Mother Ironbark lead Aram, Erin, Tribst, and Throbor to a tree larger than the others. “This is the first rediron tree to be planted here. It was brought from another realm. Perhaps one of you is from there.”
“Maybe. So, where is the town we’re going to?” Aram looked around the forest floor, confused at the lack of buildings.
Mother Ironbark smiled. “Oh, really. Have you looked up?”
“Humans never think to look up.” Erin responded. “We’re used to the threats coming from our level or lower.” She then looked up and was amazed at the walkways and buildings that seemed to grow out of the very trees. The sprawling sylvan city was quiet, but there were lights and Erin noticed some figures walking the paths.
“Oh, oh no.” Tribst said, noticing the city. “I am terrified of heights. If I could just wait down here…”
A large basket lowered itself to the foot of the great tree. A gnome stood in the basket. “Oh, hello! I see Mother Ironbark has collected some new people. I’m Tibdast.”
Tribst’s eyes couldn’t grow any wider, but they twitched when he heard the name. “Tibdast?”
“Oh, hello Tribst. I believe we, well you and another me, have met.” Tibdast smiled broadly. “I’m afraid I don’t have any ale here, only this elevator now.”
“You two know each other?” Mother Ironbark got on the elevator. “Well, if the knowledgeable gnome here finds you friendly you will be most welcome. We don’t have any guest rooms on the forest floor, however, so our hospitality stays only in the treetops.”
“How, might I ask, do you normally get up to the city. I don’t imagine you use this lift every time.” Throbor motioned at the number of elves in the hunting party. “Even just the few of you can’t all fit.”
One of the other elves smiled. “Only druids go out in such large packs.” At that all the elves other than Mother Ironbark transformed into various different birds and flew up to the treetops.
“Your druids are powerful, to be able to fly so easily.” Tribst watched the birds rise into the air. “It takes our druids many decades to master such flight.”
Mother Ironbark frowned. “Are your druids not of the air?”
“No, I think not. The druids I know are in many different orders. I imagine that the other non-elvish races are much the same.” Tribst shrugged. “And perhaps not.”
Tibdast nodded. “Yes, the elves of this land all are of the circle of air, whereas there are almost no non-elves in the circle. No outsiders have picked it up in centuries.”
The elevator began to rise to the treetops as Mother Ironbark stared at Tibdast. “I don’t believe you’ve been here near that long, sir gnome.”
“I’m good at paying attention to information. It’s sorta my thing.” He winked at Tribst.
Soon the adventurers found themselves in the treetops, surrounded by elves. It was getting hard for Erin to focus, with all the beauty around her.
“Please, Tibdast, show our new guests around. I must speak with the elders and see about an audience with them. It could be a few days, or a few months. They do love to deliberate.” She turned and ran off down a narrow, handrail free, walkway.
Tribst pulled Tibdast aside. “So, uh, what are you doing here, Messenger? I thought our pantheon couldn’t leave our realm.”
“I didn’t leave, I’m actually from here…but I’m also in each of your realms. In Aram’s and Erin’s respective realms I’m a human, but in Throbor’s I’m a dwarf.”
“So you exist simultaneously with the save view as all your other selves?”
“No, no.” Tibdast sighed. “I mean that happens sometimes, but we normally get the memories of each other version when we sleep.”
“I see. Do you want to keep this secret form the others?”
“Yes, please…and stop licking your eye!”
“Sorry.” Tribst pulled his tongue back into his mouth with a slurp. “Force of habit.”
“Anyway,” Tibdast turned to address the rest of the adventurers. “I don’t own a bar here, but I can recommend one, and the elves are sure to cover room and board. If you wish for currency conversion I can do that for you at my house over here…”
Ophir was born to a poor human family in
Lakestown in southern Zentar. When he was dropped off at the local temple of The
Kindness he spent the first five years of his life in service to, and under the
protection of, the local high priest. It was at this time that his gift first
started to surface…or it was the time that the priest finally understood what
he was talking about. He never really knew which it was. At this time, he was
carted off to a nearby town to go to serve in a temple of The Pathfinder. He
never made it to that temple.
