The Sundered Throne

Khain's journey: Uncharted territory
Continuing a father's journey

Black flames reaching for
Eternities none can see
Indefinitely

If our sense of distance could be equated to sound, it was a cacophony of uncertainty. In addition to a curse that skewers your sense of time and space, a blackish miasma obscured most of what we could see. Although, one didn’t have to make any astute observation to see that landscape was charred and twisted, reeking of sulfur, and burning meat. In the far distance, we could see a jagged rock formation that had an eerie resemblance to the corpse of some gargantuan beast. Having no other method of ascertaining a more advantageous perception of the land, we decided that the best course of action would be to ascend to one of the jagged, rib like structures in the distance.
If only our trek through an already miasmatic environment could have been so simple. As usual, danger loved company, and it loved our company in particular. Not even three minutes in, we were assaulted by a pack of…
They looked like wolves, but their features were deranged, a mockery of nature. They had rocky protrusions jutting from their bodies, festering pustules spewing orange liquid. One of them tried to sink its fangs into my neck, but I managed to bat it away with my shield. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by a pack of them. They leapt at me at once, caustic drool slithering from their maws. I clung tight to the symbol in my right hand, whispered a prayer to my god, took a deep breath
And exhaled. The pulse of negative energy acted like a wall that collapsed onto each wolf-abomination. Their bodies spasmed as the invisible weight crushed their bodies. I turned to my left to see Eldaren already slaughtering his fair share; Chance riddled some of them with arrows, each individual slamming into the ground from the force of each consecutive shot; Zeddicus had one rip out a chunk of his hamstring, but he managed to keep his calm, firing bolts of ice into their unearthly hide. I ran over as he fell to a knee; I beckoned to my god to reject his wounds, and so she did. A sickly green light lurched over his hamstring. Taking the form of surgical sutures and needles, the green light repaired the damaged sinew, knitting together the wound until it looked as if no damage had ever happened.
“Thank you,”
“Don’t mention it,”
I took a closer look at one the wolf-abominations… their teeth belonged on a shark, rows and rows of daggers. I didn’t like what I was looking at. As usual, I had a bad feeling about what we were doing. But we had no choice but to continue. So that’s what we did. We ended up finding apparitions… memory’s left behind by Zeddicus’s father. We ended up finding one of his friends. Not a memory, but a spirit unable to pass on.
We were on the top of what looked like the rib-cage of something long since dead. We could see the jungle expanse beyond the mountains; we could see a tower that had a floating orb orbiting its entirety; we could see ruins of a kingdom in the blasted landscape; we could see some alien architecture that floated in the distance. That warped castle in the sky had something horribly wrong with it. While I was unaffected, my friends fell to the ground as if tackled by a large animal. It was for a fleeting moment, but they couldn’t bring themselves to look at the structure again…
I wanted to discuss the building but… we ended up running into the spirit that couldn’t pass. I knew from looking at him that the magic bounding him would be difficult to undo, but such an endeavor was child’s play with my god at my side. I undid the bondage that held him to this realm… though I felt regretful. Surely, he was suffering here, but I knew that the place I was sending him too wasn’t much better…
As his soul ascended to another plain… something had gone awry. He screamed. He shouldn’t have been in any pain… but something was waiting for him to be unbound. Something from beyond the stars tore open a gateway to our planet, spewing its body from an abyss unknown to man. The creature consumed the spirit and floated down to our party. Its body resembled that if peak human performance, sculpted in every ornate detail; it towered over us by several feet; its head was a writhing, tentacled mass. It spoke no sound, but we could hear its mangled language rape our minds all the same.
And it moved faster than anything of that size should be able to move. Before Chance could even draw his blade, it snatched him up; tentacles lashed like barbed whips at his body. Before Zeddicus could cast any magic, the eldritch being dominated Eldaren’s mind; it forced Eldaren to cut Zeddicus apart. Our wizard could barely defend himself as blow after blow tore through his body, electricity hissing in the background. After all that had transpired, I was finally able to contact my patron. At the end of those six, frantic seconds, I channeled the evils of the world into a debilitating force. Taking the form of a bloodied javelin, the magic penetrated its body. The effect was immediate: the creatures muscle mass spasmed and exploded in several areas. It hunched over for but a moment, and was subsequently eviscerated by Chance. He sliced off several tentacles and plunged his blade repeatedly into its face; ribbons of blood danced from each wound. Chance then freed himself from the plummeting body as it disintegrated into nothing.
It all happened so fast…
I ran to Zeddicus to heal him. He was inches from death but… it would seem the young lad had gotten accustomed to the craziness attached with being a hero. I turned around to heal Chance, and that’s when we all saw the spirit ascending.
“At least something good came from this,”
I wish I had the same optimism Chance did…
A few more incidents happened to us that day. More secrets uncovered, more enemies defeated, more rocky alliances made, all that jazz…
But today… a new storm brews over the horizon. For the years that I’ve known Eldaren, he has always expressed the desire to become so heroic in constitution, so refined in skill that he would be able to take on a dragon.
I’ve never been as thrilled as he was…
I guess we’re about to have another test of his mettle, and our enduring patience…

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Khain's journal: Visitor of an imperishable night

Saving the world with a ragtag team of outcasts should be an impossible task. An exiled noble, a heretical priest, a man who betrayed his country, and a pirate whose soul doesn’t even belong to him. I imagined such a collection would fall into despair, but you rose to notoriety and fame through your countless endeavors and unshakable faith. The bonds you have with the ones you love… I would like to experience that too… so that one day I can savor the orgasm that can only come from seeing you betrayed by someone you love.

Or maybe not. Maybe you will be different from every fool that came before you. Perhaps we can indulge each other.

Don’t disappoint me.

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Khain's Journal: Rakshasa

When they stormed the castle, the men where slaughtered in droves. Eldaren had told me about their fiendish animosity, the way they sliced through armor like butter, the way their magic shattered men. I had the pleasantry of experiencing it first hand. When Kelras tried to take us out, he sent twenty of them. I’ve stared death in the face, faced an eldritch monstrosity that threatened to annihilate everything in existence, but I have never faced such fearsome adversity. They tore my armor to shreds, bombarded me with their sickening evocations. I saw the shadows blotch my vision, felt my life slip away. We ended that fight showered in blood, glucocorticoids surging throughout our bodies. We had lost many, and we had barely made it out of the fight alive…

They’re… so unlike anything I’ve fought before. Their skin is more durable than steel, and they have the same resilience against magic. Speaking of such, their arcane prowess put most mages in Aundair to shame. I understand some of their kind are native to Eberron, but Kelras brought another breed entirely. Still, despite being different from the legends my father would tell me, the information about them holds, roughly, the same:

They have a high resilience towards magic, but holy aligned weapons are known to be able to bypass their defenses.

Their spell load outs are equivalent to veterans from the war, but rather than choosing spells such as fireball, they prefer lightning bold. I wonder if this is because they like to toy with their prey?

I don’t believe them to be incredibly intelligent, but they do have an innate ability to read minds, which is never conducive towards an easy fight.

They have the ability to shape-shift, making them incredibly adaptive in nature.

Finally, somewhere upon another plane, there is an entire society of these fiends… I can’t imagine any off them are too happy with us.

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Khain's Journal: Entry 5

With every passing day, I feel as if a small part of my soul is being hallowed out. On more than one occasion, I hallucinated that there was no reflection of mine in any given reflective source. The heavy relief I found so calming after seeing my reflection would be cut short by her whispering my deepest fears, my greatest failures. After not even a day in that humble town, the heavens cried crimson, a rain of blood that seemed to pour endlessly began to stir havoc and unrest among the people. I managed to calm them, but their souls couldn’t have truly been at peace lest the ordeal was put to rest. And so, we had journeyed forward to put an end to the perpetrators. Though the blood rain was unnerving, we managed to steal ourselves as our entire beings became clad in red viscous. The hunter had not known where to look, as the blood had inhibited her enhanced senses to the point where they were worse than a child’s. But Chance… Chance knew. Through the cloak of blood, he saw shadows unlike any creature we had seen before. It was immensely impressive that he had managed to discern their location in spite of the circumstance; it was as if he had known where they would be before any of it happened in the first place. Since Chance knew where to go, he was the one to take the lead. He fearlessly led the charge into the forest… we were confident that, with Chance’s initiative, we would get the upper hand in the fight.
It almost never seems to work out that way for us…

