Into the Wild, ACT IV Finale

 

Light or Darkness?

 

Session 1:  The Challenge

With the threat of terrorism over, the party began preparations to travel to Cellione, and to enter the Challenge of Champions. 

The Image of a Hero

“For you, Master Orc.  Our finest Falchion. It is Kasillian made and has been with me some many years.  I give it to you with the pride of Cellinor.”  Borindin, revealed the incredible weapon to Bolvist, who picked it up and took a swing. He smiled happily.  “But I believe,” continued the king,  “you will be most pleased to see what my armor smiths have done with this.”

Borindin took the draped linen off a stand that Bolvist assumed contained some form for a tailor to work off.  As the drapery fell though, the scales of Ise-Reisen were revealed, but remade into magnificent armor. Other gifts were given to Roscoe, to Malcolm, to Mellisandre, and to Kazuto.

Later, that morning, at the royal breakfast hall, Genoran introduced the Lords to the many dignitaries that would be traveling with them to Cellione. A cart was rolled out at some point in the politics of it all, and Clyde himself was at the end of it. He smiled.

“My dear Lords!” he shouted, smiling from ear to ear, “I have brought you a special gift!” Clyde took out a small wooden keg from the cart below and several mugs. “Do you remember the first grains we found, in which I prepared a testing batch, in a small wooden keg I had brought, some ten years ago?”

Of course they all nodded yes.  They remembered it like it was yesterday, sitting around the fire, near the river, about to enter the castle, to “clean it out”.  Preparing their land.  How far had this Path of Light taken them!

“Well, I actually made two that night. The second is here. I know its early but…”

“Blast you Clyde! Pour me a mug this instant!” Laughed Taryn.

And so Clyde passed out the very first Dying God ale, brewed the very first week of their arrival to the Valley.  It was sweet and delicious and just as good as they remembered that night by the river. “My Lords, I know you are busy, but if you’d like, before you leave for Cellione you must come to the Touching Her…I mean Touching the Flame.  We have the best beer in town!”

“Well, that depends Clyde.”

“On what, my Lord?”

“On whether or not this time we’ll have bodies flying through the roof!!”

The Doll-maker

Later that day, the party found themselves in the docks region of Cillandar, enjoying the Dying God ale, indeed, the best brew in town. There was a large crowd gathered that night, and many of the visitors were only half drinking their mugs. Most of them, seemed to be paying attention to the Lords of the North. Whispers on the lips of those who were there spoke of the various groups that would be in the Challenge this year, but most spoke of the Twilight Force.  Some seemed pleased, but some, Roscoe thought, did not. Maybe the business with Schultar was still something they were being blamed for. He hoped not.

They weren’t the only ones being watched though.

While they talked, the door to the bar opened, and a man wearing the most elegant green tunic and matching green hat combination they had ever seen entered.  Roscoe tried his best, but he let out a laugh, which being a Halflings, traveled across bar argument and beer belch to the wearer of these garments.  He turned spitefully at them.  Then, he held the door open and incredibly strode in a man wearing a red robe with a just as bright of a red hat.  These two were followed by one wearing blue, and another wearing, of all things, white.  Each wore a feather of their hat in their matching color as well, and with the earnestness of the Keeper of the Flame they strode forth and took their seat at the bar.

“Cellinese,” smirked Bolvist to Taryn. “You know what they say ranger? It is the sister city to Cillandar.”

“Aye, Bolvist,” chuckled Taryn. “I think we’ll have some fun tonight.”

The two were just plotting how they were going to antagonize this group of plumed pirates, when the door to the bar opened once more.

This time, it was a man of incredible girth, wide as the door, with bags and bundles draped over him in a spiderweb of straps so that he really turned sideways to come in. He was wearing a shirt that was too small for his protruding belly  and looked uncomfortable.  Sweating, he seemed to have taken a desperate undertaking somehow, laden as he was. When he entered, he caught the eye of a women sitting at a table that they had not noticed before.  Taryn wondered how that could have been, for she was was strikingly beautiful. She had red hair, and wore elegant robes. The man came to her and with a huff sat himself in a chair at her table. They talked for a bit, and then she looked around and pointed at the Lords!  He turned his gaze as well, and they both stood and walked over.

“Good evening, Challengers,”said the woman, “My name is Hypatia, Mistress of the Games, and this is my jolly friend, Barberello, the King’s official Dollmaker for the games.”

“What in the….,” cried Taryn, nearly spitting out his brew. “Dollmaker?”

“Greetings, Twilight Force!” said the man in the most Cillandrial of accents.  He tried to bow gracefully, but only succeeded in spilling a few trinkets onto the floor.  “Word of your power and deed has reached far and wide in our land.  I would be honored if you would allow me to show you Your Dolls!”

“My what?” sneered Bolvist. He seemed only half joking.

“Your doll, My Lord,” and quickly he withdrew a doll of an Orc, made of cotton and some other materials, with paint that exasperated long fangs upon it’s face.  It was a comical and rather crude attempt at the orc, but was nonetheless complete with Bolvists hood and Falchion too. The blank stare of the doll held within the orc’s hands was too much for Mellisande, who burst out laughing.

“I have one for you as well, Witch of the Wilds!”

Before the night was through, the Dollmaker had convinced all to allow him to make their dolls exclusively, except of course for Bolvist who regardless of what monetary compensation he was promised wish to do nothing with this foolishness. He then began selling the dolls in the bar, and many were both purchased and autographed. More than once Jasper observed a very grown man look into his traveling bags to check on his doll.

They were joined into the night by a raucous collection of fans and adventurers, including Eucephelus, Master of Games, and talked at length about the contest.  Clyde told of the Battle of Haven, and Melancholy more than once had to hit a scoundrel who took too many liberties with her skirt as she came through the aisles to deliver the ale. It felt like old times, before all the politics of being a Lord.  Taryn smiled and drank happily, and was content. That is, until he heard the man in the green tunic.

“It is the Twilight Force, no? My name is Laslo Burgundy, you have heard of me of course!”

Of course, they hadn’t.

Farewell to the City of Light, Farewell to Cillandar

The sun shone brightly and a brisk breeze sprang up from the north. Carried over the bay it chilled the air even as the sun warmed the skin.  The walls of Cillandar displayed their finest garlands of green and gold, as the battalion of soldiers left to scout the road and prepare it for the King’s travel.  There would be hundreds of soldiers ahead, behind and with the King.  Every precaution was taken.  Villages and hamlets would be searched and visited by the King’s Shield prior to his coming through.  All would be excited, all would be thrilled, just to get a glimpse of his convoy. 

Setting out, the heroes were invited to make the pilgrimage with the King on the four day journey along the road known simply as The King’s Highway, connecting the capitol, to her sister city, Cellione.  As honored guests, but as Challengers, the heroes would also serve as honorary Shield members on the trip.  Riding magnificent steeds alongside the caravan.  Roscoe of course said this reminded him of his time with Macgruber in the Crown’s Isles. As they stopped to rest one afternoon, Bolvist came upon Melissandre.

Narrative Interlude: Fan Mail

Dear Melissande, the way your flames scorch the earth when you destroy your enemies from radiant might up above….”

“Hey, Melissande, what’s that you are looking at?” Melissande suddenly looked up from the piece of parchment she was reading. Her eyes however were still squinting as if from extreme exertion.  She looked tired and appeared to be sweating.  She removed the spectacles that Malorus the Mage had made her and did her best to slowly let the parchment slide into her component bag. “Eh, Bolvist? What do you mean?”

“The parchment Witch? The one in your hands?” Melissande drew her hands back out of her bag and raised them in front of Bolvist.  She wiggled her fingers to show Bolvist that she wasn’t holding anything. An awkward yet feigned innocence splayed across her face.
“Ok Melissande. Well, I was only asking in case you wanted me to help you read it…” Bolvist strode off to the Heroes encampment to practice a few rounds with his falchion.  He of course had his own fan mail to read.

Later that Day

“Not you too?”

“Huh?” Roscoe said absentmindedly. He didn’t look up from the small piece of parchment he was holding. It was yellowed and decayed.  “Bolvist, I’m looking at something private here!”

“I’ll bet, my little friend. You and your secret backpacks and doings.  Best kept between you and Portia, and the whole Halfling race right? Well, enjoy yourself. Let me know if you want to be my dummy.”

“Very funny Master Orc…”replied the Halfling, but he was only half listening.  Roscoe was very absorbed in what he was reading. As Bolvist walked away, he read the end of his mail, recognizing the names that had come to feel like old friends. Why anyone referred to them as the Lords of Chaos, he’d never know.

“The map and the room. Boom. Boom. Boom.” What that could mean he could only wonder.

What could Dratt and Dooge possibly mean this time???

Possession is 1/10th of the Crowd 

The Twilight Force, as they were known as once again, enjoyed the trip. Atop magnificent steeds they strode along the King’s caravan.  Usually, the King was interested in speaking to them, but thus far he seemed preoccupied.  Several of his attendants said he wasn’t feeling well.  Fine by you all, it was a beautiful time of the year, and the land was gorgeous. What a magnificent country was Cellinor.

Late on the third eve, the caravan came to a small hamlet in the once elvish domain of Devanshire.  It’s name was Benbrit, and there was once a connection here for the King.  His youngest son, Koratus, had once been on a mission and riding back from Devanshire, had been ambushed by highwaymen.  The townsfolk of Benbrit had taken him in, and healed him as well. The King was said to have never forgotten this kindness and within a few years, Benbrit had several new wells and other infrastructure that rivaled nearby  cities.  Tonight, it was rumored the King would pass through the town to pay homage for their past fealty.

The caravan rounded a bend and began to cross over the river and  through the woods and onto the city divide.  Taryn however thought several members of the crowd seemed oddly suspicious.  Instantly, they removed their cloaks, and attacked the nearest guard!  A large group of other men and women ran at the King’s carriage, pushing it over, attempting to get inside! The Shield were shocked, as were our heroes. These were normal citizens, and everything they were seeing told the Lords that they had just attacked out of nowhere. But when the Shields finally awoke from their shock, they pushed forth to attack them. The villagers thus  stopped as quickly as they had attacked, and by the looks on their faces, they seemed to have had no idea of what they had just done.

“Bolvist! What do we do? Do we attack?”

“Prudence, Taryn,” bellowed Bolvist, “I think our enemy is as yet unseen.” And to his eye he placed the gem of true seeing.

Just then another portion of the assembled village began to break off and attack the carriage once more. It was as if…

“Something is possessing them!” said Taryn. “Attack, but not to kill, not until we can sort this out!”

Bolvist made his way to the king’s carriage, and using the gem, he now saw the crowd for what it was.  Something was indeed possessing them, but something that was elsewhere, and Bolvist had an idea from whence it came. “We must move the villagers back. You lot!” The orc pointed to a group of Shield members still stunned and trying to figure out their orders, “Stay here and guard the king. Taryn, come with me!”

While Bolvist and Taryn ran into the village, searching for the source of the possession, Roscoe came to guard the carriage as well. The other Shields moved the crowd back and back.  Roscoe removed the drapery from one of the windows on the overturned carriage, “My Lord Borindin, are you…”

But it wasn’t Borindin in the carriage at all. It looked like him. It was a man dressed like him, with similar features, but it was not the king.  It was….”An imposter!” Thought Roscoe.  The king must use him as a decoy!

And at that very moment, Roscoe turned to see the faces of several Shielded turn back at him! They spun around and ran towards him, their weapons drawn as Roscoe called forth a magical force to place him in an orb of safety.

Luckily, at just that moment, Taryn and Bolvist had found the person responsible for the possession.  A Trebian witchdoctor hiding amongst the villagers. This story of course, is well sung about in the halls of Cellione, but for now, we’ll let it remain a slight mystery.

Cellione and Competition

After weeks of preparation and much pomp and circumstance, the heroes found themselves in the arena of heroes, below the King’s throne, surrounded by thousands upon thousands of Celns, screaming their names, and those of the other groups that were standing on platforms near the center battle area.

Belloran gave the introduction to the competition:

We once listened to the myths of our ignorant ancestors, the myths of the four, of the three and of the seven. We all know the virtues of the Flame.  We honor ourselves, and we cast out dishonor! Even though we know these stories to be false, we still honor those parts of the human spirit that are Right, in the Light and Hold up Cellinor’s MIGHT!!!!  For the Hero, we honor bravery!  For the Great Mother, we honor compassion. For the Trickster in all of us, we honor curiosity and diligence to learn and work. For the Protector in us all we honor SACRIFICE. We relegate ambition, lust and greed to the dark.  In this we agree that our great Realm remains true and just:

LET THE GAMES BEGIN!!!!!!!!