– – –
Waking swiftly, Ophir found himself in a
small room with a bed, a chamber pot, a desk, and a three-legged stool. He
thought back to what happened on the cart. The last thing he remembered was seeing
someone’s presence behind him with his gift but turning he saw nobody with his
eyes. He slowly stood up from the bed and took stock of the desk.
A quill, a filled inkwell, dying sand, and a
blank piece of parchment sat on the desk. Disinterested, Ophir looked with the
sense that was not his eyes to see who had been to this place recently. He
sensed the presence of the person who had been invisible here. He thought maybe
they were carrying him, it was hardest for him to sense himself, but they could
just as easily have been dragging him. The woman, the sense had become clearer,
the woman had talked with someone outside the door then left. The man was still
standing outside the door.
must be keeping watch, Ophir thought to himself, I guess I should let him know I’m awake?
“Hello? Is anyone there?” The last thing the
priest of The Kindness had told Ophir was to hide his gift from strangers. They
would try to use him to find people, some for good, but those people would be
rare in this world.
The man outside the door moved toward it and
paused. Ophir heard the key slide into the lock and then the door opened.
“Yes, runt? Do you need something?” The man
was dressed in all black and had a pair of daggers at his sides. The man was
lean, and Ophir knew there was no way he would be able to outrun him.
“Where am I?”
The man laughed. “Oh, you were the
forcefully recruited child. This is the assassin’s guild. Welcome to the temple
of The Sneak.”
Ophir’s stomach dropped. This was exactly what the priest had warned him about. People who would use his talents to kill people.
“Slow down!” Janine yelled down the corridor. “You don’t
have to run so fast! Actually, you shouldn’t! I don’t know the layout of this
station, we could find a maintenance room anywhere!” She was starting to lose
her breath, when Allie suddenly stopped. Thankful for the respite Janine leaned
her bulbous salawoman hands on her legs. “Do you see something?” She managed to
get the question out between gasps.
Allie turned her microphone off. “Mute your mic. I want to
talk.” She idly scratched her beak with her taloned hand.
With a sigh Janine muted her microphone, making sure she
was still receiving audio and could quickly turn it back on in case of an
emergency. “There, it’s off. What’s up?”
“I’m going to preface this with something that should be obvious.”
Allie started walking slowly along the corridor, expecting Janine to follow
suit. “Relationships on the ISS Dominiot between crew members is allowed. Obviously,
the captain and myself are in a relationship, and it seems you and Elinog are
Janine blushed slightly. “Yeah, it seemed a little quick,
but we just hit it off. But I don’t get it. Where is this going?”
“Did you have real feelings for him before the accident?”
“What? Of course I did.” Janine said, confusion in her
voice. “What exactly are you insinuating?”
“Look, I’m not insinuating anything. I’m just looking
after someone who’s been like a brother to me. Calm down, please.”
AB-775, Blavet, and Elinog’s voices came over the comm as
they started to talk about the split in the corridor. Janine and Allie were
approaching one as well.
Allie and Janine stopped walking and turned to face each
other. “Ok,” said Janine, “I think I know where this is going. Go ahead and
With a sigh Allie complied. “Are you just seeing him as a project
now that he’s lost his legs and lower arms, or do you still have real feelings
Janine shook her head. “Look, I know where the question is
coming from, but I still don’t like that you’re asking it. No, I don’t just see
him as a project. I loved him before, and I love him now. It might be a little
hard for him to reciprocate that for a while, which is why I’m so focused on
making him better.”
“Good. That’s exactly the answer I was looking for.” Allie
turned back toward the corridor and motioned to either side. Which way do you
want to go?”
“Heroes go left, but that would lead us towards the guys.
Let’s continue forward. Sounds like they’re investigating the rooms.” Janine
listened to the comm for a moment. “Seems like they’re all crew quarters.”
“Fine, oh, and you can ask me any question, seeing as I
just probed into your relationship.” Allie moved forward and the door in front
of her slammed shut, blocking the path. “Uhh…what was that?”
A crackling noise emanated from a nearby speaker followed
by the monotone voice of a station AI. “I would not recommend going in that
direction, organics. Please take the right corridor.”
Janine glanced up at a camera next to the speaker. “Looks
like we don’t have much choice in the matter…right it is.”
