tight onto the back of Dyrr. Blood trickled down from her arm, leg, and torso, darkening the silver fur of the direwolf, creating permanent shadows upon the mount.

Relief once again washed over Stoyan as he sheathed his blade and settled comfortably back onto Etheo. For a moment, the pain and frustration that Stoyan had been feeling over the last few weeks faded away as he realized what could have been. Briefly, he allowed himself to be consoled – “At least we’re alive.”

The massive cedarglenns began to part ways as the forest began to gradually thin once more. The direwolves now eased their feverish pace and came to a stop familiar to the companions. Mulde came to a stop above a torn and tattered patch of earth, full of traces of a battle. Lowering itself to its belly, the direwolf’s eyes followed de Geffriel as she leapt from its back and examined the area. Stoyan joined the woman as she examined the surroundings of their ill-fated battle with Lan’s forces.

“Looks like this is the place,” said the Paladin, his own eyes fixated on the forest. “Pretty good sense of direction, those wolves. Better than you could do!” He let out a deep guffaw as he slapped de Geffriel on the back, clearly pleased with his assessment of the Rangers navigational skills. “Perhaps you could learn a thing or three.”

Without a second thought, de Geffriel punched Stoyan in the armorless opening beneath his arm, a spot whose placement she knew well. The massive man winced hard with the sudden onset of pain. “And perhaps you would do well to learn how to hold your own in a fight. I killed half the forces – what’d you do?” Mulde barked in agreement, which caused Etheo to emit a low growl.

Rubbing his ribcage to ease the sudden throbbing pain, to no avail, Stoyan conceded. Elias and Alaiya had joined them now as they began searching for clues to where Lan’s men had come from. Scouring the landscape, they found tracks and a path where it looked like the men had come from. Before the group could follow through though, they noticed that the direwolves had already left.

“Guess Tereson was serious when he said they would only take us here and then leave. Like ghosts though – didn’t even hear them go.” Stoyan’s assessment was met with a reluctant agreement, the eeriness of the direwolves sudden departure a surprise to them all.

“Too bad,” spoke de Geffriel as she traced the battle again, moving from one set of footprints to the next. “I kinda liked Mulde. Had a sense for fighting and knew how to take care of a true lady. Not unlike some others I know.” She caught Stoyan’s eye and teased him with a sultry look. “But, maybe I’m wrong?”

She strutted over to Stoyan and brushed his face with the back of her fingers, starting dangerously close to his mouth and tracing a line to his ear. “The beast was a bit hairy for me. You’re more my type.” Stoyan’s face flushed bright red at the bluntness of the woman.

A sudden, perhaps forced, coughing fit overtook Elias, breaking the tense and awkward moment. “Perhaps we should begin following the trail? You know, before we get ambushed, or,” he paused as a sly grin appeared on his face, “get caught with our pants down, so to say.” He chortled at his own humor, which only made Stoyan blush more.

“Fine, as you say, but we should keep someone here. Keep each other in sight. I’ll head out with…,” he closed his eyes, resigned to his words and decision, full well knowing what would follow, “…de Geffriel.”

Elias smiled and turned away. “Ambushed. Pants down. Be careful.”

Just then a low, quick howl erupted from the woods to the east, causing the companions to jump involuntarily. Stoyan put his hand on his hilt as some nearby rustling alerted him that they were not alone. Without warning, Dyrr came crashing out of the brush, her silvery-white fur coated in twigs, leaves, and mud. Her snout was caked in dirt, small clumps still clinging to the moist tip. In her mouth was an assortment of leaves, roots, and fungi, most of which were covered in a thin layer of saliva. As Dyrr walked forward, the companions eased their muscles. Stopping before Alaiya, the young Sorceress froze, unsure of the intention, though she felt no malice from the great beast. Dyrr, in a moment of simplicity, opened her maw and let the contents of her mouth fall to the feet of the Human. Then, with lightning quick reflexes, she nuzzled Alaiya toward the stash before turning back into the woods and disappearing.

Alaiya stared, dumbfounded, in the direction Dyrr had fled. When she finally managed to move, she simply bent down and grabbed a cluster of fungus, turning them over in her hands. “Paejin said Dyrr helped him on his scavenges for herb. Maybe that was what she was doing. Can help us?” She spoke to no one in particular, more so addressing her instincts. She had never seen the fungi she held, or any of the roots or leaves. “But I am no healer. This is not as simple as magick.” Alaiya looked back up into the woods where Dyrr had disappeared into. Then, confidently, she took a bite out of the mushroom in her hands.

The taste was bitter and the stalk hard and fibrous. The cap was soft and dissolved instantaneously. Alaiya chewed furiously and swallowed, despite the urge to cough it up. Forcing it down took the equivalent amount of will power as unraveling the delicate strands of magick during her training in Astyr, though it left a far more vile taste in her mouth. Soon, however, she felt her muscles relax and the pain of the night’s ride ease away. Her body’s minor aches dissipated and she felt rejuvenated. Amazed, she looked to the others, astonishment in her eyes. She held up the mixture to the others, offering them a dose to bitter comfort. Each took a small sample in stride, having seen Alaiya’s contorted face while she was eating.

“Well, that left a lot to be desired. Like a nice nutmeg ale, or some spiced carrots, or a good winterspun pie.” Elias rummaged through his pouches and removed a flask. Taking a quick swig, he tucked the flask back inside his coat and sighed with relief. “Nutmeg ale. Ahhhh!”

Stoyan turned away from the others. “On second thought, I should go ahead alone. de Geffriel, you stay here and watch out for other patrols. Be ready just in case.” de Geffriel gave a small pout but heeded Stoyan’s wishes as the Paladin made his way down the small foot trail leading west.

It was not hard going, and he constantly made sure to keep the others in sight. As he crept forward through the woods, he noticed some shadows moving ahead of him. He halted, looking back to make sure he could still see the others. “Still there,” he thought, “good. Now let’s see what these assholes are up too.” He slid along the ground at a snail’s pace, being careful enough to move anything that might inform the figures to his location with his sword. Continuing to close the gap, he noticed three figures, all about the same size, their backs to him. Making one last check behind, he noticed that de Geffriel had taken too challenging Elias in a game of dice. Stoyan rolled his eyes at their simplicity and returned his focus on the people before him. He shifted around the trunk of a cedarglenn and hide behind a thick screen of foliage. The figures were resting in a small clearing, completely unawares to his presence. “Wow. I must be getting good at this stealth thing.”

One of the figures stood, taller than originally thought, and began to move away. This provided Stoyan with a unique opportunity to strike with more favorable odds. Waiting in a crouching position, the figure passed and Stoyan leapt forth, sword brandished, a strike aimed directly for the head.

A shrill scream filled the forest as de Geffriel was attacked from behind. Elias and Alaiya, startled by the intensity and suddenness of the scream, could only look on in horror as de Geffriel’s face was mere inches away from Stoyan’s longsword.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing Stoyan?!” de Geffriel’s voice was livid, venom and poison hanging on every word. “Why in any god’s name would you pull a prank like that?”

But Stoyan could not respond, his eyes wide with fear and confusion. His mouth stood agape as a stammered apology wheezed passed his lips. Standing up and storming over to him, de Geffriel punched Stoyan squarely in the jaw, snapping the Paladin to his senses.

Rubbing his face, Stoyan looked around, perplexed. “How did you guys get way up here? You were just behind me.”

“Us?! We never moved, you retard!” de Geffriel’s fury was rising fast. “How about you and your crap-shit sense of direction? You can’t even walk in a straight line! And why are you waving your sword all around, playing hero? I thought you were scouting?! Who scouts with fucking deathblows?”

“But, but I did head in a straight line. In fact I kept you three in sight the whole time. Right up until I ambushed the fig– you.” The man’s shoulders slumped forward. “What is going on here?”

As the two fighters continued to argue, confusion set in on Stoyan’s face, a drastic contrast to the anger on de Geffriel’s. The harsh words and multitude of curses were the only sounds that echoed in the stillness of the night, which caused the moment to trudge along for an eternity for Alaiya and the Gnome. The tense calmness of the woods enhanced the setting, but the infighting gave Alaiya an idea. She gently pulled Elias to her and quietly whispered into his ear.

“Didn’t the Paladins who had been searching say the trails just always kind of ended? That they lost track of them every time?”

Elias nodded in response, a curious look gleaming in his eyes.

“I wonder if there’s more to what’s going on here. Wait here.”

With that, the Sorceress took off to the west, constantly looking over her shoulder back toward Elias and the others. As she ran, Alaiya focused on the natural world around her, searching for the strands of magick in the air. She felt the presence of the magick, but had learned early in her studies that magick exists everywhere in the world; mages just happen to have the innate ability to harness the power within themselves. At roughly a hundred paces, she turned around and faced the others as she began walking backwards. She kept her eyes fixated on the group as she took small, light steps, making sure to keep her balance. As the sounds of de Geffriel’s words faded, new sounds emerged from behind her; a recognizably deep, smoky voice of a woman. Keep her eyes fixated on the diminishing group she walked away from, the voice grew both clearer and louder. Finally, as the group was beginning to fade from her sight, she stopped, took a few steps forward to reestablish her line of sight, and turned around.

Before here was the group, not more than twenty long paces away. She turned back again to find the group once more, but saw only the outlines of the forest. Content with her findings she returned to Elias.

“Well?” he asked, agitated at not being let in on her little secret plan. “What’d you find out?”

She leaned in close as to not alert the others as she escorted the Artificer away. “We’re surrounded by magick. Powerful magick too. It’s like a trap or something. Tell me, what did you see as I walked away?”

Elias shrugged. “Dunno. Nothing special. You took off, turned around, and walked backwards, until you disappeared behind some overgrowth. Next thing I know, you’re standing behind me. You and that Stoyan feller have some bad sense of direction.”

Alaiya shook her head in protest. “That might be true, but not in this case. I kept you in my line of sight the whole time, up until I turned around behind you. Whatever spell is here can put us in some sort of endless loop.” For the first time in a while, Alaiya was genuinely excited about her Gift and the powers it could potentially possess. “It’s fascinating.” And then, like an involuntary chill spasm, an image of Cyrxx floated into her mind and her heart grew heavy.

“So, what can we do?” asked Elias. “This is why the Paladin patrols couldn’t find them, but how are we supposed to get by? Not to be a wet cat, but it’s not like either of us is particularly skilled in the ways of complex enchantments.”

“One of the basic elements of spells is that they are tied together with strands of elemental magick. The more complex the spell, the finer the threads are and the tighter the weave. If we search hard enough, we might be able to find the weave and see if it’s possible to unravel the spell from its foundation. Now, you have some familiarity with magick, so help me search.”

“You can do that?” exclaimed the Gnome as his eyes widened to the size of small melons. He gazed down at his fingers as they moved with anticipation. “How cool!”

Alaiya closed her eyes as Elias mimicked her. She searched for the greatest pull of magical energy around and walked blindly to it, her hands outstretched before her as if to brace against a wall. Elias followed, though he kept one eye open, and nearly fell over her when she came to a sudden halt.

“Here. The boundary of the spell is here.” She opened her eyes and searched the air before her, looking for an invisible thread of magick. Elias concentrated on the area before him, too, and soon a slew of colored strands manifested before him. Reds, yellows, greens, blues, and purples darted from all directions, weaving intricate patterns suspended in the air.

“What are we searching for?” he asked through an awe-struck voice.

“Weakness. The point where we can unravel the spe– here!” Alaiya grabbed hold of one of the thicker purple strands before them. It appeared slightly slacked and frayed, with bits of magical fibers jutting off the main strand. A smile brushed Alaiya’s lips as she began unraveling the tiny frays.

“Go get the others,” she boasted. “We have our way in.”

The moon was rising steadily in the night sky, engulfing the stars around it in the brilliance of its full-bodied light. The massive cedarglenns thickened and thinned in such a perplexing way that, if not for the moon, the companions would have thought they were traveling in circles. In the sparse amounts of moonlight that did manage to filter down onto the forest floor, only a few specimens of incandescent mushrooms held onto the soft glow, providing a natural trail for them to follow. All things considered, it seems the land around them was eager to aid the companion’s cause.

They pressed on, nearing, as Alaiya felt, the apex of the evening. It had been a few hours since they had created a rift in the magical barrier and broken through Lan’s hidden domain. Yet, despite trekking deeper into enemy territory, they had not encountered, seen, or even heard, a single person since they’re arrival. Stoyan, the self-appointed figure-head of relieving tense situations, spoke to everyone’s lingering doubts.

“Either there’s a massive trap ahead, or this is the dumbest hideout I’ve ever seen.”

“Oh, that’s reassuring,” scoffed Elias, though he was quick to lower his voice just in case.

“Well, well, well. Looks like somethin’s crawled outta the ol’ woods, lookin’ fer a meal.”

Elias and the others turned to their left at the voice echoing from the woods. A man emerged slowly from the shadows into a sparse sprinkling of moonlight. He wore a dark brown leather jerkin and greaves in addition to black boots, armguards, and a cloak. He carried a blunted wooden club in his hands. The club itself was monstrous with broken shards of metal protruding from its flesh. Splattering of dried blood adorned its surface.

“Boss said she expected some company, but didn’a think it’d happen. Need to prove ourselves, too. Let’s have us some fun, eh guys?”

Behind the man, and surrounding the group emerged more people, all clad in similar garb. Some wielded clubs while a few tossed shortswords between their hands. Two even carried shields, denoting either or rank or their lack of confidence in their sword play. All in all, twenty people, all initiates of the Dark Light now stood between Stoyan and finding Veth.

As Stoyan unsheathed his longsword, the symbol of Tempus caught the moonlight and shimmered accordingly. It appeared the gods favored the Paladin in this battle. In a move that portrayed his deity’s own indulgence for battle, Stoyan’s face took on an air of happiness and relief.

“This will be an adequate warm-up.”

“Where is she,” Stoyan demanded, his voice escalating to a fevered pitch. “Where is Lan?!”

The man he held looked up to him with clouded eyes. Blood streamed down his face from a gash in his temple. He was bleeding profusely from the stump where his right arm had been. On the verge of death, his final moments were graced with a terrible chuckle and a satisfying grin.

“It is…too late. We succeeded…in our…diversion. It must be…completed…by now.”

The man spit blood up as Stoyan threw his to the ground. “Useless!” Turning to the others, Stoyan’s rage shone. “C’mon, we’ve got to move. They must be near.”

“But, uh, yeah. Stoyan, maybe we can rest for just a second and tend to our wounds?” Elias had a hitch in his step from where a blade had caught his leg. As he walked, he looked over at Alaiya, his eyes showing concern. “And she needs to recover her magick. Just a few moments is all. What d’ya say? Five minutes?”

“We don’t have five minutes, let alone a few moments, Elias! Lan is near and she has Veth! We’ve already wasted too much time!” Sheathing his sword, he proposed an ultimatum. “If you’re too weak to press on, then stay here and die. But I’ve made my choice – I’m saving Veth and taking Lan down.”

A soft, gurgled chuckle escaped the lips of the dying Dark Light initiate at Stoyan’s feet. Anger swelled like a rising tsunami within Stoyan at that moment, reaching its apex as he brought the heel of his boot down on the man’s face with such tremendous force that it crushed the skull.

“I’m leaving. Do as your pathetic hearts wish.”

There was a rustle from behind Elias, movements made by a timid young woman finding strength deep within herself. As Alaiya walked past Elias, their eyes met. She placed her hand on his shoulder and offered a polite, reassuring smile before turning to face Stoyan’s back. Then she departed, following the Paladin deeper into the woods. Off to the left, Elias could make out the shadowy figure of de Geffriel as she zipped between the cedarglenns, keeping in line with Stoyan. Suddenly, against his better judgment, Elias was all alone.

“Blasted Humans. Likely to get us all killed.” Shaking his head in disappointment, he hurried after them. “Nothing like trying the impossibly foolish. Oh well, at least it’ll be fun.”

The emptiness and the silence of the woods held no comfort for the companions as the treaded cautiously through the cedarglenns. The night seemed to descend into further darkness as they traveled. Coupled with the genitive pace and the anticipation of the unknown, each person grew more tense and high-strung with every step. Even the woods edged closer, as if they too feared what the full-mooned night might bring.

Wishing to maintain the element of surprise and catch Lan off guard, de Geffriel took the point with unabashed interest. Ahead of her she spotted the silver glint of moonlight trickling down through the woods as she scampered up a small hill. Deftly finding exposed roots and gnarled burls, she made her way up the earthy hillside with the grace of an alley cat. As she burst over the crest eager overtook her, and she was caught exposed in the openness of the flattened hilltop. No sooner had she retreated to the safety of the tree line that she saw the surreal masterpiece adorning the hilltop – a charcoal black obsidian monument, covered in runic engravings that swirled with silver hues beneath the caress of the moon. Her breath caught in her throat as she waved a hand absent-mindedly behind her, quieting the approach of the others.

Then she heard the voices.

Strangers Hidden in the Woods
Delagraad Campaign

Morning had broken a few hours before the group arrived in the all too familiar clearing. Two weeks had passed since they had been here last and Alaiya immediately ran around the western ridge where Cyrxx had been. She promptly found his statue and slumped against it, her thoughts wandering off into the silent solitude that she imposed on herself. The others combed the clearing, searching for clues.

“There’re more statues here than I remember,” said Elias. He had become intrigued with the craftsmanship of the figurines and had begun inspecting them closely. “Look at them, these men – they’re all, heh, well, they’re all funny looking.” He went to another statue and poured over the impeccable detail. “But I don’t quite get why the crafter thought to make them so, old looking.”

“Who are these people, de Geffriel? Who are they, and why does Lan want them? What answers do you have that you aren’t telling us?” Stoyan turned around the clearing, looking for the target of his accusations. As he turned, he saw Elias at a statue, Alaiya, working her way back to the main clearing, and no one else. “de Geffriel! Who are they?! Answer me!” No response came, just the rustling of leaves in the wind and a bird call. “de Geffriel! Where are you?! Damn you, woman, get out here and answer me! We don’t have time for your little games!”

Still, the air was silent, even the land had quieted beneath the anger of the Paladin. Infuriated with the casualness of de Geffriel’s games, Stoyan started to draw his blade, intent on smashing something, anything, to release his frustration. A small tug at his sword arm snapped him out of his single-mindedness. “What?” he yelled, turning on the person who still held onto his arm.

Alaiya rolled her eyes at the man, obviously used to his fits of fury. She pulled on his arm again, turning him toward the nearby tree line. Pointing to the shadows of a massive cedarglenn, she jabbed her finger in the air and pushed Stoyan forward. He stumbled a bit before realizing what she was doing.

