The Sundered Throne

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.”

View
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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Record 3: Lost in Dreams
The party ventures into the enigmatic realm of dreams...

We awoke in a dense, hazy mist. Surrounding us was a thick, black opaqueness that seemed to stretch on for an eternity. Strange, whimsical music drifted into our ears, spanning from unfathomable eons of time and places impossible for us to grasp.

From above, a paper colored bird descended into our view. Using my empathy, I managed to communicate with the creature. It landed on my palm and then unfolded, becoming inside out, turning into a piece of parchment that read a message from the Seer that had placed us in that ethereal realm:

“Your minds are now far away from your bodies, tread carefully so that they remain connected. Although death holds not the same sting here, you will still find the consequences unsettling. You will find before you a number of challenges both strange and difficult as well as limited time to complete them. Be wary of taking things from the realm of dreams, you may find yourself changed or missing something when you return. Be wary of the natives, they are as enigmatic as they are dangerous. The sands of time are slipping away, good luck.”

After we finished reading the message, four doors appeared before us. One was of steel, decorated in spikes and drenched in blood, a profusely nightmarish door to say the least. The other door was of a light colored, humble wood that echoed the soft, soothing sound of rolling waves. The third door was also fashioned of wood, though not as refined nor opulent as the previous one. There was a strong, albeit subtle, radiance from that door. The last of the four was of the finest quality, almost breathtaking in its carved mahogany face. However, unlike the other doors… It was transparent…

“I’m not… feeling too hot about the steel door.” Chance said.

“I think the steel door would be the best option, brother.”

“And why would you say that?” Da’al Wan asked.

“We go through the nightmare,” I said. “And then we recuperate by going through one of the more pleasant doors.”

“You know what,” Chance said. “That actually sounds like a decent idea.”

“Well then,” Da’al Wan complied. “The first, hellish door it is.”

And so, we opened the door akin to something out of a child’s worse dream. We didn’t step through though. We never had a chance. The moment we opened the door, the mist dissipated, the darkness faded, and, in its place, we found ourselves in the midst of a grand, Gothic cathedral. Pale, yellow moonlight bled through the intricately designed, stained glass windows, painting the entire floor with colors of a crepuscular rainbow. Pillars rose to greet the ceiling, and blackish pews flanked the opulent, bloody red rug that lead to a marble altar gilded in golden splendor. As I stood among my friends, awing at the place so strikingly similar to my own home, we heard a piano medley from a distance. It rose to a beautiful, fulfilling crescendo before abruptly stopping.

That’s when we ran into Han, the family servant, a man dressed in dashingly dark clothing that was perfectly fit to his slender frame. He had a severe face, a face that seemed almost like a mask, a face to conceal what true emotions lay hidden beneath.

He walked up to me, handed me a gold platter that presented a small iron key with a heart-shaped end, and he whispered, “The rest is up to you,” before fading into nothingness.

I didn’t even get a chance to ask him anything..

“What was that about?” Chance asked.

“I…”

AND THEN IT HAPPENED. We heard a bloodcurdling scream tear through the silence of the imperishable night. Without any hesitation whatsoever, we ran to the location of that dreadful scream. I threw open an almost gargantuan, double sided door that led into a mostly empty room. At the opposite end of the room was a grate where we could see into the adjacent room. I looked through the grate and saw Lucille, pinned to the wall by iron spikes, her beautiful face bludgeoned, her body lacerated, blood profusely dripping from her wounds into a puddle of crimson liquid beneath her feet.

And there was another person, too. A man dressed in deepest black. His garments radiated classical Karrnathi fashion: a frock overcoat, a flamboyant, yet elegant cravat, leather boots and a ruby red ring adorning his right hand.

“Khain,” he said in his cold, condescending voice. “How nice of you to come home.”

“What are you doing to Lucille!?”

“Her and I we… we’re just having some quality ‘bonding’ time is all.” His voice was like a snake coiling around my neck. “Though you better hurry, Khain, or I’ll end up talking your friend to death,” and he closed the grate.

Seconds later, I could hear Lucille begging for mercy. “Please don’t,” she pleaded. “I’m sorry… please don’t hurt me any—AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!”

“DAMN IT,” and I slammed my fist onto the brick wall.

“Don’t freak out, mate.”

“Chance is right,” Da’al Wan said. “All we need to do is follow the noise and we can save her!”

So we sprinted as if our lives depended on it… down a hallway, down another hallway, and another and another until we reached a room clad dust and cobwebs. A tall, black door with adorned with slivers of stained glass stood opposite of our position. I knew then what the key was for, so I hurried to open the door and—

