The Fractured Mountains – Ch. 20

Black ichor dripped from Gaemacirch’s mouth as Dreekt sat down hard on the rocky floor.

Gaemacirch spit the ichor from his mouth. The spikes along his back heaving as he began to vomit. He had enough foresight to turn away from his companions. After a moment the vomit ceased, and he turned back into his humanoid form. He rubbed his three horns and began scooping his armor into his pack. “Let’s get out of here. I don’t want to be in here anymore.”

Dreekt straightened his feathers and stopped himself from vomiting as well. He stowed his weapons and scratched the bottom of his beak. “I agree, but we need to do something about this nest first.” He motioned at the hexagonal latticework. “Do you think it burns?”

Pulling her hood down Burner sat down next to Dreekt. Her skin was pale and waxen, she had no hair on her head, and her eyes glowed slightly dimmer. “We need to rest for a moment. I think that the violence will only make it harder to rid all of us from the effects of Dark Under. The two of you are more susceptible to it, but we all feel the effects.” For the first time, Dreekt noticed that Burner’s eyes had changed from a deep orange glow to a deep red glow, bordering on purple.

– – –

The Dark Under, a place of dark magics. When the skravyn were sealed away they had committed several crimes for The Desecrator. While The Desecrator was facing punishment from the gods the skravyn continued his work in Nevre. Flying through the skies the skravyn would swoop down on unsuspecting children and adolescents to take them home and turn them into more skravyn.

The dark arts practiced by the skravyn to create more of their kind began to poison the land. An alliance of men, elves, dwarves, and halflings – there were no gnomes in those days – formed to take down this threat.

In a last-ditch effort, the humans led the skravyn into a trap prepared by the dwarves and elves. The humans fled into tunnels dug out by the dwarves and got caught in a dead end. As soon as all the skravyn had followed them inside to slaughter them the humans activated the trap, sacrificing their life force to trap the skravyn in a pocket plane.

The dark magics practiced by the skravyn, presumably in their attempts to leave their prison, slowly leaked out into the surrounding tunnels. This darkness formed the part of the underground today known as Dark Under as well as twisting a human tribe dwelling there into zarxii and a strange salamander creche into salamen.

Excerpt from the works of Jergolt, Head Scholar of the University of Rentaz

– – –

“Burner,” Julian looked at her eyes, “do you think we should detox outside, or inside.” He motioned at the nest. “If the two of them have gathered enough dark energy we may be able to use it to destroy the nest.”

With a deep sigh Burner stood back up. “Yes, they might be able to, but I don’t like doing that.”

“Doing what?” Dreekt looked around quizzically. “You all seem to know what that means, but I’ve never heard of it before.”

“Well,” Enress explained, “when organic races spend time in Dark Under they absorb some of the darkness. That’s what created the zarxii and the Salamen. There is a ritual known as darkness detoxification. I assume that’s what Julian is talking about, yes?” She glanced at Julian, who nodded curtly. “When enough of the darkness has been absorbed the detox can be literally explosive.”

Dreekt nodded slowly. “Okay, and since Gaem and I are races that are directly tied to Dark Under you believe we have already absorbed enough to make detoxing explosive?”

“Yes, we have.” Gaemacirch shuddered. “I have never been that overtaken by the darkness before. To use my teeth to rip something’s throat out.” He shuddered again. “I’ve bitten before, but that…” Another shudder passed through his body. “That was different.”

“Well, Gaem, it sounds like you need to show Dreekt how it’s done then. Julian, Enress, and I will wait out here, the two of you go in the nest.” Burner motioned the two of them forward. “Don’t worry, Dreekt, you will be fine. Gaem knows enough to protect you from the energy.”

Gaemacirch shook his head. “Ok, I don’t exactly like this, but we do need to detox.” He glanced at Julian and Burner. “You two should too, even if you don’t feel the effects. Burner’s eyes have changed color.” He then turned to face Enress, the automaton. “I don’t know how the darkness effects automatons, but you’ve been down here for at least a month, right?”

“Yes, if not longer. It’s a little hard to tell time down here.”

“Well, I think it wouldn’t hurt for you to detox as well, just to be safe.” Gaemacirch motioned Dreekt toward the nest. “Let’s go.”

Dreekt followed Gaemacirch into the center of the nest where he sat crisscross on a smooth spot.