From the shadows de Geffriel emerged, a look of irritation on her face, which she made evident to Alaiya. The Scout then turned to Stoyan, threw on a smile, and stuck her arm through his. “Now, what was it you were asking?” she inquired, flirtation in her voice. She guided him away from the Sorceress, worried that she might intervene with her skills. Stoyan, on the other hand, looked ready and willing to be lead, even if it was astray.

Content with exposing the woman, Alaiya looked around for Elias. Quickly finding him, she noticed that he was crouched on the ground, fiddling with some rubble. As she watched he jumped up suddenly and enhanced his pace of work. With an audible gasp and a flail of his arms, Elias leapt to his feet and started running back to the center of the clearing. “That’s impossible, how can that be?” Seeing Alaiya, his mind did a quick one-eighty, and he immediately pulled her to one of the nearby statues that was still erect. “Quick,” he demanded, “how old is that thing? And I don’t mean the rock, I mean, the clothing, the times. You studied in a tower, you know history, right? Quickly, now, how old is it?”

Alaiya took a step back and studied the statue. The attire of the person was casual, not of royalty as she would have expected. The length of hair was cut in a familiar way, something akin to travelers she often saw in the taverns when she ran errands. However, it was tucked away, banded in an unusual way, similar to the styles of the past. Examining the detailed etchings of the clothes and the type of the weapon he held in his hand and sported on his belt, Alaiya tried to recall as much as she could about the histories of Delagraad.

“I’m not really sure, but maybe a hundred seventy-five years. Why would they make a statue – hmmm. No, maybe somewhere between two hundred and two twenty-five. But why would they make such old-looking statues, and why are they out here?”

“I don’t know,” he said with a shrug, “it’s all rather strange if you ask me. But you should see this.” Elias brought Alaiya over to the pile of stone’s he had been working on. He had arranged them into a few different piles and she could immediately tell why; he had been recreating the statue’s parts. Off to one side was a lower portion of a leg running from mid-calf down. He had found most of the leather boot and, from what Alaiya could gather, it was the right leg. Next to that was a portion of the statues torso. Composed of most of the front section, it was easy enough to tell that it was standard leather armor. Familiar clasps and straps adorned the piece, but Alaiya could not place where she had seen them. Unlike the previous statue and its older design, the reconstructed pieces she was looking at now seemed modern. When she saw the third assemblage, she knew why. In a creepy, surreal pose Elias had recreated a Human forearm, though he likely had not started out with that intention. Etched into the stone, at the center of the recreation, was an all too familiar mark; the melted wax streaming down the hardened pillar, the wick, slightly crooked and bent; above, the wisps of newly created smoke fluttered away as though the candle had just been extinguished.

“The Dark Light,” whispered Alaiya. “Why would this statue have their tattoo?”

“So, that’s what happened here. Rogue Wizard turning people to stone. Bastards taking advantage of the god’s leniency. I’ve been telling you, this magick stuff is evil. Ow!” Alaiya stormed away from Stoyan in disgust, leaving him to rub the pain out of his shin. “Anyway, that’s how de Geffriel got here. Turned to stone two hundred years ago and along with the others. Lan was apparently looking for one of them and decided to destroy the evidence when she left. That’s why we don’t see any female statues; she was looking for a woman.”

“Also explains why I found a few Elves. Makes sense if they used to get along with everyone.” Elias paused for a moment before correcting himself. “Well, I supposed they might have gotten along with everyone.”

“What troubles me though is that whatever Lan was searching for, it can’t be good. And why would she need Veth and this woman? What is she plotting? I don’t like it, not one bit.”

de Geffriel walked over to Stoyan and promptly kicked him in the butt. “Sitting here isn’t going to do anything for you, Mopey-Pants. We have an idea of where she was headed, and we know we have to hurry.” She glanced up into the sky noting the lateness of the morning. “Look, we’ve already wasted enough of the day looking at silly statues. Let’s get out of this cursed place and find this Lan.”

As they gathered up their things, de Geffriel found Alaiya and watched her very carefully. “You aren’t turnin’ me to stone again. Never!” Alaiya involuntarily shuddered as a chill ran down her spine.

The day had long turned into late afternoon, though it was hard to tell by the thickness of the trees and their overhanging canopy. The path was rugged, forged as their feet landed, and essentially relied on their sense of direction and ability to maintain a straight direction. They had started off from the clearing well enough, and had traveled a few hours with no worry, but none of them knew if their bearings were accurate. However, de Geffriel had heard indiscernible movements to their left as they traveled, and they ended up being surprised by a small patrol of Dark Light members. Fortunately, the patrol was small and the fight quick, not lasting more than ten minutes, and had proved invaluable. As Alaiya had pointed out, if they had maintained their current orientation, they would have eventually reached the plains; they had veered that far off the northern path. As they had continued, Alaiya could not shake a feeling that they were being led astray. Not by any power of their own, but by something greater, something unnatural. But she kept the thought to herself as now, directly ahead of them, they heard a second patrol, though it seemed to be larger than the previous one.

“We might be getting closer. If these patrols are any indication, we’re on the right track.” Stoyan’s confidence in their journey bolstered their spirits, though it did little to ease the heavy burden on his heart. “We’re coming for you, Veth. I swear, I’ll find you!”

Stoyan the others into positions as a small flock of birds shot out of the underbrush ahead of them, frightened by the commotion caused by the patrol. He positioned himself between the advance and Alaiya as de Geffriel took to the trees above. As they waited, the first of the black garb flitted into view, weaving in and out of the trunks of the cedarglenn and Stoyan’s sword arm tensed. He heard the whistle of an arrow fly through the air, followed by the hum of Alaiya’s magick. As he prepared to charge into the fray, hoping to catch the patrol off guard, he stalled, taken aback by Elias’s unusual eagerness to engage the enemy head on.

“What are you…? STOP!” Stoyan’s voice echoed fiercely off the compact forest, effectively alerting the patrol to their location. No sooner than he yelled did a searing flare pierce the air, narrowly missing both Stoyan and Alaiya as a nearby cedarglenn erupted into a column of flames. “Shit! Mage – take the Mage down!” he ordered, but his voice was lost among the sudden fray of battle.

Squinting to shield his eyes from the burning air, Stoyan noticed a man clad in black casually approach the open Elias and catch the Gnome across the chest with his longsword. Elias nimbly dove back, avoiding most of the blow in the thick forest and retreated to one of the clumps of overgrowth. Then, to the horror of the Paladin, Elias was surrounded by two others. Twirling warpicks, they suddenly vanished from sight.

“Now, Kolin!”

“Got it, Dolin!”

The voices resonated out of thin air moments before Elias was sent flying through the air, blood splattering on the nearby trees. The Gnome’s body lay crumpled on the ground in an unnatural heap at the feet of the man with the longsword. The man reached down to grab Elias and as he did a gold band running from his left shoulder to his breast became visible.

“Another Captain,” though Stoyan, “same as the last patrol. Gotta take him down!” Just before the man grabbed Elias, two arrows found their marks in his shoulder, a moment before Stoyan intercepted him, his blade slicing at the man’s forearm. “Now, don’cha want someone who’ll put up more o’va fight?” The thrill filled Stoyan’s heart, the same unusualness that greeted all Paladins of Tempus who thrived in conflict.

Alaiya watched the initial attacks unfold before her and instantly recognized the arcane reverberating throughout the air and not just from the “Mage” Stoyan had identified. The two men who vanished had used the Gift, in a way that she had vaguely recalled hearing about from Cyrxx.

“There are those, Allie, particularly in the Violet, who use the shadows to move. It is similar to a Gnome’s innate power to briefly vanish and meld into the background, and it was a Gnome who had developed this particularly powerful magick. It was initially heralded for the practicality of it, though there were those who obviously misused and abused the power. To avoid temptation, the struck it from the remedial curriculum and only once a Mage of the Violet passed his Trials would he have permission to study the magick. That did not, however, prevent the corruption and misuse, though the High Council could not take away what had been learned. These people are known in the Orders as Mistwalkers and should not be taken lightly – ever. Even when you think you have the advantage, you don’t.”

“Oh no,” thought Alaiya. “We need to get out of here. We need to run away! I didn’t think Lan had Mistwalkers with her!” As she wrestled with herself, wanting to scream out, she noticed that Stoyan continued to fight, to press on to take Lan down. Watching him eased her fear and strengthened her resolve. Her mind made up, she concentrated another orb of magick and unleashed it on the only man she could see.

Behind him, Stoyan heard Elias groan and stand. “Alright there, El? Your eagerness caught us all a bit unawares.”

Elias scoffed. “I thought we were taking them by surprise, not waiting for them to find us.”

Stoyan thought about snapping back, but he felt the cool touch of the Gnome’s rod and the dancing bolts of the static discharge. Stoyan’s attitude instantly changed. “Now this is more like it!”

A charge of magick ripped through the woods catching Stoyan on the left leg, hobbling him slightly. Turning, yelling into nothingness, Stoyan cursed both the Mage and de Geffriel for not taking care of him. Turning back to the Captain, his eyes darting side to side, Stoyan grew anxious. “Where’re your two little friends, huh? Scared of a fair fight?”

Magick burst across the chest of the Captain causing him to bellow in agony. Also yelling was one of the Mistwalkers, who had moved to Stoyan’s flank, who had been caught in the burst.

“Kolin,” yelled a concerned voice from behind Stoyan; the Paladin had them.

He wheeled, catching Kolin in the arm. In perfect synchronization, an arrow appeared out of nowhere in the Mistwalker’s leg, bringing him to the ground. Stoyan did not have long to savor the moment as the Mage appeared before them, forming a seal with his hands in front of her mouth. Without warning, the air shook around Stoyan and Elias, vibrating at such high pitched frequency that it ruptured their eardrums. Blood seeped down their jawbones as both fell to a knee, the loss of balance overwhelming. Unable to protect themselves, the two Mistwalkers struck relentlessly at Stoyan and Elias, managing to severely wound the Artificer.

Meanwhile, the Captain had made his way to Alaiya, his longsword effortlessly dancing in his hand. Blood soaked his armor, and his right arm hung uselessly at his side, but he walked with a singularly focused intent. With an unexpected movement quicker than the eye, the Captain had slashed through her robes, cutting into her torso. Fear and anger rose within Alaiya as the magick became visible and tangible before her. As it coalesced, the air shimmered and cracked, the natural energies warring with one another. Then, without warning, the Captain collapsed at her feet. When the shock of what happened subsided, Alaiya spotted the feathered end of an arrow slightly jutting forth from the meaty part between the man’s collarbones. Glaring up into the trees, Alaiya suffered one of the most unusual thoughts of her life. “You stole my kill!”

The thought lingered briefly as de Geffriel’s scream rang out from the tree tops, leaves smoldering were the lightning blast had struck her. Alaiya recovered quickly enough and blasted the only adversary she could see. Kolin’s body slumped to the ground, leaves and shrubs around his body turned to dust by the massive collision of magick. Alaiya had caught the Mistwalker as he tried to fade away, creating an implosion of magick, too chaotic in nature to leave anything in the near vicinity intact.

“Kolin!” Dolin, the second Mistwalker, turned in Alaiya’s direction quickly before vanishing. “You’ll pay, you bitch! I’ll show you the power the shadows yield. Eternal darkness!” The voice seemed to come from everywhere all at once, and the silence following was death itself.

Dolin stepped out of the shadows momentarily in front of Elias, hatred in his eyes. “Your life belongs to the darkness.” Before the Gnome could react, the Mistwalker vanished. Before Stoyan could even raise his blade to help, the right side of Elias ripped open, exposing itself to the world. Entrails spilled out as the Artificer groan and fell to the ground, his blood soaking into the forest floor.

Stoyan slashed around the body of Elias, hoping, praying that it would find its mark, but it was useless. The rustling of leaves and the creaking of tree branches caught his attention as de Geffriel’s voice called out a warning.

“Stoyan, the Mage!”

But the Paladin’s back was turned, his body exposed. The corrosive acid struck, piercing his armor with ease, and he felt his flesh start to melt away as the magick ate away at his torso. Gathering the remainder of his strength, he looked into the cold, dark, soulless eyes of the Mage and charged. It was valiant, pride and honor propelling him forward. If it was to be witnessed by a Bard, perhaps the courage Stoyan showed would be eternally remembered in song and lore. As it was though, the mighty Paladin did not managed to kill the Mage. Though the blow from his longsword struck true, he merely crippled him, the strength needed having wilted from his body as the acid ate away.

de Geffriel, seeing Paladin fall at the feet of the Mage, ran through her options. “Flee, and I might live. Fight and I might die. Fight, and I could live, while being rid of my debt to these fools.” She turned to Alaiya quickly; the Sorceress was preparing another spell and focused intently on the Mage standing over Stoyan’s body. “Well, it’s just the two of us. Stoyan, you better be worth it.” She ran forward, slinging her bow over her shoulder and withdrawing her rapier with fluidity seen only of dancers. She struck the Mage in the torso, causing him to cough up blood, but he remained standing. Pulling away, she shifted into a defensive stance.

“Now!” screamed a voice from the shadows. “Kill the woman! Show her the darkness!” The Mage turned on de Geffriel, fingers outstretched. The gnarled digits a grotesque sight to behold up-close. A green mist swirled around them, condensing on each point before shooting out in rapid succession straight for the Scout. de Geffriel eluded the first three, but was caught by the others as the magick burrowed into her. The acid quickly tore away at the clothes on her back and the flesh of her bones and lost consciousness from the pain quickly.

Alaiya, her last hope for assistance gone, unleashed the spell she had been preparing. It flew across the wood with such speed and ferocity that when it struck the Mage, he flew back from the impact, colliding with a tree fifteen yards away. The front of his chest, bare and exposed, had been burned away leaving a gaping maw of an opening – a visible window through the man to the tree.

As if to celebrate the death, a howl broke through the forest, singing in the trees all around her with naturally powerful ambiance. Alaiya’s heart sank. “Not now, not here and not now.” Looking around, the prone, dying bodies of her friends awoke something deep within. Her resolve strengthened and fortified itself. “Not here, and not now!”

And then the pain erupted through her shoulder as the pickaxe tore through her arm. Alaiya reeled in pain as the sickening laughter of Dolin filled the forest. Sensing the magick of the Mistwalker before even hearing his voice, she got off a quick orb of magick just before disappeared.

“The darkness! Sleep! Sleep in the darkness for what you have done!”

He flashed in front of her before disappearing again, his delusional laughter bouncing off the cedarglenn. She concentrated hard, focusing on the magick, trying to follow the trails of the Mistwalker as he walked in the shadows unseen.

A quick explosion of magick behind her and she knew where he was. Contorting her body around, she managed to greet him with a blast of energy as her stepped forth. Despite the massive amounts of blood, Dolin’s intent was unwavering as his pickaxe pierced her thigh, tearing the muscle from the bone. Sinew flew through the air as he disappeared once more.

Alaiya knew she would not get a second chance to attack. It was down to the final moment – either he would die trying to avenge his friends or she would kill him trying to save hers. She followed the strands of magick, the violet aether streaming like a thin thread in the world invisible to most. When it stopped and gathered, she knew where he would appear. She prepared herself for the conclusion; mentally exhausted and physically drained, she willed herself to conjure the spell.

Time slowed to a crawl, each of her senses heightened to superhuman levels. Alaiya had him, knew his movements and what his intent was. She could hear the malice of Dolin’s heart as it beat amongst the purple magick. She had never felt so in tune with the Craft as she had at that moment. Then came the burst, the appearance of the Mistwalker within the fraction of a moment, and she unleashed her spell. The power of her magick blinded her for a brief split second, but it was enough to see Dolin. And her horror was realized.

The Mistwalker had jumped as he emerged from the shadow, staying fixated long enough to establish his position and effectively bait Alaiya. There was no laughter as he soared over the Sorceress, only murderous intent in his eyes. The pickaxe struck her in the lower back, curving up and under her ribcage. There was a flash of pain, but it subsided quickly as she faded into darkness. On the ground, she could feel her warmth flow from her, uninhibited. The strength to hold her eyes open fled her, the lingering image of the Mistwalker standing over her, forever etched in her mind as the last moment of her life.

As her eyes closed for the final time, a flash of silvery white broke across Dolin, taking him to the ground. The last sound Alaiya would her was a wolf tearing the throat from the Mistwalker, his gurgles of protest lost amidst the snarls of the creature.

Alaiya woke to the sweet aroma of something burning. As her eyes fluttered open to the welcoming ballet of shadows prancing across a hastily constructed wall. The shadows themselves seemed full of life and independent of the ties of the light that created them, weaving in and out of the cracks in the wall, eternally searching for an escape. She craned her neck, a movement that sent pain racing down her spine, and saw the source of both the light and the aroma; suspended from thick reeds from the thatched ceiling, was a large iron basin, wisps of smoke plumming in the air, curling in on themselves, floating gingerly throught the room. As the smoke meandered its way over, Alaiya inhaled and the pain coursing through her spine eased.

“Where am I?” Alaiya wondered aloud. The room she found herself in was empty, save for the basin. As she struggled to sit up, she gasped for the smoke inundated air, much like a fish to water. “Whatever…is in this smoke,” she winced as she swung her legs over the side, “really helps.”

Her tiny feet dangled off the floor as she realized for the first time that she had been lying in a cot. At the foot of the cot, crumpled up into a jumbled pile, were three or four high quality pelts. As she slowly lowered himself to the ground the pain shot through her right leg and she had to catch herself on the cot. “That’s right, the Mistwalker’s pickaxe,” she thought as flashes of the battle quickly returned. Hesitantly, she forced her eyes to look down and assess the wound. To her surprise, it was wrapped in a large leaf swathe, fastened with stalk fibers and coated with a reddish-brown clay mud. Alaiya involuntarily poked at the wrap, flinching with the touch, but marveling at the stability of the bandage.

Looking beneath the cot, she noticed her grimy robes and backpack had been stored with her, much to her surprise. Grabbing a pelt from the foot of the cot, she wrapped herself in it and made her way to the other end of the room. A large leather flap hung before her and she noticed traces of moonlight playing with the edges. She peeked outside and saw that she was in a make-shift hut, one of five in the area. On the exteriors of the other huts she could see shadows flickering in what looked to be the light of a fire.

Determined to find the others, and subsequently flee this strange encampment, she took a step out of the tent. As soon as she did, her legs felt weak and pain tore through her body. Wishing for the sweet aroma of the smoke, Alaiya began to lose consciousness to the pain as she fell. But it was not the ground she landed upon as two massive arms swept under her, lifting her up into the night air.

“Not yet, little one. You have not recovered to the point where you should leave the smoke. Come, I shall take you back inside.”