“Look Bolvist! Look!” shrieks Roscoe. “My doll! It’s everywhere, so many of them!”

“Yes, Roscoe, I see…” smirked Bolvist, barely audible over the deafening crowd. Indeed, Roscoe’s image was held in child and adult hands alike. Barbarello must have indeed been busy. “You’re famous, kid.  I just hope for your sake that’s a good thing.”

Abruptly, the platform that they had been standing on, circular, as was the traditional shape for the games, lowered. Below them was a chamber, and waiting for them was Hypatia. She assigned them a task, and into a room they went. The first challenge was difficult, but they deciphered the clues and subsequently were awarded a pass.  Up they went into the sunlight once more atop the platform where Eucephalus, master of the games would announce their score to the crowd and cheers would erupt.

However, something was immediately wrong to them!  Taryn felt it first, then Melissandre. It was a draining feeling.  As though their strength were being sapped.

“What in the….” murmured Taryn. “How in….”

“Something is foul here,” thought Melissandre.  But before they could decide what to do about it, the platform lowered once more, and again Hypatia waited for them.

Once more they were victorious and once more they came back into the light and the cheering crowd to feel the strength sapped from their bodies.  Something was terribly wrong.  They were losing their very power.

“I have not enough strength to cast my most powerful spells,” said an exasperated Roscoe.  Melissandre agreed.

“But what do we do about it?”

“Do?” Said Bolvist. “Isn’t it obvious? I told you fools that those dolls were not to be partaken of.  That bastard Barbarello has set you up!  Taryn, when is our next break?”

“After the seventh challenge.  We’ll have just enough time, we find him, and we…”

“Kill him.” They all said at the same time.

But when the seventh match came to an end, and they tracked down Barberello’s sleeping quarters during their break, they found only his dead body.

“What do we do now?” said Melissandre aloud.

“We have no choice,” answered Taryn. “We finish the challenge.  Perhaps, the source of our torment will reveal itself to us. And when it does…”

Hypatia, Mistress of Ceremonies

Returning to the game, they took their positions once more atop the platform, which made it’s decent to the challenge chambers. Hypatia informed the team that this was the final challenge! The heroes were currently in 1st place. Should they do well, they would take the victory of the Challenge.

Hypatia led them into a circular room of four statues.  Each bore their exact likeness.  She read their task, then stepped out of the chamber. Before she left, she whispered, “Good luck,” and Roscoe noticed that she had pointed to a portion of text above each statue where a word scrambled had been written.

Could it be? Why would Hypatia help them? He thought it odd, but so many things had been on his mind, that he thought nothing more on it. Aloud, he spoke the order of the Pockens cards in which he and Hypatia had played the very night they had met at the Touching The Flame Bar in Cillandar.  A loud crack, and a circular chamber door appeared before them in the wall and opened.

“Hey, there wasn’t a door there,” thought Melissandre.

“Hypatia! We’ve solved the riddle! Do we win?” Shouted Roscoe

“Why does that door look just like the one in Carr Alpha? Thought Taryn.

Bolvist just drew out his falchion.

In walked Hypatia. And this time she was holding a lantern, just as she had during the games. But this lantern was different, it looked a lot like….

“Hey! We did it Hypatia! We win, right?  Hey, where’d you get Clothos’ lanthorn?”

But Hypatia didn’t answer. She walked to the portal and turned around. Her face began to grow long in a way that was like watching wax melt. Her hair began to fall out, and her skin sunk inwards.  From her belt she withdrew a  doll, a doll in the likeness of Taryn!

“Thank you, YOU FOOLS!!!! Now, will I destroy you before you may live!  Your fate has always been mine.” She placed a dagger over Taryn’s doll, near where his heart would be.

“NO!!!!!!!!!!!!” Roared Taryn.

“BACK OFF, HEROES!!!!!!!!! Fulfill your marker fools!!!!! And let me pass, or I will destroy you all, starting with you, Taryn First and Last!!! And this time, it will be for the last time!”

“Give us back the dolls, Clothos! We will let you pass!”

“Son, you are a fool to be with these Heroes! They will let their power slip from their hands. You know better, you are of the darkness too! Soon you will no longer have a choice.  Choose the way of the three! It is the way of power, the only way to last the rise of Ket!”

“Just drop them, and we will let you pass.” Said Melissandre in defeat, for she could think of nothing else to do and in an act of resignment, she spoke her word, The statue turned and clicked and a film began on the open portal entryway, like a film of soap on the surface of water.  The Path was opening. Each in turn did the same, and throwing their likenesses back into the chamber, Clothos, the Lich, The Traitor, Envy herself, stepped into the Path of Light, and disappeared.

The Eemilche, Queen Mother of the Trebian Empire

“What’s wrong, Taryn?” asked Bolvist.  He looked around, and saw that each of them felt it too, it was in their faces, something wasn’t right.

“I feel it as well,” said Melissandre. “Something isn’t right here. What is it, Prince? Prince?” she turned around.

“Prince?”

“What prince are you referring to good lady?” Asked the Champion docent. She was a dark haired woman who had led them through the series of events that had sparred their lives from the tumultuous Trebian crowd. Her name was Annuine, Melissandre remembered, and she had been most kind to them during the ordeal.  No doubt she took pity on her fellow Celns.

“I….I…” began Taryn, but he had lost his thought.

“She is gone! We have taken the day, Eemilche will be forced now to spare us, she will have to appease the  crowd by our victory,” yelped Roscoe. “We should be…” but a look on his face said that he knew something was different too.

“We have the Light,” said Jasper.  “The Light that was meant for me. I have found it, and found you, but something you must know, there is….” He looked around at all of them, but they seemed puzzled. He held aloft the Lanthorn, one of the seven Lights! Why did they no longer understand the importance of this artifact?
“Something is wrong,” repeated Bolvist. “Something has changed here. Something with us.  Do you feel it? All of you, do you feel this?”

As if on cue, the pedestal that the party had been placed on, bound and gagged, during their challenges activated and they were brought upwards into the Light of the day.  A woman stood next to them. Jasper as well.  They remembered Jasper from the battle in which Prince Genoran had been killed, the night the Trebians attacked Carr Alpha.  It was the first of many battles, as the Trebian forces had invaded the Cairn Lands, and nearly sacked the capitol city, Cillandar itself.  That was a turning point in the war, as Trebia spilled into Cellinor, spreading the Cult of The Three. As food began to run scarce and the Celns fought with Trebia, the Flame had lost much of it’s power, and so had the King.  Now Trebia, led by the brutal Goddess Queen Atropos, known as “Eemilche” or “Daughter of Fortune” in the Trebian language, had only to take the lands for themselves.

Beside Jasper stood the familiar woman, dressed in black with raven hair, elegant and beautiful.  She was holding a wooden staff. Malcolm had met her once, and he remembered she was often seen among the nobles of Cillandar.  An assistant to the King.  But now, special liason to Eemilche herself, Queen and Goddess of the Trebian Empire.  Melissandre thought this too looked particularly interesting.

A raucous noise was coming from the crowd above. No doubt, they would be greeted with cheering and applause, instead of the condemnation that had led to their capture and trial in the first place.

As the pedestal rose higher, they heard the woman’s voice speak to Jasper.  “I will forget that you interfered in the games, Monk.  Just hand me the Light.” But Jasper only gripped it tighter.

Higher and higher the pedestal rose, time seemed to slow down as the platform left the shadow of the games chamber below and rose into the brilliant sunshine.  Clicking into place, it came to rest in the center of the arena. Several guards,dressed in Trebian garb strode forward and took their defensive posture circling them.  Their masks hid their faces, but not everything was hidden from view!

He hadn’t really noticed before, but something about these figures struck Bolvist as odd. Each wore the Trebian guardianship robes but something was amiss.  One was clearly a dwarf, and the other could only be a half-orc.  Bolvist was sure of that. Another of them was a dragonborn, and Bolvist thought he recognized a tattoo, a distant memory from some primal part of his brain whispered the name ‘Mustakrakish’. Near him, stood two more guards, elves, one with long flowing golden hair, the other darker.  Melissandre saw them, through the rays of sunshine and a part of her recognized Maria and Lessa, elves from the Green Kingdom. Taryn thought he made out an elvish guard as well, this one male, and the unmistakable scar of Laetis, his former ranger scout was visible under the helms edge upon his neck.  Several other guards stood around them, but they had clearly disguised themselves as Trebian soldiers. Why would they do this?

.  Yells and screams pierced their ears, they began to make out the movement of the undulating crowd above them.

At first, the brightness overwhelmed them, and as their eyes adjusted, they again saw the colossal figure of Eemilche, sitting atop a hideous throne placed for her on the royal viewing area of the arena. Her pale skin, in contrast to her  darker Trebian subjects, adorned with accoutrements, no doubt souvenirs from her many victims.  She stood, and smiled.

“IT IS AS IT ALWAYS WAS MEANT TO BE, YOU FOOLISH SHEEP! TIME WILL MAKE OF YOU WHAT IT WILL!”

“But we have defeated the challenge,” howled Roscoe, who’s words were drowned out by the crowd’s roar after hearing the Queen condemn them.

“I DECIDE YOUR FATE FOOLS. FOR I AM YOUR FATE. AND ALWAYS HAVE BEEN!!!!!”

A speaker in a multicolored and elaborate headdress resembling a hydra’s many heads, walked to a great gate, and a horn sounded somewhere.  “Clothos, the great, Clothos the powerful, Clothos, most elite of The Three, The Cult of the Three now will sacrifice these souls to you. Feel their power.  Take it for yourselves!”

BRoooorrr!!!! Went the horn, and the gates began to part open.  Shrieks and wails from the crowd all around poured down as the most hideous creature imaginable stepped forth on gigantic, massive legs. It had five heads, each a different color. It resembled a dragon, but it was as if many had been put together and reassembled. It should not exist and yet it was.  They were being led to their doom.

“NOW!!!” screamed their friends, and dropping their masks, they killed the guards surrounding them.

“There is no time!” Spat one of them, and wheeling around, his bald head and hair tail in whirl was none other than Jasper the Monk! “What are you waiting for?” He yelled. “That thing hasn’t had lunch yet, and I’m not waiting to find out if it likes Monk!”

“But what about the others?!” yelled Taryn.

“Their fate is resigned to them,” answered Jasper, running to the platform, he activated the lever and it began to drop. He kicked away a guard and helped Melissandre onto the dropping disk.

“We have no time! Hurry!” he said to the others. They followed his lead, fighting off the wild fury of blows coming at them from many directions by Clothos guards, and as they entered the chamber once more, they found the portal open.  Jasper held aloft a lanthorn!

“Where did you get that?” asked Roscoe.

“Long story,” said Jasper,”I’ll tell you all about it on the other side.”

And in they jumped.

 

Session 2:   Green with Envy

Into the portal they lunged, just as the gigantic heads of the creature called Tia Mat opened their mouths to breath upon them.  From where they had come, they didn’t know, to where they were going, the same. For now, each of them dreamed. And this is what they dreamt.

 

Melissande

Dream 1

“We have found the girl, Your Holiness,” said the man in robes to the mirror. “She was among the elves as you said, but has recently returned to live amongst the Celns here.”

“The girl is there with you now in Haven? This is most interesting timing….” came a smooth and silky reply.  Inside the mirror, vapor swirled and took the shape of a head and torso, but no face appeared. “Are you certain it is she?”

“Yes, Keeper Belloran,” said the man.  “She has shown all the signs you have told us. It is as you have foreseen.”

“Excellent,” replied the voice, “Capture her.  And there will be others with her.  I want them as well.  They will be needed.”

“I shall do as you ask.”

“Good, in time you shall be rewarded for these deeds, you shall remain in the Light of the Flame, even into the Darkening, Bellock. But your service must be true.”

“It is, Keeper. It is.”

 

Dream 2

An enormous cavern, filled with people.  Their silhouettes are dark but around the bodies radiates an intense light, bright as the sun, from the center of the room.  It is too blinding to look at.

A man is shouting from somewhere in the front.

“IT IS OPENING! IT IS AS HAS BEEN FORETOLD!”

The room begins to glow, even brighter, it feels impossibly so, and you hide your face in your hands, but between the fingers, it begins to diminish.

While you open your eyes once more, your hands still shielding most of the penetrating rays, you see the others around you doing the same.  A corona appears around your vision, and within kneels a lone man, he is holding something.