With a curt nod Allie turned toward the right corridor and
began walking down it. “Maybe you should unmute your comm and let the guys know
wha-” The sentence was cut short as a group of bipedal creatures spilled out of
a side corridor and advanced on Allie.
Unsure what was happening Janine unmuted the comm as she
saw Allie get tackled. Reacting on instinct Janine pulled her skravyn companion
from the onslaught of mad beings and pulled her into one of the crew quarters.
She severed the wires leading to the door and shut it manually.
Allie screamed as the door shut. “What was that?” Blavet’s
voice was full of fear. “Allie! Janine! Can you hear me?!”
Allie’s comm had been unmuted and she started cawing into
her comm, followed by Janine’s voice on her own comm. “Something’s here, on
station! Be careful! I’m getting Allie to safety!”
“I’m going to track your mental traces. Elinog, Abe, and I
will be there as soon as we can.”
“Ok, good.” Janine turned to face Allie. “Allie, speak to
me, are you okay?”
Allie tried to respond but was only able to caw. She tried
to remember how to form speech with her tongue and beak, but nothing was coming
out right. She grabbed for her datapad and quickly typed something into it,
sending it to Janine’s datapad.
“I can’t talk,” Janine read from the datapad. “I’m scared
and confused, but I don’t seem to be injured in any other way. What were those
things?” Janine shook her head. “Allie, those looked like they were people
once.” Janine pulled a small welding torch from her small pack. “I’m going to
weld up this door so they won’t be able to get in. You should warp yourself in
the blanket on the bed. You might just be suffering from shock. I’ll be with
you in a moment.”
Allie nodded and pulled the blanked from the quarter’s
bed. She shook the dust from it and wrapped it around herself. She cawed
quietly to herself, trying to whisper encouragement to herself and quickly
decided that wasn’t going to help.
– – –
“Why did you tell her you were going to track their mental
traces? Do you have the experience to do that?” Elinog was jogging behind
Blavet, his metal legs making dull thuds through his synthetic skin grafts.
“Normally, no, but I can feel the fear radiating from
Allie. You heard what Janine read from the datapad. She’s scared out of her
“You realize we’re still on comms?” Janine’s voice
crackled through the speaker.
“Yes, and Allie? I love you. Don’t forget that. You may be
scared, but I’m on my way.” Blavet doubled his pace.
AB-775 turned to Elinog, who was struggling to keep up. “Hey,
I can track comm signals, if you want to slow down a little.”
“Yeah, I do.” Elinog slowed his pace slightly. “Blavet,
you go. We’ll be right behind you.”
Around the pool Ember, Lukren, Helena, Drakust, and Evryn sat
“Are you sure I shouldn’t go join them?” Ember asked, as
she stood and began pacing in a circle around Helena. Her red fox fur standing
out against the white snow.
Evryn snorted softly and rested her ice wolf head on Krakust’s
lap. The orc patted her head and turned to look at Lukren, who was periodically
drinking from a flask. “I assume you don’t want to share that?”
“What would you have to drink about? One of my kin is inside
a serpent. I think only the dwarf should be drunk, anyway.” He took another
swig, and a bit of ale spilled onto his unkempt beard.
Helena stood and motioned for the flask. Her sky elf skin
blending into the background of snow. “Well, may I have a drink?”
“Sure, sure.” Lukren handed the flask over. “It’s almost
With a swift motion Helena chugged down the remainder of
the flask. “Ah, that’s not as good as wine, but it definitely has a kick.”
Krakust stared at Lukren for a moment then pulled a bottle
of whiskey out of his pack. “Here.” He handed it to Lukren.
“Uhh…thanks.” The dwarf took the bottle and started
– – –
Sorley and Lourek watched as Donaar the dragonkin started
playing chess against the spirit of an ancient mage. His magnetite colored
stales reflected the dim light emanating from the bowels of the great serpent.
Turning to Sorley, Lourek stroked his braded dwarven
beard. “So, how exactly is this game played?”
The human Sorley scratched his hairless face idly. “Well,
the goal is to capture the opponent’s king. It’s the piece with the cross on
the top of it. Different types of pieces do different things. Pawns, the short
ones, can only move forward directly, or diagonally to capture other pieces for
“So, it’s a war strategy game where both sides are equal
and have the same resources?”