I wonder if anything we did during that period of time mattered. I wonder of the people we saved. Since we unraveled the strings of time, are those individuals now damned? All the faces we met, the stories we shared, the adventures we had. Did the children of Winter sink their fangs into the innocent? Did the aberrations pour through the depths, overruning the Eldean Reaches? The horrors that we faced, the evil that we defeated, we were no longer part of that faucet of reality. While we were able to return to defeat even greater adversity, I can’t help but cringe at what we could no longer prevent. We had faced giant spiders, four armed aberrations with gaping holes for faces, a grotesque amalgamation of a dragon and a basilisk, a mindflayer, a spell-stiched monstrosity, and even an avatar of the embodiment of death… and at the same time, none of that happened. My friends grow weary of even recalling what happens to us, and my mental state isn’t always in the right place to write reports as comprehensively as Eldaren, but I feel that… should something happen, then perhaps this can still reach somebody, so that maybe our memories can live on in some way. Writing, after all, is one o the most magical things anyone can do. The words we scribe can connect generations scattered by the sands of time…
That’ll be enough writing for now. It’s time to go revive my friends…

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Khain's Journal: Entry 4

We found ourselves trapped in a gray, melancholy world. All around us, blasted black sand and opaquely colored skies stretched on for as far as our eyes could see. There was no wind, and yet it felt as if we stood amidst a snowstorm. Resting upon a raised, obsidian platform was the man who we had been searching for. There was a critical glitch in his figure, as if the tangibility of his form was to be put into question. His eyes opened and said, “I’ve done it. I’ve found the one true king,” before his figure blurred, cracked, and reconfigured into an almost tangible presence before repeating the process over and over again. It was some sort of illusory magic, something akin to a recording. This man, the one who had been missing for so long, has the answer that could possibly save the entire world.
And yet.
And yet, we have no idea where he is.
“How are we alive?” Eldaren asked.
“It’s nothing short of a miracle,” Chance said. “We’re in the realm of the dead. The heavy concentration of negative energy should have devoured us alive…”
“Something happened,” I said. “It probably has something to do with the ritual.”
“We’ve got to get moving,” Chance said. “Regardless of the reason, I’d rather we leave as soon as possible.”
“But where do we go?” Eldaren asked.
Chance pointed to a large, obsidian tower that soared into the blackened heavens of that forsaken plane. It was at least five kilometers from our current position, rising ominously above the sand dunes. We cut the small talk, knowing all too well that the longer we spent in the land of the dead, the more our humanity would slip away. As we began traversing the unhallowed desert, I realized that the sound of our own movements, the pattering of our feet, our slow, rhythmic breathing, and even our occasional commentaries sounded as if they were muffled. It was like the sound diffused in the air, its force of life chocked away by the ethereal damnation that threatened to swallow us with every passing moment. I also noticed that the gravity had a significant increase in its intensity. Every step felt like a strenuous labor, and our sense of time was distorted by the unorthodox nature of that plane. Soon enough, even breathing became a difficult task.
“Damn,” I said. “It doesn’t seem like we’re getting any closer.”
“Don’t look now,” Chance said, “But there’s a giant, black cloud heading right towards us.”
I looked around to see what appeared to be a dense miasma descending toward our location. It felt as if an ocean were hanging above us, a drowning aura of hopelessness. The miasma exploded into a giant, bat like creature whose wings emanated wispy black smoke. Sharp fangs protruded from the utter darkness; it’s eyes tiny red stars in the blackest night.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” I said.
I felt a weight push me down into the sand. Eldaren had hastily thrown his body weight onto us in hopes that the nightshade wouldn’t see us. There was no way, I thought to myself. There was no way it didn’t see us. But it didn’t…
It passed us.
“Strange,” I said. “There’s no way that it didn’t perceive us. Those foul beast love to snuff out anything that’s alive, so our very being here should be like beacons in the night…”
“It was probably your ritual, brother.”
“Maybe,” I said. “Anyways, thanks for the assist, Eldaren. What you did was better than us standing like fools.”
Chance got up, started walking and said, “Let’s not test our luck, though.”
Trekking behind Chance, we made our way over dunes of sand that seemed to have no invariable shape, as if they were constantly rising and falling in fluid motions, and though there was no change in the blandness of weather, it felt as if I were walking through a deluge of eviscerating hail. The inches stretched into meters, and the meters stretched to miles. Before we knew it, it felt like several days had past. I felt like I would lose my mind. I felt sanity unwind and stitch itself together over and over… I thought we would be trapped in that god forsaken land forever.
But then we were there. After our perilously long trek through uncharted territory, we had arrived at the obsidian tower. There was just one problem. There was no discernable entrance, and the spire was surrounded by an obsidian opaqueness, a malefic body of water.
“Wow,” Chance said. “That is literally the most ominous ‘fuck that shit,’ lake I’ll ever see.”
“Do we have to cross that?” Eldaren asked.
“Yeah,” I sighed. “I don’t see any way around it. Maybe if we can reach the spire, I can manipulate the stone so it opens up for us.”
“How’re you thinking of crossing that there lake, Khain?”
“Well, brother Chance,” I reached in my bag and pulled out a coin that Nagaru had given us. “We’ve got this ship in a coin. I reckon we can use it to cross the lake.”
I passed the coin to Chance. He threw the coin into the lake and it sank into the brackish water before erupting into a graceful, narrow boat with a streamlined design and understated elegance.
“Ready to man the ship, captain?”
“Aye. Let’s get the fuck out of here.”
So we boarded the Viking-esque longboat and headed toward the spire. The water, in spite of being “fuck that shit,” was surprisingly peaceful in nature. Too bad for us that this only lasted for about five minutes before we saw an unholy mass the size of a small island rise and sink back into the water. Immediately after, the water became a galaxy of blazing, red eyes.
Chance looked at me and said, “Are we fucked?”
“Not necessarily,” I said. “I mean, the other nightshade didn’t attack us so maybe—”
An immensely devastating jaw snapped up from the abyss, chopping our boat in half. We were unscathed, but our boat began to sink into the water.
“I was wrong,” I said. “We’re pretty fucked.”
Several masses of darkness began rising and sinking back into the water. A swirling vortex of red stars surrounded us from just beneath the surface.
“Yeah… we’re definitely fucked.”
“What do we do?”
“Fuck if I know, Eldaren.” I wasn’t in the mood for anyone’s shit, even my own. However, in a moment of clarity, I realized that they weren’t aiming for us. They were aiming for the boat. Since we were going to sink anyway, I decided to dive into the water…
Needless to say, I sunk like a rock. On the bright side, in spite of how fucking cold that water was, my hypothesis turned out to be correct. None of the horrors attacked me. They went after the boat instead…
Till this day I don’t know why were so fortunate. Funny, the three of us tried to hold our breath as we sank deeper and deeper. We thought we would die there, but when we couldn’t hold our breath any longer, when we opened our mouths and let the hellish water into our bodies, we found that we didn’t have to breathe at all.
It was as if we were already dead.
Chance and Eldaren were flailing like fish out of water. I couldn’t blame them. They couldn’t see anything, but I did. What I saw was our ticket to escape, a small pathway in the darkness leading to what appeared to be an opening in the spire. I grabbed onto Chance and Eldaren and swam to the path. Eldaren swung his sword at me like a fucking… never mind. I can’t blame him given the circumstance. Thankfully he calmed down, becoming docile enough for me to swim us to safety. When we landed on the path, I held their hands and guided them toward the shimmering gate. Upon the portal were runes inscribed in Mabarian…
Basically, it was a portal back to the world of the living.
It didn’t specify where. For all we knew, it could have transported us into a pit of magma, or the demon waste or in the middle of the sky or…
I didn’t want to ponder it too much. Holding onto Chance and Eldaren, I threw us through the portal…

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Khain's Journal: Entry 3

I’ve recently found another use for potions. In concerns to my practice in necromancy, I’ve discovered that I can taint a potion with necrotic energy to further boost my own necrotic potential. In this sense, my ability to cast a spell would be proportionally increased by the quality of the potion I consume. In this manner, I’ll have another edge on necromancy. Since we just got back from the land of the dead, I haven’t been able to restock. Soon enough though…

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Khain's Journal: Entry 2

When my father first showed me how to do it, he explained that negative energy is akin to a hemotoxin. Having said so, the introduction of negative energy to living organisms destroys blood cells, disrupts the clotting process, and causes tissue and organ degeneration. This is why victims often bleed from their gums, nose, or other orifices, as the negative energy causes massive hemorrhaging.
But, if that were the case, then why don’t undead who still have tissue or blood remain unaffected? It’s simple. In spite of their anatomy, the undead thrive off of negative energy. It is the very source of “life,” that allows them to continue existing in the first place.
My father’s channeling thesis would also explain why elementals are unaffected by negative channeling, as hemotoxin would have no effect on sentient firestorms or tidal waves.
As another note, even though he compared it to hemotoxin, negative channeling is significantly more dangerous. There is no antitoxin for direct death inflicted on the body. One may be able to endure it better than the next, but there is no defense for negative channeling.
It’s funny, really. You’d think, after all this time, people would figure out how to counter negative channeling, or at least defend against it.
…With that in mind, why are defensive spells so weak? In comparison to how strong offensive spells are, defensive spells don’t have a lot going for them. This is only my opinion, however, but I remain firm in my stance. Maybe I should start developing some defensive spells of my own…