A voice from the back where you are asks, “What is that, what is Belloran holding?”

As if in answer, a baby’s cry erupts, first subtle like a baby bird crying from a nest and then more adamant.  “It is SHE.” Says the man holding the infant.

“She?” replies another voice.  “And who is she?”

“Only time will tell,” says Belloran, “but she will be someone of great power one day.  GREAT POWER.”

He turns towards you, his face and body still clothed in the dark blackness of shadow, and lifts the baby up for all to see.

Bolvist

Dream 1

“You understand the nature of his birth do you not, Macavoy?” A deep gravelly voice spoke. There is no color, no image, only darkness.  A voice in the deep and dark void of emptiness.

“Of course I do. We all do.” A softer voice, but still rough like metal scraped over a rock.

“And what do you make of it?”

“It is perfect.”

“Perfect?”  A laugh.

“Yes, perfect. He is far different than the others.  Mankind is not derived from perfect qualities. No ship is constructed of perfect timbers, Abraxas.”

“And how will a ship made of imperfect timbers sail, Macavoy? He will be even less capable than the others. Put your faith in him, we will be doomed to watch another Harvest.”

“He is mine to watch, you have your own Brother. You know as well as I do Abraxas, that until the Darkness of Ket is put to an end, we will never again have the power to restore the seven as they once were.  We must take the form that we are given.”

“And this form will once again fail, Brother.”

“Perhaps, perhaps not.”

“You realize who his mother is, do you not?”

“Yes, I do. Never before has the Trickster taken this form.  This cycle will fail.”

“And why should it? Is it not appropriate that the Trickster be the son of Envy? I think Tiresias…”

“Tiresias will not last another cycle. He knows this…besides, how many times now has Tiresias been wrong?”

Silence.

“We may not last either. We must trust to Mankind to rise.”

“Trust Mankind?  To do what they could not for the last 6 cycles? They are sheep Macavoy! As is this half-darkened infant you covet.”

“Brother, you do not believe that.”

Silence.

“It has been a long time, Macavoy. A long time since I have had hope in Mankind.”

“Hope remains. As does our own humanity, whether we like it or not.”

“Is that why you prefer your Human name these days?”

“No, Brother.  I use this name, because Baluar is known to the Realm.”

“Then we will meet again on the next Riftenaucht, Macavoy. Perhaps then will we know more about this child.  Until then, what will you do with him?”

“I will see him raised on the borders of the Realm’s wilds.  Where both Tiresias and I can watch him and the others that may fulfill the void.”

“As will I. For the sake of all, old friend.”

Jasper

Dream 1

          “He will not know of his birth, in time, his fate will decide which way his path will lie.”

         “But what of the statue of his likeness? And what of the Instrument? What if he goes the way of Darkness? Shall we not tell him?”

         “It is as it should be. He came to us known, it is not natural for what is unknown to be known.  You worry about darkness and yet every wick must reach it’s end, Brother.”

         “Are you certain, it is HE?” said the softer of the two voices. “Is the likeness certain?”

         “Every day, he grows more and more into the man that we have discovered upon the likeness of the Chamber.”

         A pause and silence.

         “Then why does he not know? Then why does he not understand his destiny?”

         “Maybe he is not meant to understand it yet. Maybe, he is meant to find it.”

Dream 2

         “Brother, what are you doing? Return the instrument at once!”

“I can not do that,” replied the familiar voice of the Monk, Jasper. He stood, surrounded by members of the Order of the Enlightened Spirit.  They rifled around him, taking defensive stances. Jasper stood motionless holding the Light. He waited. Standing tall, resolute.  Finally, was he sure of what he was meant to do.

In this very room, was he raised, did he meditate in order to find his meaning.  Today, he realized, that he had chosen it for himself, before his very being.

“And why is that?” replied the Elder.  His voice was soft though, and while he spoke his fists unloosened, his shoulders sagged.

“You know why, Father. You know WHAT I am.  I was meant for the Instrument. And it for me.  The others depend on me. It was in plain sight this whole time, but it was meant for me.  Because only I would understand it.”

“You have made your choice then, Jasper? You have chosen between the Light and the Darkness?”

“Yes, Father, yes I have.”

“How long have you known Jasper.  How long have you known that you came to us here?”

“I have known my whole life Father. But only recently.”

Holding the lantern upwards, it began to glow brightly, the other members knelt, chanting.

Jasper strode forward, a smile on his face.

“You will in time, by your leave

Fail to serve, but not to lead

You will in time, by your leave

Give to another what they need.”

Kazuto

“We lost nearly a legion, but we have turned back the dark forces here.” The tall blond man wore bright shining armor with a gilded green tunic, but portions of it were smeared with blood and his skin was caked with dirt and sweat; he was pointing to a map.  He was young, but seemed worn for his years.  Next to him stood another man, bearded, young as well with intelligent intense eyes. He too was plastered in blood, although his armor looked shined and was free of dirt. His hair was dark and he too was staring at the map.  He was wearing a crown. “We believe they rose in the same manner as they did here near Pylos.”

“Why Luger? Why would they show themselves in this manner? They know they cannot hold the surface in the Light of our world!”

“I warrant they did not want to hold the surface Your Grace.”

“Then what did these blighted Ketians want?”

“We still do not know, but they were weak on the field of battle. Our men slaughtered their number, even when they fought us amongst the dark.”

“Perhaps, even the moon’s light keeps them weak, or perhaps they are weak on the surface. How will we explain this latest battle?”

“We need not have to, Your Grace. For the populace there has already begun to rebuild and few of the fallen creatures bodies remain once the light burns their flesh away. Our people celebrate our victory.  We have named the place Cellione, in honor of your Father.”

“Thank you Luger. In that case, we will make it a grand city. To rival Cillandar!”

“Indeed Your Grace. Perhaps, this is the last we will see of the Ketians.  Our Realm has grown broad and our numbers have never been stronger.”

“We will stay vigilant, Luger. We must. Our new nation cannot believe we are at the mercy of dark forces beneath us.  There would be no prosperity.”

“So how will we justify our forces, My Lord?”

“We will wage war against Trebia, against the Oorst, we will declare the Sassers our enemies, and the Madenese ignorants.  We will declare war on the known, and wage war on the unknown. For Cellinor is the Light of this World, Luger.”

“Yes, My Grace.  Indeed, it is.  I have been with you since the beginning, and I will remain faithful to the cause My Lord.”

“As will I, Luger.  It is a goodly Realm.”

“Aye, My Lord, it is,” Luger turned and face the King. “My Lord? May I speak freely?”

“Yes, Luger, of course, we always have.”

“Your Grace, I know when you saw the boy there, you felt compelled, but…”

“I could not stand idly by, Luger…”

“My Lord, you cannot risk your life so needlessly, you are too valuable!”

“Luger, what makes you think this was a needless action? I saved the boy, did I not?”

“Yes, your grace. You saved the boy, and we nearly lost our KING!  You cannot risk the cause of Cellinor on so trivial a life as this.”

“Trivial?  Why every man has a destiny.  What makes you think this boy’s destiny was a trivial one? Perhaps, one day, he will do great things.”

“Luger?”

“Yes, My Lord.”

“See to it the boy is trained. And give him the name….give him the name of my Sword.”

“Kazuto? Aye Your Grace. I will see to it personally.”

 

Taryn

Bold is the man who with his hands

Takes what he needs upon the stands

For when he looks, there he’ll find

What others see not, left behind.

 

Dream 1

“Taryn, are you mad?” said Roscoe.

“Mad, for the first time I think I have sense in this world.”

“But how can you be certain this will work?” The Halfling sounding incredulous.  Taryn was nearly laughing in his response.

“Certain this WILL work? Have you not seen with your own eyes?” Taryn smiled, his confidence had never been greater. This WAS his path, found at last. “IT ALREADY HAS WORKED.”

“But what do you mean HAS?  It hasn’t happened yet!”

“Oh yes it has.  Don’t you understand yet what the markers are?  Don’t you understand how this all, inconceivably, has been possible? The night in Ise Reisen’s lair when we knew the game of Pockens cards. The statues. The clues. How do you think they have gotten there?”

“I don’t know Taryn, I don’t know. This may be the last cycle, the last attempt to stop KET!”

“Then we better make sure we get here.  There’s only one way to do that, and the Path is the way. Right Talos?”

“Taryn the Last, must become Taryn the First.”

“Yes! Yes, that is right!  It is HOW we have gotten here.  Don’t you see, THIS is the path. It isn’t the one Kasille meant for us to take, but it is the one WE MUST take.”

“For the Sake of All, Taryn?”

“Yes, Talos, for the Sake of US All, for Once and for ALL.”

 

The Markers

Bolvist

A man is only flesh and bone

Give to them but just a stone.

 

Taryn

Save one who will in time save you

Kill one, and you shall save her too.

 

Mellisande

If indeed you wish to hide,

Then those who aid you won’t abide

 

Roscoe

Tap, tap, tap.

Give the map!

 

Carruthers and Shufflebine

The haze in their minds is clearing.  The sound of water, dripping.  Somewhere a splash. The smell of rotting wood, moss, and putrid water filled their nostrils.

Carruthers, what the hell do we have caught?”

Another voice answers, “They look stupid.  Stupid lookers!!”

“Shufflebine, you goatlicker! What do you know! Quiet….one of the greens will hear us! Hehehehehe…” The voice dies low in pitch but the volume is the same. 

“I hate it when they chase us away!”

“Your mama chased you away, you stupid ass!”

“Your mama is my lover!” hahahahaha

“Look, something is there!  Oh, Carruthers, they have many baubles and items.  When they are dead, we will have some treasures you know!”

“I will give one to the new Queen. Then I will move up in the world of men!”

“You are just a stupid brownie you know!”

Taryn’s eyes opened, and he immediately wished he had kept them shut. He was in a swamp, up to his knees in foul green water, his boots were stuck into the mud and filth.  As if that weren’t bad enough, there was a sloping rock platform sticking up out of the water like a gigantic plate that had been thrust into the mud at an angle.  And yet, all around and above him  and his friends as well were metal bars, a cage.  They were at the end of it, inside it, and by the looks in some type of clearing, filled with water. He didn’t know how deep it was but it looked dark and dreary and disease filled.  A tree line, dense and thick made the border all around.

“Quiet you stupid ass! They are coming!”

Swamped at Work

         A huge boulder just at that moment splashed into the water next to the cage.  Followed by another and another.  Bolvist had already begun to try the locking mechanism, when Jasper tapped him on the back. “My turn, noble Orc?”

         “Hiiiiii-yah!!!!”exhaled Jasper and the metal cage collapsed in one section just as two serpentine forms slunk into the water and approached the platform. Instantly, two green snarling mouths erupted from the darkened water and their open mouths breathed a putrid and rank cloud that filled the cage.

         “Time to go!” Said Mellisandre, who followed by Taryn and Bolvist quickly exited the cage and fell into the water up to their knees. Taryn drew his sword, which glowed a deep emerald.

         “I love the smell of dragon in ancient times!” he laughed, and confident of his sword, he swung it in an arc, slicing off the heads of one of the beasts!

         But just then, a grotesque face emerged from the tops of the trees, and it was followed by a fleshy body that blocked out the sun. Smack! Went the feet into the water, thump went the clubs it was carrying and Taryn fell into the water, bleeding and unconscious.

         “Really, DM? Swump Giants?” came the voice of Bolvist who waded in to wound the beast and keep his attention from Taryn.  Jasper as well, hearing another approach, jumped across the watery moat and began to taunt the beast.

         “Hey Bolvey! Why can’t a giant jump real high?”

         Interrupting came the voice of the giant, “Greeeeeerrrroooouuullll.”

         Bolvist, slicing away at the second green dragon, thrust his falchion into it’s heart. He turned, “Alright Jasper, tell me.”

         “They can barely clear their throat. You get…”
But just then the monk’s foot slipped, and the giant nearest him, not laughing at the joke at all, struck him unconscious.

         Bolvist was about to come to the aid of Taryn who still unconscious had now been picked up in one of the giants huge hands, when he himself was about to be stuck down.  He had no choice. He turned, and left Taryn at the mercy of the beasts.  He grabbed Roscoe by the collar, “Nothing left for us here friend,” and narrowly escaping the watchful eyes of a third giant in hiding, he slunk off following two small brownies, all the while listening to their whispers about his stench and hairiness. Somewhere ahead he knew Melissandre had transformed into a creature of the swamp. 