That’s when we saw her. She had a resplendent face, golden hair flowing down her shoulders like liquid silk; deep, liquid blue eyes shimmering so faintly in the dark of that room; a beautiful, white gown adorning her flawless body. She was akin to an angel, but she had not a smile on her face, and the gown soon became drenched with blood until it began spilling onto the floor, forming into a thick, grotesque puddle.
She was an angel who had her wings painted black, torn off and burned…
She was my sister…
“Elizabeth…” My voice was as solemn as the dying wind.
“So good to see you, brother.”
I couldn’t take it. I didn’t want to deal with her, so I ran up to her, hugged her tight, pulled her away and said, “I love you Elizabeth. I’m so sorry, but now is NOT THE TIME,” and I pushed her to the side, rushed to the door to pull out the key.
But it wasn’t there…
“Oh Khain,” Elizabeth said in her gentle, bittersweet voice. “How can you help anyone if you can’t even help yourself?”
She began to fade from existence, but, before her vestige could evaporate into nothingness, an animated suit of armor tore through her remnants. Accompanying the menacing suit of armor were two, spherical spirits with their eyes stitched shut; they flaunted rows of razor sharp teeth, chomping perpetually.
“GET OUT OF MY WAY.”
The two spirits ceased their chomping, gave an earie smile followed by a quick nod before retreating into the walls. The suit of armor, however, was not swayed so easily.
Thankfully, Da’alWan and Chance took care of it. With one, decisive blow, Da’alWan impaled the accursed armor with his trident, puncturing through its integrity, holding it up in the air so that Chance could fill its head with arrows, before throwing it to the side. The armor shivered. Then it ceased to move.
Immediately after, I felt the key back in my pocket. I stabbed the key into the hole, turned it right, and opened the door.
“Let’s finish this,” I said. My faithful friends were right behind me.
It didn’t take long for us to reach the torture room. When we arrived, my father was already waiting. Holding a gold chalice decorated with rubies around its rim, he was drinking what could’ve been blood or wine… Beside him, the bloodied, desecrated body of Lucille hung on the walls. Her hair draped over her face, and she hung her head low, as if devoid of life, defeated completely.
Chance didn’t wait. Moving with the tenacity of a lion hunting a gazelle, he drew his bow and shot an arrow at my father’s chest. It sank straight through his heart, but my father plucked it out without any effort. Looking more agitated than wounded, he simply said, “Your stupid friend ruined my shirt.” He then gave me his full attention and said, “That’s fine, though, I’ll give the appropriate punishment in due time… but, for now, I want you to choose, Khain,” and he motioned toward Lucille and a box with a white cloth over it. “You can either save your pathetic friend, or you can do what I know you’ve always dreamed you can do.”
I gave Chance a look that said, “You go for the box. I’ll go for Lucille.”
Chance ran for the box. I ran for Lucille. Laying my hands on her battered face, I channeled positive energy into her body, reinvigorating her vitality, rejuvenating her body until it was brand new. She opened her eyes, said very weakly, “Khain…”
“As expected,” my father said. “You never cease to disappoint me…”
“You’re not the only one who’s disappointed,” I growled. “What kind of man does this to a woman?”
He smiled before saying, “That’s real funny coming from you…”
And everything faded to black…
In the heart of that blackness, a voice gave me a choice… I can’t remember the details too clearly, but I knew that, after making whatever choice I made, I felt closer to Lucille…
When my vision returned to me, we were back where we started. Except this time, my door was transparent…
“Chance,” I said. “What did you see in the box?”
“A heart the color of charcoal…yet…still beating.”
“Brother Khain,” Da’alWan said. “Who was that man?”
“Unfortunately, brother, that man was my father…”
“What kind of father…”
“Some other time, brother… for now, let’s continue with these dream sequences.”
“Very well,” Da’alWan said. “In that case, let us proceed with my door.”
So we walked through his door…