The warmth of the man’s body set Alaiya at ease as she relaxed into his arms. She could feel the beating of his heart through his chest and soon her breathing was mimicking the steady rhythm. As they reentered the hut, the smoke swept into her lungs, vanquishing the pain that had crept throughout her body. Fighting unconsciousness as the man glided effortlessly across the hut, she managed a single question, though she would later be unable to recall such a question. “Who…are you?”

“Do not worry, little one. Everything will be okay.” The man placed her on top of the cot, pulling the furs over her delicate frame. As her head rocked to the side, strands of platinum-white hair fell at will across her pearl-white face. Alaiya’s cheeks had grown rosy now that she was back inside the hut, breathing in the healing properties of the smoke. Her breathing grew calm, a slight undulation beneath the furs indicative of her slumber. Leaning down closer to her face, the man tenderly brushed aside her hair and softly kissed the top of her forehead at the crest between the brow and the hair.

“Your lives are safe here now, little one.” The man spoke to the night as Alaiya had already fell into a deep slumber. “You are as protected as any can be at this time.”

Elias’s eyes burst open as he awoke from his nightmare with a start, air rushing into his lungs like water down a cascading waterfall. His body’s initial reaction to the suddenness was to splay out, trying to catch himself and prevent his fall. As his limbs struck the edges of the cot, anguish washed across his face, the agony of his wounds ever present.

“Guess that means I’m alive…”

Elias first noticed the smoking basin, the solitary light source in the hut. Its smoke billowed and swayed in a wind blown through an opening in the hut’s frame. Groaning against the pain, he forced himself up and out of the bedding he found himself in. He clung to his side as he plopped to the floor, feeling the hardened clay coating his side. It cracked a bit as he landed, flakes of dried mud falling into his hand.

“That’s…unexpected.” Examining his bandages, he became more curious than perplexed, wondering how the properties of the clay interacted with the loosely stitched fabric underneath and how the combination managed to keep his insides from spilling everywhere. Finding his belongings underneath the bed, he rummaged through his pack until he found a piece of charcoal and a few pages of parchment. He proceeded to write down as much as he could hypothesize at, making sure to include a brief description of the varying degrees of pain.

Once finished, he stuffed the notes back in his pack and made for the entrance. Pulling the leather drape partially open, he immediately saw a roaring bonfire, its yellows and reds spiraling toward and endless night sky. As the forks of the flames lashed out at the stars above, numerous figures could be seen milling about, talking, laughing, eating, and the like.

The struggle for Elias at that moment was fighting the urge to partake in the festivities. Gnomes are sociable creatures by nature, and having a small, intimate gathering seemed the most proper opportunity to introduce himself and get to know to whom he owned his life. But at that moment, Elias thought better of his merriment and instead circled around his hut to see what else there was to observe.

He found himself staring at a semi-circular ring of five huts, each crafted in the same rushed manner as the one he found himself in. They partially enclosed an open area, perhaps meant for gatherings or foot traffic, and it was barren, the people obviously all at the bonfire festivities. But then he saw a rather large man enter the hut furthest from him, only to reappear quickly and head in the direction of the others. “Gotta be careful,” thought Elias. “They’re rather large.”

Elias made his way to the closest hut to his, keeping as stealthy as he could, which meant biting his tongue and hoping he did not tear open his side breathing. The short walk, no more than thirty feet, caused significant amounts of pain and he felt like lying down and passing out after a few steps. Despite each step being an embrace of Death itself, he willed himself on, eventually making it inside the next hut, being instantly greeted with a cloud of smoke as he stepped inside. As he inhaled, his pain subsided and he felt unusually calm, given the circumstances.

Inside was much the same, though the smoke was slightly thicker and instead of one cot there were two. Slowly, sluggishly, and dreamily, Elias walked and stood between the two cots. The one on his left was covered in a mountain of furs and pelts, the only thing visible beneath being a tuft of long, blonde hair. On the cot on his right though, he recognized de Geffriel. She was covered in furs as well, though the upper portion of her shoulders was exposed. As Elias gently lowered himself to the floor, his back propped against the wall, he managed to see a few bristles of fur collapse. As they stood and collapsed, slowly, rhythmically, again and again, a final question escaped his lips.


The darkness was unlike the shadows she was accustomed to. They were dark, full of silence, yet lacking. Usually life teemed within the shadows, life that existed and sometimes thrived within its confines. However, de Geffriel could sense the absence of life around her. She fumbled around for an eternity, forfeiting her eyes and ears, hoping to find something to rely on for touch, but there was nothing. She felt as though she was moving, making progress somewhere, toward some unknown goal, but when she concentrated on her feet, it disturbed her that her mind told her that she walked on nothingness. Out of options, she waited, rather impatiently.

The first hint of burning lavender broke de Geffriel of her trance. She did not know how long she had been waiting, but with the lavender to focus on, she no longer cared. She rose to her feet and followed the smell. It was poignant, strong and gentle, soothing yet agonizing. Still without sight, she wondered if her mind was falling into dementia, foolishly giving her shreds of hope when there was none. She had long surmised that she was in Death’s cradle, and wondered why eternal sleep would grant one such a pleasant aroma.

She forged on though and soon every step ached. The pain reverberated throughout her body without hesitation, bringing images of damnation to the forefront of her mind. Where the clergy right? Was this what awaited those who passed – to those who did not believe? Is this what the absence of a god held in store for someone? Eternal solitude? But the lavender, that was real? de Geffriel pushed all of the doubt from her mind and focused on the reality she needed to exist. That fragrance guided her, painful as it was to believe in it, it kept her going. And then, in a sudden wash of light, the darkness vanished.

The room she found herself in was ordinarily ordinary, but caused de Geffriel great rejoicing. Anything, no matter how dismal, would be beyond what she had been facing. The pain, however, had not left with the darkness, and she endured it with newfound pride. “‘Pain is a sign of life,’ the Master preached,” she recalled. “It is merely an avenue for the soul to travel.” A thick smoke hung over her, burrowing into her nostrils with each breath. It reminded her strongly of lavender.

She turned from her prone position on the cot and immediately saw Elias, slumped against the side of the room, sleeping soundly. “Where are we?” she whispered out loud. Instantly, she regretted her body’s actions as pain ran across all of her limbs, needles piercing ever nerve receptor in her body simultaneously and relentlessly twisting in order to accentuate as much suffering as possible.

Then she saw the golden locks of hair protruding from a massive collection of furs across from her. “Stoyan!” Swinging herself out of the cot, her foot caught a strap of her belongings, bringing her attention downward. Rifling through the impressive array of weaponry, she found a dagger and tucked it into a pocket on her shirt. Then, taking care to mind her wounds, she gingerly walked over to Stoyan’s cot. Pulling back the pelts, she noticed that most of his body had been confined to bandages and splits. His limbs had been immobilized to his sides and a thick, dark brown clay coated most of his body. Carefully, she slipped into the cot, nestling herself between Stoyan’s bandaged body and the wall. Pulling the furs back over, she nestled into the tiny nook, finally finding a comfort that she had strangely been yearning for. Within moments, she was asleep, a field of lavenders waiting for her in her dreams.

Sunlight was streaming in through the cracks in the walls of the hut when Alaiya had awoken. Sounds filtered in from the outside and a gentle wind played with the leather canvass, enticing her curiosity, beckoning her to explore. The smoke was still drifting from the basin as she gingerly sat up in the cot. Beneath her, on the ground, was a platter of thinly cut meat and an array of cheeses, fruits, and nuts. She stepped out onto the hard, sun-baked dirt and her stomach tried to persuade her, but finding the others was her immediate priority. The ground felt unnatural beneath her bare feet as she walked toward the entrance, so long ago had she abandoned the carefree nature of her childhood. A brief memory of her parents teased her as she reminisced about running through the woods surrounding her village. The memory lingered as she made her way out of the hut and into the daylight.

Alaiya shielded her eyes as the morning sun greeted, squinting at the few figures bustling about in front of the huts. The people were Humans, as diverse in size and stature as Fareen. They traveled mostly in pairs, conversing in what sounded like an adapted form of Common, and, from what Alaiya could tell, paid her very little attention. Ignoring the diminutive Sorceress, they went about their business with nary a worry. Most carried some form of material, whether it was skins, lumber, tanned hides, or grasses. A few others carried an assortment of food – a variety of small game, fruits, and nuts. One or two did not possess anything, but they were heavily engaged in conversations.

All of the people Alaiya saw about the encampment were clad in leathers, some possessing the fur of the original owner while others had been shaved clean. Most were barefoot and almost all wore their hair long. Though many people let the sun warm their bodies, she noticed a few who remained completely cloaked, hoods drawn low over their faces shielding them from the light of the day.

The urgency of finding her friends began to weigh on Alaiya as she made her way to the nearest of the four huts, trying to act as natural and inconspicuous as possible. Slipping quickly from one hut to the next she discovered it empty aside from the simple décor that she had been privy to in her own – a small cot and a hanging basin, overflowing with a cornucopia of flowers and herbs.

The third hut was by far the largest of the five, and once she peered inside, Alaiya understood why. Two massive bear pelts covered the majority of the ground, encompassing nearly all of the internal structure. They were contrasting colors, one dark black, the color of night itself, while the other was an extremely ashen grey, making it appear almost white in comparison. Above the pelts was the first mounting she had seen, a ring of cedarglenn branches lashed together with strands of leather weaving its way across, akin to a spider’s web. Locks of feathers, from numerous birds, hung intermittently around the ring, and the entire design meshed extremely well. As Alaiya stood there, staring foolishly at the mount, her eyes began to lose focus. During this blurry flash, a figure seemed to manifest in the center of the ring – a howling wolf’s head – and she could feel the ambiance of the natural itself.

The sudden throb of pain in her leg broke her out of the trance and, noting nothing else of interest, she moved on to the fourth hut in the area. The smell of burning herbs greeted her as she pushed her way past the leather flap and the pain in her leg eased. Aside from the greater amounts of burning flora in the basin, the hut was starkly similar to the one she had found herself in. There were two cots covered heavily in pelts of animal furs and slumped between them was a sleeping Elias. As she made her way over to the helpless Gnome, the smoke was making Alaiya drowsy. She tried to hurry to Elias, to wake him from his slumber, but her steps were turning sluggish. Just before she reached him, her eyelids became too heavy to hold open and she slumped to the floor, peacefully asleep at the feet of Elias.

Elias stirred from his slumber and stretched his feet out, slamming into something unexpectedly. Jarring awake, he saw Alaiya peacefully napping at his feet in a rather uncomfortable position, made slightly more awkward by his bare foot in her face. Slowly standing up and stepping around Alaiya, Elias checked on Stoyan and de Geffriel, who were both still asleep in their respective beddings. Content with the state of everyone, he ventured over to the smoking basin, reveling in the aromatic smoke, basking in the relief it gave him body. A few portions of herbs had fallen beneath the burning basin, scraps of discarded waste that most would pass over in a glance. However, intrigued by the prospect of “alternative medicine” and “medicinal herbs”, Elias scooped up a few for later analysis and headed outside.

No sooner had Elias breached the leather doorway that a rather tall, hooded figure slipped from the side of the hut to stand in front of him, sending the Gnome a few steps back into the hut.

“Oh, morning there. Didn’t quite see you in the brightness of the day.” Elias shielded his eyes as he squinted up into the drawn hood of the person. Their face and features were hidden in the shadows of the hood, something that slightly unnerved him. “Don’t mean to trouble you, so if you’ll just, uh…ugh…” Elias stumbled a bit, his legs still weak beneath his weight.

Behind the figure, who was inconveniently not leaving Elias alone, stood two large men engrossed in conversation. The first, about Stoyan’s height and build with slender and strong features, was wrapped in leathers and forest-wear. He held a gnarled wooden staff on which he leaned for support, leading Elias to wonder how tall he would have been in his youth. His hair was golden-brown with streaks of grey, worn loose and long, flowing freely like the wind. A wreath of leaves adorned his head, though they looked more like they had appeared as happenstance rather than being placed. He appeared to be much older that the other, reinforced by the body language of his much larger companion.

Elias observed as they spoke and, as he watched, the elder turned toward the hut. Frozen by surprise, he locked eyes with the brown-haired man, enchanted by his golden-yellow eyes. He felt the eyes study him, much like he had done with hundreds of components in his alchemical practices. It was all Elias could do, just to stand and be examined, until the man smiled and turned back to his companion. The moment had seemed an eternity, and he suddenly felt unwell. The pain had seeped its way back into his body and the dark shadow of the person in front of him enhanced the uncomfortable feeling. Turning back into the hut, he heard the soft step of the person behind him, ready to follow. Elias held up his hand in protest.

“Yeah, yeah, I got it. Back inside. Don’t have to keep repeating yourself – I understood you the first time.”

Back inside, Elias found his place between the cots and sunk back into a slumber.

“They are the very people we seek to avoid.”

“I am aware, Tereson, Master of the People. But we both are aware of our circumstances. The woods, they cry of treachery. I have heard it as you have seen. We cannot continue this way, ignoring and avoiding everything.”

Tereson sighed, the worries of his people weighing heavily on him. “You speak honest and true as always, Paejin, Master of the Herb. Your council is…much needed. Though I fear for what the rest will think.”

Paejin eased up, happy to have Tereson’s agreement. “Let us drop the formalities,” he said with a smile, “and work on resolving the situation to the southwest. There is strong power there that has been gathering for the last fortnight at least. I was investigating with Dyrr when I ran across this bunch and a few more clad in black. They had the same markings as the others.”

Tereson nodded as the information was presented to him. “I had heard as much last night. It seems the activity has increased as well. In time they might find us. Are you sure of their motives?”

“Not yet, and none of us possess the skill to break this barrier. But perhaps –”

Tereson raised his hand, silencing Paejin. “I know what you would suggest, and I’ll have you know I have thought on it too.”

“Then we are in agreement? Will you send them?”

“You still show you are not ready,” Tereson said with a shake of his head. “They are not ours to command. Forcing our worries on others is not how building a community works. Patience, Paejin. Perhaps Fate is on our side and they desire the same. For now, tend to your flock.”

Paejin looked down at his side as a touch brushed across his leg. A little woman with platinum-white hair looked up at him, a pleading look in her eyes. The two men exchanged slight, indiscernable nods as Paejin swept the woman up and led her away. He crossed the grounds to the hut where she had emerged from in a handful of strides and disappeared inside.

Emerging a few moments later, Paejin worked his way back to the northernmost hut and retrieved a platter of meats, fruits, and nuts, only to return to the first once again. He was gone no more than a few minutes before returning to Tereson. The Master of the People greeted him with a rueful smile.

“Many of us would have left them for dead. But you, you were certain you could save them. Are you sure their wounds will heal sufficiently?”

“Already they have made great progress. My clay plaster is working better than even I could have anticipated. They should be able to manage on their own with the day’s close.”

Tereson looked at his confidant, an approving look on his weathered face. “There is hope for us yet. And I wonder,” his question came off casual as though between two lifelong friends as he glanced back to the hut where the injured lay, “why is it you seem to have taken such a particular interest in the young female mage?”

“Ah, so you have felt her power too?” It is unique, is it not?” Paejin looked back to the hut and then beyond, as if searching. After a pause, he turned back to Tereson. “A shame none here possess such magick.”

“You are avoiding me,” Tereson said with a chuckle.

“Not so much avoiding as…” There was another pause as Paejin searched for the answer. “She reminds me of someone I knew once.”

The World Beyond the Wall
Delagraad Campaign

The stairs spiraled around in a tight ascent, ending finally on a short walkway barred by a portcullis. Darkness gave way to a lighted tunnel to the right, torches flickering as they burned. Neither Stoyan nor de Geffriel could see down the passage, an, when they tried to listen, silence greeted them.

“What kind of hideout is this?” de Geffriel put on a pouty face, and Stoyan found himself smiling. “Who would lead you through something so stupid only to put a gate at the end? How can people even move about? And keeping it clean?! This is…it’s pointless!”

As Stoyan reached around to console her, the tight stairwell forced his hand to brush against the wall. His fingers curled around a wooden extrusion and he pulled down. The sound of iron creaking against stone was a blessed sound, though the gate before them remained still. Their attention instead flew across the way to another gate from a second stairwell, as it slowly retreated into the recesses of the structure above.

“Oh, for the love of…Really? This place sucks.” Folding her arms across her chest in a huffy manner, de Geffriel snorted, another quirk Stoyan found oddly appealing. “Might as well find that stairwell.”

But before they could move, they saw movement as a shadow flickered along the wall. “Hold on, de Geffriel, someone’s over there.”

She waited, watching impatiently, as Elias and Alaiya emerged and stood before the open archway. “Oh, like that’s fair!” She reached over and raised the switch lowering the portcullis in front of them. Both jumped back startled at the sudden occurrence and de Geffriel snickered. Realizing what she had done, Stoyan batted her hand away and pulled the lever down once more, reraising the barred gate.

“Hey, Alaiya, Elias, is there a switch over there? Get us out!” Stoyan’s voice rang out, bouncing off the stone walls.

The two in the other room turned and peered across the conjoining platform and saw Stoyan, his face plastered against the bars, matted hair and flaps of skin jutting out between the bars in an awkward, fish-faced manner.

“Now, that’s a sight,” began Elias, pausing briefly. “…for sore…eyes.” He reached over and pulled a lever extending from the wall. The portcullis across the way opened and Stoyan and de Geffriel moved forward onto the landing to meet the others. Together they looked down the corridor and noticed numerous torches illuminating eight staggered doors on either end.

Suddenly the torches snuffed out, blanketing the corridor in complete darkness. Then, almost as quickly, they reignited.

“That’s, unusual,” observed Elias, his curiosity naturally drawing him into the hallway. With each step he took, the torches extinguished their light and brought it back, creating a symphonic cadence with the Gnome’s steps. Muffled laughter from behind him broke his trance as the torches reignited once more.

Turning, Elias saw Alaiya glaring at the Scout, who had her hand clasped over her mouth, trying to suppress her laughter. Confused, Elias could only stare as de Geffriel held up her hand and snapped her fingers. The torches behind him snuffed out. She snapped again and the torched flared back to life.

“Amazing!” Elias ran to de Geffriel, growing more curious as he tried to comprehend what he was seeing. With every snap of her fingers the torches responded, as though she controlled the life of flame itself. “How do you do that?”

Before de Geffriel could respond, Alaiya interjected. Holding up her hands, she mimed putting on gloves and motioned to de Geffriel. Elias’s eyes followed and widened in realization as he took in the deep purple gloves made of felt. “You found some magick items as well?” He put his hands on his hips and gyrated forward, a gesture that caused both Alaiya and de Geffriel to retch slightly. “Found this with one of the Orcs we killed, right Alaiya? Fierce battle it was. Nifty little thing makes me feel a bit stronger, if I do say so though. I wonder what kind of spell is on it…” Elias lost himself in thought for a moment before turning to Alaiya. “Well, go on. Show ’em your cape.” Alaiya looked at him disapprovingly. “Okay, okay, okay. It’s not a cape, it’s a cloak. Still, show ’em.”