         For miles he must have trekked, putting distance between himself and his foes. He set Roscoe down in a small glade, with moss strewn rocks.

         Melissandre drifted down and lighted on a branch, she opened her beak and spoke shrilly, “Do you think they have killed them?”

         But just then, winged creatures of various hues began to fill the glade; they fluttered and flitted and flew in and around their arms.  These were followed by other smaller winged reptiles. One came near Bolvist, small and pink, it hovered in the air and puffed a small gas outwards. Bolvist began to giggle.

         “There’s something you don’t see every day,” said Roscoe, who also began to giggle.

         “Follow us, you stupid asses!  You really screwed up you know! It wasn’t our fault the others got taken! You better tell Tiresias that!” And Bolvist felt a small poke in his ankle, but he was too happy to care. Into the swamp they marched, following the faerie dragons, couatls and of course, the brownies too.


Green, With Envy

Taryn had a dream.  A nightmare. He dreamed that during his slumber a woman with emerald eyes led a small child by the hand to watch him. Together, they talked about him, and Taryn knew that the child was the one who commanded the woman.  He was about to speak to her, ask her to leave him be, to have mercy on him, when her face began to change, it grew longer like melting wax. 

He awoke. The sounds of cheering awoke Taryn and Jasper nearly at the same time.  While waiting for his eyes to adjust, Taryn heard the chorus of voices, rising.  It was a dream, he thought! Just a dream! Thank the Light!  We are back in Cellione and we have won!

But something was wrong.  As his eyes focused around him, he realized he was chained to something.  He also could only make out a small light, and that was out into a bright day.  The noise was coming from there. And a voice, speaking Trebian was speaking to a crowd, a crowd which chanted a name over and over.

Clothos.  Clothos. Clothos!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Taryn felt the blood drain from him, and he called for Jasper. “I am here,” said the Monk.  “But I think we are in for some trouble, my friend. Listen.”

“Today! I give you this creature of the wilds, and I offer you two warriors, oh mighty Sherserakshen!  Oh, Beast of the Air, Poisonous Death!  We offer these beasts to you!  We worship you, and we worship our new Eemilche, who today will harness our tribal power with our prayers!”

I think we have found Clothos, Taryn,” said Jasper. “But I think Sherserakshen has found her first.”

Tiresias, and Friends

“Your friends are not dead, yet. Good Lady.” Said a voice.  A booming, thunderous voice.

“Who speaks?” said Melissandre for she had just awoken from some amazing dream, and found herself someplace dark, but not altogether unpleasant. Bolvist, however, who had just awoken as well, could see.  And he was staring at a man whom he recognized, but also a man he knew to be dead. Suddenly the man lit a torch, and a room was revealed, with many scrolls and texts.

An ancient man, yet younger than they remembered, with golden grey hair said in a softer voice, a regular voice, “Where do you come from my goodly Masters?”

“We…We…,” began Melissandre.

But the man interrupted. “My name is Tiresias. And it would seem as though this is not the first time we have met?”

Sherserakshen, the Ancient

The couatl led Roscoe, Bolvist and Melissandre into the heart of Sherserakshen’s stronghold.  They freed Jasper and Taryn.  Together, they made their way to their opening, and looked out upon thousands and thousands of Trebians kneeling before the woman in green, and the small girl, who was covered in garlands and ceremonial garb. Before her was a hooded figure, chained to another person, a woman.

“It’s now or never,”murmured Melissandre. “We must kill Clothos before this coronation.  We’ll slay her quickly and get to the portal. I have Tiresias’ wand once more.”

Spreading out, they disguised themselves among the crowd, and within time, began to move forward towards the girl.  However, the woman in green, began to chant, and chant, and something about her worried Roscoe, who was doing his best to hide amongst some kneeling children.

“I …..FEEL….YOU…” said the woman, who began to walk amongst her worshippers.  “I….FEEELLLLL YOU….” Slowly she walked, nonchalantly, closer and closer to Roscoe. It was only a matter of time before….

“Now!!!!” yelled Melissandre who sprang up and tripping over a leg flashed into a bat. 

“Nothing like surprise,” thought Bolvist, who sensing the immediacy, lunged forward and put his dagger into the heart of the girl. She died instantly on the spot. A terrible scream filled the hillside, as the woman in green began to shake and slowly transform. Larger and larger she grew.  People turned to run, and trample over one another, but the heroes stood their ground, like stones in the middle of a creek.  Higher and higher Sherserakshen’s form grew, her wings spread out, and she came down with her front legs, shaking the ground beneath her feet.  She was anger and hatred, her mistress killed.

“Free me, my friend,” came a voice in Orcish. Bolvist looked down to see the hooded figure looking up, orange eyes glowed beneath it’s hood. “Free me, friend.”

Without thinking Bolvist slashed his magical falchion through the chains binding the Orc to the ground, and as Sherserakshen advanced on him, the orc slunk towards the treeline, dragging the body of the young girl with him.

“Now, will you die!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Raged the green beast, who slashed and beat her wings, knocking them to the ground.

“Roscoe, we need some firepower here,” called Taryn while he planted arrow after arrow into her hide. He thrust out his sword and waded in against her mighty teeth and claws.

Trebia’s Vengeance

        The battle waged on, and from the treeline rose a young Trebian warrior. His name is lost to history, but he was simply a boy who had had enough of the betrayal of the woman in green.   He called to his friends, to his tribesmen and tribeswomen, and they answered his call.  Rushing into the hillside where they had spent their lives on their knees in fear to the beast, they ran at it, and attacked it with the meager weapons they had. 

         It was just enough, and in defeat, Sherserakshen, the ancient and mighty, flew away, leaving the Trebians for the first time in a very long time, masters of their own destiny.

 

The Tale of Dratt and Doodge, Halfling Lords of Chaos

The tale of Dratt and Doodge is a Halfling legend.  Whenever something goes missing in a Halfling home, Dratt is held responsible for taking the item and putting it in a place where it is hard to find.

Doodge however is a culprit of a different sort.  Whenever a Halfling youth blurts out a bad word, Doodge is blamed for seizing control of his or her tongue and making it do his will.

The tales of Dratt and Doodge are well documented in ancient Halfling lore.  They are of course, like all tales, figments of the imagination of the Halfling race.

For if there was any truth to their tales, surely there would be some sign.

 

The Path of Light Once More

         For several days, the heroes spent fixing their wounds. In that time they learned many things about the Trebians and their religion of The Seven.  They did not see Tiresias again, although his messengers came once or twice. Jasper had a feeling he was staying away on purpose. But why, he wasn’t sure.

         The girl’s body was found not too far into the woods. Her head was missing as well as part of her spinal cord.  Bolvist thought this was rather obvious, as orcs often take trophies.  He wasn’t sure how he felt about freeing the orc that day, and the fact it had orange eyes like his troubled him.

———————————————————————-

         “You know, Witch,” said Jasper one day.  “You should not have this staff.”

         “Eh?” said Melissandre.

         “You should not have it. Tiresias will give it to you, remember? Therefore it can not be in your possession now, can it?

         While they pondered these thoughts, Bolvist was, unceremoniously picked on by Shufflebine and Carruthers.  “Look, you flea bitten mongrels. If I give you my prized possession, will you let me be?”

         “Prized possession? What? You are going to give us your collection of jewelry?hehehehehehe”, laughed Carruthers.

         But Bolvist grew very quiet and leaning close to the brownies, he spoke in a whisper, while with his hand behind him he picked up a random rock. “I will give you,” Bolvist looked around, making sure no one could hear, “my bauble.”

 

         Sometime later the two brownies decided to torment Roscoe. They began to tap on him, tap, tap. Roscoe froze Shufflebine with a ray of frost from his fingers once, but felt guilty about it. Then he remembered his marker. “Oh, blast it.  Look you little rats, here’s my map, now go away.

         The two ran away with their treasure.

Taryn’s Medallian

Their preparations finished, the heroes found themselves once more in the place where they had been before. They entered the chamber of heroes and prepared to open the portal.

A voice filled the air, just as the familiar sound of wooshing erupted from the portal entrance.

You disgusting worms!  You miserable maggots!

Bolvist, you were my toughest pregnancy!

Your father will be very displeased with your actions today.

         “Taryn, it’s coming from your medallion! Could it be?”

         But Taryn wasted no time. He had sensed in the days since Clothos had been killed that something was odd with his medallion. As unbelievable as it seemed, he was actually wearing the phylactery of Clothos herself.

         Taryn, took off the medallion, just as the mist and vapor began to construct itself all around.  Into the cube of force he trapped the fate.  And just like that, was the room silenced.

         “Nice trick, Taryn,” said Bolvist.

         “Yeah, well, it’s a one timer unfortunately Master Orc.”

         Jasper looked at Melissandre.  “It is as it has been fated, good lady, all that is left is….” And he looked up to see the monstrous form of the gold dragon soar downwards. Alighting on two legs, instead of four, stood Tiresias.

         “You must leave me with the staff good lady.”

         “I know Tiresias.”

         “You must leave the fate in my possession as well, Hero.”

         Taryn handed over the cube, and nodded.

         “Wherever you find yourself remember, that all life is a balance of light and darkness. Seven lights, cast seven shadows. But three have grown dark . The Lords of Ket will be, just as the Heroes will always be.  WHO are YOU? WHO are THEY? It doesn’t matter.  All that matters is WHAT YOU DO. Do not cower. Do not despair. Do not be slovenly. Do not be envious. For this is for the darkened ones. Until we meet again.

Things to come….

“What is it Q?”

“I don’t know yet,” replied the man in the leather apron. The two men were standing in front of a gigantic cylinder, clear but with an opaque substance swirling inside.

“What does it do then?”

“Do? Why, it makes something,” replied Q, he brushed his long hair aside, and studied a few valves along the chamber’s outer machinery.  He pulled his goggles back over his eyes, and turned one of them towards an upright position.  A rattling filled the circular chamber, eerily and crisply it stopped as fast as it had begun.

“I think it must make something rather powerful.”

“But what?” said the man, his voice barely audible, as if he were too afraid to ask.

“I’m not sure yet, but I think there’s only way to find out…”

 More things…

A voice, like a hiss.  “Long have you served my master.  Long have you suffered.”

A man in dark robes, arms held behind his back, walked nonchalantly around a central area where something was, perhaps a man.

Great chains were strung from the ceiling, in a magnificent collection of strands like reaching tendrils from a vine, only these were vast great pieces of metal welded together in extreme links. Some energy radiated along the metal, sparking the air around it, causing the little light the room held, in short bright flashes.

Below, at some center point, was some creature, it’s arms outstretched, held aloft by the chains. It’s head hung low and slumped, a patch of silver hair, like a mop on the wall, hanging loosely around it’s shoulders.

“The Heroes will rise, Belloran,” came a voice like thunder.  It sounded against the stones, and sizzled the air.  The robed figure only stopped for a fraction of a second, but continued it’s pace.

“Your failure is complete, Guardian. Now is it time for you to die…” came the familiar voice of the Keeper.

“THEY WILL RISE!”

“Gulgol sends her regards, Ryu.  And she thanks you for your service to mankind.

 

Session 3: The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Squatters in The House

Again, the Path of Light fogs your mind, but you gather your wits to take in your surroundings.  Where will you find yourselves this time? When?

 Roscoe’s eyes focused, and he suddenly recoiled.  He was in a familiar place, but somewhere he had never been before.  He was the only one, for the others knew exactly where they were.

They were home.

 And it hit each of them hard, as the realization came that last when they were here, they were under dire attack from the forces that had invaded Carr Alpha. From perhaps Ket itself, which had come for them, at the start of their journey. The start of their journey along the Path.  And there was more.

They stood on the portal platform, materializing in the open of a dark, spacious night that shouldn’t be. Around them were the familiar statues, but were they? No! Some of these figures are not statues!  Instead, they are creatures from a nightmare.  But this, unfortunately for you, is a nightmare you have lived before.

This is the Hero’s chamber of Carr Alpha!

 Only feet from them were two hideous beings, their faces exposed revealed insectile eyes and tentacles where a mouth should be.  Next to them was a figure that appeared dead, but wasn’t so.

Something spoke around them, but they heard no sound.

Koratus. The portal is open. Our window will be brief.  The Shadow comes.

The creatures stand among the four statues, each displaying your likeness, as they always have in some fashion.  They are gazing into the portal, clearly at the ready. All around you are bodies killed and scattered, many have hideous forms.  Beasts made of body parts, nightmarish creatures, part insect, part human. Some battle clearly had just happened.  These three were the victors? But how and why?