Part 2: Dovahkin Descent
We were dragons!? I was copper, my scales glittering in the glow of the molten sun. Chance was brass, his scales smooth and shiny in the shade. And Da’alWan was Silver?! HE WAS A SILVER DRAGON!? His marvelously radiant body was clad in shadow and sunlight.
But where in were we?
We were in an expansive place, some cylindrically gargantuan coliseum like area that spanned miles wide and miles high. And, to top it off, we weren’t the only dragons. We were but a few among an army. Perhaps that’s understating it, however; it was more like an entire civilization of dragons. There were chromatic and metallic dragons as far as the eye could perceive. Some were the size of lions; others were the size of our ship; while others could easily level entire cities solemnly by themselves. Among all of them was a dragon that stood in the center, a leader perhaps, a dragon that may not have had the sheer size but had an unmistakable aura of authority. She spoke of some traitor, of some demonic blasphemy that tainted the bloodline of the dragons. The threat was of such caliber that it managed to instill fear in some of the other dragons. I couldn’t possibly begin to imagine what that danger may have been…
But we caught of glimpse of that cataclysm.
Somewhere among the speech, a red dragon interrupted and his interference created an uproar which acted as a transition to another part of the dream. During that part, we were amidst a deep, ancient forest with sharp, rocky formations reaching for the heavens. The sky was a molten palate of pink, red, and orange. I imagined it would’ve been considerably cold but I was a sodding dragon so…
I thought we were invincible, but that didn’t mean that trouble wasn’t just around the corner. And it was. An army of blackscale lizard-folk and demons emerged from the depths of the forest. Aiding them was a small, yet fearsome platoon of dragons circling above us. Da’alWan took to the sky, lashing out his razor sharp fangs at a black dragon, eviscerating its throat, tearing the dragon to pieces with blows from his savage claws. The blood fell like rain, organs splatting against the ground, some of them on the lizard folk. They were clearly frightened from the way things turned out, so I took the initiative to ANNIHILATE THEM. I swallowed one whole, tore several to pieces with my deadly claws, used my wings to batter them into the ground, smashed their bodies with my tail and finished them off with my acid breath.
I have to admit. I felt pretty cool when my breath disintegrated my enemies. By the time I was done with the lizard folk, a smoldering corpse crashed on the ground. I instantly knew it was the remains of a demon so I looked up to the sky and saw Chance tearing another demon in half with his awesome strength. Looking at Silver—I mean Da’alWan—I saw that he had cast some sort of spell that caused one of the other dragons to be paralyzed. It plummeted to the ground, crashing against one of the natural spikes protruding from the earth. You can probably guess what happened next, brother.
As for the final dragon, we all aimed a concentrated breath attack at it and killed it without any honor or humility. It’s body was frozen solid, and then it was consumed by an infernal embrace that melted flesh from bone, and, finally, its bones were blasted by a caustic stream of energy, cremating its body into oblivion.
But wait—there’s more!
Rising from the forest, two Tyrannosauruses came to answer our challenge. One stepped forward in front of the other, opened its massive maw and roared, “YEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.”
“Is… that what it’s supposed to sound like?” Chance asked.
“You know brother, I’ve never heard or studied a Tyrannosaurus, and this is a dream so it could go either way.”
“I have no interest in the accuracy of its roar. I am Da’alWan! I AM THE SILVER DRAGON.”
With those mighty words spoken, he dove straight toward the tyrannosaurus, breathing a cone of paralyzing potency on the way down, rendering the skyscraper beast defenseless. Da’alWan swooped on in, grabbed its maw with both his hands and tore its jaw apart. The other Tyrannosaurus tried to attack, but Da’alWan stopped it dead in its tracks with a cone of sub-zero temperature. It wasn’t enough to freeze the dinosaur completely, but it gave the silver Da’alWan the perfect opportunity to plunge his claw into his chest. The dinosaur froze as Da’alWan ripped its heart from its body, crushing it before its very eyes. As the blood exploded over Da’alWan’s arm, the body of the Tyrannosaurus crumbled into pieces.
“Looks like we won,” I said.
But we didn’t.
Emerging from the labyrinthine tangle was an eldritch monstrosity, something ancient from eons long forgotten, something blacker than the unfathomable reaches of space, something with the crushing presence of black holes consuming entire planets. It had the size to an entire civilization, and its very presence darkened the sky. I can’t clearly remember what acidic words rolled off of its serpentine tongue, but his very voice was enough to chill me to the bone.
And that’s when the dream came to an end… seconds later, we were once more in that dark place. Except this time, we weren’t alone…
“What do you think my dream meant?”
“I’m afraid I can’t offer any input,” I said. “Your dream is an enigma that’ll have to be solved some other time, brother.”
“I guess that leaves my door,” Chance said. “Shall we go?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Let’s get—”
Don’t belong…
“What was that, Khain?”
“That wasn’t me. Da’alWan?”
“No, brother, it was not Da’alwan?”
“Well then,” Chance said. “Who the h—”
You don’t BELONG HERE.
It was only after we heard those words reverberate through our minds that we had been able to discern its point of origin. Though it had sounded like a myriad of eerily haunting voices coming at us from all directions, a feeling of terror wrapped around our necks like a hangman’s noose… and that’s when we knew it was right behind us. I turned around to look, and what I saw may forever plague my waking moments.
It was a giant, writhing cloud of eyes and centipede like tentacles. It lurched forward, ever so slowly, with blood spewing from exploding eye sockets. I could hear the sounds of chains rattle as its form expanded into dimensions of nightmarish void, stars perishing into bittersweet oblivion as the screams of dying children churned into chaos. And, amidst such disturbingly phantasmal shapelessness, was a single, wrenchingly identifiable pulsation that seemed to deafen everything else…
The sound of a human heart…
“How about—NO,” and Chance sprinted to his dream, threw his entire weight toward the doors, and fell into another dimension.
I was to do the same, but Da’alWan was frozen in fear.
“Let’s go, brother!”
“I… I… I…”
You don’t have to leave. I change my mind. You can stay here… FOREVER…
“We’re going to have to turn down your kind sentiment,” I said as I, miraculously, managed to pick up Da’alWan and run through the door just before the tsunami of coiling nightmare could consume us completely.