Alaiya half twirled, a little embarrassed by the sudden attention. She held out the cape, its plain brown texture glimmering periodically in the torchlight. Small, miniscule strands of copper and gold had been woven into the fabric and they chased each other as the cloak fluttered and fell back into place across Alaiya’s back.

“Neat, huh?” Elias’s sounded beyond excited. “Well, what else d’ya’ll find?”

Stoyan responded gloomily. “Nothing, those annoying mittens were it. And a whole bunch of dead bodies.”

“Dead bodies?” The news of corpses startled Alaiya.

“Well they’re dead now. Weren’t when we saw them.” He smiled knowingly at de Geffriel as an awkward silence fell over the landing.

A little more than an hour had passed since they began exploring the corridor. The first few rooms held nothing of great significance other than some beddings, tables, and stools. A few rooms had not even looked occupied, while others looked disheveled. At one particular room, wedged in between the door and the floor, had been a tuft of hair, dark brown and reddish in color. Obviously, the rooms had been recently occupied, though the group could not remember if anyone they had met recently had brownish-red hair.

In addition to the standard, inn-like appearance of each room, they all possessed a distinct smell, something slightly acidic with a hint of alcohol. Unfortunately, no one could immediately recognize it, which prompted the curious Gnome, Elias, to further investigate. Getting on his hands and knees and plunging his nose into the corner of the room where the smell was strongest, he inhaled. Stoyan, believing he could assist the compound-savvy Artificer, joined in, much to the amusement of de Geffriel. Since neither was having any success, Stoyan told Alaiya to check the scent in the other nearby rooms, to see if there was a similarity. She agreed and headed across the corridor to try her luck; de Geffriel remained behind, marveling at the stupidity of it all.

Once in the other room it was easy enough for Alaiya to locate the smell. Tracking it to the corner it took her all of three seconds to realize why it smelled so familiar. Often times, when new boys or girls came to the Orphanage, they maintained their previous grooming habits, which often meant relieving themselves whenever they felt the urge, like a newborn babe. With images of raising the young back in Fareen, Alaiya stood up, shook her head, and sighed. She slowly made her way back to the other room as de Geffriel played with the torches, and saw Stoyan and Elias still crouched over the corner, discussing possibilities. She kindly leaned in, grabbed Stoyan’s arm, and pulled him away. Whispering into his ear, she told him what she had found.

“It’s Gnoll urine.”

Stoyan’s face told the story before his words could. It scrunched like crumbled paper as he made a gagging noise, choking on the dry heaves he was forcing upon himself.

“Oh, that’s disgusting! Why, Elias…Why would you have me smell Gnoll piss?”

The Gnome leaned further, swiped his finger across the ground, and lightly touched it to his tongue. Smacking his tongue to the roof of his mouth a bit, he seemed to agree with the conclusion. “I wonder if I could use it for anything?”

As they continued, they discovered more inn-like rooms as well as a linen closet full of fabrics, mops, and buckets, along with another switch. Curiosity, and boredom, tested de Geffriel as she pulled it, only to hear a massive number of rumbling sounds echo up from the stairwells they had come up. Another flick of the lever and the stone sound reverberated once more.

“Hmmm…A master control? How convenient.” She promptly snapped the lever from the wall and tossed it into a nearby bucket. “Good luck with that now.”

At the end of the corridor was another stairwell spiraling up and before that was the last door. Stoyan, hoping to find someone or something other than linens, tried to force the door open. His hand was immediately greeted with several sharp pinpricks that immediately caused swelling.

“Damnit! Ugh, I hate this place! I’m going to kill whoever designed this gateway to the Abyss!”

de Geffriel pushed him to the side and took a look at the handle. “You might want to have Elias look at that, Stoyan; there’s a faint trace of poison on the needles.” As Stoyan wandered over to Elias, de Geffriel withdrew a small kit from her bag. Eyeing the lock once more she found a pin-sized hole and chose the appropriate tool, a thin silvery wire full of crests and valleys. Slipping it inside, she wiggled it around until she felt it hold on a chamber. Slowly twisting it, raising the internal mechanism, she heard a soft click as a tension released on the handle. Stoyan returned, his hand wrapped, just in time for her to swing it open with a mocking bow.

“At your digression. It was not a troubling lock.”

Stoyan rolled his eyes and shoved the door open, knowing there were more secrets in this room than the others – why else would it be locked?

As he walked in the difference was instantly noticeable. There was no bed or linens, no table with place settings, and no where to sit. Instead, the smell of urine and feces and blood seeped forth from the walls themselves. The smell was as rancid as it was thick. On the far wall, driven into the stonework, hung three sets of manacles, the iron holds thick and cold. Stains of urine and blood were splattered beneath them, painted deep into the groundwork with time and repetition. Beneath the manacles, carved into the floor, was a smoothed V-shaped groove, about a foot long and three inches wide in its center. Stoyan ran to the wall and began searching, looking for any signs of recent use. Much to his dismay, it appeared that it hadn’t been used in weeks. Annoyed, he returned to the door and shut it.

“What was in there?” inquired Elias, wondering if there might be a chance for some other unique substance to collect.

“Nothing,” muttered Stoyan. “Let’s go.”

The stairs brought them to a short, widened hall, void of torches, but lit lightly by scant trances of silvery moonlight filtering into the far room. Two large figures draped in browns and greens stood within the room at the end of the hall, speaking in gibberish. Amidst a series of grunts, snarls, growls, and guttural belches, they seemed to be having a conversation.

As they spoke, the group inched forward, wary of who stood before them. As luck, or fate, would have it, Stoyan’s movements were heard by one, who snapped a command at the other. Both turned and peered down the hall, their beady black eyes passing over each person. Even de Geffriel, a master at hiding in the dark, could not escape their sight. Alaiya reacted the quickest and tried to catch the two figures off guard with a spell. However, the rashness with which she tried to prepare the spell caused it to fizzle out before it left her hands.

Once the first one registered what was happening, it advanced, the head of a flail falling from its side as it walked. Alaiya, who had managed to work her way closest to the room, held her breath. Then, before she could react, it charged her. The face of a Gnoll flashed in and out of moonlight as it ran, the visage as frightening as its clawed feet scrapping against the stone. The flail whipped through the air, creating a high-pitched whoosh, before connecting with the side of Alaiya’s torso, and she bent over in pain. It barked a command as the other starting moving toward the group.

The second figure walked slowly, with a disturbing confidence, across the room. It passed through the moonlight, and everyone could make out the unmistakable fangs and lower jaw of the Orc. It sneered, revealing more convoluted rows of disjointed and misshapen teeth. Saliva poured down out of the side of its mouth, dripping down its jaw before splattering on the floor. Its eyes narrowed as it honed in on Alaiya and broke into a run. As its feet crashed to the stone, it swung a greataxe from its harness on its back and let the blade hit the floor, sending a shower of sparks jetting across the ground. Sliding to a halt just before Alaiya, it made an upward swing, slicing through her robes and catching a portion of her thigh as the blade cut through the air. It finished its trajectory in an arc, coming to rest on the shoulder of the Orc. The beast simply stared ahead, amused.

An arrow flew through the air, whizzing over Alaiya’s head toward the Orc. The beast moved its head to the side as the arrow flew into the larger chamber behind them. The creature seemed entirely focused on Alaiya, much to her dismay.

“Where’s Veth?!” bellowed Stoyan. “Where are you hiding him?” He charged toward the creatures, crashing first into the Gnoll with his shield before following up with a swing of his sword. It slashed away a chunk of the leather armor it was wearing, but had little secondary effect. The attack actually seemed to encourage the creature as it barked again to its companion, who nodded in response.

A thundering, crackling sound rose up from behind everyone as a whitish-yellow flash of light crashed upon the walls. Alaiya, feeling a strong sense of magick, cranked one eye to look behind her as the light slowly descended upon Elias. It took shape around his leathers, dancing over the armor in energetic leaps. He took a step forward, held out his rod and the crystal embedded in it shifted from yellow to light-blue. Almost immediately, a blast of cold air erupted in the hallway, striking the Gnoll, who snarled at the sudden drop in temperature.

“Focus on one, take it down quickly. It’ll be useless to divide our attacks.” de Geffriel’s orders rang clearly as the others paid heed.

“Focus on the Gnoll then, the Orc is mine.” Stoyan grinned welcomingly at the massive creature, a gesture it was more than happy to return.

Alaiya shifted away from the melee, the pain in her leg and side substantial. Grimacing, she willed herself to focus her magick and blasted the Gnoll, a hit that bent it double. It snarled ferociously at the tiny Sorceress, a bestial sound that made the hairs on the back of her neck rise. But the moment was fleeting, as Stoyan stood between the two creatures, an opportunity to appealing to pass up. As it swung its flail though, Stoyan raised his shield arm to deflect the blow, sending the spiked ball harmlessly over his head. Then, without practiced skill, he thrust his sword downward, catching the shaft of the greataxe in midair before it cleaved his leg from his body. The two creatures roared as spittle shot from their mouth, clearly agitated at the failed unison attack.

Another arrow hissed through the air, sinking deeply into the shoulder of the Gnoll, followed quickly by a rope charged with thunder magick wrapping around the leg of the beast. The Gnoll flailed widely at the attacks, managing to break the arrow from its body before cutting the rope. Stoyan, meanwhile, was in a heated exchange with the Orc, matching skilled blows with one another. Alaiya sent another wave of magick crashing into the creature. Then, without warning, two men burst from the corner of the other room, completely surrounding Stoyan. Wielding clubs, they beat on him while he was preoccupied.

“Gah!” he screamed. “Where in the Nine Hells did they come from? Why are you…Agh!”

A club smashed into the side of his face, sending a mix of blood and spittle flying through the air. He spun and fell to a knee, succumbing to the powerful blows of both the Gnoll and Orc. With the second blow, he felt his shoulder pop from its socket and fall limb briefly.

de Geffriel, abandoning her bow, circled around the Gnoll and withdrew her rapier and dagger, burying both into the soft portion of the torso beneath the ribs. The creature swung back in retaliation, but she easily ducked beneath it. “Elias, your beads!”

Elias understood immediately, withdrawing a small red bead from his belt. He chucked it at Stoyan and it broke on the ground beneath him. A light red smoke drifted up in the air and was inhaled by Stoyan. He popped his shoulder back into his socket and stood, feeling slightly invigorated. “Thanks, Elias!” he shouted as he turned to brace against the onslaught before him.

With his friend helped, Elias sent another blast of cold at the Gnoll, who flailed wildly trying to disperse the magical energy gathering around it. Distracted, it never saw the massive globe of magick manifesting in Alaiya’s hands until it was too late.

Alaiya condensed as much magick as she could into the spell, the unstable energy singing the tips of her little fingers in the process. With the attack from Elias exposing its chest, Alaiya attacked the Gnoll uninhibited. The creature howled in pain, lightning and thunder magick from the spell searing fur and flesh, piercing the armor as though paper and burrowing itself deep into its diaphragm. Dark black smoke billowed up from the wound as the Gnoll bent over backwards and collapsed to the ground.

The two men, startled by the sudden death of the Gnoll, took one last timid swing at Stoyan with their clubs and ran for it, disappearing back into the room beyond the hall. The Orc, however, seemed to relish his companion’s death, and called out to his god, Gruumsh. He swung his axe again, cutting into Stoyan’s side, drawing blood. Luckily the Paladin’s armor caught most of the blow.

“Rage!” bellowed the Orc, as its eyes shifted from black to blood-red. As the others looked on, it seemed to grow more ferocious and powerful.

“Shit!” cried Stoyan, through gritted teeth. “It’s feeding off the blood fury! We have to kill this thing and quick!” He thrust his blade forward, but the Orc simply grabbed the blade and lifted Stoyan into the air before slamming him to the ground.


The Orc turned to de Geffriel, who was caught off guard by the suddenness of the attack. Twirling its axe through the air, the Scout could only manage to raise her dagger in defense, taking the brunt of the blow across her left arm. The wound opened immediately, blood gushing down her arm as her rapier swung lifelessly in her hand. The Orc screamed in satiated glory, a deep, maniacal scream.

“Elias, I need another one,” demanded Stoyan.

Elias reached into a pouch at his hip and withdrew another red bead. “It’s the last one I have, I haven’t had a chance to make any more.”

“And you won’t if we die here!” Stoyan’s voice was cold and ruthless, his mind singularly focused on the task at hand. Elias, feeling more cornered than relieved, tossed his last aromatic bead at Stoyan. The red mist swirled again as Stoyan stood. “Yes! C’mere ugly!”

That is when the battle stopped, if only for a moment. From outside, trickling in on the wings of the moonlight, were the unison howls of wolves. Everyone heard it, but none seemed to understand the meaning except for the Orc whose lips pulled back across a misshapen jaw in what could only be assumed as a grin.

“What was that?” quivered Alaiya, her focus suddenly split by the callings of the outside world. Even though she had been traveling recently, the fiercest thing the night had brought were the hoots of owls and the dancing of the winds. Stoyan sensed her hesitation and encouraged her in his own subtle way.

“Alaiya, hurry up and fry its ass!”

Alaiya snapped to and obliged, sending a powerful blast of magick into the shoulder of the Orc, who shook off the attack. It stayed vigilantly focused on Stoyan.

Amidst the chaos of the fight two wolves slipped into the corridor flanking Stoyan, immediately lashing out at the Paladin. With his strength recovered, he was easily able to dodge the bites. “Couldn’t give me an easy day, could ya, Tempus?” he said with a smile. He turned back to the Orc, the thrill of battle evident in his eyes. “You first.”

The fight wore on, blows being traded between the group and the Orc. The two wolves quickly became an afterthought as they snarled and growled, biting Stoyan and de Geffriel, proving to be pests more than threats. But there was something to their methodological attacks. They spoke to the sky, as if receiving a blessing and acknowledgment from the heavens before they attacked, and their pack outside approved of every offering. But they were more or less a footnote as the Orc consummated the full attention of the group.

As the Orc was focused on Stoyan, de Geffriel closed in to assist. However, a feeling of wooziness overcame her as she moved, and her instincts brought her eyes to the wolf bites she had incurred during the foray. The wounds, though not deep, were festering at an unnatural rate. As she struck out at the Orc, her thoughts unusually split from the prospect of the kill to her aching legs, the beast took the blow in stride. Then, reaching across the length of her arm, it grasped her throat in its large, gnarled hands, lifted her up and threw her to the ground with such force that the sound of her forearm snapping could be heard as clearly as a blacksmith’s hammer ringing on an anvil. The Orc stood triumphantly over her bleeding body and threw its head back in victory.


Behind him, Stoyan heard Alaiya scream as the two wolves howled in unison. He had not noticed that they had abandoned the Orc and were now focused on Alaiya and Elias. He turned to see Elias fall face forward, his clothing torn and ripped from the attacks of the wolves. Seeing two of his companions fall before him enraged Stoyan to the point where he took on a similar appearance to the Orc, bloodthirsty and vengeful. He raised his sword, and channeling the power of Tempus, he brought it down on the Orc’s collarbone, shattering it and simultaneously tearing open its chest. The Orc, blood spilling forth from its mouth, never broke its stare from Stoyan’s face, reared back and punched him across the jaw. Blood and spittle flew as the Paladin’s jaw cracked from the force of the blow, but that would be the last.

“Rage,” muttered the Orc, as it collapsed to the floor, blood covering the stonework of the small corridor.

Exhausted beyond measure, Stoyan let his guard fall briefly as one of the wolves moved to face him. He heard Alaiya to his left shuffle back a step, as the second wolf slowly advanced on her. Both lashed out, their fangs sinking into the companions with ease, before releasing with a howl to the night. Calls responded back, filling the corridor with an eerie presence of a den.

“What should we do?” asked Alaiya, hoping Stoyan had some great, fantastical plan for what they faced.

“Kill them and get the hell outta here. Then find Veth and kill Lan.” Stoyan stared down the wolf in front of him, which snarled in response, its bristly fur rising on its back. Out of the corner of his eye, Stoyan noticed a slight movement from de Geffriel and he uttered a small prayer of thanks. Alaiya had, at that moment, noticed Elias stir.

“Elias is alive, Stoyan.”

“Yeah, de Geffriel, too. We need to protect them.” He lunged with his sword, and it caught the wolf squarely. It bit back in retaliation and, for the first time, Stoyan took note of the festering wounds across his arms. “What is this…?”

Alaiya tried to scare off the wolf with a blast of magick, but it simply crouched to the ground avoiding it, and pounced. It caught Alaiya’s arm in its fangs and clamped down hard before releasing. Alaiya formed another globe of magick in her hand, determined to go down fighting. “For Cyrxx and Mother Winn,” she thought. The wolf before her snarled and the hair on its back rose as well. But, Alaiya noticed, it was not focused on her but rather the magick in her hand. Confused, Alaiya risked lessening the magick and the wolf seemed to lower its guard slightly. Releasing the magick entirely from its tangible form, she held out her palm, prepared for what would happen next. The wolf leaned forward and sniffed at her hand before pulling away. It howled to the sky once more and was greeted by not the pack, but one solitary, dominating howl. The wolf looked to its companion and yipped.

The wolf before Stoyan was unresponsive to its companion and had been in a staring contest with the Paladin, interrupted intermittently by testing blows. Stoyan had taken the defensive, and de Geffriel had managed to stand and move behind him, her bow at the ready, an arrow aimed at the wolf. With every provoked attack, she would fire, though her arrows were mostly spent foolishly as she could barely stand. The second wolf moved uninhibited from Alaiya and Elias, who had now gotten to his feet, to its companion and yipped again. The first wolf snarled in response only to be greeted from a solitary howl outside. The second nipped at the hind quarters of the first, who seemed to finally concede.

Stoyan, on the other hand, was reluctant to let them go. As he started to move in on the wolf a weight fell across his shoulders, suddenly making his legs heavy. A voice flittered through his mind, and he felt a divine presence surround his body.

“A true warrior knows when to still his blade. Consider the situation. It is not bravery you show now, but stupidity. I will not have that.”

Slowly, Stoyan lowered his blade, though his eyes maintained their mark. The wolf, too, backed up on its haunches, slowly backing away out of the corridor and into the room beyond. Like Stoyan, it never broke its gaze. It was only then, when Stoyan was not fully consumed with fighting, that he noticed the crystalline navy-blue eyes. They sparkled with an unnatural intelligence and possessed an unrelenting will that transcended the beast. The second wolf waited until its companion was gone before it left. As it moved from the corridor to the room, it looked at Alaiya once more and gave a slight nod of its head. Like Stoyan had just seen, the eyes of the wolf had struck Alaiya as unusual. The eyes, a mixture of deep greens and blues, spun and swirled before finally merging, much like the Elien in the summer months. But the sensation that Alaiya would never forget was the visible compassion.