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Khain's Journal: Entry 1

She was at first, an enigmatic woman as beautiful as she is mysterious. Her body reflected the cold shores of some dreamlike ocean, where the crystal clear water reflects the blue sheerness of the open, untamed sky. I suppose she was the token sexy character, someone so close but so far out of reach. Nevertheless, I was able to coax my way through her barriers. Ixi had a tragic story, something so debilitating in origin that it drove me to tears as her memories rolled off of her tongue. Her lithe body would quiver at the very thoughts associated with the past, so the telling was obviously difficult, but I made no efforts to coerce a conclusion. Rather, my patience and empathy secured a particular bond that paved the way to something we could both agree as endearing.
Anyhow, continuing on, her story began with a deal that involved accursed individuals that our commonly classified as hags. These sea witches promised Ixi’s people the power to ward off the malevolence of human expansionism. However, they would, one day, ask for something in return. Left with no other option, left with no means of fending off the ambitions of man, Ixi’s people had no choice but to accept the deal, or, rather, a cruel ultimatum. While the wretched blessing of said hags proved to be efficacious in their efforts to fend the humans, the results were far from optimal. Tragically enough, Ixi’s precious kin, her dearest brother was taken from her…
I know how that pain is…
To make matters worse, the payment was Ixi. They wanted to own her like a dog. But Ixi wouldn’t have any of that…So she ran.
She fled from the hags, from her home, all in desperate hope that she would find sanctuary. Unfortunately for the sweet princess, her strange, otherworldly beauty earned her the condemnation of the silver flame. Ixi was able to evade the church, but, eventually, found herself victim to Hurask, a terrible abomination of a man. He and his Sandsharks were thirsty for the bounty that hung over her head, and they’d stop at nothing to get what they wanted…
Thankfully, Ixi was rescued by Ravina, the self-proclaimed, Lhazaar pirate queen. Ever since then, Ixi has been a proud member, and adopted sister, of the Wind Drakes.
She’s been through a lot, and, because of that, it can be hard for her to show her true self at times. I’m just glad that she’s doing well. Even in this fucked up world, she still manages a smile :)

PS:
Hurask spoke of The Devourer. Though there’s no explicit validation of the gods, that’s not to say they aren’t out there. In addition, Ixi mentioned that her destiny involves saving the world from some unfathomable creature, an unprecedented force of nature… According to contextual information, the Devourer represents the raw, destructive force of nature…
I wonder…

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Record 5: Running and Hiding
Not-so-Safe Haven