Part 3: Lord Chance
And we awoke in a finely decorated room with extravagance rivaling one of the dragon-marked houses, to such a point that perhaps the room itself would define the word chic. Although, far more noticeable than the archaic opulence of the room was the fact that Chance and I were lying in bed, shirtless, together.
“Um,” Chance said.
“It’s your dream, brother.”
“Well, I guess you have a point there, brother,” Chance got out of bed. He opened a closet which had fine, purple clothing embroidered with gold trim. He plucked out a button up shirt, slipped it on and turned to say, “Let’s go and find our friends, shall we?”
Suddenly, I found myself dressed in my high collared, red robe with golden trim. I then followed Chance outside of the room. We found ourselves in a hallway illuminated by blue witchlight.
“Is this your home?” I asked.
“Does the fancy ass room and floating fires laced with permanency spells give it away?”
“You never told me you came from such prestige?”
“It’s cause I’m not,” Chance said. “This dream must be a rendition of things to come.”
“Well, you’ve got quite a lot to look forward to, then.”
We kept gliding across the red carpet, admiring the decorative marble caricatures—beautifully sculpted women, heads of fiendish aberrations, exotic weapons—that flanked every door we passed, until we reached a door where we could hear a familiar wailing…
“It’s Da’alWan,” Chance said as we stopped at a door that had the head of a dragon carved into its surface. “I wonder what’s wrong,” and he opened the door.
“STAY BACK,” Da’alWan roared. “DON’T COME NEAR ME.” With crazed lethality in his eyes, he held a candlestick as if it were his trident, threatening to impale anyone who got too close.
I stepped forward and said, “Calm down, brother. Just take a deep breath… and relax.”
He looked depraved, maddened to the point of his mind breaking, but then an ounce of clarity shimmered in his eyes, and he calmed down, set the candlestick to the ground, sat on the bed and told us, “I’m sorry… I… that thing…”
“The Quori,” Chance said. “They’re the natives of this realm.”
“What do you know about them, brother?”
“They can ruin you if you’re around them too long.” Chance said. “By the looks of it, had Da’alWan been exposed any longer, he would have lost his sanity.”
“How’re you feeling, Da’alWan?”
“I’ll… be better once we’re done with this.” He said.
“In that case,” Chance began to make leave. “Let’s get this over with.”
When we left the room, we heard several screams down the hallway, so we hastily made our way down those halls until we reached a kitchen. Once there, we saw an elderly man grieving over a young, beautiful woman with a gaping hole in her abdomen.
“I don’t like where this is going,” Chance whispered.
Hearing Chance, the man aimed his leer at Chance and said, “You,” he clutched the woman’s dead body continued with, “You did this…”
“You have no evidence to back up your claim, brother.”
“IS THAT SO!? WELL… well… Chance is the one who brought me here. He’s the one who proposed the trade agreement. He’s the one with power. He’s the one who could’ve orchestrated this… so tell me, what evidence do you have that it wasn’t him?”
“I spent an entire evening burying the dead with this man,” I said. “Such is an honorable thing to do for the fallen. A man with such reverence would never slay an innocent woman. And if you should have such doubt, look into my eyes and tell me if you see a liar standing in front of you.”
“I don’t give a single, solitary fuck about your words, priest… WHAT I WANT… what I want… is to know who killed my daughter, lest you want a war on your hands…”
“Fine,” Chance said. “I’ll prove to you that I didn’t kill your daughter,” and the dream transitioned us into a secret, surreal looking room. There were no walls; rather, we were in an extradimensional space of paper-white. Directly in front of us was a familiar, silver chalice floating above a marble pedestal. Behind the pedestal was a giant, shattered hourglass; the top looked as if it had exploded, with shards of glass and tendrils of sand scattered in all directions, but each, meticulous detail was completely frozen in time…
“One hell of a room you got here,” Da’alWan said.
“It’s a dream.” Chance replied.
“Isn’t that your chalice?” I asked.
“I know what it does now,” Chance said as he approached the chalice, plucking it off of its marble throne. “It just came to me. Must be that enlightening business that Nagaru was talking about…
“So what’s it do, brother?”
“If I take a drink from this chalice,” Chance paused. “Then… I can see people for who they really are… you know Khain, I’m glad I know who you are. I’m glad I could figure it out. I’m glad I didn’t have to resort to other methods to learn who you are.”
“I figured that you’d catch on, brother.”
“Yeah,” he said as he made way for the single door in that white emptiness. “But no matter who you are or what you become, it doesn’t matter to me… you’re my friend all the same.”
“Chance… are you okay?”
He didn’t answer me. He opened the door, leaving Da’alWan and I behind.
When we followed, we were back in kitchen with the grieving father, and his deceased daughter. However, this time we enjoyed the company of a cute, curvaceous, raven haired beauty of a maid—RAVINA?
“Chance,” I said. “What kind of thoughts do you have about Ravina?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Chance said.
“What’s going on here?” a lithe, blue skinned bombshell strolled into the room wearing a black, skin-tight dress. “What’s this nonsense about a murder?”
“It’s not nonsense,” said the Ravina the maid. “Lord ir’Lanvar’s daughter has been murdered!”
“WHAT?”
Other people crowded the room. Among the masses stood out two noticeable figures. One was an elven man with a wiry frame. He wore a ravishing tuxedo and his green eyes beamed with confidence. I knew this man to be Vivicci. Accompanying him was a weathered lizardfolk dressed in chef’s clothing. I recognized him as Rakatog.
“What is the meaning of this?” Vivicci the butler asked.
“Just sorting out some unfinished business,” Chance said.
“Have you fucks done anything to solve this crime?”
“Using rude words won’t get this mystery solved any faster, good sir.”
“You look stressed,” Rakatog the cook said. “Here, have some wine to calm your nerves.”
Rakatog poured the wine.
Chance sipped the wine from his chalice.
“Tut, tut. You’ve ruined my game” the sly voice of Ravina issued from behind him. Her skin melted off to reveal a muscular, grayish humanoid creature with a narrow head, gaunt limbs, and a gnarled, twisted face. “You could’ve let me frame you, ruin your life, and so on, but you had to have a fucking chalice that revealed a person’s true identity.”
“Everybody stand back,” Chance said, stepping forward. “I’ll take care of this.”
But he didn’t. With laser-like-precision, the grayish humanoid plunged a rapier into his chest. We froze. We couldn’t move. We could only stare in horror as the fiend plucked the blade from our ally, and kicked him to the ground. Blood began to paint the floor, and the humanoid said, “I will find you Chance. No matter where you run… no matter where you hide. I will always find you.”
Tragically sad music plays in the background. The scene fades to black. Curtains…

Upon our return to reality, Nagaru had asked a simple phrase:
“What happened? What did you see?”