The companions watched as it backed through the room, partially passing through one of the streams of moonlight filtering in. Its fur appeared to shimmer as it passed through the light, an illusion perhaps created by the loss of blood and the intensity of the battle before them. But Alaiya, feeling a strange connection to the wolf as it left, saw something entirely different. To her, it appeared that as the wolf passed through the light it took on a different shape.

The shape of a Human woman.

The stone wall slid shut behind them, the end of their trials finally come to a close. Alaiya was the first to recognize the corridor that extended both before them and to the right. Intuition told her what was to the right and she worked her way down a little bit to validate her instincts. There, lying bundled up at the end of the hall, was the weight de Geffriel had made earlier, still attached to the lever in the wall. She let out a shriek of excitement, and hurried back to the others.

She feverishly pulled on Stoyan’s arm, getting his attention and forcing him to her level. She looked cautiously over to de Geffriel, making sure to keep her voice to a whisper. Always hesitant of people, Alaiya had little trust of the Scout, her intuition reinforced by the woman’s questionable actions. de Geffriel’s appearance at the clearing with the statues was questionable, as Lan’s interest in them could only prove disastrous. It did not help things that Cyrxx was the casualty of circumstance. “This is the room, the first room we were in.” Stoyan looked at her, doubt in his eyes. “The bundle she made is still there,” she continued, her excitement quickly fluttering away.

“Shit!” Stoyan’s mind raced as he contemplated the situation, his face suddenly sullen with the news. Then anger took over. “Where in the Nine Hells is Veth then? He should be here! If that damned Orc had only lived a little longer and answered my questions…”

“Uh, it was coughing up a fair amount of blood, and you did cleave open its chest, Stoyan.” Stoyan shot Elias a look, unhappy with his commentary. Elias quickly recovered, hoping to stay Stoyan’s wrath. “And a mighty fine cleave it was. Through the torso like nothing. Stupid Orc should’ve lived longer.” He gave a slight, forced chuckle and turned away, afraid of what Stoyan might do.

“Damned slavers! Curses on their heads and their coin!” With that, Stoyan spat on the ground at marched forward, down the hall to the exit. “This was a waste of time. Nothing here. I’m headin’ back to Berathion. Maybe Orcen knows… Eh? What was that?”

Hurry down the hall he came to the T-section he remembered, but it was now considerably different. To his left stood the entrance, as they had left it, opened to the night. However, to his right, the wall had disappeared and he could follow the tracks into the inner chambers. He paused and listened again. His ears perked and he motioned for the others to follow closely. He made his way down the new hallway, sticking close to the wall. A few torches partially illuminated the way, though there were substantial shadows to keep hidden in. As Stoyan moved down he noticed barred cages along the wall and the stench of feces and urine danced along the air, stealing its way into everyone’s nostrils.

“Who…who’s there?” A low, hoarse voice rang out from before them. It sounded crusty and beaten, devoid of life, and the group immediately stopped, hesitant to betray their intentions or their position. They had earned the right to be wary.

“Who’s there?” the voice rang out again.

“Shut it, Galien. No one’s there. Every damned sound. Just go back to sleep.” The second voice snapped from an opposing cell, the voice a little firmer but still weak. Silence followed as the voiced retreated.

Stoyan and the others inched forward, sticking to the shadows, still unaware of what lay ahead. As they moved, Alaiya was the first to notice the dirt covered knuckles gripping the bars. She got Stoyan’s attention and pointed out what she saw. Stoyan nodded and took charge.

“Who are you?” he called out from the shadows. He silently withdrew his sword, preparing for anything that might jump out. “What are you doing here?”

“Who’s there?” the voice rang out, hope seeping in. “Someone, anyone, help us. Help us, get us out of here!” Anxious panic began taking over the voice, slightly disturbing the group.

“Shut up, Galien. They’re just messing with you. Go back to sleep.” The owner of the second voice could be heard shifting in the cell.

Galien refused to listen, however, and continued calling out, his voice eventually fading to a hoarse whisper.

“My name’s Stoyan,” began the Paladin, needing to know who these captives were. “A Paladin of Tempus. Are you the guards – “. He was caught off by a third voice further in.

“Mihaylov? Stoyan Mihaylov? Veth’s boy?” This voice was stronger than the others, fuller and more certain.

“You are the guards!” cried Stoyan. “Where’s Veth? Is he here?” No one answered for some time and Stoyan had his answer.

The third voice broke the uneasiness. “He was taken by different men. Three men, exactly, all clad in black came in and took him. Looked like they were prepared for it, too. While these goons had us tied up and gagged they took off to the north, but not before tossing these goons some coin. Told them to hide their trail behind them and forget about it. Said we were theirs to do with as they pleased. And,” the man’s voice caught in his throat, “they slaughtered Richard.”

Stoyan moved to the man’s cell, disbelief in his eyes. “Where did they go? Who were they? What did they wan with him? Why?“

“Pipe down, boy, it ain’t like we know. ‘sides, if ya ain’t gettin’ us out, leave us to our fate.” It was the second man again, his cynicism thick.

“Alaiya, give me the keys.” Stoyan’s voice was collected, the anxiety gone as quickly as it had come. Within minutes, the cages were opened and the remnants of the guards were helped out of their cells. “Richard’s alive. He’s at the border crossing. He filled us in about what happened, and I sent word to Captain Jae. Fareen’s guards should be there within a week.”

The guards each exchanged looks, relief easing the lines creased into their faces. “Thank Pelor for his protection.”

Stoyan sneered slightly at the god’s name, still feeling uneasy about Pelor’s “shadow”. He forced the feeling from his mind and tended to the men as Alaiya and de Geffriel helped escort the three out. As Elias followed behind, a small hand lashed out from the first cell, latching onto his robes.

“Gnome!” The voice was high and skittish, full of fright. “Gnome! Shhh, don’t trust the Humans. Don’t have faith. Lack the faith. Let me out. Show you the light. Show you the power. I’ve seen it! I have, I have.”

Elias bent down, mostly to unfasten the hand from his pant leg. As he lowered his face the bars rattled as a face slammed into them. A beaten face of a Gnome greeted him, a wild look in his eyes. Scars ran across his face and his left eye was clouded over, adding to the frenzied appearance.

He spoke again, hushed and forceful, words the others would never hear. “Listen well, Gnome, listen close. Kalien, I’ve been there.”

It took a day and a half to arrive back to the main road between the crossing and Berathion. As they emerged from the forest, they encountered a small contingent of Paladins breaking down the ambush site. The cart had been removed already and they were clearing the last of the debris. As the companions approached they stopped what they were doing and ran to assist.

Quickly explaining what had happened, they learned that the Paladin scouting parties had found nothing of value to the north. They continuously lost track of the trails, which evaporated into nothingness as the searches continued. Deterred but not willing to give up hope, the group turned the guards over to the Paladins and took off to the north, intent on finding Veth.

It took two days traveling through the woods to the north before the group arrived at a familiar site. Stone statues greeted them as they strode into the clearing where they had last seen Lan and her lackeys. As he stepped into the clearing a sudden realization hit Stoyan, something that he neglected to recall when he had initially arrived at the ambush site. When Lan had fled from them before, she had fled to the north.

“I’ve done it,” he whispered to himself, “I’ve killed Veth.”

Darkness and Puzzles
Delagraad Campaign

The darkness suited de Geffriel well. It heightened her senses and made her acutely aware of her surroundings, even if she could not see. She quickly found the wall to her back and noted that she was in a corner. Brushing over it with her bare hands, she guessed it was stone, possibly granite, and extremely thick. She briefly wondered about the others before extinguishing the thought. “They are together for a reason. I chose this way knowing it was my best chance for survival. They can not distract me.”

Softening her breathing and fully concentrating on her surroundings, de Geffriel slowly took out her spear and guided it from wall to wall. The area was clear. Choosing to follow the wall to her right, since slowly moved forward and every few steps would swing the spear one hundred eighty degrees, spanning the area stretched out to her left, quietly listening. A few times her spear found the edges of stone walls, but mostly, the space was empty. She continued on, intently listening for any sounds in the darkness. Once, she heard some shallow breathing, nasally and unfamiliar, but it disappeared as soon as her spear struck a wall.

Eventually de Geffriel reached the end of the wall and found herself in another corner, the wall turning at a sharp ninety degree angle. “I’m in a room, maze-like apparently. The chances of the stairs being on the outer edges are low…What was that?” Another sound caught her ears, though this time it was deeper breathing, a distinct inhale and exhale. “People…Lying in wait. I can’t be reckless down here…” She picked up her spear and continued down the wall, swinging it out every few steps, familiarizing herself with the interior and dimensions, doing her best to draw a map of it in her head.

At least the darkness calmed her.

“Well, it’s not like we can see where we’re going.” Stoyan’s temper had grown short in the moments following Alaiya’s declaration of magick. It troubled him that he could not see and fear began creeping into his mind; fear that he could not fight what he could not see. “How will we even know where we are?”

“We could make like friends and hold hands?” Elias’s humor was as lost as they were.

“Calm down and think,” commanded Alaiya. For some reason Alaiya was able to keep her wits about her, a testament to the focus of her brief studying at Astyr. The ability to not panic in situations and remain vigilant allowed them to never lose control of the magick. It was the basis for survival for someone of magical inclination, and it had been so ingrained in her that it was second nature by this point. However, it was not something she would consciously attribute to her time at Astyr, so uncomfortable it had been.

“Got it,” she exclaimed. Dropping to a knee, she fiddled through her bag until she found a coil of rope. “We can tie ourselves together. That way, we’ll always know where we are.”

“That’s a good plan. Know where we are even though we don’t know where we are.” The line of thinking strangely gave Elias a shred of hope. “At least we’ll be together.” He felt Alaiya hand him some rope and quickly tied it around his waist. “What do you want me to do with the rest?” he asked Alaiya.

“Tie it around Stoyan.”

After some inconspicuous groping, the three companions were fastened to one another and moving down the wall to their left. Not wishing to stray from the safety of the wall, they each kept a hand firmly placed against it. Soon, however, their careless ways attracted the attention of unknown visitors in the dark. Elias was the first to notice.

“Shhh! Stoyan, stop being a walking miner’s cart. We have a visitor; to my right, away from the wall. Sounds…beast-like.”

“Well,” reasoned Stoyan, “better kill it before it kills us. Elias, you stay planted on the wall. Alaiya, follow me. This should be fun.” A devilish grin broke across the Paladin’s face as he strode out into the unknown.

The stuttered falling of her spear told de Geffriel that she had found what she was looking for – stairs. As she slowly and cautiously placed one foot in front of the other, she rose out of the magick that surrounded her as light finally greeted her eyes. The light itself was not great – the flickering of a torch – but it seemed like the burning of a midday sun. She strode forward as she basked in its warmth, not noticing the sudden decline in the floor in front of her. With a hushed, startled yelp of surprise, she soon found herself sliding down a ramp with two tunnels in front of her. Light shone out of the tunnel on her right and she forced her way over there, struggling to slow herself down as she slid.

Not long after she entered the tunnel did she find herself on flat ground again, a wooden door before her, the sound of rushing water echoing beyond. Picking herself up, she peered through the small window inlaid in the door and saw at the far end a creature, pacing back and forth, a longbow in hand. It stood on a ledge, a gate behind it, staring intently at the door from where de Geffriel spied. Behind the gate it guarded was a set of stairs, veering off to the left. Between them spanned a massive crevice and she could see the froth of the churning water fly up as it disappeared beneath her. On the walls between them, spanning the crevice, were small footholds and handholds, barely large enough for a person to place their feet comfortably, let alone stand.

de Geffriel weighed the options and laid out a variety of schemes to traverse the walls quickly enough to land on the opposite platform and remove the threat. Finally, settling on a series of acrobatic maneuvers and an adequate combat style, de Geffriel slowly opened the wooden door and let an arrow whizz by. She counted, taking note of how long it took the beast to notch and ready an arrow and fire. A second arrow whizzed by, breaking on the stone behind her. “Four seconds,” she thought. “I have to time it right, but I can do this.” She took off as the third arrow whizzed by.

Alaiya could feel a strong magical force coming from the far left. She told Stoyan and Elias about it, garnering a look of utter disgust from the Paladin.

“Enough with this magick crap! I want something I can see with my own eyes and grab with my own hands!” The Paladin’s patience, tried and tested to its limits with the constant pursuit and worry for Veth, was nearing its end. “Lan…She will pay for this.” The words were guttural and bathed in an icy demeanor.

“Before you can do that, you must find her. And she seems fairly skilled at running away.” Elias’s insights could be the stuff of legends.

“Bah! Running is for cowards. One of Tempus never turns from a battle. It is why I am always victorious.”

“Yeah, I’ve seen that. You can’t run because you’re usually lying flat on your face at the feet of the enemy. Lucky for you, you find yourself with able companions.”

Stoyan scoffed at the notion and stepped over the threshold of the top step. “Tempus is merely testing my resolve to fight. Without these trials, I could never consider myself an – AHHHH!!!!” Stoyan disappeared as quickly as a flash as the sound of armor clamoring against stone rattled throughout the stairwell.

“Crap,” muttered Elias. “Looks like we’re at it again.”

Stoyan had wanted to stay as far away from the magick that Alaiya said she felt. When the two tunnels appeared in front of him, he did everything in his power to scurry himself to the rightmost passage. It ended with a loud clang and a small room enclosed on all sides, save for the ramp which he came tumbling down. As he stood, the sound of creaking stone caught his attention and, much to his surprise, a statue in the corner of the room.

“What are you doing here?” The statue was that of a gargoyle, but it made no other move than the rotation of its head. Its voice sounded subterranean it was so low, and it spoke slowly, enunciating each word with practiced precision. The words were calm, lacking conviction, yet pointed and straightforward. When Stoyan did not answer, it repeated itself. “What are you doing here?”

“I, uh, slipped,” managed Stoyan, his words bumbling over themselves as he spoke.

The statue cocked its head a moment before asking again. “What are you doing here?”

Stoyan thought for a minute, weighing his options. He had not had a real positive time with statues before, mostly from trying to avoid conflict and skirt around his true intentions. Even though he could not surmise the purpose of this statue, he decided he would be as straightforward with it as it was being with him. “I am searching for my friend.”

“Am I your friend?”

“No, you are not.”

The statue seemed disappointed with the response but continued its line of questioning. “How will you find your friend?”

“By getting out of this room. Where is the nearest exit?”

The gargoyle cocked its head and pointed toward the ramp. “There.”

Stoyan calmed himself so he might possibly leave one statue he encountered intact. “Can you help me get out that way?”

The statue cocked its head again. “No. But I can help you get out another.” Stoyan’s eyes widened in response to the first piece of good news he had heard in a long time. Then the statue added, “Friend.”

Stoyan nodded as he spoke. “Yes, friend, you can help me. Can you show me the way out?”

“Am I your friend?”

“Yes!” urged Stoyan, his impatience beginning to get the better of him. “You are my friend.”

The statue pointed to the stone wall in front of Stoyan. “There is the way out.” Then, a gush of air filled the room as the stone broke apart from itself and swung to the side. “Good luck, friend.”

Stoyan looked through the door and noticed a large beast-man wielding a greataxe pacing about the room. Behind him was a golden gate, and beyond that gate, spiraling up to the next floor, was another set of stairs.

“Finally,” said Stoyan as he unsheathed his sword, “something I can see.”

Elias had leapt before Alaiya and, thinking she would gravitate toward the magical energy, stayed along the left hand wall. He had seen four tunnels, and, unsure of where Stoyan was, decided to hedge his bets on Alaiya’s choice. However, sitting by the door for a few minutes, he decided that Alaiya had indeed, chosen a different path.

“Well, so much for knowing people.” He stood up and dusted himself off. “Now, let’s see what this is all about.”

As Elias neared the gate before him a loud snarl caught his attention and, from the shadows of the room beyond, rose a massive Gnoll. It wielded a longbow and Elias caught the glimpse of an axe strapped to its back. Immediately regretting his decision to approach the gate, Elias froze and watched. The Gnoll simply watched in return, though its focus seemed more on the gate than the Gnome.

“Hmmm…,” wondered Elias as he approached the gate, “What would happen if I – hey!” His hand stopped just short of reaching the gate, brought to a halt by some unknown force. His moved his hands up and down, them never moving closer to the gate, as the air shimmered with traces of magick. “A spell? A conjuration maybe?” Elias concentrated on the air, searching for some trace of magick that he could latch on to. “Like extracting the essence for a potion. I just need to find the source…There!” His fingers slowly wrapped around an invisible strand of magick and he pulled, unwinding the fabric of the spell. He was delicate in his processes, not knowing if extraction was the same as dispelling or if the consequences were greater. As the spell began to unravel, the air lessened in its shimmer, until there was no more. Sensing the magick had dissipated, Elias reached for the gate and it swung open. However, in the midst of undoing the magick, he had momentarily forgotten about the Gnoll and an arrow grazed his arm. Pulling back instantly, the pain shot through his arm.

“Oh yeah, you’re still here.” Sighing, Elias pulled out his metallic rod and readied himself for battle. “Where’s Stoyan when you need someone to helplessly charge into the fray? What luck.”

Alaiya tumbled down after the two men and descended once more into darkness. She knew the magical energy was strongest to the left and thusly stayed right. Not wanting to be trapped in another complex room filled with magical darkness, she thought it would be her best chance at keeping with the others. No way any of them would willingly choose to risk magick again, especially Stoyan.

As she slid, she noticed the faint light of a second tunnel above her slowly disappear. A brief, fleeting thought of de Geffriel came to mind, but her attention was immediately drawn back to the tunnel down which she was traveling. Before her loomed four paths and, as she continued to feel the strong magick presence to the left, she tried to scurry to the right. However, her hands and feet could not grip the slick surface enough to propel her and she ended up descending down the middle-right tunnel.

She landed lightly enough on her backside that she managed to only slightly wince, though it turned into a depressed sigh. In front of her stood a wooden door with a sizeable keyhole in front of it. She approached the door and managed to peek through the keyhole to see a Gnoll strolling back and forth in front of a stone wall. She managed to see some device embedded in the wall, but other than that, nothing more. Turning her attention back to the Gnoll, she noticed that it was waiting, irritably, for something to come through the wooden door between them. Heaving a sigh, Alaiya took to inspecting the door.

It did not take her long to realize the simplicity of the lock. Removing a small fastener from her robes, she slipped it into the keyhole and gave it a few twists. A small click followed and the door slightly budged forward, enough for Alaiya to peek around. Opening the door wide enough to get a clear shot at the Gnoll, she condensed her magick into a ball and launched it. It hit the Gnoll square in the chest, the force moving him back.