Dawn shone clear on the shining prows, winds tugging at the scraggly beard beginning to grow upon my chin. Our small armada had left Port Verge just before dawn, the Queen of the North trailing behind the other vessels as we sailing with wind and tide, leaving some of our dangers behind but completely unaware of what other threats lay ahead of us.
Day to day, running of the ship was left to our crew, working under my friend Chance to guide our vessel onward to the horizon. My days consisted of a few regular things, working to train the crew and increase their combat effectiveness with the aid of Da’al Wan, sparring with Vivicci to work on my own skill, and spending evenings with Chance, discussing leadership, tactics, and, upon occasion, magical theory over a bottle of wine. The others would join us upon occasion, but Khain was busy training one of the ship’s crew to perform clerical duties, a process that took considerable time. As for myself, I was glad to be busy, as it provided an excellent opportunity to clear my mind of the images my father’s letter had left with me.
I fear that my own worries drove me to be harsh with the crew, pushing them to their limits during training. They followed my orders well enough, but I could see the discontent in their eyes when they looked at me. It was a sentiment that they didn’t have for my friends, their other officers. How ironic that the man most groomed for such a command was the one most hated by his subordinates. To be fair to my younger self, I had spent my life up to that point studying all these things in theory, but without the chance to ever practice and come into my own as a leader. That came later, but only after many mistakes on my part, hard lessons that cost the lives of men under my command and nearly my own. Those will come in time.
Regardless, the trip to Zilargo was peaceful, and no incident ever threatened our lives or that of the crew. The only exception perhaps being the day we entered port, and were confronted by harbor authorities. One could easily hide in Zilargo, the Gnomes valued privacy quite highly after all, but that only lasted as long as one conformed to the VERY strict codes of law they have in place there. On this particular day it was the matter of one Zod Gamwithel to inspect our ships and cargo, so that we may pay the proper taxes and enter the port.
The short man clambered up the side of our vessel with an ease that belied his stature, leaping onto the deck with a grin. “Greetings and welcome to Zilargo, travelers! Please have your identification papers ready for inspection.”
“ID Papers?” Ravina whispered, a curious expression of discomfort upon her face.
“Not to worry, I’ll handle this.” I looked over to the priest, he was the only other person aboard this vessel that had such papers that I was aware of. “Khain?”
“Right with you, brother.”
I stepped forward, pulling out a set of ID papers from within my shirt. Not my real ones of course, but ones that claimed me to be Lelmen ir’Tethel, a wealthy merchant from Karrnath. Perhaps too wealthy, reading over the papers he looked up to me and said, “A merchant? I assume these vessels are yours then?”
“Of course.”
The gnome looked around him at the pirates gathered on the decks of the ship, and to the officers standing just behind me. “A lot of fighting men for a merchant vessel, ballistae too…”
Thinking quickly, I came up with what I hoped to be a satisfactory reply response, one that wouldn’t land us in prison for piracy. “We do sail through Lhazaar on a regular basis, sir, and given the nature of the region one has two options. Either pray to the gods that he doesn’t attract too much attention from those stronger than you, or hire your own strong men. Drives the cost of business frightfully high, but it’s better than being destroyed by pirates.”
With a nod, the gnome handed my papers back, he seemed satisfied by the response. After a glance at Khain’s identification, he straightened up to proclaim, “All seems in order. Please proceed to berths eight, nine, and twelve on pier four. All persons who do not have papers and wish to enter the city proper must acquire identification papers at the harbor master’s offices near pier two. Have a pleasant stay in Zilargo!”
With that he returned to his skiff, flying out across the waves to intercept another vessel that had entered the harbor and Ravina breathed a sigh of relief but still seemed mortified by the prospect of paying taxes.
We proceeded as the gnome had instructed, docking our vessels and proceeding to acquire papers for our crew, as well as Chance and Da’al Wan, who did not have papers of their own either. Da’al Wan simply said, “I am Da’al Wan,” and the clerks took things in stride, writing Da’al as his first name and Wan as the last. I’m not sure if that’s correct or not, Da’al Wan seems to be just a first name but could also be a title for all I know, for now it was sufficient. Chance Kribbs was my other companion, and he had no trouble navigating the mess of paperwork and questions on his own.
The interesting thing about Chance filing his paperwork was, while waiting for them to process the transaction in their meticulous records, a gnome appeared bearing a letter they had stored for one C. Kibbs for the last five years. It had been intended for delivery upon his coming of age, but at that time my friend was already serving in Ravina’s crew and conveyance had been impossible.
Upon reading the letter, we were left only more confused. It was a letter of inheritance from one Sir Regelus Statton, a researcher of the Dark Six that had apparently been a friend of Chance’s parents. Wishing him good health, the letter was accompanied by a bank slip that was worth three thousand gold pieces, a small fortune that allowed for upgrades to our ship like a gnomish double ballista, much like the ones that had served us so well in the last months. Questions still remained, such as why Sir Statton was so interested in Chance’s welfare, and where the man himself was. No one seemed to know.
Once that business was through, for now, we reiterated for the umpteenth time the importance of keeping our hands clean while we were here to the crew. The gnomish secret police had, and has, a fearsome reputation for maintaining law and order in their pristine city. Crime was not unknown to them, but it took the form of higher endeavors, stealing another man’s ideas to call them your own, great conspiracies and intrigues, and more hiding behind their civilized veneer. The gnomes play the great game, that much is certain, but their style is unlike any other kingdom I have ever seen. That much could be said for their culture in entirety.
Their great city was one of magnificent architecture overlooking great canals, deep and clear that connect the different areas of the city, the cobbled streets filled with brightly colored markets selling all manner of goods, and the good-natured gnomish people calling out to one another and their potential customers. Music drifted upon the winds as musicians of all kinds plied their craft from street corners or their homes above the shops. The artistic culture of Zilargo was unrivaled in the five nations, though each of the nations have their own claims to fame.
Wandering past great gardens and towers of beautiful art we came to the great market in the center of Zilargo. Stalls selling foods, jewelry, weapons, armor, magical artifacts and art clustered in the plaza. There was much to interest us and we spent a good amount of time perusing the merchants’ wares.
Before too long, however, one stall in particular caught our eyes. It was a smaller set-up, only a few tables overflowing with strange trinkets and baubles gathered from across Khorvaire, from the Demon Wastes to Q’Barra. The gnome managing this stall sat upon a small folding stool, strumming a lute and singing tales gathered from far and wide. This particular tale was a variant of the many legends of Deruth, the ancient elven hero who would appear across Khorvaire to protect the weak and innocent. The man and his legends were centuries old, and a new tale would arise every century or so. By this time I would assume that the real Deruth had died, with others carrying on with his name, whether or not they had the right to do so.
Despite my amusement with the legends of Deruth, the little bard was quite skilled, his fingers dancing and white beard waggling as he played his song. A small crowd had gathered, most not interested in his wares but merely stopped to appreciate his skill. We too stopped to listen, entranced by the beauty of the song. When he finished, the rest of the crowd dispersed, leaving us alone with the merchant-bard. Seeing that he had prospective customers, we did look apart from the usual persons of the markets with our weapons, armor, and scars, he stood and began to speak enthusiastically.
“Welcome! I am Doblin Brillbittum, bard, merchant, and world traveler! Would you care to browse the treasures I have acquired in my ventures, or perhaps hear another song from around the world?”
With a laugh, I replied, “We will take a look, my friend. Travelers such as ourselves can appreciate the value of such a collection, even if it is beyond our means.”
The gnome nodded, “I think you might be surprised. This is only a portion of my collection and are those I am most willing to part with.” He looked us over with an interested eye. “You say you are travelers, care to share your own tale?”
“I don’t see why not…”
So we proceeded to tell our tale, one of cults and pirates and monsters, of blood and death on the high seas. The others chimed in from time to time, usually to tell that I was the reason we nearly died, again. Doblin was enthralled by our tales, and I received the impression that he was mentally taking notes, perhaps to put our words to song at a later time. I was careful not to use my real name, but I think a clever man might figure out who I really was.
Having listened to our tale, he seemed satisfied, as were we. Through the course of our conversation, we had learned of his past, not as an adventurer but often in such company in his travels. He was now retired, living with his sister in Zilargo and making a modest living by selling the trinkets he collected on his travels. He was a good man by any account, of fine character, and I was glad to have met him. However, as we turned to leave, he stopped us with a word.
Doblin glanced about as if afraid of who might be listening and said, “Say, if you are such adventurers, perhaps you could help me with a problem I’ve been havening.” We indicated that we might, and he continued, “You see, this isn’t the usual spot for my market stall. I’m usually closer to the canal over there, but this hobgoblin merchant moved in recently and bullied me and others out of our spots, taking them as his own. I would try to get it back, but he has guards and power of his own. I’d be willing to pay, perhaps throw in a discount on my wares.”
My companions and I looked at each other and shrugged, we needed to do something with our time. Might as well earn some coin and magical artifacts. “We’ll do it.”
Doblin was ecstatic, “Great, meet me here at sundown, when the market closes. We will confront the blackguard then!”
And so it was.
As the sun was setting, we returned to the market place, and receiving direction from Doblin, we went in search of the oppressor. We found him directing his assistants in packing away their stall for the night, his harsh glare loomed over the spectacles upon his nose but he did not seem to notice our approach until we hailed him from a short distance.
“Good evening, sir. I believe there is a problem that needs addressing.”
The hobgoblin turned, now fixing us in his gaze, “I am Ven-ger, what problem could weaklings like yourself have with me, much less do about it?”
I smiled, “Take care when you make an enemy of a stranger, sir. We represent an interested party who feels your business practices have been… less than kind to other merchants. Thus, we are here to remedy the situation.”
Ven-ger snorted, “They are weak and I am strong, it is the way of the world.”
I nodded, “But those who may be weak themselves can have strong friends. Will you go peacefully or…?”
The conversation from there turned to thinly veiled threats on both sides, but with the odds being the four of us and the one of him, we were confident. Perhaps too confident.
(Damian’s insult)
With a snarl the hobgoblin raised his hands and ray of fire streaked from them straight towards Da’al Wan, who barely avoided the brunt of the blast. Singed by fire, he charged, only to be intercepted by a lumbering hulk of metal issuing a war cry. The warforged took my friend in the side with a great axe, and blood splattered the ground, but Da’al Wan was unfazed, thrusting his trident repeatedly into gaps in the construct’s armor.
Meanwhile, the rest of us attacked Ven-ger. I flanked wide, hoping to catch him unawares with the help of Chance and Khain, but to no avail. Khain was too busy keeping Da’al Wan alive and Chance quickly found himself under attack from an imp, the small, leathery winged creature clawing my friend in the back as he tried to fire his bow. Even as I looked, the creature’s stinger took him in the side of the neck and he shouted in pain. I reached Ven-ger, but without support, his magical attacks kept me at bay. Dodging blasts of fire made any prospect of attack difficult.
Our only hope then, was to outlast him. They were strong, but we outnumbered them, and had greater ability to sustain the combat. Even as they wounded us, we were healed by Khain, and they had no healer for themselves. Their wounds mounted while we remained strong.
It wasn’t long before the metal man collapsed, its body too broken to sustain its assault. The imp fell moments later, its little form skewered by arrows, and only Ven-ger remained. He looked about to his many foes and down to the scorched wound in his side, a blade is a most convenient way to deliver an electrical blast. The hate was gone from his eyes, a new emotion having taken its place, fear. The hobgoblin’s eyes shifted, seeking a way out. He found one. With a grim smile, he vanished into thin air, disappearing into the night without even a parting insult. Darkness now rising to smother the city. Something was wrong here, what was it?
We were left standing around the ruins of the market stall, looking down at the body of the warforged. To our surprise, it was still functioning. Looking up at us it said, “Master?” It seemed confused. Da’al Wan wasted no time.
“I am your master now.”
To my shock, the warforged obeyed him without question, standing and moving to the warrior’s side. Despite my protests, we had a new companion.
It was then that I realized what was wrong. The streets were empty, silent as the grave, where were the people? For that matter… “Doblin,” I said, “Where are the guards? We should have attracted some attention, what’s going on?”
The gnome, who had just approached and was congratulating us on our work, stopped and looked around at the empty streets. “I… I don’t know, but you are right. Something is wrong.”
In the uncomfortable silence that followed, we stared out into the darkness. After a moment, Chance whispered to the group, “Someone’s coming.” He gestured in the direction and we prepared ourselves for another fight. I could sense something drawing near, something immensely powerful.
“Be ready to run,” I said, “Trust me when I say we don’t have a chance against what’s out there. I-“
I broke off as a figure entered the torchlight. His lithe body was drenched in sweat, rapier drawn and ready as he glanced behind him. Turning to face us, his face became clear. “Vivicci?”
He looked to us, each in turn, before replying. His eyes were full of an emotion I had never seen in him, fear. With his thick accent, he began giving us quiet instructions. “There’s not much time, she will be here soon, and I can do little to protect you from her. You cannot fight, you must run. I will distract her long enough to-“
“She, brother?” Khain asked, quizzically, “Who is she?”
I could still feel that arcane presence drawing nearer, its power dwarfed my own. “It doesn’t matter, we have to get out of here. Can’t you feel that power?”
Vivicci nodded, “Yes, listen to him. You will not survive this if you choose fight.”
This time the silence was broken by a feminine voice, one that drifted on the night air and fell sweet as honey on our ears. “Vivicci? Where have you gone you silly man?”
Vivicci paled, “Be ready.”
A new figure stepped into the light, her long, soft hair gleaming in the dimness. Skin like alabaster seemed to glow, her beauty shining like a beacon in the darkness. Yet she had an aura of malice greater that anyone I had ever met. Her smile was poison, she herself, a poison flower. Beautiful and deadly.
“Oh there you are, Vivicci. What’s the matter? Aren’t you going to introduce me to your new friends? They must be something special to keep you away from us for so long…?”
“I told you long ago, Trivistine, neither you nor him hold any more power over me. Those things I said at our parting, I meant them. I will never serve him again.”
The sorceress frowned, “Now that’s not very nice, Vivicci. We ever so want to welcome you back, but you are just so stubborn.” She clicked her fingers and a sliver of flame began burning above them. “Now… we wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt, would we?”
“Trivistine…”
The witch laughed, “Oh this will be so much fun!”
With that she launched a blast of fire that made Ven-ger’s attacks look like a firework. It would have killed us all, but with a deft throw, Vivicci’s rapier pierced her shoulder and the blast went wide. The little bead of fire flew over our heads and struck the rooftops behind us, with a thunderclap, a ball of fire consumed the building.
The witch was looking down at the blade in shock, then raised her furious face to strike our friend down, but Vivicci was already moving. She launched another blast of fire at him, but he leapt over it, a second blade sliding from his magical gauntlet as he struck. He looked to us, “GO!” Then the next blast consumed them both.
We ran.
It was not cowardice to run. It was survival. If one of those blasts had struck us, even Khain would not have been able to repair what was left of our bodies. We would be reduced to ashes.
A few streets away we paused, the sounds of the fight behind us ringing out over the city. We didn’t know where to go, what to do. Doblin, who stood panting beside us, looked up to us, commenting, “My home is not far, we can take shelter there. I have my wares there as well, and I still owe you for the work you did tonight…”
We agreed and followed the gnome to his abode, moving slower now. By the time we reached the home, the sounds of combat had ceased. I was worried. Very worried.
Pulling a key from his pocket, the little man unlocked the door. We had to stoop a bit, especially Da’al Wan and myself, but we all entered the house without trouble.
It was not a large home, but it was well furnished, with art pieces that covered each and every wall, were stacked about the home and lay on easels. Some covered, others not. It was all of superb quality. Gnomes were nothing if not creative and industrious.
“Please excuse the mess,” Doblin commented, “My sister is a prolific artist and this is one of the side effects of that passion.”
“No need to apologize, brother,” Khian said in reply. “It is magnificent to look upon.”
“Ah, I’m sure she would be glad to hear you say so. Speaking of which, you simply must join us for her wedding tomorrow! Refreshments?”
We passed much of that evening in uneasy repose, wondering if, at any moment, Trivistine was going to ignite the entire house with a blast of fire. Doblin, in the meantime, made good on his promise, providing us various trinkets from his massive collection. A few rings of protection, an amulet of natural armor, and a mithril chain shirt later, we were feeling much more relaxed. You could certainly tell in that moment that survival was foremost on our minds. But there are methods of attack that are not stopped by a magic ring or suit of armor.
It was late that night before we headed back to the ship. The moon was high overhead, revealing a truth to us as soon as we reached the harbor, Ravina and her fleet were gone, but our ship rested in the harbor where we had left it. With weary feet we trod the gangplank, not noticing till we were aboard that the ship was as silent as the streets had been. No lights shown aboard, but with a deft ear, Chance heard a noise in the captain’s cabin. Cautiously we entered, but not cautiously enough. There was the sound of steel being drawn and we turned to see a man with a long white blade at Chance’s throat.
“Easy,” the man said, “Now you’ll be coming with us.”
More men appeared from the shadows.
“What did you do to our crew?”
“We knocked the watchman unconscious and trussed him and the rest of the crew up in the cargo hold. They’ll be fine… unless you resist.”
“I guess we don’t have a choice then.”
The man smiled, “No, you don’t.”
We were bound and hooded, then thrown into a cart with baggage laid over us to conceal our presence. Then we were off. There was no way to tell how far we went, or where, given our circumstances, but it wasn’t long before we were helped down from the cart and led into a building. From there we descended a long flight of stairs down into the earth, and entering a chamber, we were made to kneel and the hoods were removed.