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Record 2: Sea Voyage
Trials and tribulations of the seas.

Growing up inside the porcelain walls of my mentor’s tower in Breland, I saw very little of the outside world. Envisioning it as a place of adventure and excitement, I thought the world would be my playground, as many a rich and spoiled noble scion does, and setting sail for an adventure on the high seas served only to fulfill that boyhood promise of adventure. We fought the abominations and their great monster but I never stopped to think about the cost of what had been done. Yes, we won, but nearly a third of the brave souls that made up Ravina’s strange and spirited family had died- some of them in terrible ways that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

Standing on the deck of the Sea Mother, the sun dipped below the waves and the harbor wall and the wind seemed to sob and sigh as it sputtered through the bay. Around me were the crew, staring sadly at the fallen as their funeral pyre was drawn out to sea with the receding tide. The funeral ship was piled high with body and kindling, all that remained was to light it. With a creak and a twang, Chance’s bow fired, flaming shot arcing high over the twilight waters as Khain whispered a blessing on their souls. It struck dead center on the craft and the blaze began. That’s when the singing started, slow and solemn, the voices carried on the whispering wind, following their brothers out to sea. First it was one, then two, and before long every member of the crew stared out to sea, singing the burial song of their people. Turning, I could see Ravina on the aft deck. She did not sing, but even from a distance I could see the silver streaks upon her face.
Only then did I understand what a sacrifice this had been for everyone involved. To them is was no frivolous adventure but their very lives and livelihoods that were preserved by the battle we had won. They had died for this cause, and I was just along for the ride. Feeling very out of place it wasn’t long before I retired, leaving the crew to their reverie.

The next day we left port, seeking the last of Hurask’s allies at their hidden temple before going on to visit a wise seer by the name of Nagaru, far to the north. Oh the excitement! Here, laid out right in front of me was another adventure, a chance for Eldaren d’Deneith to prove his worth! With a new blade upon my hip, I thought I was ready to take on the world single handed- and win. In the end, I couldn’t defeat a single man alone that day. Shark infested waters, a dark ritual, and a monster that leapt at me from behind as I challenged their leader alone nearly proved to be my end.

The first sign of doom, was when, investigating was we presumed to be Hurask’s quarters, the power of the Devourer assailed us. All but Khain fell, locked into a shared dream of a brewing tempest and the great terror beneath the waves that circled, waiting. It struck like lightning, bearing Da’al Wan into the depths before returning for us one by one. Though I knew it was a dream, I couldn’t break free, the dark power laughed as we writhed in pain but then released us in a sudden flash. We awoke on the cave floor, Khain had barely the time to move.

Shoving the fear in the deep, dark recesses of our minds, we continued on, waiting for the beasts we knew were lurking in the dark to strike. They did, and Da’al Wan was almost slain in the encounter, but by no means was the day over yet. Turning the corner into the final chamber, we found death waiting for us.

Across the long ridges of stone rising from the water of that cave we looked, and saw the old priest that awaited us, trident in hand. He appeared to be alone, so we did not wait to strike. Racing forward, I leapt from platform to platform, launching death from my hand at the old figure. The sounds of combat erupted behind me, the acolytes must have made their move, but I had eyes only for the priest. Slay him and this battle would be done, right?
I never got the chance, for when we finally stood face to face, there was a strange sound behind me. I turned to see, but there was an intense pain and all went dark. What follows is Khain’s account of what happened after I fell unconscious.

Eldaren was the first to go. Although a very capable individual, his arcane prowess was no match for the taint of the damned. Come to think of it, his hubris could’ve led to the unfortunate demise of the entire party. After he fell, his lieutenant screamed for him like a lover in despair; ignoring the Sahuagin that were in front of us, she tried to leap across the abysmal waters. Sadly enough, she failed miserably. Instead of vaulting across like she had intended, she slipped on the rocks, cracked her skull against the cold floor, and began to sink into those wretched waters. If it wasn’t for Da’al Wan, she would have never made it.

Her devotion to her lord was admirable. As the moment she was healed, she immediately resumed her pursuit to save Eldaren. However, fate wouldn’t be so kind to satisfy her desire so easily…

It tore through the surface, emerging from the deepest, darkest depths. Standing twelve feet tall, the eldritch monstrosity flaunted slabs of muscles. Blackish, viscous liquid rolled off its sharp scales as it gripped the cavern floor with four, monstrous arms. It took one, decisive look at Dunthatch, opened its gaping maw… and attacked.

She ducked under the first blow, but a vicious uppercut sent her flying five feet in the air. Barely a split second later, the Sahuagin slammed her body against the ground. Even from the distance I was at, I could hear her bones shatter underneath titanic weight. Da’alwan and I made quick work of the acolytes around us, but our advancement was impeded by a blighted field of energy.