“Yes, I suppose that’s exactly what it is.” Sorley shrugged.
“I’m not very good at it myself.” He turned his attention back to the game
slowly advancing. “He seems to be doing fairly well from what I know.”
“Well,” the mage’s spirit said, “looks like your friends
are bored. Let’s give them something to play with, shall we?” The spirit waved
its incorporeal arms and two goblins appeared near Sorley and Lourek, weapons
The goblins said something in a language they couldn’t
understand and ran forward. Meanwhile, on the chess board, two pawns, one from
each player’s side, disappeared from the board.
The spirit shrugged. “I have to keep the game balanced.”
– – –
The serpent closed its mouth and laughed. “Oh, I forgot how well that mage
played his games. Well, it seems your friends are in a combat situation. They
should be fine, though. The old mage isn’t up to his full strength these days.”
Helena quickly translated the words of the serpent to the
others. “I don’t think they’ll have a problem. When Orby is enhancing Sorley, he
seems to have better tricks up his sleeve. I’d never heard of that before, but that’s
how he was able to defeat you in the cavern.” She nodded at Krakust.
“That explains a lot. What is Orby, anyway?” Krakust took
the whiskey back from Lukren and took a swig before giving it back.
Ember pawed at Evryn then curled up next to her. “Orby’s a
light elemental. He’s Helena’s familiar.”
“I see. I’d never heard of a light elemental before now.
Then again, the orcs aren’t really known for their grasp of the arcane.”
“No, we aren’t, are we brother?” A voice echoed from the
forest surrounding the hot springs.
“Who goes there!” Lukren jumped to his feet, instantly
sober, wielding his short sword.
Two orcs stepped out from the edge of the forest.
One spoke up. “Those sent to check that Krakust is doing
“You don’t seem to be doing that, now, do you?” The other
Krakust stood up and Evryn pushed Ember away so she could
do the same. “That’s not very honorable of the chieftain to send someone to
watch after one of their greatest warriors.”
“You were an exception,” the second orc said. “The
chieftain doesn’t doubt you, but the elders have worries about you.”
Krakust raised his dagger, the only weapon he had on his
person. “You defy the chieftain and say I
am not doing my task?” His eyes became bloodshot and the veins on his arms
stood out against his green skin. “I will defend the chieftain’s name since you
soil it behind his back!” He stormed forward and stabbed at the second orc, his
rage forcing his face into a scowl. “Traitors are to be killed!” He dug the
dagger into the orc’s arm, let go of it, and pulled the pickhammer from his opponent’s
back. He then kicked the orc backward into a tree with enough force to dislodge
a large amount of snow. The snow dropped onto the surprised orc’s head with a
loud thwump. Krakust turned to the first orc. “Well?!”
The first orc looked at Krakust with a searching
expression. “Explar evost?”
“Epro, brother.” Krakust responded.
The first orc took his war hammer from his own back and
crushed the second orc’s skull in himself. “I will tell the chieftain your
travel goes well.”
The rage drained from Krakust and he relaxed. “I’ll be
keeping the pickhammer.”
“I would expect no less, cheiflein.”
Krakust walked over and pulled his dagger from the dead
orc’s arm then turned and walked back to Helena and Lukren. Putting his dagger
in its sheath and strapping the pickhammer to his back.
“What in bloody Darkfall was that about?” Lukren put his
short sword away.
“Something you might call kingdom politics.” Krakust sat
down next to Evryn who was already lying down again.
– – –
Sorley let out a purplish-blue blast of fire at the first
goblin, who convulsed and fell over in a smoldering heap. “They’re pawns. They
seem to be pretty weak.”
Lourek nodded and pulled his daggers from his back. He
threw both of them at the goblin, slaying it where it stood.
“Whoa, really? That’s too complicated! We were supposed to just be playing chess!” Donaar shouted in surprise. The two pawns that had disappeared reappeared on the board. “Guys, if he does that again, play with them for a while! That ruined my next move!”
Grimm let go of the vampire Patrick and fell back in a
defensive position in front of Cerdic. Veron was up and running away from the
confrontation. He knew he couldn’t help and motioned for Cerdic to follow.