The Gnoll, realizing his prey had finally revealed itself, quickly notched an arrow and fire it at the opening, but Alaiya was too quick to pull back. Frustrated, it moved closer to the door, hoping to cut off Alaiya’s line of sight. Much to her dismay, it accomplished that. She sent out another spell, hoping to force it to retreat, but it only encouraged it. It fired an arrow into the opening, and it sank solidly into Alaiya’s thigh. Crying out in pain, the Gnoll responded with a howl of delight.

“There isn’t another choice. If I don’t close the distance, it has the…” Another arrow struck the stone near her head and rattled to the floor. Her mind made up, Alaiya gathered all of her courage and fought every ingrained instinct to run. Bolting through the door, dagger in hand, she greeted the Gnoll with another spell planted solidly on its abdomen. The brashness of the attack caught the creature off guard and its next arrow sailed wildly overhead. Alaiya, urged on by the unique mix of fear and exhilaration, lunged at the Gnoll, magick prematurely working its way into the blade in anticipation.

Unfortunately, the Gnoll recovered enough of its senses to sidestep the awkward lunge. Dropping its longbow, it unsheathed a greataxe and Alaiya regained her sense of unadulterated fear once more. The wild fear in the creature’s eyes, aided by the animalistic tongue coursing over its lips, rid Alaiya of any senselessness she would have had at continuing with her dagger. Rolling away from the beast, she sent a blast of magick out, propelling the Gnoll back with unnatural force. It snarled and swung its axe, high enough to let the nimble woman duck beneath. Retreating to the corner of the room, Alaiya was left with little choice – running was futile. She sent another wave of magick at the Gnoll as it continued its advance. She did not wait to see what happened, as she could hear its footsteps continue towards her. Unwilling to greet death face to face, Alaiya closed her eyes and discharged as much magical energy as she had left. Collapsing from exhaustion, she barely heard the thud of the Gnoll’s body hit the floor.

A few minutes passed before Alaiya had regained the strength to stand. Deliberately avoiding the deceased creature in the room, she quickened to the stone wall and examined the protrusion. A set of four stone wheels, with numbers one through four etched into them, jutted from the wall and above it, carved into the wall, was an inscription.

Will one ever know where to will go?

Will one always be there for one who never quits?

“Aw, shucks…” muttered Alaiya as she took to deciphering the cryptic puzzle before her. Doing some quick math, which was by no means quick, Alaiya tried to reassure herself. “At least there’s only two hundred fifty-six possibilities,” she said with morbid cheerfulness as she set to work.

de Geffriel moved with the grace of a forest feline as she leapt from precipice to precipice, the Gnoll’s arrows arriving moments after she vacated each spot. Landing solidly on the third and final precipice, she gathered her legs beneath her for the final jump. In midair, she grabbed her garrote from her wrist, and with a display of aerial acrobatic superiority, she twisted in the air, eyeing her kill with delight. The roar of the water boomed beneath her, its white frothy waters leaping up as they bubbled and churned. de Geffriel lowered her garrote around the neck of the unsuspecting Gnoll, intent on utilizing her momentum for one swift, deadly kill. As she landed, however, she neglected to account for the wetness of the stone, and lost both her footing and her grip on the garrote while simultaneously smashing into the gate behind it.

The creature wheeled and withdrew its axe, slamming it into de Geffriel’s arm. Most of the axe head caught the gate, but as warm liquid rand down her arm, de Geffriel knew she was at a distinct disadvantage. Dropping to a knee, she withdrew a dagger and pushed off the gate behind her. The creature parried the blow, but never noticed the second blade she removed from her hip until it lay dug into its torso. The beast howled, a quickly muffled sound as de Geffriel took advantage of the opening as she drove her dagger through the soft flesh beneath the jaw in an upward strike. The beast fell silent as it crashed to the ground. Casually reaching down and taking her second blade, de Geffriel nonchalantly kicked the corpse into the roaring waters beneath her.

“Not what I planned, but still – effective as always. Too bad he wasn’t here to see it.” A small pout touched her lips as she moved to the gate. Looking at the latch, she noticed a few symbols she recognized as symbols of gods. Arranged on two moveable discs, one within another, with a third set on the outer, solid portion of the gate, she reasoned they must match up in columns of three. “Yup,” she said with a sigh, “too bad he isn’t here.”

As Stoyan climbed the stairs he had a sneaking suspicion that someone or something was waiting for him above. “Screw it! I’ll take whatever this place throws at me!” He raced up the stairs, sword in hand and his heart racing. Bursting into the room at the top of the stairs, he screeched to a halt, astonished at the sight before him. Sitting, feet propped on a small footstool, was de Geffriel, a sly grin plastered on her face. Behind her was a stone archway, a green ‘X’ painted across the wall blocking access.

“Well, well, that wasn’t what I expected, but I’ll gladly take it.” She pushed the stool away as she sprang to her feet. “Where are the others? Or,” she paused, the grin growing wider, “did you come alone?”

Stoyan took a step back, trying to collect himself. “Wait, you’re all alone?”

“Uh, yeah. Remember, the others went with you.”

Stoyan turned and looked back to down the stairs he had just ran up. “We got separated again once we got out of the darkness. I’m not sure where either of them are.”

de Geffriel shrugged, not really caring about either of the two; she had the one she wanted. “Then let’s not waste any time.” Throwing a sultry wink at Stoyan, she headed through the passage to the right. “Be sure to follow close.”

They moved to the next room, a sparsely furnished room, devoid of anything beside a crude wooden chair next to another archway, this one with a yellow ‘X’ emblazoned across the wall blocking it. Another passage extended away from them from the other side of the room.

“What’s with the archways,” pondered Stoyan aloud.

“No clue, but let’s keep exploring. Maybe we’ll be lucky and find a bed.”

Much to Alaiya’s relief, she found herself alongside Elias. Fortunately, their stairwells came together and they found themselves looking hesitantly down the passage to the left.

“You ready, Alaiya?” Elias slowly wrung his hands, a sign of his nervousness.

“Only if you’re ready.”

Elias nodded and started forward. Alaiya followed behind him, her breath quick and shallow. Elias pulled up alongside the side of the passage, and he motioned Alaiya to do the same.

“Careful. Something’s ahead here, and it smells…bad.” Slowly inching forward, Elias saw a beast walking around the room. In each hand, it wielded two handaxes that caught the glint of a torch on the wall. Turning back to Alaiya, Elias spoke in a soft whisper. “Just one guard, but I think we need to rush it.” Noting Alaiya’s surprised reaction, he quickly back-peddled. “I mean, I will need to rush the guard. You, well, make sure I don’t die.” He offered a small smile and broke into the room.

Elias charged, slinging his rod out and sending a blast of cold magick into the guard. The guard spun, swinging its axes, barely missing the Gnome. As it turned, it was greeted with another volley of magick erupting from the shadows. The guard grunted and fell to its knees. Elias reared back and smacked the guard across the face, cracking the jaw with the sturdy metal rod. Only when the guard lied motionless on the ground did Elias notice he was not a Human.

“An Orc,” he questioned aloud. Confused momentarily, he stored the information away for a future reference. Then, inspecting the room, he noticed a stone archway, blocked by a stone wall with a yellow ‘X’ across it. “More puzzles?”

Alaiya moved closer to the wall and noticed a yellow lever in the floor. “Maybe there’s a connection,” she offered.

Elias sighed as he nodded, the mental exhaustion of the hideout beginning to wear on him. Alaiya threw the lever and the wall within the archway rose into the ceiling. Another passage extended beyond as Alaiya and Elias exchanged worried glances.

“This should be interesting.”

The Move is Made
Delagraad Campaign

Alaiya awoke to the sound of children running around downstairs. Most had been out of the Orphanage partaking in their daily studies, training, or apprenticing. Now, they were returning home for dinner and to tend to the duties about the Orphanage. A few of the younger ones had seen her return with Stoyan and the others as they sought a place to rest. Their questions about when she’d return stung her. “A month hasn’t even passed, and they’ve lost their Mother and now me.” Alaiya could feel the guilt rising up from her gut.

As she made her way downstairs, she asked Ruthe, one of the helpers, to wake the others. Before Ruthe could leave, however, there was a rapt at the door. Ruthe, confused about what she should do, turned to Alaiya for guidance.

“Let them sleep a bit longer.”

Ruthe nodded and answered the door. A man wearing a brown tunic over chainmail greeted her with a slight bow. The yellow scales of Fareen were stitched into the right breast of his tunic, signifying his association with the city guard.

“Pardon the intrusion ma’am,” the man’s voice was gruff, belying his young appearance, “I trust Stoyan Mihaylov is here? Captain Jae would like to speak with him.”

A startled Ruthe looked rather dumbfounded by the question. Luckily, Alaiya came to her rescue, pulling her away and motioning her upstairs. Alaiya returned to the young man and motioned him inside.

“It is better that I don’t, ma’am. As of now, the horses are my charge.” That’s when Alaiya noticed the four steeds off to the side of the Orphanage. Another man, adorning similar clothing to the one before her, held the reigns of the animals, standing perfectly still, patient and calm, uncannily disciplined. She saw Captain Jae, who nodded.

Suddenly, Alaiya felt a tug at the back of her robes. Turning around she saw young Palia, a girl who had come to Fareen with her father, who had fallen ill and died four months ago. Alaiya was one of the few people Palia would talk to.

“Are you going again?” Palia’s red hair was tousled and unkempt, nearly covering her eyes. A few freckles danced across her nose as she spoke. “Why are you leaving again? You just got back. Don’t go. I won’t have…I won’t have anyone to talk to.”

The memories came flooding back to Alaiya of her own sadness as a child and her own feeling of abandonment when Cyrxx left. Though he always had returned, he was never the same as he was before the first time. And now, it was too difficult to think about. Alaiya pushed the thought from her mind and forced the tears to stay in her eyes. She would be strong for the children. But she must be honest with them first. No secrets, no illusions, no wondering.

“Yes, Palia, I am leaving again.” Alaiya bent down to look at the young girl in the face. “I must try to save a friend. My friends and I must try very hard to help him, and these men are going to help me do that.”

Palia sniffled a bit and wiped away a small run of snot seeping from her nose. “When will you be back?”

This was an answer that Alaiya could not say with certainty, so she went for truth. “I’m not sure; a few weeks, possibly longer. I don’t know how long it will take to help my friend.” She looked up as Stoyan and the others shuffled down the stairs. Alaiya gave a nod of her head to Stoyan, directing him outside. Turning back to Palia, Alaiya continued. “But, I need you to do something for me, ok? I need you to help Ruthe out and be strong. She needs a good helper. Can you do that for me, Palia? Can you be good and strong for me while I’m gone?”

Palia nodded and buried her head in Alaiya’s chest, wrapping her little arms as far as she could around the Sorceress. The hug cut Alaiya deep, but she treasured it; it was something she wished she could have given Cyrxx, just once. She gratefully returned the embrace before sending Palia over to Ruthe, who stood nearby.

“Remember, be strong.” With those final words, Alaiya stood and walked outside to her awaiting mount.

The journey to Gimlora was quick with the horses Jae supplied. They covered nearly twice as much distance each day than they had been able to on foot. However, Stoyan had an uneasy feeling as they hurried south to Berathion, a feeling that he hoped was compounded by their speedy travels. Unlike their initial journey, they ran into only a few sparse travelers and even fewer merchants on the roads. The lack of travelers would not normally have bothered Stoyan, but he knew merchants would be setting up in Fareen for the Spring Celebration. It did not help matters that de Geffriel kept mentioning how few people were in the land and how much busier she kept expecting everything to be on a main thoroughfare. This feeling gnawed at Stoyan all the way to Gimlora.

Just after midday, as the shadows were starting to extend on the eighth day of the fifth month, they neared the checkpoint spanning the Elyse. Gimlorian Paladins bustled about, a greater sense of urgency falling over the river crossing that before. On the other side of the checkpoint, Stoyan could see scores of merchants and travelers lined up waiting to cross through the checkpoint. A group of five or six Paladins were busy inspecting their belongings and questioning each person. As Stoyan watched, he noticed that even children were not exempt from this. Additionally, as they approached the bridge, he noticed numerous patrols entering and leaving the encampment, far greater amounts of activity than they had witnessed last time when they saw just one patrol return. The looks on the Paladin’s faces were stern and agitated, as though they were troubled by something. A knot formed in Stoyan’s stomach as they approached.

With Stoyan taking point, they began to cross the wooden structure when a young, brown-headed, eager looking Paladin of Pelor stepped out before them. His plate armor shone with polished attention and his cape with well pressed. If not for the mud on his boots, one might have suspected he was a castle guard, so immaculate was his gear. With no more than a hand, he stopped the advancing group, drawing some ire from the malcontent Stoyan. Biting back a snide remark, Stoyan attempted the more pleasant, difficult, diplomatic approach.

“Is there something I can help you with, brother of Pelor? We are rather pressed for time.”

The Paladin gave the four companions a look over, paying particularly close attention to Stoyan’s blade and Alaiya’s robes. “No doubt you are, brother of…,” the Paladin searched Stoyan with his eyes before finally finding the black and white stallion symbol indicating his allegiance. “Tempus? Don’t see too many of you guys. Anyway, papers?”

“Papers?” replied Stoyan, “Papers for what?” The knot in Stoyan’s stomach started to tighten.

“Papers to cross. Need them to get in and out of Gimlora. Official business, things like that. So, can I have your papers?” The young man held out a gloved hand, expecting to be given the documents he sought.

“Well, that’s news to me. When did you start needing papers? We passed through here not more than two weeks ago and you requested no such thing.”

The man returned a nod. “Yeah, but two weeks ago, things weren’t as interesting. We got orders two days ago from Berathion. No one comes or goes without papers. Said it was going to cause problems for those on the road already, but until word gets around, that’s how it is.”

“How do you expect us to cross then? You want us to go back to Fareen and talk to the Magistrate to get papers?”

“No, of course not. That’s stupid. If you don’t have them,” and he looked hopefully up at Stoyan, “then you can wait for the inspection. Shouldn’t be more than a few hours.” He looked back over the bridge and took note of all the people waiting. “Maybe longer.”

Stoyan’s patience was wearing thin. “Look, we have an important meeting with Orcen Valingard, the Assistant to the High Priest of Pelor. You’ve heard the name, right?” The man nodded, rolling his eyes. “And you wouldn’t want to hold us back from meeting him, right? I bet Orcen would be willing to look the other way for just this once.” The anger was starting to rise in Stoyan’s words, but the man did not seem to hear.

“Actually,” he began, “I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t want us bending the laws and showing favoritism. That’s the kind of man Orcen is.” The man rolled his eyes again. “I can’t believe you started name-dropping.”

Stoyan tightened his grip on the reigns, causing the horse to shake its head. “Fine, no names. How many people do you see trying to cross into Gimlora?”

The man looked around him with an unimpressed look on his face. “Really?” Stoyan nodded. “Well, there’s four. Not too hard to see if you turned your neck. I’m pretty sure you know each other too, since you came in together.”

If Stoyan was sure he could escape jail, he might have leapt off the horse and throttled the young Paladin right then. “Good, now don’t you think it’d go faster if you did us first?” Elias swore he could hear Stoyan’s teeth grinding.

“Yeah, you’d be done faster, but the inspection team will get around to you. All those other people were here first, and, like I said before, showing favoritism isn’t something we want to do.”

de Geffriel moved up on her steed quickly and laid a hand on Stoyan’s shoulder. The touch caught the Paladin off-guard, but her words were sincere. “Stoyan, maybe if you took him to the side, away from his brothers, you’d have an easier time convincing him.” She dropped her arm before quickly adding, “Oh, and try the truth.”

Grumbling under his breath, Stoyan dismounted and strode over to the Paladin. “Ok, listen here. First, what’s you name.”

“Name’s Bolvi Clearlake.”

Stoyan nodded. “Alright, Bolvi, we’re really pressed for time here. We’re trying to get to our friend in Berathion. Came through a few days ago from Fareen. He’s really sick and we have some medicine that we hope will cure his illness.” Bolvi rolled his eyes again as he prepared for another sob story, but Stoyan paid him no attention. “He was being moved from Fareen,” Stoyan continued, “transported in a non-descript merchant cart. He was traveling with four guards, four of Fareen’s best as selected by Captain Jae Kalvier. If we don’t reach Berathion in time-”

Bolvi stopped him right there. “Four guards, you say? From Fareen? And they were traveling in a merchant cart?” Stoyan nodded, confused by the sudden pique of interest from the border guard. “Quick, follow me. You may not be heading to Berathion.”

Bolvi lead Stoyan over to a medical tent near the southeast part of the encampment. He pulled back the tent flap and motioned Stoyan inside. The tent smelled of healing herbs and various oils. There were a few empty cots and a desk to the right with a stack of papers sitting on top. Beyond the cots, behind a partially drawn drape, was a heavily bandaged man, propped in an inclined position. From where he stood, Stoyan immediately recognized the man as Richard Beleavy, one of Jae’s personal friends and most well-regarded guards. Stoyan stepped in front of the man, the knot continuing to tighten in his stomach.

“Richard? What are you doing here? And what happened to you?”

Richard peered up through one good eye. Bandages covered half his face, and his left leg was fastened in a splint. The lower part of his right arm had been cut off, whether on purpose or not he could not tell. “By Pelor, Stoyan, how did you make it here from Berathion? There’s no way you would’ve heard about this already!”

“What’s that mean? We came from Fareen. Jae sent us to catch up to Veth’s caravan.” Richard looked down at his missing arm, and the knot grew in Stoyan’s stomach. “Please, please don’t tell me you were one of the guards. Please tell me this is a sick coincidence.”

“’fraid not, Stoyan. I was there and I’m the only one they found. Well, most of me they found.” He waved the stump of an arm around.

“What happened? Who did this to you?”

“No clue. I was on watch that night. Must’ve been, what, five nights ago? Someone grabbed me from behind ‘round the throat. Turned me around so I couldn’t see what was happening. Managed a dagger from my belt and got him with it,” he made a backward thrusting motion with his left arm, “before I was tackled to the ground by another one. By then I heard the commotion coming from the cart. Tried to help them, but the two guys got me again. Got the sword out, and got one guy really good, but the other, well…” He waved his half-arm in the air. “Let’s just say they paid me back. Blacked out after that. Next thing I know I woke up here, bandaged, being questioned by the border guard.”

“Did you get a look at who attacked? See anything about them? Did they get Veth? Where did they go?”

“Whoa, hold on there!” Stoyan’s rapid-fire questions brought a slight smile to Richard. “As I said, attacked from behind. And it was night. We weren’t trying to draw attention to ourselves, so we didn’t even have a fire going. Couldn’t tell you heads or tails of the whole thing.”