Da’al Wan winced as the waves of dark energy washed over him. “There’s no way I’ll be able to get close enough…”

“I think that’s the least of our worries right now,” I said.

And, unfortunately for the both us, I was right.

“Here it comes!” I said just as the four armed monstrosity dove into the water.

“Fools,” the priest said in a snarled, forsaken tone. “You cannot defeat us…”

And just then, coming in like a majestic eagle, Chance The Rogue took the daring initiative to fire a steady succession of arrows at the priest. They whistled through the dead air with deadly precision, each of them aiming for the heart, head, or some vital organ, but none of them hit the mark… the arrows splintered as they crashed against an invisible barrier. However, Chance didn’t give up. He would keep firing the arrows from his quiver. I would’ve loved to see him succeed but Da’al Wan and I had our own predicament to deal with…

“It’s here,” Da’al Wan shouted as the monstrosity erupted out of the water and began to flail at us in furious paroxysm. Da’al Wan did all he could to fend off its rampage, but as powerful as my dear friend is, he was only human. It didn’t take long for the damned creature to fell the mighty warrior.

I tried smiting the damned Sahuagin, but my prayers had little effect. When it towered over me, I thought Da’al Wan and I were done for…

I thought that damned cavern would be our burial ground, but then I REMEMBERED!

I REMEMBERED THAT IT WAS AFRAID OF FIRE!!!!!

With the adrenaline pumping through my veins like batter acid, I drew the alchemical fire we had obtained earlier in our adventure and threw it at the foul beast.

It didn’t seem hurt as much as it was terrified. As its body became clad in flame, it began thrashing wildly until it fell into the water.

I channeled what little left I had of my magic to heal Da’al Wan.

“Final stretch, brother.”

He grasped my hand, pulled himself up and said, “Let’s finish this.”

We had begun to make our way to the priest, who was still under fire from Chance’s arrows. As we landed on the final platform, a single arrow tore through the barrier, ripping through the priests’ cheekbone. The old man’s eyes glowed ruby red, his face twisting and contorting as he raised his amulet and screamed:

“I’ve had… ENOUGH!”

Da’al Wan went in for the kill, but, before the final blow could be struck, the priest channeled an intense amount of negative energy that swept over us like a tidal wave, knocking us off our feet and hurling us into the cold, cavernous waters.

We almost lost consciousness…

But Da’al Wan carried me back to the surface. When we emerged, we saw that Dunthatch and Eldaren had gained a second wind. Though both of them looked like they were on the verge of crossing over. Their armor was torn to shreds, their skin flayed, their clothes caked in blood. The only positive component of our situation was that the priest had his left arm severed, bleeding profusely, on his knees, cursing at us in an abyssal tongue.

“Foolish humans,” the old man said in a voice that was incredibly satanic, uncharacteristic for anyone of that caliber. “I know who you are…and I am Celorak. I will be your doom. You cannot imagine the power I wield.”

“It doesn’t matter, brother. We win, and you lose.”

“Oh,” and Dunthatch decapitated his head but he still kept on talking. “IS THAT SO!?”

Eldaren shouted, “Behind you!”

There was no time for me to respond. I could hear the fiendish arm coming in like a sledgehammer.

Da’al Wan he… he wouldn’t have one of his comrades dying on his watch. He intercepted the attack. The Sahuagin impaled his chest with its spear like talons. It lifted Da’al Wan towards its serrated teeth. Eldaren screamed, Dunthatch screamed, I screamed, we all screamed. But Da’al Wan raised his trident and, with all his being, brought it down onto the creatures eyes. A bloodcurdling scream exploded from its mouth as it threw Da’al Wan onto the ground, a spare hand ripping the trident from where its left eye used to be. Blood flowed like a waterfall from the wound. The creature took one step forward and roared. It was an awful sound; it sounded like the distorted growl of a lion or some other feral beast.

Fear sank its fangs into my bloodstream, but there was something else… something that dominated the senses, something that drove me to survive, something that had me channeling everything I had into my crossbow, something that had me aiming at its heart. Something that had me squeeze the trigger, something that had me smiling as the iron bolt sank into shark like flesh…

It wasn’t just the will to survive…

It was bloodlust.

And I wasn’t the only one. When it was clear that what I did wasn’t enough to kill it, I could here Eldaren scream, “That is enough! Just die!” and he leapt onto the bolt and, using it as a sort of spring, he jumped onto its face and savagely drove his rapier into its remaining eye. As it began staggering back, screaming in pain, he would repeatedly stab it in its eye until the creature threw him off.

He hit the ground with a loud THUD but Dunthatch made quick work of his wounds.

In the meantime, I could see the creature fall backwards, and, just before it could hit the water, I saw Chance leap over its body, unleashing three arrows into its neck as he screamed at the top of his lungs, “Fucking stay dead,” and he landed on the ground in a perfectly executed front roll. Bloodied as all hell, but still alive.

Eldaren rushed over to use his last healing potion on Da’al Wan, and Chance and I watched the Sahuagin be devoured by a frenzied pack of sharks.

“Is it over…?” Chance asked.

“Unfortunately not, brother,” I said. “I fear that our troubles with the Devourer has barely begun…”

In the aftermath, we met up with Vivicci and Ravina and WE GOT THE HELL OUT OF THAT CAVERN.