With a small shake of his head, indicating he wasn’t going
to leave, Cerdic watched Jeremy as he started to cast a spell. The geometric
shapes forming in the air in front of his waving hands reminded Cerdic of the
residual shapes on the tire, and they were aimed directly at Eric’s center of
mass. Without hesitation Cerdic yelled, “look out!” and tackled Eric to the
ground. The magic went over the two of them and hit a nearby fence post, reducing
it to ash.
Eric looked at the fence post and back at Cerdic. “Uh,
thanks…how did you…?”
“Later, Eric!” Henry yelled. “We need to deal with Jeremy
Cerdic rolled off Eric and helped him to his feet. “He’s
using some sort of aging magic. Be careful.”
“I see that now…my only question is, how did you? But
Henry is right. We have a more immediate concern.” Eric moved his left hand and
gripped his grimoire with his right. As he made motions Cerdic saw a barrier
appear in front of Eric. It covered his body, but his arms were on the outside.
He decided that was so Eric could cast through the barrier.
“Grimm. Be careful.” Cerdic turned and joined Veron behind
a nearby rock.
Giving a small bark of recognition, Grimm tried to bite Jeremy
in the leg, but Jeremy was prepared. He sent a blast of energy at Grimm then
turned to ward off a spell from Henry. Grimm was pushed back towards the rock
Veron and Cerdic were hiding behind and stood there, menacingly.
Veron nudged Cerdic. “Jeremy is a powerful warlock. Grimm
probably wouldn’t be able to get into his inner defense. Let’s just watch.”
Henry grabbed his grimoire from his side and flipped it
open. He turned to a page near the middle and cast a spell on Patrick, the now
prone vampire. Tendrils of dark energy erupted from the ground and bound him in
place. “We shouldn’t have to worry about you recovering, now.” He turned
towards Jeremy. “Two on one, do you think you can take both of us?”
“Maybe. Let’s find out.” Jeremy grabbed his grimoire and opened
it to the last page, then he stuck his arm elbow deep into the page. When he
pulled his arm back out it was covered in dark black ink, and he held a strange
bone in his hand. “The bone of a great old one, broken.” He snapped the bone
and Cerdic saw a rush of shapeless energy engulf Jeremy. “Blood of the warlock,
freshly spilled.” He took a bone fragment and stabbed it deep into his forearm.
“We need to stop him!” Eric yelled at Henry. “Hit him with
everything you have!”
“Okay!” Henry began making exaggerated motions with his hands.
“Veron! Run!” He shot a deep red mass of energy at Jeremy. Cerdic noticed, as
he turned to run, that the geometry was jagged and unfinished. It seemed to him
that the spell was not yet perfected, like Henry was still working on it.
As the mass of energy splashed into Jeremy the energy surrounding
him dissipated it into his surroundings. A deep gash appeared in the ground in
front of and to the sides of where he was standing. “Impressive. I didn’t know
you had spells that would kill, Aelfson.”
With Jeremy’s attention on Henry, Eric attempted to shoot
smaller, more precise spells at the energy surrounding their foe. He was
casting many small, slightly different iterations trying to see what would get
through his shield.
“Now, where was I? Oh, yes. Just after blood of warlock
freshly spilled.” Jeremy stuck his arm back into the page of his grimoire and
pulled a wand from it. “Wand of wizard, ground to dust.” He cast a spell on the
wand and it started to disintegrate, leaving a small pile in the palm of his
hand. “Ingested for power unleashed on good.” He swallowed the pile of dust
with a slight cough then strode over to his vampire companion. “Sorry, Pat, but
I need you to hold still.”
One of the small missile spells Eric had been pounding the
energy with broke through. The green flames it was sporting burned up Jeremy’s
arm for a moment. “Dragonfire spells! They break through!”
“Shast!” Henry began flipping through his grimoire. “I
have one in here somewhere.”
Eric began mumbling something in Latin and moving his arm in
very specific, practiced ways. “Draco,” was the last word he mumbled as he shot
a green ball at Jeremy.