“What did you tell the border guards? Have they found anything yet?”

Richard scoffed at the notion. “You’re kidding, right? This place is supposed to be one of the safest in Delagraad, constant patrols and all that shit, and this happens, inside their supposedly protected borders? Yeah, I ain’t telling them shit.”

Stoyan contemplated on this a moment before searching the tent for some parchment and ink. He scribbled a quick note and sealed it with wax before returning to Richard. “I assume Jae doesn’t know, right?” Richard nodded, a grim look appearing on his face. “Ok, I’ll send word to him then. He’ll send some men down to take you back to Fareen. You can give him your report there.”

As Stoyan headed out of the tent, Richard stopped him. “Hey, you going to look for those guys?” Stoyan, a look of determination in his eyes, coolly nodded in reply. “Good. When you find them,” and he held up his right arm, “make sure you pay them back. Double would be nice.” Stoyan smiled as he exited the tent, the prospect of a fight making his blood boil.

Bolvi stood watch outside, obviously trying to eavesdrop on the conversation. As Stoyan emerged, he quickly approached the Paladin, the eager look in his eyes growing wilder. “Did he talk to you? What did he say?”

Stoyan simply looked at the young Paladin, Richard’s words lingering in the back of his mind. “This place is supposed to be one of the safest…and this happens?” Stoyan walked briskly away from the tent, guiding Bolvi into a small private area between some tents. “Where did you find the man?”

Bolvi nearly exploded with the information. “South of here, about a half-days travel. The caravan was on the side of the road, but he,” and he gestured back to the medical tent, “was the only one there. We have patrols scouting the area, but they haven’t found anything. They’ve been out for a few days now. It just seems like they disappeared.”

Stoyan mulled over the information before handing over the letter. “I’m trusting you with this, Bolvi Clearlake. This needs to be sent to Jae Kalvier, Captain of the City Guard in Fareen. It’s very important. Can you do this?”

Bolvi took the letter with a sense of reverence. He cautiously slipped it into his gauntlet, trying his hardest not to bend it. “It’ll be sent out with the evening riders.” A tone of awe and privilege had coated his voice.

“Excellent. Now, how could four people get across this river here?” Stoyan had picked up on Bolvi’s eagerness and was hoping to bypass the checkpoint with his aid.

The young Paladin, who was still admiring the letter in his gauntlet, mindlessly pointed to the bridge spanning the Elyse. “The bridge, sir. That’s the only way across. And you need papers to get across.”

Bolvi never once looked up from his arm, which was a blessing since Stoyan might have punched him in the face. Taking a few deep breathes, he calmed himself before proceeding. “Something tells me it would greatly please Orcen that his Paladins had the foresight to aid in apprehending those that have caused such chaos. It would be necessary to get to the ambush site as soon as possible to begin. And it would hurt if we were delayed here until nightfall.” Stoyan paused, letting what he said sink in. “It would be great if a dutiful Paladin offered an escort across.”

Bolvi leapt at the chance. “I can do that. Wait, shhhh!” Lowering his voice to a whisper, it began echoing out in high-pitched squeaks. “I can lead you across. That’d be helping, right?” Stoyan nodded, hiding to his delight to himself. “And you’d tell Orcen, right? You’d tell him that I helped, right?” Stoyan nodded again, and Bolvi nearly jumped out of his boots. “You be sure to tell him. And don’t forget my name, either. It’s Bolvi, ok? Got it? Bolvi. B-O-L-V-I. Bolvi Clearlake. You be sure to tell him.”

“Got it. Bolvi. Great.” Now it was Stoyan’s turn to roll his eyes, but he did so subconsciously, still needing the young man’s assistance. “Now, if you can get us across, I’ll be sure to tell Orcen the next time I see him.”

Bolvi nodded eagerly and took him back to the bridge. Dismissing the two guards who sat watch, the young man motioned for everyone to follow him across the bridge. Stoyan noticed both a slight skip in the man’s step and a massive grin trying to be suppressed. Behind the Paladin, he let his eyes roll freely.

“Only a few more hours, Veth. I’m coming. I’ll be sure to save you.”

Night had already fallen when the group reached the caravan. To the north, they could hear numerous Paladins thrashing through the woods. The transport itself was abandoned on the side of the road, two of the wheels broken, making it utterly unusable. Countless footprints could be seen surrounding the cart, and according to Stoyan’s keen eye, he estimated roughly seven or eight people were involved in the ambush. One of the cart’s doors hung delicately on its hinges, the other having been broken off in the ambush. Smatterings of blood decorated the ground, a dark crimson stain obvious near the front of the cart. Stoyan calmly reminded himself of Richard’s sacrifice.

Inside, the cart was much worse. Bloodstains coated the interior and the walls were chipped and shredded with bladed weapons. A long bed was attached to the opposite side, and the thought of Veth lying helplessly enraged Stoyan. He checked for clues, any sort of sign left behind, but found nothing. Frustrated, he emerged, the cool night air cooling his rising temper.

“Nothing inside of use. Anything you guys find out here?”

Alaiya stood up from the brush to the south and motioned for everyone to follow. Elias was the first to reach her and also the first to notice the faint remains of footprint heading away from the site.

“Seems like someone doesn’t want to be followed, at least, not this direction. The ones across the road heading north are meant to be seen. Seems like we might have found their true intention.”

Alaiya nodded and looked at Stoyan. It was obvious he was weighing the options – “Follow the obvious path, where I know I’ll find someone, or take the unmarked trail and hope for the best. With the Paladins obviously sending their patrols north, we might be too late if we go there. South is our best bet if we are to find someone that I can question…”

“I say we follow the southern trail. The Paladins are sure to find whoever went north.” He surveyed the ambush site once again, taking note of as many details as he could find – the number of different footprints, the weapon markings in the cart, the lack of goods inside, the absence of drag marks. “Whoever was here carried the bodies off. They may still be alive. For their sake, they better be.” Stoyan pounded his fist into his palm, as a stern scowl etched itself into his face. Renewed by the thrill of the chase and his growing impatience for Veth’s deteriorating health, he set off south through the woods, the others close on his heels.

On the morning of the tenth day of the month, the group stumbled out of the confines of the forest and into a sparsely populated clearing. The midmorning sun warmed their bodies, relaxing the tension from their aching muscles. It had been a steady day’s march south through the forests of Gimlora, and the companions were unsure of where they were. A strong wind rose up out of the south to greet them and with it the drastic change in locale became suddenly obvious. The lack of the fresh forest air was offset by the mild hint of the ocean. Though they could not see or hear the waters, there was a faint saltiness to the area. This, along with the lack of people, had given Stoyan an unpleasant feeling that they had ventured too far from the safe confines of Gimlora.

“Hey Stoyan, why haven’t we seen anyone else in these parts?” inquired Elias. The Gnome had become increasingly talkative since this journey had began, an unnatural excitement present in his voice. “You sure we’re on the right path and all? Yeah, sure, we ran into those “slavers” or whatever, but, it’s been over a day and we haven’t seen anyone or anything since. And I ain’t sure about them being slavers either. I mean, before that last one died from your subtle wounds, he said something about ‘fishing’.”

Stoyan stopped in his tracks, though he did not turn around to address the Gnome. His thoughts went, instead, to the four men they found that night. Both groups had entered the patch of logged land simultaneously, but the men reacted first. They had broken into a run upon seeing Stoyan and the others, a move that had been interpreted as an initial assault. In hindsight, however, Elias’s words tormented Stoyan. The men had been beaten up pretty badly when they encountered each other and their initial adrenaline rush to Stoyan’s first attack proved a more deadly opponent than the skill of the men themselves. It was not until after, when one of the dying men lay coughing up blood, that Stoyan realized he might have slaughtered innocents.

Stoyan’s intuition had told him they were mercenaries for hire, or slavers scouring the forest for lost travelers. However, the men bore no tattoos, nor did they wear similar armor to that of the Dark Light. And as Stoyan angrily and forcefully jerked the dying man around, demanding answers about things he may or may not know, the only two things he managed to tell the Paladin was he came from the ‘south’ and he was ‘fi…shing’. No, Elias’s doubts had begun to eat away at Stoyan and it was a feeling he did not approve of at all.

As they continued forward, Elias still yapping away, Stoyan laid eyes on a rather large building looming before them. Made of a dark grey stone, it possessed no windows, no doors, and a singular barred gateway. A thatched, wooden roof covered its top, a slight crest peaking in the center of the building and grading out shallowly to the edges of the structure. No chimney protruded from the roof, leaving the initial impression that it was more of a storehouse than anything. Outside the building, sitting on wooden stool much too small for his size and girth, was a massive behemoth of a man, calmly, delicately, tenderly sharpening a gladius. They could hear the ringing of the grind – shiiik, shiiik, shiiik. If the man had heard them emerge from the forest, he gave no indication as he continued about his monotonous routine.

Almost immediately de Geffriel took to a lone oak standing before them, scrambling up the trunk with ease. It appeared that as she climbed she slung a shortbow off her shoulder and soon had it notched and aimed at the lone man before them. Still, he sharpened his blade – shiiik, shiiik, shiiik.

“What do you think you’re doing?!” demanded Stoyan, struck back by the decisiveness of the woman’s actions. “What if he notices you and now thinks you’re a threat?”

Calmly, de Geffriel responded in hushed tones. “Never take chances, Paladin, you don’t know who to trust. Now, go and talk to him. I’ve got you covered.” She notched an arrow into her shortbow and peered through the leaves of the tree. Her feet planted firmly on knots of the trunk, she waited, ready at a moment’s notice to loose her arrow.

Stoyan sheathed his blade and slung his shield over his shoulder, trying, as honestly as he could, to don the appearance of being lost. He sheepishly approached the man, tossing his arm behind his head and laughed nervously.

“Hey, uh, excuse me. I was wondering if you can help us? See, we, uh, got kinda lost following a gaming trail, and are just looking for a way back to the road. Thought we were heading back, but I guess our sense of direction ain’t that good.”

The big man never looked up, opting to stay on his stool and continued sharpening his gladius. Shiiik, shiiik, shiiik.

Moving closer, Stoyan prodded a bit more. “So, yeah, we’re looking some help. Can you or whoever lives here point us in the right direction? Don’t want to intrude, but we could really use it.”

Shiiik, shiiik, shiiik.

Growing irritated with the man, Stoyan began losing his focus. “Hey, we were looking for some friends. Think they went down this trail off the main road. You know anything about that?”

Shiiik, shiiik, shiiik.

Turning back to the others, Stoyan shrugged, obviously out of ideas. They motioned for him to continue. With a heavy sigh, Stoyan caved. “Alright, big, tall, and dumb, a caravan of ours was ambushed. We followed the trail here. Now, you can tell us what you know or if you saw anyone come this way. Now.”

This time the man cocked his head to the side and spit on the ground, a small puddle forming where the excrement landed. Shiiik, shiiik, shiiik.

Giving up, Stoyan left. On his way back he noticed fresh drag marks on the ground in the direction of the building. Returning to the others, Stoyan vented his frustration. “The guy’s not saying anything. Doesn’t even look like he understands Common. He a big, fat, pile of useless. But I did see some drag marks. Can’t tell if they were coming or going, though.”

“I’ll give ya big, but he’s far from fat.” Elias’s comment was accompanied by a series of nods from Alaiya.

“I think we should check out the building,” offered the little Sorceress. “Maybe there is another way in, like a door or a window.” The two men nodded in agreement. “But we should stay in the trees, just in case there is trouble. There might be more guards.”

Once de Geffriel had returned from her roost, they set off through the woods, circling the building. They circled to the west first, finding nothing but solid wall on all sides. They could still see the man sitting on the stool, his whetstone continuously gliding over his blade. They could still hear the rough sound of the stone greeting metal – shiiik, shiiik, shiiik.

As they kept their eyes on him, no one noticed de Geffriel break for the wall in a full sprint. In full stride, she leapt to the wall, planted one foot then the other on the wall, and appeared to float up the stone surface. Reaching for the roof at the last moment before her forward momentum ceased, she hoisted herself up and stood, striking a gloating pose to the others. They stood in stunned silence and marveled. Before they could say anything, she slung her pack off, pulled out a rope, found a loose thatch, fastened the rope to one end, and tossed the other off the side of the building. Then, reappearing, she smiled and offered a simple inquiry, “You coming up?”

The rest of the group looked apprehensively at the rope, more unsure than unwilling. Stoyan, though, ever the proud, would not be outdone by the snarkiness of the fleet-footed woman. He knew the underlying tones of mockery in her voice – it was a tactic Veth employed often when trying to get his young pupil to dig deep and push himself. Though, now, the tone failed to inspire; instead, it fueled competitiveness. Stoyan grabbed the rope and hoisted himself up, one hand after the other, his feet braced against the wall to stabilize himself. Fortunately, whatever de Geffriel had fastened the rope to held his weight. Pulling himself over the lip of the roof’s edge, he stood, defiant in a victory that such a task would seem too difficult for one such as him. Elias followed behind as Alaiya insisted she be last – a woman is entitled to her modesties.

“Never leave a man to do a woman’s job,” de Geffriel said, while giving Stoyan a sly look. “Most just leave you disappointed and unsatisfied.” A look of wanting brushed across her face before she turned to Alaiya, assuming an air of casualness. “I’m not even sure why we keep them around. Don’t seem of much use to me.” Alaiya could not stop herself from blushing.

With everyone securely on the roof, and her flirtatious jabs spoken, de Geffriel immediately began combing the area, searching for loose shingles, weathered sections, or any type of opening she could pry open or squeeze herself through. Walking delicately, she eventually happened upon a section the bowed under her weight, indicating a weakness in the structure. She quickly took a knee and went to work. Removing a crowbar from her pack, she thrust it between one of the shingles that gave the most give, lodging the tool at a modest depth. As she yanked and pulled on the bar, her face began to perspire and after a few unsuccessful attempts she gave up.

“Maybe you need a man after all.”

Stoyan strode over and took a look at the propped crowbar sticking out of the roof. “And you just happen to be carrying a crowbar with you? What kind of scouting did you say you did?” He eyed her coolly, a minor test of his. He was not totally bought in to trusting her yet, and the fact that she seemed ready and eager to break into a house stirred that mistrust.

de Geffriel simply brushed the question off. “Never know when anything could come in handy.” She tapped an accumulation of weapons sticking out of her pack. “Besides, it pays for a woman to be prepared. Now, you big strong, manly man, prove to me why I would need someone like you around…for more than warmth on a cold, winter night.” She spoke the last words slowly and Stoyan was not unsure he saw her tongue flick across her lips as she did.

Stoyan batted the thought away and returned to the task at hand. He would never let a moment pass where he could show off; nor would he miss a chance to rub someone’s face in. But to have an opportunity to do both at the same time? Stoyan was going to enjoy himself. Grabbing the crowbar confidently in one hand, he yanked down, fully expecting a simple, powerful jerk would loosen the shingle. It did not budge, though de Geffriel found herself amused.

Bemoaned, Stoyan gave one more one-handed jerk before accepting that this might require his full strength. Grabbing the crowbar in both hands and bracing his feet against the roof, he pulled with one heavy jerk with his full weight. The shingle budged beneath the weight, but not enough to pry it loose from its fastenings. de Geffriel, now thoroughly enjoying the spectacle, snickered, which clearly frustrated and adequately embarrassed Stoyan. Intent now on not only prying the shingle loose but utterly destroying the wood and all of its relatives, Stoyan gripped the crowbar once more and heaved. He closed his eyes, gritted his teeth, and as his muscles began to strain he could begin to feel the shingle lift. As Stoyan pulled with every fiber of his being, he felt the give continue until, all at once, the resistance ended. He stumbled back, nothing able to counter his momentum, and his eyes fluttered open, trying to gain some sense of orientation. His legs still trying to get underneath him unsuccessfully, he noticed the crowbar, mockingly, still lodged between the shingles of the roof. Confused, he looked at his hands and noticed a thin layer of sweat coating the inside. The concept of his grip slipping off the crowbar dawned on him just as his foot stepped onto thin air.

When Stoyan reopened his eyes after the impact, he saw de Geffriel’s face peering over the edge of the roof, a look of pain and concern in her eyes.

“Are you okay?” she inquired, obviously trying to not hurt his pride. She had enjoyed the show of manliness, regardless of how it turned out, and found herself wondering if there was something Stoyan might be willing to let her do to help him…feel better.

Grunting, Stoyan sat up and shook his head. Rising, he dismissively waved a hand at de Geffriel. “I’m fine,” he muttered, trying to sound less embarrassed than he should. “I’ll be right up.”

Stoyan took note that the back of the structure was as bare and inaccessible as the front and sides, leaving the gate behind the man as the only foreseeable way in. Reaching the west side of the building, he grabbed the rope and began to hoist himself up. de Geffriel popped her head over as moral support, and, if Stoyan needed a hand, to lend it. As Stoyan slowly rose off the ground, he felt his forearms shake and quiver beneath the strain of the physical exertion. It did not take long for his hands to refuse to hold the rope, and after another brief moment of free-fall, the Paladin found himself on the ground again.

de Geffriel had seen enough and could no longer resist the temptation to take a jab at Stoyan’s pride. As graceful as a bird soaring through the sky, de Geffriel leapt from the roof, flipping once in the air to add a touch of panache. Landing beside the prone Paladin with the grace of a feline, she stepped over him and sat on her haunches. Leaning close to Stoyan’s face, she purposely lay on his chest, close enough to feel his body heat. Excited, she let it slip into her voice as she whispered seductively into his ear.

“And why,” she began, her breath warming the side of Stoyan’s cheek to the point of flushing, “would I need a man who can’t even…” She paused, letting her breath spill over the man. “…keep himself up?”

She snapped at his ear before thrusting herself up. Turning quickly on her heel, she rapidly ascended the rope with ease and disappeared over the edge of the roof, leaving Stoyan to his thoughts. Riled in more ways than one, the Paladin collected himself and forced his hands to cooperate as he joined the others above.

“There doesn’t seem to be a way in from up here. We heard voices, faint, but audible. Somewhere over to the right.” Elias pointed to the east end of the building as he spoke and found himself staring at the woods around them. The trees, sturdy oaks, broad and thick, became a singular mass as they moved further from the building, creating a green sea of flowing leaves far to the north. To the south, just before the horizon, he was able to make out a sliver of crystalline blue – the Elien Sea. He sighed deeply, yearning to explore the world outside of the constraints of the land. The urge to explore hit him deeply at that moment, and it took him a second to finish his initial line of thinking. “Doesn’t seem to be anywhere to go but inside, either. And, uh, he doesn’t look to welcoming.”