They then knew that their journey was about to come to an end, in a split second they would exist in this place, in this time. And that’s when it suddenly struck Jasper. That another trap had been set here for them, but these three were here instead.  What were they here for?

“Welcome home Lords of the North,” says a silky voice.  “Do not attempt to escape. Give us the Lanthorn and you may go.”

Eyes and ears began to clear, and all around was a high pitched noise, deep into the brain it crawled.  In some way though they knew that the sound was muted, as if it existed outside the area they were currently in. Skin tingled. It was cold and it seemed as though the floor was slick, as though made of ice!  They tried to take in the familiar yet unfamiliar setting.  It was Carr Alpha, but only just barely recognizable. It looked as if a giant cleaver shaved it in half, cutting right through the very center. Snow was falling. The wind whipped and swirled around, and the sky was a menancing and foreboding black, not a night, but something sinister.  A feint flow on the horizon said there was a sun, but it wasn’t a sunset. By the Light, where had the light gone?  In the sky was a symbol, the concentric rings, as if each moon stopped one right in front of the other.

Down over the edge of what was once the front portion of the castle, into the valley, Roscoe could make out ruins of what must have been a grand city indeed. Creatures milled about, and everywhere was the strange motion of something hideous, something that did not belong.

The world as they knew it, is gone.  This one, the Darkened world, was nothing they’d ever seen.

Their brief hope they had from their talk with Tiresias began to fade, and despair settled in.  Courage waned, and in it’s place cowardice. The very air felt heavy as if something unseen was pushing down with invisible hands.  And that’s when it beat into their minds, the sound, a low and monotonous sound, like a drumbeat only continuous. It’s dread. It’s malice. It was calling.

Just then, the  Lanthorn began to glow, and radiate outwards. Golden warm rays, Jasper held aloft before him even as his enemies caught sight of his materializing apparition.  The rays of light pushed the despair away, and left him at peace.  For the heroes, the noise began to fade away and drown out.    The creatures that stood in front seemed for the briefest of moments taken aback by the glow, but nonetheless they stood their ground.

An earsplitting voice spoke into their minds.

Darkness has fallen, Welcome to the Night!

The battle began!  Bolvist and Taryn recognized the Vampire Lord as Koratus, the king’s youngest son, presumed dead some many years ago.  Melissandre showered their undead followers with fiery death, but in so doing she gave their position away.  Ket poured upwards onto the platform. They had just moments.  The tide turned with the death of the mindflayers, but suddenly the Vampire Lord cast a spell and Roscoe became charmed.

There was no where for them to go.  They would be captured soon, sure to suffer a horrible death in some Ketian hole.

And that’s when Taryn remembered that he was home!!!!

“It’s time for you to go!” cried Taryn.  He had had enough of this blasted darkness, this blasted portal, and this blasted business of being ambushed. He was tired, and he was home.

“THIS IS MY HOME!!!! AND YOU AREN’T WELCOME HERE!!!!!” And as he said it, he remembered and recalled the ancient magic once taught to him.  The Vamp Pier could not enter his home, not unless he willed it!

Instantly, Koratus recoiled, as if he had been stung or stabbed, he bent over and slumped backwards, all around him, small lights appeared; they pestered him like birds around a tree.  Koratus tried to bat them away, but couldn’t. His evil red eyes took one final look at Jasper. His body slowly began to fragment into whispy black tendrils oozing and whisping about. Different sections of this black cloud peeled off from each other and flew away as tiny black bats or something else like that.  Soon, the Vam Pier was gone.

“What?” said Taryn. “Nobody tries to suck my blood in my living room, ok?”

Bolvist patted the ranger on the back. “A man’s home is his castle Taryn.”

“Oh for the love of Darkness! Look around dummies!” hollered Melissandre.  “You two men are about to learn how much this castle isn’t yours.  We better decide on what we are going to do!” While she spoke, indeed, they heard motion from the other side of the walls still standing, and it was getting closer.

“Well, it was your spell that…”

“Not now!” cried Roscoe. “Guys, we need to…

“Hey you stupidos!  Look at you. You even more stupid now! Hehehehe

“Shufflebine? Carruthers?”

“That’s my papapapa, you stupido! Ding, these fartsmellers don’t even remember us!”

“Dong! Why are we helping these losers, let’s get back to the shack!”

“Come on you idiots! I give you one more chance, only because the big dummy in glasses has our bauble now!”

The two little heads disappeared behind some rubble.

“I’m running from demons, during the Ketian night, following two little assholes I should have killed 20 years ago, even though I’m only a few months older since then.” Bolvist ran after the two brownies. And to top it off I still have that ridiculous tunic under my armor, but to no one would he ever mention that!

Roscoe ran beside him.  “Bolvist! Are you smiling?”

“Smiling? I’m counting the ingredients I’ll need to make brownie stew. One last meal we’ll get I think. Mine is going to be brownie.”

On they ran, over the rubble and debris of what was once their home.

Ding and Dong stopped at the far side of the castle. The far wall was still standing, that which lay against the mountain itself.

Roscoe stepped to the wall.  And watched the two crawl into a hole somehow down at the base.  Soon, an outline appeared in the doorway, and then a slight crack magically appeared in the stone. Two great slabs began to turn outwards. It was a door!

The Last Stand of Jasper the Monk

But as the door opened, from behind them came the sounds of motion.

“Go! GO! All of you!!!”

Something’s front legs stepped around a fallen pillar. They were long and black like a spiders, and then the rest of it crept around the wall, sideways it came striding over the debris.  As it’s grey torso came into view, Jasper felt his breath catch for an instant, it was simply put, not of this world. It placed it’s legs along the wall and  it’s entire body lurched sideways; it began walking along the wall as if it were a fly heading toward him.  It was the size of a large horse, a disgusting corruption of a man’s torso embedded into the abdomen of a spider, it’s legs as long as halberds, and just as wicked longing.  It looked as though it had been sewn together in places, and like other creatures Jasper recalled from his nightmares, it should not be at all. And yet it was.  It’s yellow eyes blazed at him. 

“Take the light! And go, NOW!!!!!” yelled the monk. Behind the creature, other things were moving in their direction. They had been discovered, and the door would not close in time.

 Jasper pushed Roscoe in, and turned his back to his friends.  The granite wall behind him began to close. 

Roscoe turned around and watched his friend Jasper, stand before the demons bearing down on him, no question saving them all. 

“Sacrifice,” he murmured to himself. As the door slammed shut, Roscoe could just make out the monk’s battle cry, calm and resolute, as it always had been. 

“The Light guides me foul demon,” said Jasper. He closed his eyes and a power he had never known began to flow through him.  Something had happened, and he didn’t understand it.  But it felt right. It felt balanced. 

“Come.” He simply said. And the demon did.

It spoke to him and Jasper heard it’s dark whisper in his mind speaking the tongue he had once studied as a youth. “You have much power, worm. My masters desire your soul.”

“My master is the Light, and you are not of it.” Nonchalantly, Jasper placed himself in his defensive stance, and the beast came on. “Let’s return you to your shadow.”

With that Jasper launched himself into the air directly at the front legs of the beast. 

Behind him, he could just hear the door clicking into place.

Dratt and Doodge and Roscoe’s Room

The lock turned, and an immense stairway drops before Melissandre, magically, a stone stairway clicked into place.

Down and below deep into the stairwell was a light somewhere.  She walked forward carefully towards it, down the stone steps. She began to notice some motion in the light.  There were a few forms still yet suspicious. Something below was trying to stay hidden from their view.

“Quiet, you Blasted Bastards!”

The voice was familiar! Didn’t Ding and Dong say something about a man with goggles? Could it be?

“Quiet! Be ready, you know the stakes. We can’t let those bastards get the ship!”

Out jumped a man wearing a leather apron and with goggles on his head, in his arm was a wrench. “For Alpha!!!!!!” he roared and tripped on the first step.   Several persons also tried to follow him up the steps to “attack”, each with some odd device over their heads, as if they are wearing earmuffs.But they too, lost their footing and could not get over the man’s body. 

Taryn stepped forward. It had been a long day, but he hadn’t lost his sense of humor. “Q. It’s good to see you my old friend. But let’s leave the fighting to us.”

He held up the Lanthorn and all was revealed.  Their many friends were still alive, and what’s more, there was something beyond them, something they couldn’t quite take in just yet.

Tears streaked down the proud face of the man who had built so many things for them. “We’ve been waiting for you, my Lords,” said Q. “We’ve been waiting and working.”

——–

What is that?” said Roscoe.  He walked past them all, his mouth hanging wide open. There was Billingsweed, Jeffer and Jill, and many of their other helpers. Beside Q stood Njord. Beyond them was an enormous ship.  A ship that looked like it was meant for the ocean, yet hear it was, floating in midair.

         Just then, a bang came from all around the chamber and dust fell from the stones above. Something massive had struck the outside walls.

         “They have found us,” said Njord to Q, “We don’t have much time.”

“Anyone for a final game of Pockens?” Q took out a deck and sat at a small table near the ship. “I think I’ve finally got a decent hand.”

Q held up the Card of Night. It was, as they all know, the most important card in the deck. In it, seven figures stood atop their seven shadows. In the middle lay a Flame of Silver suspended between the two.

Q held up various other cards. One at a time, he held up a card, then threw it aside. “The Abyss,” he whispered as he pulls out a card that featured ice floating on the sea.  Below lay three rings and four fish swam.  In the direction of the door, another large bang!  “The Castle,” he pulled out another where a dark moon cast a shadow on a castle. A river ran by.

“It’s been here all along. There are others. Others that do not, must not belong.  That means, others are out there. Other heroes. Others left to take a stand. And tonight, they….”he holds up the Card of Night, “ they are all invited to the same party.”

“I’m sure we’d all love to keep playing Pockens, but I’ve been waiting a long time to fill these sails, would ya mind?” came the voice of Portia. They all looked up to see the Halfling smiling from ear to ear atop the rails.

         To her left, stood Canton. He too was smiling, although with the clattering and banging going on outside, he seemed to be doing his best to hide his fear, as were the others.

         “Let me guess,” said Bolvist. “This thing flies in the Elvish fashion.”

         “No Master Orc,” smiled Canton, “I fly in the Elvish Fashion. Theseus flies in the fashion of Kasille! Now come aboard, my Lords! We’ve got a party to get you to!!!”

         With the stones shaking and cracks appearing in the walls, they wasted no time.  Njord directed some last minute loading, as chaos burst all around them in sound and dust. Canton began to cut the ropes that held onto the ship, while Njord  worked some levers below the hull.

         “Wait!!!!” roared Q. “Roscoe! Come here!”

         Roscoe jumped down and ran to where Q was standing in front of something gargantuan, draped. They hadn’t had time to consider what it was. “One of them was cracked and damaged beyond repair.” Said Q to himself, “we didn’t know what to do with it, but then we decided to use parts from another, and we repaired it. Njord and I have made it our side project over the last 10 years. I don’t know what it would do, but I think it will work.” Q grabbed one corner of the drapes and yanked.  Off it slid to reveal a huge glass cylinder, inside was a milky liquid.

“We don’t know how to turn it on,” said Q.  “But I thought I should show it to you, anyway, it’s worthless now.” Q rested his hand next to a place on the machine where some levers and knobs were.  There was a hook. 

“Jasper!!!!” hollered Roscoe. “I need the Lanthorn! Jasper?” With a sadness, Roscoe remembered that his friend was lost. His hands slumped to his sides. Here he was thinking about fancy machines and flying ships and his getaway, when Jasper was no doubt outside fighting for his life, because he had wanted to save them. 

But then he felt it.  Clipped to his belt, small but radiant. Jasper had somehow managed to clip the lanthorn to his belt before the door closed.  “Jasper, hang on pal, I’m coming for you.” And Roscoe began to climb the ladder on the side of the glass cylinder, pausing to clip the lanthorn onto the hook.

The Dying God

Around him lay the bodies of several enemies. These foul abyssal demons, thought Jasper, what an abomination of our world. If balance was achieved in the light and dark, then this wasn’t it.  For nothing like what he now saw felt natural.  He looked down, and observed, in his way, that he was covered in blood.  The foul darkened blood of these beasts but also his own.  He was dying. His legs began to wobble, and he fell to his knees.