Laughing hysterically Jeremy reached up and grabbed the
ball of dragonfire. “Oh, yes. It breaks through, but I knew it would. I have
wards against dragonfire all over my body, Eric!” He gripped the bone in his
other hand. “With the bone of Bugg-Shash I sacrifice this vampire and call you
forth again!” He began moving the bone down towards Patrick’s prone form when
an arrow flew through the air and shot the bone from his hand. It landed in the
dirt a few feet away.
In surprise and anger Jeremy looked up to see Cerdic
holding a small crossbow tied to his wrist.
“Where was that?” Veron looked at Cerdic’s arm. “You definitely
didn’t have that before.
“Parting gift from Tibdast. Said I would know when to use
it.” Cerdic loaded another bolt into the crossbow. “Apparently that energy
doesn’t protect you from mundane weapons.”
“I was with you the whole time. When did he give you that?”
Cerdic shrugged. “Remember when we went out to the car?
You went outside first, and he came back and gave it to me.”
“Mundane weapons, eh?” Henry smiled broadly and pulled three
throwing knives from his jacket. “Perfect.” He tossed the three knives at once
and they buried into Jeremy’s right chest, shredding his lung.
“Stupid treefting Usual!” Jeremy shouted as he started
coughing up blood. He took a few steps away from Patrick then fell backwards.
Eric nodded at Cerdic. “Good job. You have a good head on
your shoulders.” He walked over to Patrick. “Well, let’s see what the council
wants to do with you and your friend, shall we?”
Patrick said something intelligible.
Henry cautiously approached Jeremy, who was still coughing
up blood. “Is the energy gone?”
With a glance Cerdic saw the energy was dissipating into
the ground. “It will be soon. Give it a moment.”
“I wasn’t asking you, but you seem to know what you’re
saying.” Henry waited a few seconds then approached the warlock. “We’ll get
that lung fixed up at the council hall. Let’s go.” He carefully picked Jeremy
up and teleported immediately.
Eric shook his head. “I’ll be going too. I’ll send a car to
pick you two up…” He looked at Veron’s car for the first time since the spells
started slinging around. “Uh…and I’ll see about replacing that.” The back-passenger
door fell off the car. It was the last door still on it, and the rest of the
car was covered in dents and burns.
“Great. I guess I better get my stuff out of it.”
– – –
Veron was able to talk the driver into giving him the car
and teleporting back to where he had come from and was currently sitting behind
the wheel of a sleek black car with tinted windows. “This is a nice car. I’m
pretty sure it’s also warded up.”
“Yeah, it seems to be.” Cerdic looked around the car and
saw a lot of overlapping triangles and squares.
“What do you mean?”
Cerdic shrugged. “I started seeing things. I think it has
something to do with Grimm.”
With a nod of understanding Veron took a right turn on the
road. “Yeah, bonding with a supernatural creature can do things, for sure.
Never heard of a Usual having the Eyes of the Magus, though.” He paused. “You do
have a bond with a church grim, though. That’s extremely unusual for anyone,
especially a Usual.”
“It’s starting to sound like I may not be a Usual.” Cerdic said, jokingly.
“You jest, but that may just be true. I think we need to take a short detour.”
[Just a note, I kept forgetting to update the titles of The Fractured Mountains to the title of the first book of what I hope will end up a series, Darkness Ascending. I know that the story will not be wrapped up by the end of the first book. I also want to let you know that the adventures of Kreet and crew will eventually be laid out in the book Oceans Ablaze, which will likely turn into multiple books as well.]
Gaemacirch was scouting ahead of the group. Something that Burner didn’t normally ask them to do, but she was starting to get paranoid that something would attack out of the blue. She was sure it was just her being high-strung with the sidetracks to continuing north, but she still decided to heed the feeling. Julian was bringing up the rear, keeping an eye out for things coming from behind when he noticed that it was starting to get dark.
“Is it really that late already?” Julian
studied the sky for a moment. “I didn’t think we left town this late.”
Dreekt shrugged. “The month is ending soon,
so winter solstice is almost here. I assumed the days were just getting shorter
“I suppose so.” Julian looked back at the
landscape behind them. “Just seems the days are getting shorter faster than they
As the sun set on the party Burner called
Gaemacirch back to look for a good campsite. Not long afterward Julian had to
pull out his hooded lantern. “Ok, it’s definitely not supposed to be this dark
already.” He pointed into the sky. “That’s the sun. What’s going on here?”