We were in a cellar of some kind, still bound and watched by guards. They were waiting for something, or someone, while their leader readied reagents for some spell. That someone entered the chamber a minute later. The man towered above all others in the room, his shining crystalline armor gleaming in the dim light, the sneer on his face seeming to be his reaction to working with such worms. That gaze didn’t change when he looked at us and it was with growing horror I realized he carried a spell book. To describe this man’s power: beside Trivistine, this man was a bonfire beside her candle. He was not a man to make angry, but I proceeded to do just that.
“Do you know why you are here?”
“No, but I assume it has something to do with you being a presumptuous bastard.”
The others shot me looks, but theirs was nothing compared to the fury on this man’s face.
“I…” he continued, “Am Kelras, but you swine will call me Emperor or my lord, understand?”
“Sure, but Emperor of what? This is a wonderful basement but hardly an impressive realm.”
Kelras was almost shaking with anger, but he calmed himself enough to continue. “Take care when you make an enemy whom you know not, upstart.”
“I could say the same, you don’t know who I am, do you? Maybe you should have figured out who were are before making yourself our enemy.”
He was unfazed by this threat. “I could crush you with a wave of my hand, whelp, but I won’t. You are here to act as… leverage. Don’t worry, you’ll go home tonight just fine, it will be up to Vivicci then to make his choices and decide your fate.”
My heart plummeted as I realized what was going on, he was casting a contingency spell combined with another spell, one that nearly stopped my heart. A phantasmal killer that would trigger based on Vivicci’s actions. There would be no escaping it.
I remained silent for the rest of our encounter. When the man was finished, he departed, and we were returned to our vessel. It was as they had said, our crew was found below, uncomfortable but very much alive.
They were surprised but grateful when we assured the health and safety of each and every one of them personally. Their only question was mirrored in our own minds, what now?
“Well,” I said, “We do have a wedding to attend.”
The next morning dawned bright and clear. Birds sang in Zilargo’s many gardens and the pleasant babble of conversation on the street formed a stark contrast to the events of the night before. It was almost sickening how ordinary it all was. A malady lay upon the city and few, if any, of the people knew or cared. It hung above us like the headsman’s axe, ready to fall at any moment, and there was nothing we could do. We had not even seen Vivicci since the night before, when he had fought Trivistine. Regardless, we went to the wedding.
Doblin was waiting for us in the Great Garden, the largest green space in the city, which adjoined the temple where the ceremony was to take place. The gardens were full of art, artists painting at their easels, musicians playing their music for the world to hear, and a few voices breaking out into song, but all faded before the uproar in the temple before us.
The temple was filled to the bursting with dignitaries and guests of all kinds. It seems that his sister was to be married to an important figure in Zilargo, a gnome with great political clout. For a minute, it was like being home again. The Great Game, after all, has its steps and maneuvers recognizable across nearly any cultural divide.
Before we could enter, however, a pair of men appeared before me. The fine cut of their clothing denoting them as minor nobility, or so it seemed. “You there,” one said, “The Aurum has some questions for you.”
That statement in and of its self was intriguing. The Aurum, the semi-secret organization of wealthy parties across Khorvaire? I certainly had to know what brought them to me, of all people. I hadn’t even used my real name whilst I was here!
Trying to appear more calm than I felt, I replied, “Yes, certainly. What questions?”
“Do you know the current whereabouts of one Lt. Dunthatch?”
“Liana…” The last I had seen of that singular woman, she had been walking down the gangplank in Port Verge, in the Lhazaar Principalities, having just tendered her resignation as my bodyguard. There had always been something strange about her, and I still harbored suspicions concerning her true identity. Regardless, she had never been far from my thoughts in these months since our parting and she still haunted my dreams, both waking and asleep. Just like now! I chastised myself.
Coming back to my senses, I turned back to the men. “No, we… parted company some months ago in the city of Port Verge, Lhazaar.”
“And you have no idea where she went.”
“No. We did not, regrettably, part on the best of terms. I think she was going to try to head home, wherever that is.”
“I see. Thank you for your assistance, you have been most cooperative.” The man proffered a sheet of paper. Taking it I saw it was a bill of credit for the Kandarak bank, six hundred gold pieces. The Aurum certainly had wealth to toss about.
They turned to go, but I stopped them. “Wait a moment, please. Can I ask a question of you in return?”
The more superior of the two looked to his companion and shrugged, “I suppose.”
“Is Liana alright? I… we… didn’t part well, but I still consider her a friend and I wouldn’t forgive myself if something has happened to her.”
With another glance to his companion, the man seemed to soften as he replied. “I do not think so. We are just trying to discover where she went, and why. Farewell, Lord d’Cannith.”
They departed, and this time l let them go, instead turning to the festivities within the temple. Entering, I quickly forgot some of the pain of remembrance, losing myself in the conversation and drink. Da’al Wan was making a splash at the gambling tables, while Khain was flooring an audience with his poetry, I never knew he had it in him. Chance was impressing all with his quick tongue and quicker hands and it was a merry gathering, for a time.
But other eyes were watching, events were in motion that could not be stopped. There are things that I do not have the heart to tell, things that haunt me to this day. I asked Brother Khain for his rendition, so that this account will not be lacking.
“I’m sorry,” was the last thing she told me. I never knew much about Lucille, and I never saw much emotion from her, either, but that would mark the first time I saw that girl cry, and, perhaps, the last time we would ever see each other as “friends.”
She came to us during the wedding, warned us of the Fury that would rain profane judgment on us, and everyone else, if we didn’t make a hasty escape. So, trusting the sincerity in her voice, the concern in her face, we followed her to where we thought would be safe.
I should have known. Or maybe I did… maybe I always knew.
I just didn’t want to admit to the harsh reality of what would happen.
We arrived in a crypt, a place where the weary could finally return to white. The coffins that flanked our way were scribed with ancient, arcane markings that were reminiscent of early Kharrnathi culture. Dregs of dust hung low to the ground, forming a smoky transparency that clung to our gear as we walked by. The torches bled green, a peculiar color that illuminated our faces in phantasmal light. After a few minutes of walking, I could sense a dreadful weight in the air.
And that’s when she said it.
“Lucille,” but that’s all I could say before she fled the room, through some secret door that slammed shut the moment her lithe frame left my sights…
Not a moment later, strange, bluish gas began to flood the room.
“Da’al Wan,” I shouted. “Get the door!”
Using his bull strength, Da’al Wan slammed his body against the door, but, sadly, to no effect. He tried again, coming in with the force of a battering ram, slamming his fist against the door, busting his knuckles open, trying again and again to no effect.
“DAMN IT.”
“There has to be something we can do,” Eldaren said.
“You’re the fucking mage,” Chance said. “Make this shit disappear!”
“Making noxious gas,” and he fell to his knees, coughing, finishing with, “disappear isn’t in my expertise.”
Da’al Wan fell over.
“This might be it for us,” I said. “Out of all the ways to die…”
“THERE HAS TO BE SOMETHING WE CAN DO.”
I turned to Eldaren and said, “We’ve done all we can do, brother.”
“This isn’t how it’s supposed to—”
Eldaren fell unconscious. I tried to fight off the blotches of darkness that began to cloud my vision, but…
I don’t know what it was.
I just decided to sit down and let it happen.
Chance came behind me and said, “It was nice knowing you, mate.”
“Maybe this isn’t the end,” I said. The vision was disappearing completely.
“Well,” Chance’s voice sounded a million miles away. “If it is… I’ll see you on the other side…”
Turns out, it wasn’t the end. We awoke in the chamber once more, our hands and feet bound by rope, our gear thrown into a pile that was far out of our reach.
“Where’d that canvas come from?”
Surely enough, a large, white blanket was draped over an impressively sized canvas.
“I’m so glad you’re awake,” and, creeping from the right side of the canvas emerged a man [KRIS he looks like that fucker from psycho pass right?]. His gaze had such intensity that it felt like presence was burning into my soul, and his overly happy expression sent a sharp chill down my spine. “My name is [insert name here] and it I am absolutely honored that we finally have the time to be properly acquainted.”
“You,” I said. “You’re that famous painter from the wedding.”
“So you’ve heard of me. Why, I’m absolutely flattered,” and, immediately after addressing me, his cold gaze shifted towards Eldaren. “But I’m not the main attraction of the evening… oh no no no. The lustrous limelight falls upon our dearest Eldaren.”
“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO LUCILLE!?”
“Now now, Khain, please don’t make me restate myself…”
“So,” Eldaren said. “What did I do to earn you flattery?”
Smiling, placing a curved palm on his heart, [whatever the fuck his name is] said, “Why, you’re the most recent, perhaps the most phenomenal inspiration I have ever had the grace of having. You see, Eldaren, I do believe that your life has led me to the creation of my magnum opus, my masterpiece of all masterpieces,” and it looked like he was going to cry tears of joy. “Really, I am so thankful…”
He turned…
“Tell me what you think about it…”
And he pulled the blanket off of the canvas…
Dear fucking god… the picture he showed us…
It was of Eldaren’s family…
After they had been beaten, raped, and hanged off the chandeliers of his home.
The photo had a grotesque, photorealistic quality. Their faces frozen in eternal horror, their bodies beaten, broken bones piercing through skin, and a rainstorm of blood flowed from the numerous lacerations. Disgustingly enough, he even detailed the sperm that was shot all over the bodies of his sisters, his aunties, his beloved ones. The beautiful, proud family was portrayed as an utterly annihilated, humiliated tragedy.
There was a moment of pure silence.
In a low, hateful growl, Eldaren said, “I’m going… to kill you.”
“YES,” and he gave Eldaren his standing ovation. “There it is! The hatred in your eyes, that miserable, painful expression on your face… it is the most true, purest form of any art available to—CHANCE what do you think you’re doing!?”
Chance had tried to free himself. I didn’t even notice him… but that damned artists did. Unfortunately for Chance, he wasn’t able to break from his bondage in time. The artists took out a razor blade and he sliced off his left thumb.
But Chance didn’t cry. He didn’t even grimace. He didn’t show any pain. He just stared the new threat in the face.
“I can’t have you misbehaving, dearest Chance.” After pocketing Chance’s thumb, he walked toward Eldaren, grabbed him by his hair and began to drag him across the ground. “I want your friends to see your miserable face, Eldaren. I’d hate for them to be excluded from this beautiful moment.”
“IT WAS YOU! WHY!? ANSWER ME!”
“Shut up, Eldarnen,” the artist said. “By now you should be old enough to know that we can’t always have our way.”
“I’ve had enough,” Da’al Wan said and in one, swift action, he broke free from his constraints. “I don’t care who you are. No one messes with my friends and lives to tell about it.”
“So much for the fun time I had prepared for us,” [I also realize he said damn it and the fury cult was coming in but Da’al Wan also broke free around that same time so…] throwing Eldaren at Da’al Wan, he quickly grabbed his painting and fled through the secret exit with inhuman speed. Da’al Wan tried to pursue him, but, once again, the door wouldn’t budge.
“Someone’s coming,” Chance said. “Da’al Wan, would you be a pal and untie us?”
Da’al Wan untied us, and we managed to retrieve our gear before a familiar face ran into the crypt.
It was the hobgoblin from before.
Bowing to us as if we were all royalty, he said, “I apologize for what had happened between us. I was not in control of my actions. That thing… that damned creature robbed me of my free will.”
“What makes you think—”
“It’s okay, brother,” I said to Chance. “He’s not lying…”
“I trust Khain,” Da’al Wan said. “But, hobgoblin, why do you look so tired?”
The Hobgoblins eyes flickered with the resolve to survive… then he turned around, hands clad in arcane energy, and he spoke, “They’re already here.”
Swarming the room were shirtless men with lacerations decorating their bodies. Some of them had broken handcuffs dangling off their wrists; others wore masks comprised of skin tight, black latex; a select few had gags in their mouths. These people seemed crazed with their schizotypal demeanor. They surrounded us like hawks, the iron handcuffs jingled with their bizarre, erratic movement.
They drew their weapons, and they screamed.
They screamed at us and attacked.
The air around Eldaren began to change, becoming heavy with a dense resolve, something that reminded me of a bloodthirsty hellhound.
Eldaren said, “You people chose the wrong day,” and a bluish tinge of light sprang from the hilt of his blade, coating his weapon with an electrical retribution. He pounced at the nearest cultist, driving his blade hilt deep through his heart, electrifying the flesh off of his bones, pulling his blade out to bifurcate another cultist from his right shoulder to his waist, electrifying his blood and gore as his blade tore through everything, splashing electrical blood all over his clothes.
“I guess that’s our cue,” Chance said as he shot an arrow through the head of a cultist who was about to drive a knife through the Hobgoblin’s throat. The cultist hit the floor with a loud thud, and an earth elemental rose from the ground to tear the corpse in half before advancing toward the fray.
“I’m here to help,” the Hobgoblin said.
“Try not to die before you repay us,” Chance said before he loosed two more arrows at two separate cultists, one through the heart, and another through the throat.
“Save some for me!” Da’al Wan roared as he impaled one through the chest, kicking him aside to bash in the skull of another cultist with the blunt end of his trident. Another cultist swung what looked like a sword, but Da’al Wan weaved beneath the blow and countered by sweeping him off his feet. While the cultist was airborne, Da’al Wan drove his trident through his stomach, slamming to his ground, twisting his trident to further destroy his enemy’s insides, before retracting his weapon and challenging more.
We seemed to have the upper hand, but more and more kept pouring in. I saw a chanting his tainted language, convoking some arcane power to fell Da’al Wan, so I took the initiative and shot him with my crossbow. The bolt sank through his chest, into his heart, but he simply smiled and turned his attack to me. Clearly he was being powered by some infernal blessing, and his hand began to radiate with a burning, hateful aura, but before he could finish I held onto my rosary, and focused my negative channeling on his heart. His smile ceased, and he fell onto the floor as his face became withered and concaved, he held tight to his stomach before vomiting profusely. Shortly after, he died.
What I did must’ve attracted the attention of some of the other cultist, so I decided to bombard the area with negative channeling, causing them to bleed from every orifice, collapsing onto the floor in spasmodic paroxysm.
But they kept coming…
“They might have numbers,” Chance said. “But little did they know—we’re the main fucking characters!”
Just after he spoke, we heard that cool, seductive voice:
“Confidence… I like that in my men.”
Eerily manifesting from the darkness was an incredibly alluring woman. She had crimson, red hair that flowed just below her shoulders, piercing blue eyes that shined like diamonds, an hourglass figure complemented by double Ds, and a short pair of blackish wings that adorned her flawless body.
She was naked, by the way.
“Look at you boys,” she said. “Having all the fun without me.”
“Don’t let her appearance fool you,” I said. “She’s a succubus. She might not be as powerful as other demons, but she’s not to be taken lightly.”
“But like any demon,” Da’al Wan said. “She will fall to Da’al Wan!”
But before he had the chance to react…
Some of the coffins broke open.
Shambling from the busted tombs came three kharrnathi skeletons, each of them donning masterwork breastplates, completely untouched by the hands of time. Clutching razor edged scimitars in each hand, they spoke to us in a raspy, dominating voice, “Who dares… desecrate this tomb?”
“Not us, brothers,” I pointed at the Succubus. “The cult of the Fury is your real enemy.”
One of the skeletons whispered, “Heresy,” before stabbing a cultist through the sternum, lifting him up then bisecting his lower half. His brethren marched fearlessly into the fray, slaying any cultist foolish enough to oppose them.
“No fair,” the Succubus pouted. “How come you get cool skeleton warriors to help out? Where’s the justice in that?”
“A demon preaching justice,” Chance said before shooting a cultist point blank, causing him to slam against the ground. “Now I’ve heard everything.”
The situation seemed under control, but shit hit the fan when Da’al Wan started swinging at Eldaren.
“Da’al Wan,” Eldaren quelled his rage in attempts to plea with our friend. “Who do you think you’re swinging at!?”
“THE ENEMY,” and he lunged toward Eldaren. The young prince was barely able to parry his blow, but Da’al Wan came in with a spinning backhand, slamming his large, callous fist against his temple, causing him to rock backward. Da’al Wan immediately came in with another jab, to which Eldaren couldn’t dodge. The right end of Da’al Wan’s trident tore through Eldaren’s side, leaving a large gash streaming with raw blood.
“CHANCE,” I said. “It’s the Succubus!”
“I’m way ahead of you,” and he loosed two arrows toward her skull… but an invisible barrier diverted the arrows from their intended course.
Slowly sauntering across the battlefield, the Succubus said, “Da’al WAAAAnnn… your friend is being mean to me ”
Da’al Wan front kicked Eldaren, sending the royal magus a few feet backwards, and he charged for Chance.
“Da’al Wan,” Chance did a right jujitsu roll to avoid the attack, drew an arrow and said, “Get your shit together, bro!”
“We don’t have time for this,” I said I channeled profane energy into a constricting spell that my father had taught me. I was reluctant to use this spell, especially against a friend, but the situation was dire enough so I held my right palm in Da’al Wan’s direction and shouted, “HOLD.”
Da’al Wan froze.
“Now,” I said. “Focus on the Succubus!”
“OH NOOOO,” she bitched.
Chance and Eldaren focused their killing potential on the Succubus.
“Foolish Priest,” Da’al Wan growled. “No magic will get the better of Da’al WAN.”
With shear force alone, Da’al Wan broke free from the spell. He stared at me, a cold, bloodthirsty gaze, and he charged.
I tried to conjure a defensive spell. A spectral shield began to form to protect me.
But his force of will shattered my sanctuary.
And he drove that trident through my abdomen…
He held me up, the spearhead tearing through my organs, puncturing my spine…
Fuck.
It hurt.
It felt like someone was dropping hot coals on my body… the pain was terrifying.
Still, I couldn’t help but smile.
“Da’al Wan,” I said, reaching out for his forehead. “No matter what happens to me here on out, I don’t hold it against you… you’ll always be one of my closest friends,” and I put everything I had into one last channel, creating a shockwave of negative energy that felled the remaining cultist, including Da’al Wan.
After Da’al Wan keeled over, I slowly pried his trident from my body, coughing more blood and viscera in the process.
I thought I’d make it though.
When I threw his trident to the side…
All I’d have to do was heal myself, and then heal everyone else.
Chance shouted my name, but I realized, far too late, that one cultist, a wizard had survived.
I turned around—
—and I was point blank from a spiraling sphere of blackish flame. It bore though my chest cavity like a drilling, angry inferno…
I didn’t feel anything after that…
I could hear the sizzling of my flesh melting away, the crackling of the fire consuming my body, the sound of blood spilling profusely from the gaping hole in my chest…
And all went black.