A noise began to worm it’s way into his brain. It was the same as when they first arrived through the portal. The sound, Jasper thought, of Ket.  It echoed in him, it’s piercing screech digging deeper and deeper into his consciousness. He focused to find his inner resolve, but it would not come. His hands went to his temples.  What was this hideous sound? Slumping to his knees, watching his blood pool on the ground below him, he looked up just in time to see an eye, the size of a large shield, rising above some debris before him.  Behind it were several hooded figures, and other crawling beasts.  The eye belonged to a floating sphere of some wicked creature. Jasper recoiled for he had seen it’s kind once before. Once, in this very place. The creature floated before him. Jasper could feel it’s power, emanating from it. His fate had come for him in the shape of this disgusting thing.

But suddenly, a shape appeared, lightning fast from around the eastern wall.  Like a great winged snake. It snapped out and caught the eye in it’s maw, shook it and threw it aside like one of Barberello’s dolls!

Jasper had just enough strength left to blink and look up into the fangs of a dragon, it’s brass scales glistening in the dim light of the ringed circles above.

“I knew I was right about you, Master Monk. I knew it all along. Welcome back, Dying God!”

“Now get on, before you have to fight the rest of the Ketian First Wave!”

The dragon lifted the monk with his mighty claws and placed him atop it’s back. Jasper grabbed on with his last remaining strength, while Baluar thrust upwards into the sky. It was only then, that Jasper noticed high up and above them flew a….a ship!

A Cloud with a Silver Lining

         The stones cracked and the walls budged, the Lords had boarded the ship and all their time at sea came back to them as they hastily prepped the sails and halyards.  Melissandre noticed immediately that this ship was loaded with the Can-non. 

         “None of this will matter soon!” said Taryn, “We are in a ship, in a chamber. Where do you think we are going Q? Q?”

         Just at that moment, Q’s dirty hands appeared over the rope ladder’s edge. He pulled himself up, wiped off his leather apron. “I think we better get out, don’t you,” he smiled, walking past the ranger, gripping the rail to steady himself. He yelled, “Now Njord!!!! Now!!!!”

         A loud crack echoed through the chamber as they heard Njord’s voice from below yell “ACTIVATING EGRESS Q!!!!”

         Straightaway, stones began to fall all around the ship.  Instinctively, they all put their hands over their heads, but the stones weren’t falling on them, they were falling in a pattern all around the ship.  The way out was clear!  The ship began to rise!

         “Where’s Roscoe?” hollered Bolvist over the sounds. He looked all around as the ship rose, and down below.  A huge machine was glowing in a corner of the chamber they had just drifted up from and from inside he could see the swirling fluids in the glass cylinder that he had seen in his dreams.  Was something in there? He couldn’t tell.  Besides, he had more important matters to attend to,  for at that moment a wicked creature with many legs was crawling along the wall of the cavern from the gaping hole that had just been open and it was about to lunge onto the ship! Others even worse were following it.

         “To arms Celns!!!!! We’ve got company!!!!!!”

         The ship was floating upwards, and about to pass the outside of the cavern. But the ship was passing too close to the edge, and these creatures would spill over onto it’s decks. They were doomed.

         CRACKKKKKK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

         From below, rose a streak of silver, wings outspread, it soared upward at blazing speed, and before they could take it all in, it had grabbed the creatures that had come near to the ship and tossed them away to the bottom of the cave like ragdolls. It rose higher and higher into the air, snatching other winged things out of the air, and slashing with it’s lengthy tail!  It reached a peak, and turning back towards the Earth just as the ship was coming free and filling it’s sails, it flew back down, hovering, it’s massive wings beating the air.  In it’s mouth dangled the lanthorn upon a chain. It dropped it on the deck, and opened it’s mouth.

         “You can still call me Roscoe,” came the now gravelly voice of Roscoe, “but say it nice, or else I’ll eat you….”

         And Roscoe flew off, biting and clawing winged beasts that came up from the valley, meanwhile Canton helmed the Ship of Theseus into the night toward Cillandar.



From Nebu Chan, Who found himself aboard The Theseus that night.

Death of the Flame

         Yesterday, what the citizens of Cillandar are now calling The Darkening brought an afternoon of faded light to the land. You joined the ranks of many Templars and Faithful Citizens in the pews and quiet places on the Mount, giving aid to the rising prayer to bring back the light of the smallest moon and pull Illiune back into the arc it normally took in the sky above.

Illiune, The First Moon, Moon of the Awakening.  Named for giving it’s rays of light in the early morning, before even the sun arose.  Would it arise tomorrow as it did each day? Or would this foul Darkening continue, despite the prayerful sorrow of thousands of assembled Cillandrians calling for it’s return? Throughout the night, tears ran down faces of mothers holding babes and soft cries arose from the throng assembled around you, whispering, kneeling in solemn worship to the Silver Flame. Each soul, in it’s way, attempting to bring back the Light.

Below you the sounds of clanging are heard, barely audible over the chanting, as a vast military dispatch sent from the Tower by  Lord Borindin assembles.  So far the attempts to gain entry into the vast chasm in which the worshippers of Zargon appear to have disappeared, have failed. Where did they go?

         Zargon! The name brings an instant wave of uncertainty. How could Borindin allow this zealot to continue to collect his fellow faithful right within the view of his most sacred city, Cillandar?  Borindin, the professed bearer of the Flame, the one who established the Mount, and the Temple of the Flame itself within the Known Realms of Cellinor, the Flame he was bestowed from his father, and his father before him, that which he credited as giving him the power to bring triumph over the dragon Gulgol and establish a Lighted society once more out of darkness. Many in your ranks professed their anger, some even in the open, at the idea of a New Realm, unprincipled, and allowed to worship in their way, or Light forbid, their own entities. Rumors of Zargon bringing back worship of a God or Gods may not have been proven, but you’ve always had your doubts. 

   But Borindin’s decree has always been, and his reminders clear to all, especially those who hung by a chimmit along the King’s Road: “Walk ye in the Light, in What Way ye May, Walk Next to Those Who Search it With You”.  The meaning has always been clear. So long as a citizen of Cellinor, or ally of the land has chosen to aid it’s land and people, that citizen has been free to choose it’s life path.  And with this simple decree Celn lands prospered, and grew up from the suspicious, and superstitious ignorance of it’s still more wild inhabitants and neighbors.  Elves from the Northern reaches traded and trusted. Dwarfs from beyond the East and Southern Icy Reaches came bearing the skills needed to build Fortresses. The halflings, came from the swamps of the North establishing themselves near Cellione, creating a vast network of trading and mercantilism.  And Cillindar itself attracted many others, some even from across the seas, where other tales abounded of lawlessness and savagery. 

Of course, most who created a livelihood decided to worship the Flame, as Borindin himself did. The ancient fears of God Worship tied to the fall in the End Days bred into every babe of the land in nearly every walk of life from bugbear to human. Through tales of the Shielded Mothers, and the Old Fables of the Three Sister Moons, all who walked on two legs, and many on four, knew that to worship one was to destroy the many.  Such was the downfall of man in the past. Best to walk in the Light, or better, in the warmth of the Silver Flame, created from the willful input of all good souls.

 The ties of the Flame held strong the members of a land to each other.  A most omnipotent force, a force that showed it’s constant power and energy in healing miracles daily within view of the people: The Silver Flame.  In truth, the Flame was the only source of miracles known to the common citizen, besides of course the arcane power wielded by those who found the magical forces of the past tied to items or forces unknown.  But who wielded these powers? The Faithless, the Shadowed! Taking risks with powers known to have been part of that which destroyed an entire Realm.  A realm, based on ruins and artifacts, at it’s peak, which gave it’s power to the Gods! Ha. And where were the Gods? Long gone.

But your voice lost it’s strength at some point in the night, and you found yourself needing to rest, convinced that in the morning the Light would return from Illuine, as it always does, the Morning Awakening.  You waited for Illuine to rise and as usual, spread it’s rays across your hammock telling you it was time to begin the morning prayer.  But as your eyes adjusted to the light of a new day it was Ellisande that appeared over the Great Sea, Illuine seemingly not there at all in her normal position above the Silver flecks of a constant sea. 

Not speaking, you and your assembled Templars reported to the Mount of the Lighted Host, confused, uncertain. What would be done? What would the Order of the One request? The sacred home of the Silver Flame, where the Keeper of the Flame resides, the Mount, was a small hill from which Cillandar had been built around.  It’s view visible, as was the King’s Tower from virtually all areas of the city and where you, as has been the case for several years, have worshipped  and kept your duties as a cleric, and Templar. 

         Whispers arose from the mustered force, and in the less bright and vibrant rays of the partial moons you just make out that Borindin himself is come to the Mount, to pray.  King Borindin does not often visit the Mount, certainly not in the early hours of dawn, and when he does, there is usually a public reason,   with important significance and decrees. A message of solidarity, good-will, or show of strength to his subjects at work.

         But not this time.  As you gaze past the Order of One, you see his silhouette clearly defined, entering the Sacred Circle, his right hand resting on the hilt of his sword as he often does, his left carrying something, something from a chain. Next to him walks several of his guard clad in mail and fluttering tunics, and a woman.  A woman? Long dark hair, and even from this distance you can see the assurance she seems to bring to the King. Has he then , finally, chosen a new wife?

 Between the King and where you now stand at attention are the  cleric leaders who were permitted to enter the Sacred Sepulchre, the attendants to the Flame itself. All within the various orders of the Flame knew a new Keeper would be chosen soon.  One had to accept the responsibility of the Flame as was tradition after Bishop Belloran’s disappearance and most probable death.  Rumors abounded, that Casseiopia was the King’s favorite, others speculated it would be another more senior member of the Order of One. Could it be that Borindin found a more suitable candidate in this woman, but no, a Keeper must be a member of the Council of One, ofcourse…

LIGHT or DARKNESS?

THE ALIND FINALE for Into the Wild

Continued from the story of Nebu-Chan

As you gazed on, it all seemed to happen so fast.   One minute the King was walking inside, the next the rumbling and motion of the rock under your feet.  Cracking, splitting of the earth in veins along and around you.

CRACCCKKKK!!!! And the Sacred Sepulchre, the very Temple itself began to fade.  It’s constantly gleaming stone pillars becoming less outlined. Beams of silver from the heart of the Flame within were pulling back inward from all directions! As you peered into the Temple’s inner area, past the staggering forms of people gripping each other for support, you could just make out the Flame itself, diminishing in size, drawing in on itself, crawling into a void that should not have existed at it’s radiant heart!

CRACK!!!! And the Mount trembled, and trembled. Quaking with the sudden onslaught of some gargantuan force.  Templars and citizens ran in all directions, you found yourself taken up in the crowd, running down towards the Temple Gates.

As fissures erupted around you, swallowing others with merciless abandon, you just managed to make it through the gates as the Mount before you begins to transcend before your very eyes. The Sacred Sepulchre gave way unto itself with a monstrous boom as it’s upper pillars collapsed, sliding down and covering those unlucky souls still stuck atop it  with a dusty cloud.  Underneath this, another “CRACK!!!” as the Mount envelopes itself even more, a third and fourth CRAAACKKK as the entire complex you have known, protected and loved, caves in on itself in sequence.  With a final, and violent wave the last CRACCKKK!!!  Echoes across the city and undoubtedly for miles around as the ground below and around pulled in on itself. Where once stood a mighty hillside, sacred to all, the Heart of the Flame in  the land of Cellinor, a dust cloud swirls, a great circular chasm below, rocks and debris settling. The cries of the wounded reverberate from around you.

         A friend grips your arm  to steady you from falling into the crater as you wipe the tears which run through the ashy layer of dust coating you.  “Look”, he whispers “What in the Light is that?!!!”

         As you peer below, through the whirling cloud of dirt and sand you can see the form of a giant circle, formed from several concentric circles, one small, one in the middle, and one larger forming the outside ring.   As you look on, you can just see the outermost circle sink to rest flush with the others, a slight banging as it locks into place.  It’s bare metallic frame partially covered in the rock and soil that used to make up the Mount.  “The Darkened thing was metal!” Your friend whispers…”The Mount was nothing more than a metal tower now collapsed on itself. What in the Light has happened to the Flame??? And why would Borindin do such a thing??????”

         Wasting little time, you pull together your kit of medicines scattered throughout the pockets of your robes and begin the chant to aid the first of the injured.  As you approach a young man, an acolyte you have seen before in Prayer, he reaches for you, and as you have often done, you place your hands before you, waiting for the warmth of the Healing Flame to envelope you, to seize it’s power in order to close up the gaping wound in the boy’s leg.