Burner followed Julian’s arm to look at the
sun. “By the fount! What’s going on?”
No sooner did the words escape Burner’s
mouth than an answer echoed across the plains. “Darkness is ascending.” A tall,
slim human with short black hair and a short-cropped beard wearing scholarly robes
and holding a strange, glowing red stone on a stick like it was a torch
approached from the darkness.
“Who are you?” Burner looked at the human
strangely, and why is a scholar out here?
Dreekt chuckled. “He’s a historian, not a scholar.”
He waved at the human. “Well, hello there, Stigr.”
“The Pathfinder will do. You haven’t earned
the right to call me by my first name yet.” Stigr nodded at Dreekt. “Though you
will eventually, Wings.”
“Oops…can’t say anymore. Spoilers.” Stigr
blushed slightly. “We tend to meet out of order.”
Gaemacirch walked into the circle of light. “Hey,
so it’s getting hard for me to see, and I grew up in Dark Under. Somethings…oh,
hello traveler.” He bowed slightly. “I’m Gaemacirch, but people call me Gaem.”
“Call me The Pathfinder.” Stigr nodded even
more slightly to Gaemacirch. “I believe you may be coming to the conclusion I
came to warn you about.”
“Darkness is ascending from the depths, yes?”
Gaemacirch motioned at the darkness around them. “It’s getting thick like the
depths of Dark Under. The parts we were told to never wander, even in groups.”
Stigr nodded. “Yes, exactly. I also came to
tell you that you must rescue Slapper. He is integral to the future.” He then turned
to Enress. “Here, Enress.” He handed her his strange torch. “Keep the stone
safe. You’ll know what to do with it when you get there.” With a big smile Stigr
“Well, that was foreboding.” Enress looked
at the stone torch. “I have no idea what this is, but he seemed to think I
Dreekt pulled out the black stone in the
dagger and held it up to the red stone. The dagger leaped from his hand and the
stones pressed together. The rattling they made was the same sound two smooth
magnetite stones make when they pull together, only louder. The darkness around
the adventuring company thinned out as if clean water was poured into a pool of
muddy water, then the darkness slowly started flowing back in.
“That wasn’t expected.” Dreekt pulled the dagger
from the stone torch. “I expect that there’s some way to make that more
powerful. Cleanse the whole realm.”
– – –
When the company finally came to a halt for
their rest the chill of the night forced them to scrounge around the plains for
sticks to light a fire. Enress offered to keep watch all night again, but
Burner insisted on having regular watch rotations on top of that. They had no
way of knowing what else was ascending with the darkness.
The first few watches went without a hitch,
but when Burner was talking the third watch there was an unmissable rattle that
was coming closer and closer to the campsite.
“What is that?” Burner asked, walking toward
Enress. “You do hear it too, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do.” Enress held the torch higher
into the air, increasing the radius of light. A glint of white was just visible
on the edge of the lit area. “Could be that.” She pointed at the glint. “I don’t
know what it is, though.”
From the darkness six shambling skeletons
approached with bits of shadow seeming to billow off of them like cloaks in an
“Everyone, wake up!” Burner turned to shake
Gaemacirch awake. “Shadow skeletons are attacking! Six of them.”
Running forward to engage with the creatures
Enress threw a punch at the gut of one skeleton, missing because it had not
In response to the swing the shadow skeletons
moved in and started to siphon Enress’ life energy away from her. The shadowy
bits seemed to grow larger as she felt her life essence being drained.
Swinging again, with more carefully aimed
punches, Enress’ spiked brass knuckles shattered the skull of one of the shadow
Burner helped Gaemacirch to his feet then
slung an arrow at the nearest shadow skeleton’s neck, breaking its head off and
sending it to careen into another one.
Getting to his feet Gaemacirch approached
and tossed a kunai at one of the shadow skeletons. The kunai passed through a
pair of ribs and landed on the ground behind it.
The shadow skeletons were not deterred in
their attempts to drain Enress’ life energy and drew even more life from the
automaton, healing in the process.
Dreekt stood and tossed a spell at the
shadow skeletons, causing a third to fall to the ground in pieces.