We were left, battered, bruised, half-dead, but Khain lay dead on the floor before us. His chest was a smoking crater, through which we could see the floor beneath his body. He was gone, the steadfast, caring man I called a brother, was dead. He had saved me time and time again, but I had failed to save him.
The shocked silence seemed to last an eternity, each of us lost in grief. We had won, but this did not feel like a victory. Then, to our astonishment, Khain coughs, his pale eyelids flick open and he gazes up at us. “Did I die?”
His chest remains a smoking ruin, but even as we watch, his grey flesh comes to life, surging to fill the gap and knit his broken form back together. In a few moments, all that remains of the wound is a large, circular scar. His chest twitches and his heart begins to beat once more.
“How…?”
Khain gives us a weak smile as he pulls himself to his feet. “I may have to thank my father next time I see him.”
“Your father?”
The priest gives us a look, “You don’t want to know, but to be honest, I’m not entirely sure myself.”
We left the crypt then, full of the stench of death and decay. Indeed, I think part of me died there, not to mention Khain’s death. It was dark outside, the wedding long since had finished. The docks were too far away, we did not have the strength left to make it there, but Doblin’s house was near, so we stumbled through the dark to his home.
Just as we arrived, we heard a voice in the darkness, one that sounded just as battered as we were.
“You survived?”
Turning, we saw Vivicci stumble into the torchlight, he looked at us all with a relieved expression, then collapsed, unconscious. His body was burned quite badly, and he appeared to have lost a good deal of blood. Once Doblin finally opened his door (he did have a terrible hangover from the wedding), we brought our friend inside and sat down to nurse our wounds.
We had barely survived, but it seems that our struggles were not in vain. It was not long before Vivicci woke, and when he did, he spoke in a soft whisper. “My friends, for a long time I was unsure and I waited to see the full measure of your hearts, but now, you are ready. Will you join me in a quest to make this world a better place, to stop such atrocities from happening again?”
We looked at one another, this was far from what we had expected, but the way our friend spoke, the look in his eyes. How could we refuse? “We will.”
A light flared in the sword master’s eyes, “Good. Now rest, we have a long way to go.”