         But it doesn’t come.

For the first time in your life, the spirit that resides in the force you know as the Silver Flame, a comfort and guide during your life, does not come.

         And that’s when you hear the voice….a woman’s voice.  Soft and assuring. The very essence of the Flame, but in a form you have never heard or experienced. “Your time to aid your fellows is at hand, but it will no longer be by the Grace of the Flame you once knew.  Use my power instead.  I call myself not a God, but a leader in the War with the Dark to come.  You are my outlet. I am your springwell. We have much to do, you and those I have called forth from this moment of despair.”

         Not a God? Light! What have you done to deserve this demonic force’s entreats!? And yet, there below you lies a dying man, blood oozing from his leg wound.  Surely death will take him soon.  You can feel the power behind the words, they are there if you choose. Safe and warm, and radiant. Surely this cannot be the Shadow.  Surely, this is Good.  And perhaps as if this thought were enough, you begin to feel a force enter you, so familiar, so compassionate.  Suddenly,  you feel the familiar heat and radiance of pure power roar through your hands, before you, the leg is healed, the man’s face awestruck at the service you’ve performed.

 

         “But I…” as you glance down at your hands, a mark begins to appear.  A faint outline of lines intersecting.  The shape is familiar.  “What the….?” You whisper as the outline of several dots and angles scribes itself apparently of some unknown force you cannot see. A shape forms on the outside of both your palms, shockingly the shape is not unfamiliar to you.

 Bewildered, you try to think back to when you last saw it. It was over a plate of hearty stew, while talking about the Godslayers and what must now be the last Challenge of Champions.  The adoring fans that night had created images from yet unnamed constellations from the stars above for each of their champions.  The images were graffitied in alleys and stone outcroppings in the city centers. Children scribed them on their scrolls in the margins while at school. 

The outline on your palms, plain and clear, was that of Cassieopia.

On a Wing, Without a Prayer

“He’s got him!” shrieked Melissandre, who with the others had been watching the drama below unfold. Jasper was in the clutches of their old friend, Baluar, who of course they now knew to be none other than the drunken fool, Macavoy himself.

The dragon raised upwards, harassed by a few small but wicked flying creatures, however, a few quick swats of his tail and he was soon free of the swarm. Other larger things seemed to be heading upwards for him, but he was leaving them behind, and so was the ship, which was moving rather quickly.  He caught up  to the ship, and in one motion, transformed into the man they knew as Macavoy, and moving Jasper to his arms, he placed him on the deck.

“He needs attention immediately,” spoke the dragon now turned man, but in a voice that blew the already full sails outward.  Standing up, he looked into the eyes of those around him.  “Do not attempt to use the ways of the Flame, for those have now been corrupted. And they would not work, nor have they for these last few years.”

“Whyever not, Macavoy?” said Melissandre who had begun to make a medicinal poultice and placing it on Jasper’s many wounds. She looked up into the eyes of the man she once thought to be a simple fool. “Why not?”

“The Flame is no more, good lady.  My brother, Ryu, has at last died. With him was the only goodness the Flame ever knew.”

Flying in the Elvish Fashion

“We’ve got company,” Canton said to Taryn. “There.”

Taryn looked over the railing, the wind whipping around him. He tried to find the place that Canton was pointing to.  Ahead, out into the dark night of this nightmarish day, was a small, feint glow on the horizon.  The only sign that light had once existed in this terrible new world.

It caught him off guard and for a brief moment he forgot what he had been searching for.  Then, Portia shouted, “It’s there!” and Taryn turned slightly and saw the motion.  Two large wings like a gigantic bat in the night, but Taryn knew it wasn’t a bat.

“It’s Gulgol!” shouted Portia.  For she had heard the stories of what happened to her friends during the ten years they had been gone.  “It is black, black as night!”

“No, it is not black, good maiden,” came the thunderous voice of Baluar.  No sooner had he spoken then the figure of Macavoy jumped over the railing. Portia ran to the railing where she and Taryn watched the Bronze form of the dragon spread his wings, and catching the wind, sailed out to intercept the newcomer.

“Light take me. She has a rider!” Portia turned to Taryn. “Who in this forsaken world, could that be?”

(Fritz and the Steel Dragon Abraxas, upon his lap rests the body of a woman, her name is Ulua)

A Darkened Day

Below, they saw all manner of things.  But everywhere the darkness was constant.  Groups of people were moving here and there. From their vantage point, they were too high to know to where they were going, or what they were thinking.

And twice they saw an abyssal hole, like the one in Carr Alpha.  One they thought might have been Haven, but they couldn’t be sure.

Harvest, From the Dragon’s Mouth

        On their journey, Abraxas and Baluar told them what deep down they had already known.

“Mankind, so near as we can tell, is a collection of a soul, a soul that has seven virtues and seven opposites.  Man, and all willful beasts is both light and dark by his nature. The ancients long ago, the same who most likely built the arks, first learned of this power and it gave them great ability to control the world around them, far more than the physical energy of the sun, it was the willful collection of soul that came from the life the sun brings. The ancients believed in the power of certain numbers, and seven was always the most powerful.  What they didn’t know, was why. The answer is found in you, and in me, and in all good things and bad things.  Like matter in the material world, we are made of a substance, a structure. It is universal. Kasille learned this, and in a brief period of time, much too brief for the Ketian Lords below us, we learned how to use it to our benefit.”

“In our time, in the time of Kasille, we knew these seven traits simply as The Seven. 

Seven lights, Cast seven shadows.

 

Man needs hope so it does not despair.

Man needs compassion so it does not hate.

Man needs bravery so it does not cower.

Man needs [dying god] generosity so it does not lust.

Man needs peacefulness so it does not envy.

Man needs prudence to tame ambition.

Man needs diligence so as to avoid sloth.

“We believe the Ketians have harvested our world many times.  Some of our ancient scholars thought the number could be as high as 10 times or more, but most believed that somewhere in the ancient past, once the moons came to be and the Darkening cycle began, the Ketians rose and have harvested our resource at least several times. When through, they left but a seed of humanity, of the core races on the surface to repopulate in ignorance.  Like sheep left out to pasture. But mankind is not a sheep, and in this age Kasille came to know of technological advancement.  This the Ketians could not control, try as they might from their vast halls far below the Earth. The brownie was let out of the bag of holding and soon, with this new knowledge, The Seven rose.  Guided by an all-encompassing Great Mother, our collected good will, Kasille learned to harness their energy as they once had. They made great weapons as well, and they found the means, they thought to not only preserve this knowledge in the Darkening, but possibly to end the Ketian control of our lighted people.”

“Nameless to us, The Seven did throughout my years in hiding give rise to other names amongst the societies that arose. Societies rose and whether they worshipped “gods” or not was of no matter, for the gods were there.  They were within them.  Long before Kasille, they had names as well.  But they were always the same. The Great Mother, compassion. The three fates; Hope, Peacefulness and Prudence. The Trickster, diligence. The Hero, Bravery.  The Dying God, generosity. Always a balance. Always a light for every shadow.”

“When they coalesce, when mankind gives them freely, or when they are taken, the Gods of Mankind emerge. 8irrFreely given inspires the noble gods, but enslavement inspires the darkness.  Sometimes, they coalesce singly, other times they are separate, but they are always the same, always seven. When the darker sides of these traits are emphasized, the evil gods emerge, rarely singly, but always in the same, evil ways, although in different forms. This of course, is why your people suffer from the torn night, from what you call Riften Naught.  For with the fates kept in stasis, your shadow needed to find it’s way from under the light, and that it did, although it hurt those who were most lighted, did it not?”

“Long ago, before the End Days, long before the Cycles of Darkness began when the moon was struck, when the Earth was turned on it’s side, Kasille ruled the surface in the Light, and Ket ruled in darkness. Kasille enslaved the forces below, for there is always more power in the Light than in the Dark. To keep these beings subservient, they created Seven magical lanthorns, coalescents of great power, millennia of the Sun so that they could enslave KET to their will.”

“Led by the three gods that made up mankind’s survival traits, Ambition turned to Selfishness, Fertility turned to Self-Preservation and Lust, and Labor/Diligence turned to Greed. These gods became traitors of mankind. In the darkness, they gave their subjects to Ket in payment of their continued existence. When the light returned, they hid themselves and waited to be awoken once more to feed off of humanity’s evil traits again.”

“The Path of Light was broken by their corruption, and so too were a portion of it’s guardians.  To stay on the Path, would now not be possible, it’s corruption made the Arks unpredictable. The Darkness came and went, leaving only the most powerful be4hind, but only a few of the Kasillian guardians, could hide in the Light of the instruments they had.”

“The Four knew then that their defeat was imminent, they had no choice but to give their power back to the people, even as most of them were taken into the depths of Ket, into Bondage.  As the light thus returned, the three hid safe within their Lanthorn’s glow and awaited their underlings revival.  While asleep, their corruption still returned in cycles, plaguing the females of the land with these horrible evil thoughts and doings, for greed and lust and ambition are always present. This event is known as Riftenaucht, or torn night.”

“In a succession of events, the surviving guardians realized that the Darkness would come again and that the Path would never work to keep Kasille safe as it was intended to do.  However, it was discovered each time the path was used, that one could use the Path for different purposes.  In some cycles, it was used to travel further back in time, but this never worked. In other times it was used to build power to launch full scale war with the Gods of Ket.  But these were doomed to failure. In each event were the beings of light defeated, in each event was Ket victorious.”

“And then, in the latest cycle, something incredible happened.  Children began to appear, in time, children that arrived from the Path.  The guardians watched with fascination, the forces of Ket that kept tabs on the surface watched carefully too.  As these children grew, it became obvious that there was some reason for their existence, but it was not explained. The guardians began to take note.  Some of these children were discovered and killed. Others were hid, very, very carefully by their discoverers. All were watched by the guardians.”

“But still they waited, for there seemed to be no method to this madness, no reason for this to have happened. As the children grew though, it became more and more obvious who they were, and more and more obvious that they were becoming powerful. Could this be the rise of Mankind that defeated Ket?   How had they come to be in the manner they were?”

“All we knew was the beginning of the portal, but not the end.  We began to suspect, but we didn’t know. Slowly we realized that the seven had somehow begun this as they had ended it.  And that’s when we knew when the portal would open for the final time.”

         “But some of us have lost faith.  We do not see how this will end the cycle.  For it appears as though all the seven have done is self preserve themselves along the Path.  Whatever happens tonight, will ultimately decide all of our fates, and perhaps already has.

The Fall of Cillandar

        On and on they sailed, hours and hours passed, but the despair below them and in the sky all around them was all encompassing.  It was dread and defeat.  But on they sailed, knowing that this moment was their destiny.     

Nothing could have prepared them for what they were about to see.  As The Theseus sailed on, clouds and mist obscured their view.  Their winged escort scouted ahead.  From ahead and below, Baluar’s voice could be heard. “Cillandar, it is there!”

         They all strained their eyes to peer through the clouds.  Again, the faintest of lights from the rings above them shown silver radiance on the shape of the land below. The clouds parted and there she was. 

         But she wasn’t all there.  Where Cillandar should be was a massive gaping hole in the ground, covered with antlike bodies moving in ways that people do not. It was a battle.  A battle waged between the last of the Celns, and these Ketian hordes. Where was the King? They didn’t know. Had Genoran survived? 

Where the granite cliffs of Cillandar should be was an emptiness, an emptiness only partly filled with a diamond shaped rock structure, floating in mid-air, atop it sat what looks like the remains of The Temple Mount of the Silver Flame!

It was as if everything around it disintegrated, falling back into the sea.

But this was not the worst of it.  By far.  For all around the floating structure were flying and winged things.  Dark, shadowy creatures.  Their path too regular to be random. “The cromatics are guarding the Path,” said Abraxas. And then he added. “Hasai will not be among them, though.”

“I am sorry, my friend.” Whispered Macavoy. 

“I am too, my old comrade.  But tonight, is about resolve.”

“And going out in style,” smiled Macavoy.  He smiled at Abraxas, who only half returned it. 

“They will not be able to guard it from the Four Abraxas, only from us.”

“How can this be aloft goodly Lords, surely this is not another use of some element like this ship?” Asked Canton.

“The Arks are temporal places. They exist in place but also in time, and therefore cannot be moved.” Said Abraxas.  He looked to Baluar.  “With our help, you will gain access to the Path. What you do there, is as it always has been, up to you all.” Abraxas looked at them all for the briefest of moments. He was plainfaced.  Melissandre thought there was a measure of anger there, hidden, perhaps despair in the form of resignment, but also, the slightest trace of something else.  She thought, it might just have been hope. “I sure wish Tiresias were here. I cannot face the others like this again, old friend.”