Not perhaps the words I would have chosen, but I cannot deny their accuracy. Standing in the congealing blood pooling across the stone, ours, the enemies, all mingled together in a crimson sheen on the rocks, I knew, this was my fault. Something hard and metallic slammed into my jawbone from the side, I saw stars and fell once more into the pool of gore, but turned swiftly to face my attacker. In the space I had stood was Liana Dunthatch, shaking her hand to dispel the force of her punch. I opened my mouth to speak but she was already shouting.
“You, bastard! Do you want to get killed? You must, it’s the only explanation for your stupidity! I have fought and bled to protect you, but YOU make that task impossible! I quit!”
“Lieutenant, I-“
But she was already gone, headed back through the caves to the surface. Imploringly, I looked around at my companions, but I could see in their eyes that they too blamed me for what happened. Turning to Ravina I said, “I must speak with you upon our return to the ship. It’s important.”

She appeared quizzical, but acquiesced. When we all returned to the ship, battered, bloody, and bruised, the crew crowded around asking what had happened. Removing my sword from my belt with one hand, still in its sheath, I also pulled my spellbook from its pouch and proffered both to Ravina. Then raising my voice so all could hear, I said, “Ravina of the Wind Drakes, I Eldaren of House Deneith do admit to causing the near death of all my companions, the fault is mine alone. Henceforth, I give you my blade and book, without which I am no more a man than my words can make me and give myself over to your judgment.”

She pondered for a moment, looking at the sources of all my power in her hands, a bound tome and a shining blade before responding. Stepping forward, she kissed me upon the cheek, stepping back she slapped me with enough force to send me to my knees once more.
“The first was for being noble, the second for being such a dammed morose fool.” She thrust my things back into my hands, “Now take your tools and get out of my sight before I change my mind.”

I nodded and retreated to my bunk where a pouch that I recognized as the Lieutenant’s was waiting. Looking around, she was nowhere in sight, so I opened it. It was her medical supplies, complete with one healing potion left in its carrier, the same kind she had used to revive me so many times in the past few days. Each was worth more than twice the blade I know bore at my side, and she had used two of them to revive me already. A note was still attached to the last one, For Emergency Use ONLY. I didn’t sleep well that night, or indeed, for many nights afterward.

Hoping to distract myself from the horrors of what we had experienced, I threw myself into my training with Vivicci, Ravina’s close friend and ally, who was also a master duelist. We sparred back and forth across the deck, but never once could I beat him. Then, one time as I was lost in a thought, he stepped forward and disarmed me while throwing my body to the deck in one smooth motion. I hit the deck with a thud and stared up at him.

“What is wrong with you?” He cried, his thick accent adding a layer of sorrow to the words. “You have lost your spirit and your ambition! How can you ever hope to master this art if you do not have your focus?”

Climbing to my feet I replied, “I am sorry, my friend. I had hoped our practice would take my mind away from recent events. I was wrong.”

The man only sighed and walked away, pulling his bag from a nearby crate, snapping his fingers at me to follow. I did so, pulling my sword from the planking where he had left it and found him waiting for me at the aft rail of the ship, staring off into our white wake on the grey sea.

At my approach he pulled a familiar bottle of dark wine from his bag and proceeded to uncork it. I smiled, it was our favorite, a Karrnathi purple wine, deep and pure. He turned to me and said, “You, are like this wine.” Spinning the bottle around he dumped its contents into the sea. “A thing of great value and worth that is being wasted for no good reason.” With the bottle empty, he let it go, flashing as it fell beneath the waves.

“You have a great spirit and are full of potential, my friend, but you linger over the mistakes of your past and let yourself drown in them.” His eyes turned back to the horizon, but I could see that he was further away than even the most distant shore. “I… was not always here, in this line of work, you know. Do you know how old I am, my friend?”

I looked at him hesitantly, he was an elf after all. “A hundred.”

“Ha. No. Try a hundred and fifty years old, and believe me, that is plenty of time to make mistakes. I have been many things. A thief, an assassin, and many other things besides, but you, like me, can only truly be one thing. I will be Vivicci and you must be Eldaren, with all the good and the bad that will come of being who you are.”

With that he turned and walked away, leaving me alone with my thoughts once more. He was right, I can’t change who I am. I will always be courageous to a fault, though a semblance of wisdom may yet come with time. The only thing I can change is not the what, but the why. Up until now, this had all been for glory and selfish gain, but I have to go beyond that. Become more than that. The question is: how?

It wasn’t long after that before battle found us again, this is Lhazaar after all. What appeared to be a merchant ship turned out to be yet another pirate, and what initially appeared to be an easy score quickly became a fight. At least they were real men this time, and a few displays of strength and prowess left them intimidated to a man, scared to attack us. The captain and his sea witch had no such qualms, but Chance dealt with that quickly enough, using the Sea Dragon’s ballista to pin the witch to the deck. The captain’s response was to swiftly engage him, cutting down any of our crew in his path. Seeing the danger they were in, I did the only thing that seemed natural, I challenged him to a duel. With a smile he accepted, mirroring the smile on Vivicci’s face as he saw the return of my foolhardy spirit, and to my horror, the first action he took was to disarm me, and take my blade. After that, everything went downhill in a rush, leaving me to bob and weave across the deck using all my skill in battle and magic just to stay alive. I did my best but it was a one-sided contest, and before long, I was on my knees again, blood pouring from my wounds.