Alaiya nudged Stoyan, grabbing his attention. He bent down, enabling the small woman to speak just above a whisper. “Can you jump on him? From up here, I mean. Would that be a good trick?”

Stoyan shrugged his shoulders in reply. “Hell, I’ve already done it twice. Third time’s the charm, right?”

Alaiya beamed up at him, happy and excited that her idea was useful. Stoyan then back away from the northern edge of the roof and pulled everyone together. “Alright, we need to beat that guy up, right? Only way it looks like we’re getting in. Now, I’ve got a plan that might work for all of us. Now, I’m going to try to surprise the guard by jumping from the roof. de Geffriel, you still got that bow, right? You stay up here, perched like you were in that tree, and try not to hit me.” She smiled and nodded in understanding, a smile that worried Stoyan. He was unsure if she was getting excited at the prospect of a fight, or the joy of watching him purposely leap from the building. Regardless, he continued. “Elias, you take Alaiya and head down to the ground. Attack from the west, where we circled around. You should have some clear shots while I’ve got his attention.”

“Aren’t you going to warn them about hitting you,” inquired a hurt de Geffriel.

“Nope, I trust them.”

Their roles established, they headed off to their positions. Stoyan inched as close to the edge as he could, while maintaining some semblance of surprise, as de Geffriel moved to the crest of the building, making sure the man’s head was all she could see. When Elias and Alaiya had disappeared, Stoyan readied himself. The guard still sat on his stool, calmly sharpening his gladius. Shiiik, shiiik, shiiik.

Stoyan exhaled and tensed the muscles in his legs. “It’s a lot further down when you look at it.” He shook the negative thought from his head. “No, I need to focus. This man is in my way. For Veth. One, two…now!” This time, Stoyan leapt from the building with purpose.

In mid-flight, the guard turned, but his head barely reached his shoulder when Stoyan collided with him. Both rolled to the ground, Stoyan’s momentum taking him further away than he had hoped. Pulling out his sword and shield, he had clearly gotten the attention of the man. “C’mon, big, fat, and useless. Let’s have a go.”

The man stood up, reaching, for the first time, his full height. He dwarfed Stoyan considerably and suddenly the Paladin was left with an image of Veth before him. The guard, wearing only a leather tunic and greaves, tossed his weapon between his hands, finally deciding on his left. Then, through a crooked grin, he spat on the ground at Stoyan’s feet.

Out of the corner of his eye, Stoyan saw magick form and shoot from the side of the building toward the hulk of a man. He charged, timing it so he reached him as the shock from the strike washed over his opponent. Stoyan’s first strike found an opening to the guard’s chest, but his reflexes were fast, and he managed to deflect the blow to his arm. Stoyan’s overzealousness cost him as the man swung a leg up, delivering a kick to his groin and thoroughly knocking the wind out of him. As he keeled over in pain, a second blow came crashing down on the back of his head, knocking him squarely to the ground.

“That’s one way to get out of the way,” yelled de Geffriel from the roof, as she shot an arrow into the man’s shoulder. “Now, get up and be more careful! I might need that intact.”

Spitting dirt from his mouth, Stoyan heard the familiar shhzzz of magick connect, and he saw the man’s feet momentarily off balance. Taking the chance, he swung his arm across the ground, tripping the guard while simultaneously pushing himself away. Both stood up in unison, the guard, once more, spitting on the ground, a crooked smile still on his face.

They moved in quickly, blade clashing against blade, strikes being exchanged rapidly, as they fought. Stoyan kept his position, forcing the guard to keep his back to the building where he could not fend off either de Geffriel’s arrows or Alaiya’s magick. The man, however, maintained his temperament, focusing on the foe before him. As though a cat toying with a mouse, the guard suddenly shoved Stoyan off balance, creating an opening to strike. The Paladin shifted back, deflecting most of the blow and countered with a lunge. This time the man sidestepped him and delivered a knee to his abdomen, causing Stoyan to stagger away. As he was desperately trying to catch his breath as an arrow thudded into the ground by his feet.

“Get back in there!” demanded de Geffriel, and Stoyan instantly saw why. The guard had begun moving toward Elias and Alaiya.

“Shit!” Stoyan raced to intercept the man, but Elias had already jumped before the guard, intent on protecting Alaiya.

Elias pointed his metallic rod at the approaching guard, and the crystal atop the rod began shimmering with a blue-white light. A blast of magick shot out and struck the man squarely in the chest and his body involuntarily shook from the unnatural cold, but the man continued. He spit on the ground again, and swung his gladius at Elias, catching the in the side of the torso. The strength of the blow flung the small man out of the way, leaving Alaiya abandoned and alone.

The man spit once more, this time a fair amount of blood was mixed in, and took a single step toward Alaiya, before being rammed in the side by an enraged Stoyan. “We ain’t done, buddy. Let’s play some more.”

Stoyan quickly withdrew his blade out of the man’s side, blood spilling forth in the process, and readied himself. The guard, unfortunately, appeared unfazed by the wound. He turned back to Stoyan, and spit at the Paladin’s feet, his saliva completely mixed with blood. Two more blasts of magick struck the guard, but he brushed them off, determined to engage Stoyan. As he moved, he tossed his gladius from his left hand to his right, a move Stoyan regrettably followed with his eyes. The guard then leveled a kick into Stoyan’s ribs that sent him tumbling. He shot up, wincing in pain. “That all ya got? I thought this was supposed to be a fight?” Stoyan shifted his battered and bruised right side away from the guard, hoping to cover his weakness. “That’s at least two broken, maybe three.”

Two more blasts of magick exploded off the back of the guard, but he continued, relentlessly in his pursuit. When the man inexplicably swatted behind himself, Stoyan noticed that de Geffriel had joined the fray, attacking with both a rapier and a dagger. The guard still advanced, however, a circumstance Stoyan felt he could do without.

The guard spit once more as he raised his gladius high above Stoyan, who could barely maneuver his shield to absorb the blow. Bracing for impact, Stoyan readied himself to take the momentum and roll with it, hopefully lashing out with his sword and hamstringing the man. But the blow never came. When Stoyan looked out from behind the shield, he saw the guard on the ground, faint wisps of blue air fading off his back, Elias in the background, the crystal in his rod slowly dimming. Taking a second to comprehend the situation, Stoyan proceeded to bend down and unclasp the key ring from the man’s belt.

Turning to the others, a tired smile swept across his face. “Let’s get Veth.”

Torches lit the small passage way inside and they were able to see drag marks continue ahead. Following the trail lead them to a T-shaped intersection, with a passage heading left and right. The tracks appeared to end abruptly at the wall. de Geffriel knelt by the wall, feeling around the wall for some type of handhold or opening. Standing, she continued to search, hoping to find a lever or switch to open the wall.

“Well, that’s an oddity. What do we do now?” Elias stood, arms crossed, waiting for some direction. “Wall ain’t going to open itself. Maybe we should ask the…wait, no, he’s dead.”

“I think we should go right,” said de Geffriel. “It seems the mechanism is triggered by a series of pulleys in that direction.”

Stoyan could sense the lie in the way she spoke. He was beginning to understand when she knew what she was talking about and when was had no idea. This was the latter. “I say we go left.”

“And why do you think it’s left? Are you that familiar with this place?” de Geffriel’s voice feigned hurt.

“The reason is simple. You, said right.”

With his infallible logic hanging in the air like the smell of a wet dog, Stoyan headed left, incidentally, in the same direction as they had heard voices from the roof. The passage turned sharply to the right and, after a bit, they noticed that it was a dead end. It was not a usual dead end, however, as, lodged in the facing wall, was a lever. Simple and wooden in nature, it rested within a metal covering fastened flawlessly to the stone. Curiosity got the better of Stoyan, and, despite the others apprehensions, he pulled it downward. The lever moved with ease as four soft clicks echoed through the wall. Releasing the lever, it slower returned to its original position, clicking four times on its way up.

“That event was rather…uneventful.” Elias could be seen grinning in the torchlight. “Seems the lady was right after all.”

de Geffriel gave a low, mocking bow. “Thank you for your future confidences. Let us see where passage number two will lead us.”

Backtracking, they took the right passage, which sharply turned to the left and greeted them to another dead end with a lever embedded as well.

“Ha!” gloated Stoyan. “I wasn’t wrong! And you weren’t right!”

de Geffriel sighed as she removed a spear latched onto her pack. Gesturing everyone down the passage, she stood back from the lever and reached out with the spearhead. “Never..take…chances, Paladin. It’s all…about…trust.” She snagged the lever with the tip of the spear and pulled down. “There!”

Four soft clicks echoed through the passage and, as the lever ascended, four more clicks greeted them. de Geffriel was obviously disappointed.

“Likely have to pull them at the same time. That can’t be a good thing.” Elias stood with his arms crossed once more, thinking through the situation as de Geffriel approached the lever. Taking out her dagger, she poked and pried, trying to pop the lever’s metal covering off, to no avail. Suddenly, she perked up.

“I’ve got an idea. Just need my…damn, left it outside. Hold on, I’ll be right back. Don’t pull the levers.” As she turned the corner, she called back. “That means you, Stoyan!”

She returned a few minutes later, her rope coiled in one hand and the leather tunic of the guard in the other. She quickly ran the rope through the armor and tied off a knot. Proudly lifting it up, and taking a second to admire her own work, she hung it from the lever. The lever descended, clicking four times, and stayed in the down position, the weight of the suspended tunic enough to hold it in place.

“Perfect! You can thank me later.”

The group then hurried around to the other passage and stood in front of the lever. “You ready?” asked Stoyan. The others nodded and he grabbed the lever and pulled. It moved a fraction of the way and stopped about where the first click would have sounded. Stoyan let go and the lever went back to its starting position. He pulled again and the lever stopped once more. Again and again he tried, but the lever never budged.

“Seems they need to be pulled at the same time.” Elias nodded as though agreeing with himself.

“Aren’t you one for the obvious, little Gnome.” de Geffriel was a bit sour that her bundle trick had been useless and it showed. “And how do you propose we coordinate that?”

Elias thought for a moment before pulling out a whistle. “When I blow the whistle, pull the levers. Simple as that.” He beamed at his own ingenuity.

“But who will go where?” asked Stoyan. “Who pulls the levers?”

“We could go two and two,” offered Elias. “Balance and such. Split Alaiya and I up, her with you, Stoyan, and I’ll head with de Geffriel.”

“Sounds good to me,” agreed Stoyan.

“Hold on, you meathead. You tend to get the crap kicked out of you. I don’t need the Artificer or his healing as much as you do.” There was a slight gasp from Alaiya as she said this. Stoyan knew the Sorceress did not feel completely at ease around the brash woman yet, and he could not blame her. “Don’t worry, you aren’t coming with me either. Stoyan, you should take both. It’ll be easier for me to avoid detection if I’m not trying to look after someone.” Turning to Elias, she said, “You better be on time with that whistle,” and took off down the passage.

The group waited, giving de Geffriel enough time to reach the other lever. Confident, Elias gave Stoyan and Alaiya a reassuring look and blew his whistle. Stoyan yanked down on the lever, which clicked four times. However, these clicks were louder than before and they suddenly felt the floor beneath them give way. It dropped to such a steep slope so quickly that they found themselves freefalling for a brief moment before their legs found the stone. Once properly on their backs, they slid into the dark confines of the building underbelly. Pretty soon, however, they floor ceased to exist and they, once more, found themselves falling through the unknown. Unable to brace for an unknown impact, Stoyan turned in what he figured was a face-up direction and waited. Landing on his back with an oomph, he was quickly greeted by small booted feet in his face. A high-pitched yelp followed as someone landed on his legs, causing one of his knees to bend awkwardly.

“That was fun,” Stoyan muttered as he gingerly pushed himself off the ground. “Alaiya, think you can give us some light?” A quiet hum responded, but no light appeared. “Alaiya, light please.”

“Ummm, Stoyan, I am providing light.” Alaiya’s voice came from somewhere in front of him. “But,…well, something’s blocking it. My light’s here, but it’s being shrouded in an even greater magick.” There was a brief pause before she continued. “This entire place…it’s magick!”

Missed Messages
Delagraad Campaign

It had been five straight nights of traveling nonstop. The group had rested from dawn to dusk, avoiding the road while they rested as best they could, and pushed on through the night. The moon shone brightly as it worked its way toward its full glory, and Stoyan could not help thinking that that had been a sign from the gods. “They want us to reach Veth,” he remembered thinking, “They want us to make it to Fareen in time.”

During the journey, they filled the woman named de Geffriel in on what had happened during the last thirty-five years. None of them could remember life without the war, or even when Elves weren’t reviled and hated. They told her of the fallen towers of Rystavansti and Wintral and the destroyed land surrounding Kalien. Though they admitted they had never seen any of the events when she questioned them, it was accepted as common knowledge among everyone.

They even continued to verify the fact by exchanging coins. de Geffriel’s coins were marked with the Council Head at the time, Cecil Vanderhul, a man, she claimed, encouraged the relationships between races, believing it was for the betterment of Delagraad. Stoyan exchanged with her his own coin, marked with the image of Zolostran, the Prism Mage, the man who brought about the end of the Reckoning and the reign of the Blood King with his life. They explained that Zolostran was a hero of all people, and some secretly believed that he might have even been a god saving his children from destruction.

The stories and exchanges continued across the plains and into the city of Fareen, which they reached on the sixth day of the fifth month. Exhausted, but eager to find Veth, Alaiya and Stoyan pushed on, much to the dismay of de Geffriel and Elias. Eventually they found themselves outside the clinic where they had left Veth. Stoyan could only hope it was not too late.

Stoyan knocked with three sharp raps on the door. Soon, he heard the clamor of feet behind the door and he was greeted by a cheery familiar face as it swung open.

“Oh, hello there! I wasn’t expecting you today. What a pleasant surprise! Ugh, you smell horrible. And look even worse. Oh, who are your friends? Hello, my name’s Ginly. Ginly Ironfoot. Clerical Apprentice!” The spunky young Dwarf thrust out he hand to Elias and de Geffriel, who shook it hesitantly. “Please, come in, come in, Stoyan. Hey, where are your friends? The big guy and the little funny man? Are they not feeling well yet?”

Stoyan pulled up at the inquiry, confused. “What do you mean? Isn’t Veth here?”

“Huh? Hmmm…Perhaps you should speak to Beatrice. Or Captain Jae. They’re both here having breakfast.” Ginly ushered them in and closed the door behind them. Directing them to the main quarters, she knocked politely on the door and waited for Beatrice to answer. “It’s Ginly, Cleric Beatrice. Ummm…Some people are here to see you.”

“Come in, Ginly,” came a voice from behind the door.

Ginly opened it and ushered the group inside. The room was simple enough, a wall covered with a map of Fareen showing various help centers and emergency routes, a large table in the middle, and a desk off to one side. Behind the desk was a bright golden symbol of Pelor.

At the table sat two familiar faces, Cleric Beatrice Tabenik and the Captain of the Guard, Jae Kalvier. Between them on the table were some fruits and a pitcher of water, as well as several stacks of paper. Jae was the first to speak.

“What in the Nine Hells are you doing here?” His astonishment was unquestionable. “Shouldn’t you be in Berathion with Veth?”

“That’s why we’re here,” replied Stoyan. “We came back as fast as we could to give the vernalbloom to Veth. Where is he?”

“Vernalbloom? We still have some? I thought it was destroyed…” Beatrice’s thoughts pulled her away. “Why would the High Priest keep that from us?”

“Who cares!” demanded Stoyan. “Where’s Veth? Why isn’t he here?”

The two sat, looking confused. Beatrice’s face looked especially concerned. Finally, Jae spoke. “We sent him to Berathion by caravan about a week ago. We received word from Orcen Valingard, the High Priest’s Assistant, to have Veth transported to Berathion. He said it would be faster to administer the remedy if he were closer to the main temple. With their resources in Berathion it only made sense.”

“What? Why wouldn’t he tell us? When exactly did you receive this message?” It took all of Stoyan’s willpower to remain in that room, calmly, and not run straight for Berathion.

Jae thought for a moment. “Pretty sure we got it on the twenty-eighth. Evening of. Yeah, that’s about right. We sent him out the next morning in a caravan carriage. Light guard, so not to draw too much attention, but more than a normal merchant. Sent a cleric along too, Sam McNairn, if I remember.” He fussed over some papers before him until pulling one up. “Yup, Sam McNairn and four guards. Sent out on the morning of the twenty-ninth at daybreak.”

Stoyan thought for a minute, doing some math in his head. Alaiya pulled him down and whispered something in his ear, which helped his thinking. “We left Berathion for the Tomb of Pelor that same morning. We…we should have been back that day or the next…” Stoyan suddenly looked deflated. “It makes perfect sense that Orcen would do that for us. Why didn’t I think of that?”

“But, then why didn’t you return to Berathion? Why did you come here? Surely Orcen sent word to you at the tomb?” Beatrice was growing curious as the story unfolded. Clearly something was working in her mind.

“We would have, but we…ran into problems. We didn’t leave the tomb the same way we came in. But that doesn’t matter, I have to get to Veth. How come we didn’t see him on the road?”

“We didn’t send a marked carriage, and we kept the guards inside so not to draw attention. There is a chance you passed them, but if you had no idea you were looking for them, I’m not surprised you didn’t notice them.”

Stoyan had to begrudgingly admit Jae’s logic worked. His frustration was getting the better of him though. “I need to go. If I hurry, I might be able to reach Berathion by the twelfth. I can still save Veth. Who’s coming with me?” He turned to his friends and suddenly realized that everyone had been pushed to their max racing to Fareen every night.

“Stoyan, my boy, you all look…well, like shit; like you got thrown from your first horse, then kicked in the face – twice. Don’t know why you need to get to him by the twelfth, but you should rest a bit, regardless. I’ll have some horses readied for you and you can be off with the cool afternoon. With fresh steeds, you should be able to make it to Berathion by the evening of the tenth.”

The exhaustion had seemed to finally catch up to Stoyan at the relief of Jae’s aid. “Thank you, Captain. I…We will gladly take you up on your offer. We’ll leave this afternoon. I don’t know how I can repay you, but I will.”

Jae shook his hand, his leather glove shaking awkwardly between his middle finger and the edge of his hand. “Don’t worry about it. It’s a shame you didn’t get the message. Seems only right to rectify the problem as best I can. Veth is a good man, and if you can help him, well, I’ll do what I can. Barracks are open if you all need a place to rest. See you in a few hours.”

Stoyan and the others nodded, thanked them again, and left. Exhaustion had infiltrated their bodies and they slugged along out of the clinic. Ginly led them to the exit, telling them to please come back any time, and bide them farewell. The group then headed north through Fareen to the barracks to get some well deserved sleep. Their journey would begin again in a few hours.


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