“You can, Seeker. And you will.” Replied the copper haired man, Macavoy. “We were made for a purpose, to protect mankind on a night like tonight.  And tonight, it is our turn to fulfill our purpose.”

“But will they let us down, Baluar?”

“We have lived millennia to find out.  I for one can’t wait to know!” Macavoy then opened his blazer, and reaching inside, he took out his flask. The very same that he once, many years ago offered  to the Hero’s of Haven for a job well done. “I always figured one day, it might be you tonight.  I had a feeling.  What do you say we drink first, this time? I have a feeling I won’t be able to drink with you after.” With a smile, Baluar, offered his flask to you all.

Abraxas however did not accept, instead he went to where Ulua was standing. He put his arms around her and kissed her head. “Be hopeful, my dear.”

To which she replied, “I will be.”

The Return of the Guardians

        “Alight on my back, goodly masters. We will bring you as close as we can to the entryway.  You will not be alone there, and must prepare yourselves for battle.”

         Baluar took Melissandre and Taryn while Abraxas took Jasper and Roscoe took Bolvist and a couple of riders he didn’t even know bout.

         “No doubt the others will be there.  The others that have come this far.  Unfortunately, you can count on the traitors there as well.  Seven lights cast seven shadows.”

         “Be who you were meant to be.  For the Sake of All, I beg you to protect the balance of the Light!”

         The Theseus sailed upon the drafts until it emerged from the cloudbank.  Immediately, the dragons were set upon by others.  A black! Gulgol!  A green! Sherserakshen! And a red!

         “It is Skryla!” roared Abraxas, dodging her fiery breath.

         “Separate!” the dragon roared to the others, and they did, being pursued by the three chromatics.  Above them, the ship was attacked by smaller chromatics.

         “They’ll be killed!” hissed Bolvist.

         “Look!”

         From out behind the ship  a “v” began to appear. The green and gold of Cellinor flew once more.  It was Genoran, and his wing of Griffons.  They hurtled over, under and around The Theseus and with talons gripping, engaged the enemy, tearing into the flying wyrms that had begun to attack the ship.

         The Can-non blasted and Canton’s voice could just be heard.

         “FOR CELLINOR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

The Last of the Celns

Taryn’s View

         “But wait, there! The others Baluar! They have come!”

         As he descended towards the Temple Mount, he saw lightning and other magical flashes from inside.  A fight ws raging there!  Inside, was a magnificent glow, a yellow radiance, which coul only be coming from.

         “The Lanthorns!!!” said Taryn. “Q was right! There are indeed others! Hurry Baluar! I will not let you down my friend.”

         “I know Taryn First and Last, I know. Tonight we will both give ourselves fully to the cause, just as we always have.”

 

Melissandre’s View

Whatever a bird sees.

 

Roscoe

         “Roscoe, why in the hells are you itching me like this, I am trying to right myself here.”

         “It is not I, Master Bolvist.  I am flying true.  Perhaps…”

         “Hello Bolvey!” Came the shrill voice of the last creature Bolvist wanted to hear from tonight.

         “Oh, Darkness take you both! What in the halls of Ket are you two bastards doing here?”

         “Hey stupid ass! We’re here to help ok! You didn’t complain when we saved you the last 42 times.”

         “I’m going to feed you to the lords of Ket myself.”

         But they both crawled back into Bolvist’s pack, Bolvist only had time to smack the bag once or twice, before Roscoe’s turn made him use both hands to hang on.  The wind whistled loudly and as they neared the platform at the temple mount, he overheard something like “Smells like orc ass in here.” 

Jasper’s View

Jasper had the privilege of riding on the back of Abraxas. He found the Steel Dragon, known as The Seeker to the others as quite deep and profound.  It was his honor to be given this transportation and he told the dragon so.

         “The honor is mine Dying God. For it was you who first found me long ago.” Jasper let the silence of the moment sink in.

         “Let us have a good fight then, side by side, my old friend.”

         “Aye, my Lord.” The dragon pulled up, wing’s beating, and Jasper summersaulted out onto the platform. 

         Ahead of him, he heard the shouting and yelling and dying of battle.

         He turned towards Melissandre, and Bolvist, Roscoe and Taryn, who drew their weapons, Jasper holding the Lanthorn.  Behind him, Abraxas and Baluar had engaged the chromatics.

         “Let’s go have a word with the Keeper of the Flame, shall we?” spoke Mellisandre.

                  

The Keeper of the Flame

        Into the cathedral they walked, and into battle they came.

         Belloran battling several foes, Bearclaw, Mustakrakish, Laetis, Maria and Lessa.

         Clothos battling Flemin, Luger, Scruffy, Malcolm

         Lachesis battling many others, including Fritz, and a barbarian named Ian.

         Why will the portal not open????

         Atropos, goddess of lust, had been slain. Next to her, was an orc, chained to her, he bore an ancient looking club made from the skull and spinal cord of a human.   

         “Oh! It is our old pal!” Ding and Dong had found the statue of the figure they had once given to the great PooDoo. The miniature idol of the demon they had defeated in the gnolls caverns.

 

The Heart of the Silver Flame

        “We have won! We have won!!!!! Bolvist, don’t you get it! We’re the victors! The Lords of Ket are gone!” It was Scruffy, who miraculously had joined the fight.

Genoran turned toward the rat faced man.”No, I think not. I think there is still something foul here. For the battle outside wages on.  I think this was just the opening match, my friend.”

From outside the sphere, for the first time, they heard the battle waging.  Suddenly, the sphere was penetrated.  Baluar lands on the platform, and changing into human form, falls over, bloodied and wounded. He looks up at you.

“Abraxas is slain, but so is Gulgol and her so is her sister, Sherserakshen. Skylla however lives. I cannot stop her. When the griffonmaster is gone, you will have but moments.  I will fight her back as long as I can, but others will come, the second wave is already preparing for flight.” Baluar turned back towards the night. But stopped when he heard a call coming from the altar.

“WAIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

The King, Lord Borindin, liar to the realm and to humanity, stepped forward, where he had been hiding behind the altar.  Genoran’s breath caught in his mouth as he saw his father.  Borindin passed the central area where hung Ryu’s lifeless body.

“Father? YOU have been here? But how?”

“Long have I betrayed the trust of mankind, the trust of dragons. The trust of the Lighted World. Of my son. Tonight, I wish to die as I once lived, as a man. I still hold the power you need good Baluar. He took from his robes a potion of some kind.

“Where did you get this?” asked Baluar.

“From Gulgol, the night she let me live.” And placing it into Baluar’s open mouth, he paused. “Would you honor me by letting me ride with you to battle once more?”

‘You have only minutes, good Lords. The portal will open, and you must decide to enter or to fight the darkness. All of mankind’s fate rests with you!”

Borindin stepped atop the dragon, just as a gigantic red maw broke the sunlit sphere. It’s skin sizzled.  “FOR CELLINOR!!!!!!!!!!!!! Screamed the King, and together, he and the dragon Baluar sped towards the red maw, each breathing some fiery cloud at one another, they hurtled outward back into the night.

 

The Lanthorns and the Tree

“But what happens now?” thought Melissandre.  And then she looked down, at the place where she had thrown her components for one of her spells during the combat.  It had been a simple seed, an oak seed, but it was not a seed anymore.

 

From the ground sprang a small sapling. Alien and odd amongst the battle and blood strewn around it. It grew, and grew until it’s branches unfurled. Simultaneously, the lanthorns began to brighten, to shine so bright that they became like suns, their glow spread to each branch, giving itself unto the tree, until each branch was a pillar of light, the lanthorns were consumed. Before them,  a large, magnificent oak tree.  Each branch blazed in warm, radiant light.  The trunk of the tree began to widen, and split and outward shone this bright light, until all recognized what had happened.  The portal had been opened.

         “It was always meant to be thus,” thought Melissandre. “It was always this way, because we have made it this way, and will, tonight again.”

 

The Ship of Theseus

Standing before the tree, it felt as though time stopped. They forgot who they were. They forgot who they had been.  Instead, years of lives played out before them.  Lives of poverty, lives of fame.  A life of Kasille, a life of Cellinor.  Lives in between.  Lives in the goodly realm, and lives in the Wilds.  Millenia of lives played out before them. 

For Jasper, it was a life of sacrifice, told in many experiences.  Father’s watching their sons, toiling the Earth to give them something more.  Wives protecting their babe even unto death. He was Jethro, and he was Fereday.  He was many others, some whom he had just battled with. Their essence filled him up as their bodies vanished into nothingness around him. He had become what they were.

         For Melissandre it was protection.  Balance, but also the maternal instinct of the world. It had always been in her nature, just as she knew the flame had been a perversion of it. Lives of an elf to safeguard the groves, lives as a healer, bringing peace to the sick. She was Casseopia, and Melissandre, and others, many others, all of whom acted on their kindness. She was Elora Moonshadow, and she was Eemilche. She had become the great mother at last.

         For Bolvist, it was the diligence of labor.  If you’re not cheating you’re not trying spoke he to his son. He was a king who had rose to power amongst his brothers in the Sea of Sands, and a pirate who claimed what wasn’t his.  He was the scholar who claimed a spell as his own, and a lord who developed the land even when others wanted it for their own. He was work.  He was Luger, and he was Bearclaw, he was Flemin.  And in his lives, much work was accomplished. They filled him now, and he became them. He was Diligence.

         For Taryn, the images hit hardest.  Whole lifetimes, many short, of riding and waging into battle, of crawling first into places where one dreads to go.  It was the wind rushing in his hair, of many times riding forth first, battle cry in his mouth. He was Mustakrakish, and he was Fritz, he was the king as he had once been. He was, what he had always been, every moment of his life. He was the Hero; he was the bravery of a millennia incarnate.

         For Roscoe, he was the part of humanity that gave it freedom. He was noncomformity. He was the inventor of the Can-non. He was a sailor who pushed past the sight of land.  He was Laetis, he was Ding and he was Dong. He was Portia.  He was the trickster. At last.

         Others came and stood below the branches of the tree as if they too had been called there.  Ulua, the princess warrior and Genoran, the King’s son. The Cleric of the Flame that was no more.

 

The Four and The Three As Well

         For each, they had become, what they were meant to be.  The Four had returned, but so had the three. Once again, there were the seven traits of mankind.  And they were mighty.

         “Where there are lights, there are shadows,” muttered Melissandre. “It is what Tiresias had been trying to tell us all along.  It was the reason the path opened to us!” No sooner had she spoken the words when she, looking behind her, began to notice her shadow and that of the Seven tracing a long line, out of the lighted sphere. On an on they crept, to different areas of the broken chamber, each finding it’s host.

The Lords of Ket Revealed

Shadows reach out and spread to their various opposites.

 

  1. Gingrich-, Politician Cowardice

Taryn-Bravery  

  1. Tia Mat-Wrath

Melissandre-Balance/Wisdom

  1. The Three, Atropos-Lust

Genoran-Generosity

  • Cloth0s-Envy

Jasper-Peacefulness             

  1. Lachesis-Ambition

Roscoe-Prudence 

  1. Ulua-Hope

Schultar-Despair

  1. Ding and Dong-Sloth

Bolvist-Diligence

 

Ding and Dong’s Trinket

 

But when the shadow spread out to Ding and Dong, they yelped and cried, and sprung upwards like cats afraid of a snake.  Shrieking, Ding grabbed his idol and made a dash for the portal, flinging himself in with a shriek. Dong tried to keep up with him, and clear of the creeping shadow on the stones below him, but in his speed to run one way while fearfully staring at the floor behind him, he  tripped on the chain attached to the orc that had been the slave of the traitor.  He fought his way towards the portal, but struggled to free himself. He took out a small packet and sprinkled something atop the orc. The orc began to float slightly off the ground, and Dong limped with the chain and orc attached into the portal.

Immediately, something felt wrong.  It was hard to describe, but it felt like it once did when Clothos entered the portal in Cellione.

“I feel that something has changed again, and this time it weighs most heavily,” said Jasper his fists making tight fists. He turned to see the shadow behind him begin to sink back into the floor.

 

 

All Hell Broke Loose

Two tentacles snake their way in, followed by two heads. The very likeness of the idol that Ding and Dong had brought into the portal with them.

 

“DEATHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” DEATH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

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