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Record 4: Tragedy and Hope
Messages of Gods and Men

I awoke in Nagaru’s study, images of wispy shadows on marble floors fading into darkness as I stumbled from sleep. The dream, the vision, whatever you want to call it was slipping away into the recesses of my mind. Gone, for now. Though I knew that it would come back, eventually, to haunt my dreams again. Around me, the others were coming to, rising from their induced slumber and shared dream, one that I had been present for. I had seen them on the other side of whatever veil separated the world of dreams from our own, wispy figures in a shadow realm, ones that I could see and hear, but they could not see me. Their first words were echoed by Nagaru, who had sat by us all this time, waiting for our return, “What happened? What did you see?”
My response, simple and honest, “I… don’t remember. I saw you all, but you couldn’t see me. So I went through my door and there is nothing more I recall.”
Nagaru sighed, “That is indeed troubling, and the rest of you? What did you see?”
The others spoke of visions and dreams where they flew like dragons and walked where the stars shone, while a monster stalked them between the folds of reality. As they spoke I watched the old Seer’s eyes twitch and when he spoke at last, there was the slightest hint of fear.
I have appended Khain’s report for reference.
(See Record 3)
“I did not expect you to meet one of the natives, the Quori they call themselves. Strange beings that inhabit the plane of dreams. Psionics, a very strange power indeed. You would have to ask others that would know more.”
We still have not had the chance.
The return voyage from Nagaru’s island was far more dangerous than the voyage there. An approaching storm bore down upon us like the jaws of the Devourer and nearly crushed us in its teeth. White forks of lightning flashed and stabbed the ocean with thunderous cracks that deafened us and rattled our very bones. It was under the cover of that storm that they attacked. Leaping from the waves with bellowing roars, the sahuagin hunting party fell upon us, striking down crew as they made their way to their targets. Us.
Their leader, standing a head taller than the rest of his force, stood proudly on the heaving deck, his spined scales glistening with blood and seawater. “I am Tör of King Celorak’s Second Tier Hunters, you will die by my hands!” With that he charged, killing another crewmember with a backhanded swipe of his claws. In moments the other sailors had retreated to the aft deck, rallying around their captain Lucille, we were alone in this fight.
I was below deck at the time, attempting to avoid the clutches of seasickness when the attack came, but hearing the sounds of combat I leapt from my hammock and raced up to the deck, blade drawn. The scene that awaited me was one of terror, the sahuagin were cutting down our men left and right and the deck ran with blood. My friends made a valiant stand, but we all knew how this would end.
In a flash of lighting I saw a dark form creeping across the deck to get behind Khain, the priest’s face twisted as he concentrated on a spell while the ship heaved underfoot. A gleam as the creature drew a thin blade and readied to strike. My own blade took him in the side an instant later, a jolt of electricity slamming through my sword into its body. It jerked backward as it screamed, an orb of light blazing to life from a strange antennae like structure on its forehead, a hundred needle sharp teeth shone in its maw. Shaking off the blow, it counter attacked.
Fighting for my life, I could only glimpse the rest of the battle with horror. Da’al Wan fought bravely, but their leader struck in flurries of blows that nearly leveled the fighter with each strike. Only his armor and deft parries kept him alive, for a time.
By the time I had wounded my attacker to the point that he fled, the fighter was down and Khain was about to follow. Then a spearhead erupted from the creature’s chest in a spray of black blood, a ballista bolt. Chance stood by the ballista, reloading after pinning their druid battlecaster to the deck. He desperately tried to fire again, but Tör was upon him too quickly. The brave archer was felled in an instant, the sahuagin readying the killing blow, when a massive wave struck the ship. All of us, even the towering sahuagin, were thrown to the deck.
From over the rails another force came, water elementals in a surging line, flowing over us and our crew, but dragging the sahuagin with them back to the depths. The last we saw of Tör, his face was twisted in a hideous snarl and his bellowing cry continued until his head vanished below the waves.
The ship began to rise, carried upward by a great wave, or what appeared to be a wave and we were hurled forward as if thrown from the hand of a god. Wooden beam and hull groaned under the strain but we flew forward across the waves, leaving our attackers far behind. The storm fell quickly, seeming to retreat to the north, deciding now was not the time to strike. The looks in the other’s eyes was all the confirmation I needed. We were not safe in these waters, perhaps not even in all of Lhazaar Principalities. It chafed at me, but now was not the time to attack, it was time to run.
We rendezvoused with Ravina and her crew a few days later in Port Verge, she looked smug. Business had gone well it seemed. Not only was the ship we captured refurbished and provisioned, it was crewed as well, with enough money leftover that we each received a sizable bonus for our aid in recent weeks. Her smile faded when we told her what we had learned and the nature of the attack against us. She did not care for the idea either, but it was time to leave Lhazaar. There were things we just couldn’t fight, and among them are irrational fish-men with a god on their side. She began issuing orders that the fleet set sail as soon as possible, but there was time for a quick bit of shore leave. I had a letter to retrieve after all.
I retrieved it from the postmaster with ease, but reading the letter was not so easy, as it had been encrypted by my father. First requiring my signet ring to prevent instantaneous combustion when I broke the seal and a great deal of work by Khain and myself to break the code. He was more successful than I and was the first to hold the decoded letter in his hand. I made a polite cough and reached for the paper, it was sensitive material after all and while I trusted Khain, some things were just too personal to share in entirety. Khain, however, paid no attention to my gesture, but continued to read the letter, a curious expression on his face. One of shock, horror, and perhaps a touch of fear. Suddenly I was glad we were back aboard the ship, working privately in one of the cabins.
“Khain!” I shouted, “What does it SAY?”
He finished reading a moment later, handing me the letter with a look of pain in his eyes.
“I’m sorry, brother.”
I ripped the parchment from his grasp and began to read:
Eldaren,
I hope with all my heart that you are safe in Lhazaar. Although it can be a treacherous place, I’m sure that Lt. Dunthatch will be able to keep you safe. Something terrible has happened at home. Normally I would tell you in person but it is too dangerous for you to return. Whatever you do, DO NOT REPLY TO THIS MESSAGE, DO NOT RETURN HOME.
Two nights ago, our estate was broken into while I was at the conclave in Wroat, The assailants slew most of our family guard, and the survivors spoke of tactics rivaling those taught at Rekkenmark. The assailants captured your mother, sisters, and the remainder of the estate staff barring themselves in the dining hall. Each captive was beaten, raped, executed, and then hung from the dining room chandeliers. Although I expected someone was plotting against our family, I never could have imagined such an atrocity.
I want you to move somewhere else and keep your head low, in any other case I would have you return home immediately. The funeral will be soon and though I will be “attending,” I am forlorn not to have you safe at my side. You’re ambitious and I know you like to make your skill known to others, however, I beg of you, please, do not reveal your identity to anyone. Whomever is orchestrating these attacks knows our family intimately, I don’t know who can be trusted.
Stay safe,
Father