“Sit behind me and watch.” Gaemacirch waited for Dreekt to sit, then began chanting in the zarx tongue. After a moment he paused and spoke to Dreekt. “The chanting is necessary, but the words should be your own. The detox ritual requires that you acknowledge that the darkness is there and that it needs to be expelled. I should have done this after the fight with the skittering creepers before, but I have grown unaccustomed to doing this.” He began to chant again in the zarx language. A few moments later a dark aura surrounded Gaemacirch. “At this point you want to direct the energy away from you. Usually you harmlessly dissipate it into the air, but this time I’m going to shoot it out around me. Everywhere but from my back. Ready?”

“Ready.” Dreekt huddled closer to Gaemacirch’s back.

The energy gathered at Gaemacirch’s head, chest, and arms. It shot out in a pulse with most of the energy going out parallel to the ground. It impacted the nest and did a large amount of damage to the structure, but some of it was still standing.

“Do you understand?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Ok, but to be safe I’m going to leave the nest. That way you won’t have to worry about not hitting me.” Gaemacirch stood up and made for the exit.

As soon as he could no longer see Gaemacirch, Dreekt began to chant in skravyn. The clicking and cawing language filled the room. The words seemed to have more power in Dark Under and Dreekt could feel the darkness around him start to respond to him. Instead of reaching out to that darkness he concentrated on forcing much the darkness out of himself. An aura of darkness began to block out some of his vision. He couldn’t tell from the inside, but the aura he had was much larger than the one that surrounded Gaemacirch. With a powerful mental effort, he closed his eyes and pushed the darkness away from himself.

The darkness shot away from Dreekt in a tidal wave of energy, crushing the nest into dust. Dreekt took a deep breath and started coughing and hacking. He opened his eyes and stood up. Barely able to see through the thick dust floating in the air he made his way back to the entrance of the nest.

“Dreekt, are you ok?” Gaemacirch stuck his horned, humanoid head into the small space. “There was a loud cracking noise. The nest didn’t co-” Gaemacirch’s voice caught in his throat when he saw the nest was obliterated. “Oh, that was you…umm…well, good job. I’m certainly glad I left the room.”

Burner’s voice echoed into the chamber. “Hey, we’re all done here, let’s head back out.”

Gaemacirch pulled his head back out of the room and motioned for Dreekt to follow. “C’mon. I don’t want to be down here any longer.”

“Right.”

– – –

Gaemacirch and Enress stood at the mouth of the tunnel that lead into the Dark Under cavern. They had been rolling stones and boulders into it for hours while Dreekt was summoning boulders from within the cave to assist them. Now the entrance was completely blocked by stones at least a yard deep.

“So, I think we should go collect that quarterstaff and maybe a weapon for Enress.” Julian held rations out to Dreekt and Gaemacirch. “After all, she can’t keep using Gaemacirch’s katana. He needs that in this form.”

“Right. Here.” Enress handed the katana to Gaemacirch. “I can use my fists until we get to this town you have spoken of.”

Dreekt took the offered ration pack and nodded. “The town’s a few hours away, so we’ll need to camp out here for the night.”

“Oh, right. I forgot. Organic’s sleep…I don’t actually require sleep per se…” Enress shrugged. “I’ll keep watch for you, though.”

Burner approached her traveling companions. Her hood was covering her head again, and here eyes had returned to the bright orange they had been before. “I found firewood while you worked, and Julian has found a decent campsite. Some of Adalet’s skills must have rubbed off…” She covered her mouth with her hands. “I’m sorry.”

“Hey, she’s going to come up. Don’t worry about it.” Julian reassured Burner, “It hurts, and I miss her, but I also know it wasn’t your fault.” He paused for a moment and turned away. “I know it was an accident. I just get so mad sometimes. Like at Mad Cedar. I almost flew off the handle, but I calmed down then, and I’m calming down now.”

Enress looked from Julian to Burner and back again. “I suppose you’ll tell me about that when you feel I should know.” She walked over to the campsite and started to put together some dry tinder. “I’m going to start a fire, you guys set up your bedrolls or whatever.”

“Don’t worry, Enress. I’ll tell you about Adalet tomorrow. We need our sleep right now though, so I’ll see you in the morning.” Julian pulled his bedroll from his pack and unrolled it. “Goodnight. Sleep well.” Enress leaned against a tree and watched the adventurers prepare to rest for the night.

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World of Souls – Ch. 8: The Left Corridor

Blavet, Elinog, AB-775, Allie, and Janine approached the airlock. The outer door was open, and the airlock was empty. There was no viewport to see inside the station.

“Well,” Blavet motioned at the airlock, “looks like it’s into the airlock or nothing.”

Elinog nodded. “I agree, but once we get in there what do we do? If we meet someone then we discuss payment for docking and refuel, but what if there isn’t anyone on the station?”

“If we meet no one we split up. Elinog will go with me, and the girls will go with Abe.” Blavet motioned at AB-775. “After that we look for things to salvage.”