As the shadow skeleton fell, Julian’s axe
flew through the air and nicked one of the shadow skeletons.
Seeing the shadow skeletons starting to fall
Enress punched at the one closest to her. Its arms were outstretched to drain
her life essence, but they did not keep the blows from hitting it and turning
it to splinters.
With his katana Gaemacirch brought one to
the brink and burned it badly. He assumed it was able to stand because it was
being bolstered by the life energy being drained from Enress.
Burner shot an arrow at the neck of the shadow
skeleton Gaemacirch had almost taken out and severed its head from its body as
The last shadow skeleton siphoned life from
Enress and used it to bring back its ally whose head had just been severed. The
head reattached to the spine and the shadow skeleton stood back up.
A spell passed by one of the shadow skeletons
as Dreekt made an opening for Julian to move forward to attack in melee.
Julian approached and brought the flat of
his axe’s blade up to smack the shadow skeleton’s head back off. He wasn’t sure
if it would work, but it did.
With a final flurry of hits Enress reduced
the remaining shadow skeleton to splinters. She then began gathering the bones.
“What are you doing?” Burner asked, not sure
what to make of the arrival of the creatures.
Enress didn’t look up from her task. “I’m
gathering the remains up to burn them. You know what these things are, is that
a good idea?”
“Yes, if there are anymore shadow skeletons,
they would be able to bring these ones back if we don’t dispose of them.”
Burner sat down heavily. “I don’t know why creatures from Darkfall are doing in
Nevre, but it must have something to do with this rising darkness…” She stopped
talking, falling deep into thought.
Gaemacirch helped Enress collect the bones
to throw on the fire. “The veil must be weakened between here and Darkfall if
they’re appearing, right?”
Burner nodded. “Let’s hurry and get Slapper.
It’s not going to get any brighter out than this, and then we need to get to
Magnus. I’m sure this has something to do with what’s drawing me northward.”
“Yes, let’s hurry. I’m getting a bad
feeling.” Julian started packing up his area of the camp. “I wish Adalet was
here. She would know what’s going on. She always seemed to, anyway.”
Enress patted Julian on the shoulder. “Hey, let’s get to Slapper. We’ll piece this together as we go.”
Jor-val Ondelios sat at the piloting console of the Tempest. His eyes were closed as he meditated in the Force. Visions of the temple of Balance on Vergaiun passed before his mind’s eye. Then he found himself in hyperspace. He looked at the astrogation computer next to him and saw coordinates for wild space. The coordinates burned into his mind.
With a gasp Jor-val sat bolt upright at the console. “Hey, Tate!”
T8-T3 rolled up from behind the cockpit. He whistled in a questioning manner.
“I have some coordinates I want you to run through your databanks.” He typed the coordinates into the navcomp and waited for T8-T3’s response.
– – –
On the moon Ao and Dor Thay found nothing but a barren, porous landscape of volcanic rock.
“Hey, Ao, what are the chances a moon this size has a molten core?” Dor Thay asked, motioning at the barren landscape.
Ao grabbed a small rock and put it into a pouch on his vac suit. “Unlikely. My guess is it was broken off an existing planet. Possibly a meteor impact with a lava planet.
With a nod Dor Thay did a last look around. He was considering a suggestion to return to the ship when he saw a cave. “Should we do some spelunking, or just head back to the ship?” He motioned at the cave entrance.
“Let’s at least take a quick look. It’ll look better in the report.” Ao activated the comm to the ship. “Hey, Jor-val. We’re going underground for a second. We may lose comms.”
“Ok. I’m checking into some coordinates…by the way, Dor Thay, where were we headed?” Jor-val’s voice was already lined with static.
Dor Thay smiled slightly. “Vergaiun. I have rumors that the Balance know something about the vergence.”
“I have coordinates, but let’s continue to Vergaiun to get some corroboration.” Jor-val sighed slightly. “The Force can be vague sometimes. I have coordinates but not a safe route through wild space.”
Ao stopped in his tracks. “A vergence in wild space? Well, this trip just got a lot more interesting. Anyway, going into this cave. We’ll let you know what we find, if anything.”
“Don’t be too long, I’ll send Tate after you if you’re gone for more than two hours.”