That was when my friends struck, Da’al Wan threw his trident, Chance fired his bow, and Khain hit him with a blast of divine wrath. The captain roared in anger as he fell, glaring at me with hate.

“What can I say friend? I hoped for an honest duel, but they are pirates aren’t they?”

My companions only shook their heads at my foolishness, but I had achieved my goal. No one else on our crew had been hurt and it was over, we won. There was a grim smile on my face as Kaine tended to my wounds once more.

A few days later, we made port in the second largest city of the Lhazaar Principalities, Port Verge. Being the seat of House Lyrandar power in the region it was my plan to tread softly, take care of my business, and be gone. According to our plans, it was here that Ravina would leave ship and deal with problems of our own, but we would continue onward to the Seer’s island to the north, eventually returning to meet with Ravina.

I was about to depart from the ship when I felt a hand on my shoulder. “My lord.”

I knew what was happening before I turned around to face her and the contract in her hand. The Lt. was resigning and there was nothing I could do about it. She was cold, her face emotionless, and I knew that she was right. The things that I had done and put her through were above and beyond the call of duty, she had nearly died over and over again in my service and I had no right to keep her in my service. So I let her go.

Da’al Wan was shooting a piercing look at me over the Lt.’s shoulder, but he said nothing until after I had given her my blessing and leave to go. “She’s a fine woman, a fighter,” he towered above me, staring down into my face, “I understand why you let her go, but that does not make me any less angry at what you’ve done.”

“I know.”

Shortly thereafter, we were returning from our shore leave. I had mailed the signed treaty along with a letter to my father explaining the situation. He would be angry, there is no doubt of that, but hopefully he would understand what I have done and forgive me for it. Perhaps if I knew him better, I would know, but it was clear who his favorite sons were. Now he was stuck with me.

Lost in thought, I didn’t notice them until they had blocked the street before us. Six men in half plate armor, emblem’s shining an emerald green. I froze for a moment and looked to my companions, whispering, “This is bad, extremely bad. Whatever you do, don’t pick a fight here.”

Da’al Wan looked at me curiously, “Why?”

I opened my mouth to reply but their leader stepped forward, clearing his throat. “Good morning, travelers,” he said with a smile. His thugs spread out to either side, encircling us. “What brings such people so far from home?” He spoke to all of us, but had eyes only for Khain.

Da’al Wan stepped forward. “I have two souls within my body, I wish to know why.”
Everyone turned to look at him, the thugs appeared nervous but their leader was only intrigued.

“Really? Well then we would like you to come with us. We have need of people like you.”
I whispered to Da’al Wan, “You do not want them taking you anywhere, trust me. Let me do the talking here.”

With that I stepped forward, pulling my official documents from within my coat. “Now gentlemen, I do not take kindly to such thuggish methods and…” With a flourish I brandished the papers at them, “Neither does House Deneith. I advise you turn and walk away slow-“

The man’s eyes gleamed at the words and shouted to the men, “Take him! Kill the rest!”
The ensuing fight was over quickly. Two of the thugs fell in succession. One to my blade and the crackling energy upon it, collapsing to the ground in a smoking heap, the other to Da’al Wan’s powerful lunge with the trident. Leaving me untouched, the remainder fell upon my companions, wounding them grievously. I steeled myself to fight to the death.

“That’s enough!”

A man in emerald full plate stepped from a nearby building, hefting a great two-handed flail whose spikes smoldered with a sickly green light. At his command the thugs backed away, leaving their fallen comrades behind as he ordered them away. Turning to us, he spoke.

“My lord,” he nodded to me with sarcasm dripping from his lips, “My apologies for this intrusion but I simply wanted a few words with your friend here.” He gestured to Khain. “But I feel the need for that discussion is over, the mistress will be very interested to learn what transpired here.” He smiled a predatory smile, “Good day,” and departed.

I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding. “We need to go, now.” I began walking to the ship, quickly.

The priest seemed shaken, but he turned to me in reply. “Why? What is going on, brother?”

“What’s going on? You all just made enemies with the Order of the Emerald Claw, formerly an elite unit of the Karrnathi military, now a terrorist organization that operates on a global scale.”

“We made enemies of them? Not you? They seemed quite interested in the scion of House Deneith.”

“They were already my enemies, as my family is responsible for their exile.”

“I would believe it.”

I glanced over my shoulder, but could see no hint of pursuit. I picked up my pace. “There was something very wrong with our… encounter today.”

“You’re telling me.”

“No, seriously. For one, that man we saw, Sir Halvek, he is the leader of the Emerald Claw- has been since before their exile- and for good reason, he’s a military genius. The very fact that he let us go bothers me, as does this reference to a mistress that you are supposed to know?”

“Brother, I have no idea what he was talking about.”

I turned and looked him straight in the eye. There was no lie there.

“That worries me even more.”

We boarded the ship in haste and left Port Verge behind. I was worried about pursuit but from that point, the seas and skies were clear on our voyage to see Nagaru. We met the Seer, but I feel that it is not my place to saw what happened there. The words of the wise are meant for the student’s voice alone, and such guidance a man will treasure until the day he dies.

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