“Why are we splitting up like that? I think Elinog and I should be together.” Janine motioned at Elinog’s legs. “I can repair those, you can’t.”

With a nod Blavet motioned them into the airlock. “Because if you want to do that we might as well stick together. The idea is that both groups can identify parts we need to replenish on the ship. It’ll go faster if we split up.”

“Makes logical sense, but why is Abe going with us?” Allie motioned at Elinog’s legs. “You have someone with an impairment. You should take Abe.”

Blavet nodded. “I suppose it does make more logical sense. Very well.” He patted AB-775 on the head. “Looks like you’re coming with us, buddy.”

The air finished cycling and the inner airlock door opened to an empty corridor going in two different directions. There was no welcoming party. Along the walls opposite the airlock were lockers with keys in them. There was a sign above the lockers.

“It says ‘choose a locker, put your things in, lock it, and take the key.’ It looks like communal lockers.” AB-775 motioned at the lockers. “Seems like a good place to leave your vac suits. The air is a little dry, but it has the right mix of gasses.”

A camera above the Dominiot’s crew turned towards them and focused on them.

“I don’t know, would it be safer to wear the vac suits or to deposit them?” Blavet looked at his ungainly suit then over at Blavet’s clunky one. “One second thought, we’d be more mobile without them.” He double checked his exterior air readout. “My readout confirms Abe’s analysis. A little low on moisture, but otherwise breathable.”

Janine and Allie put their suits in lockers, then turned to help Elinog out of the remaining portion of his suit. Blavet was already helping him.

“You know, maybe we should state our intent, just to be safe.” Elinog looked around the empty corridor. “This is the crew of the ISS Dominiot. We are here for repairs, refuel, and foodstuffs. If anyone is here, please respond.” His voice echoed along the corridor. “Well, no answer. Let’s split up. I think our group will go left.”

“That’s fine with me.” Allie turned to the right and started walking, laser cutter at the ready, but pointed at the floor.

Janine shrugged at Elinog and turned to follow Allie. “Wait for me, I’m the one who knows what we’re looking for!”

“Switch to open comms! We need to be inconstant communication!” Blavet yelled after them, turning on his own comm.

Allie’s voice crackled over the comm. “They’re on. Yeesh.”

“Just be careful. Elinog, let’s go.” Blavet motioned forward. “You too, Abe.”

Blavet, Elinog, and AB-775 walked or rolled down the corridor. After a few dozen meters the corridor split in two directions. The one on the left seemed to continue around the outside of the station, while the one on the right seemed to go into crew quarters.

“Still no terminals?” Blavet glanced around the intersection. “I would have expected some sort of access point by now. Have you seen anything, Abe?”

AB-775 glanced around the corridor. “I haven’t seen any interface devices yet, but maybe they’re further in. It seems we’re in the visitor area. Maybe they didn’t give computer access to visitors.”

“Or nothing here runs on computers.” Elinog shrugged. “But then, the air probably wouldn’t be breathable still.”

Blavet shrugged and took the right corridor. “Well, we didn’t find anything up until now. Time to move deeper into the station.”

After another ten meters or so they came across a four-way intersection. There was finally another sign. It had arrows pointing left, right, and forward.

“The sign says quarters left and right. Market forward.” AB-775 looked around. “Whatever happened here seems to have been clean. There’s no debris anywhere inside.”

“Odd, it seemed like a war zone outside. All that junk must’ve been ships.” Blavet shook his head. “This makes no sense.”

“We’re in warp space, and there’s a research station. We left sense behind a long time ago.” Elinog shrugged. “Let’s go left again. Maybe we’ll find something in the quarters. A clue, maybe?”

“Or a survivor, however unlikely.” Blavet rubbed the end of his tail idly. “Yeah, quarters. Let’s go.”

After a short interval the sides of the corridor had doors spaced every three meters. Every door was open.

“Odd, none of the doors are shut.” Elinog looked through one of the doors with his bulbous salaman eyes. “Looks like someone has been using the bed as a nest.”

“Or something.” Blavet looked at the blankets on the floor. “Looks like something that sleeps curled up like a dog.”

Elinog nodded, scratching at a fresh patch of synthetic skin. “Yeah, looks like it. I wonder what it is?”

“We’ll probably meet up with it sooner or later.” Blavet looked at the dresser in the room. “The dresser is covered with dust. Nobody’s used it in a long time…I wonder-”

A piercing scream over the open comm cut Blavet off.

“What was that?” Blavet’s eyes were wide. “Allie! Janine! Can you hear me?!”