The letter slipped from my grasp and fell to the floor with the faintest sound. There was a long silence, I could almost see the grisly scene, I would always see it.
“Brother, are you alright?”
Shaken from my thoughts, I looked to him before stooping to retrieve the letter.
“I need a drink.”
I left the cabin and Khain followed close behind, a troubled look on his face. Seeking Vivicci, I found the elf conferring with the captain in her quarters, looking over the route for our proposed journey south to the Gnomish capital of Zilargo. They looked up as I came in, smiles fading when they saw our faces.
“Eldaren…?”
I gave the letter to Ravina, saying, “You have been good to me, my prince, better than I perhaps deserve, but if I am to continue to reside on this ship, there are things you must know. If you wish me to leave afterward, I will and hold no grudge for it. I will not put your people in danger if it can be avoided.” Looking to Vivicci I continued, “Do you have any good wine left, my friend? I could really use a drink right now.”
The elf nodded and sent a soldier to the ship’s hold for a few bottles, “By that look on your face we will need more than one bottle tonight, but what happened?”
I simply gestured to the letter, which Ravina was now lowering, an expression of shock and horror on her face, “Eldaren! That’s… awful!” She seemed to be at a loss for words, I couldn’t blame her. Her look hardened after a moment, “I understand why you have spoken as you have, why you may think it best for you to leave, but you are part of my crew now and I will not send you away like this. After all, I think my plans align with yours. This… Zilargo Vivicci speaks of, I doubt these men will look for you there.”
Vivicci nodded, looking up from the letter. He did not seem shocked, or even terribly surprised, but merely shook his head sadly. “I think you will be safer with us anyway, we sail in the morning.”
At that moment Chance and Da’al Wan stumbled in, the short graceful man leading his large, stumbling companion to a chair where he flopped without any semblance of grace. Thankfully, he did not appear to be hurt.
I smiled weakly, “So, what happened to you?”
Chance seemed startled by our glum expressions, and spoke hesitantly, “We went drinking and apparently our friend had never touched the stuff before.”
The large man grunted in what we assumed to be assent, “Never.”
I was amazed. “Never? What occasion finally got him to have a drink?”
Chance looked at us in confusion, “You didn’t hear? Ravina named me captain of the new vessel, and you my officers. We don’t have a name yet but…”
“Queen of the North,” Khain said without hesitation.
“What?”
“You don’t have a name, I gave her one,” Khain smiled.
“Perfect,” I said, pouring another few goblets of wine and passing them to the newcomers. “Congratulations, captain. Have another one.”
“Just… one more,” Da’al Wan said, his speech slurred.
“But…” Chance said, looking to the letter lying on the table between us.
I scooped up the parchment and tucked it in my shirt. “Later.”
The man seemed worried, but accepted the cup, taking a deep draught. The festivities continued into the night, but I did not drink out of cheer, I drank to dull the pain, to numb the wound. I can’t remember if I slept that night or not.

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