There was cawing from the other end of the comm followed by Janine’s voice. “Something’s here, on station! Be careful! I’m getting Allie to safety!”

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The Fractured Mountains – Ch. 19

Dreekt sat cross legged with a large flat rock on his lap. He had another, smaller rock in his left hand. He was doing some geometry and vectors. He looked at what was written on the rock. So that’s what a spell looks like when the mana is swirling around it?

Kwase chuckled, when a mage, channeler, or warlock casts a spell, yes. When a priest casts a spell, I imagine it looks a little different, and when a sorcerer casts a spell it’s more of a maelstrom. If you had the eyes of the magus, you would know what I mean.

What about bards? Somewhere in-between. Their spells are based off performance which is more of an art than a science.

Dreekt stared at his taloned hands. How does one get the eyes of the magus?

I doubt you will need them on your journey, but if ever you feel the need speak to me. You will have to give something up, but the eyes are permanent.

Very well. I see the others returning. Let’s call this meditation here, yes?

Yes, but tonight I will be training you in your dreams.

Dreekt wiped the arcane formulae off the rock and stood up. “Well, are we ready to move on?”

With a curt nod Burner motioned toward a tunnel between the entrances to the curving tunnel. “Right is always right, I suppose.” She smiled at Enress. “Though, I suppose it’s a good thing we went left first.”

“Whole heartedly agreed.” Enress bowed slightly at Burner. “I will follow where you lead, dear wick.”

– – –

After a long walk down a narrow tunnel the adventurers found themselves at a fork in the tunnel. On the left the tunnel continued as normal, and on the right, it appeared to open into a large cavern. Visible at the back of the cavern, barely visible to Julian and Enress in the darkness, was a honeycomb structure, like a beehive, but much, much bigger.

“Looks like there’s some sort of nest in the back of that cavern. Do you think we should check it out, or see where the tunnel leads?” Burner glanced over the group. “Rather, are we feeling healed up enough to try to take it on?”

“I feel fit as a fiddle.” Enress pulled Gaemacirch’s sword from her back. “Let’s go crush some larvae.”

Gaemacirch nodded his large ferret head. “Be extra careful. Skittering creeper elders watch the nest. They are nastier than the ones we’ve been fighting.” He dragged his metal claws against the floor a few times, sharpening them. “They’re bigger too, so don’t let them surround you.”

“Well, let’s go. I want to get this over with so I can see the sky again. It’s been a long time.” Enress motioned with the jagged katana.

Gaemacirch and Enress moved ahead with Julian close behind. Burner and Dreekt kept some distance so they could cast their spells without worry of being interrupted. After a few yards of this movement two large skittering creepers appeared next to the honeycomb structure.

“The mother and father. The mother will be more vicious, she’s the bigger one.” Gaemacirch started loping forward. “For Dregton!” He crashed into the female and gashed her across the face.

Immediately the father turned to protect his mate, biting at Gaemacirch, but was unable to break through his metal armor. As he did so Dreekt took a second to focus on a spell, then summoned a large rock above the male. It fell on it with a glancing blow, but it got his attention away from Gaemacirch.

Seeing the slight opening, Julian rushed forward with his twin axes. He did a slashing motion with both and took some chitin off the creature. The skittering creeper elder howled in pain.

The matriarch skittering creeper brought down her large front paws in an attempt to smash Gaemacirch’s head into the ground. She succeeded, and Gaemacirch felt a large headache beginning to throb through his temples.

With a few bars of a strange melody, Burner attempted to bolster her companions’ attacks. Her allies felt a surge of confidence come over them.

The surge of confidence fresh in her steel, Enress surged forward with Gaemacirch’s katana. “Die, foul stain upon the land!” She struck out at the patriarch and dealt a glancing blow.

Gaemacirch slashed at the matriarch, but she dodged out of the way. She bit at him in retaliation, and got a mouth-full of air.

Dreekt focused his energy on transporting the rock he had attempted to use earlier, hoping to crush the matriarch this time, but she was still pulling back from her bite and he misjudged the distance.

The patriarch swung his large paw at Enress and connected with her metallic frame. He wasn’t expecting so much resistance and only scratched the surface. In response, Enress swung the katana at him. She caught the chitin where its ear would be, causing the creature to leak ichor.

The axes in Julian’s hands swung at the patriarch, and sunk them both into him. The creeper cried out in pain and turned to face Julian.

Seeing a small opening, Burner pulled her shortbow from her back and loosed an arrow at the patriarch. She wasn’t able to get a good shot and pulled up at the last second to avoid hitting her allies. The arrow thudded harmlessly into the honeycomb structure.

Seeing the arrow strike the nest, the matriarch roared in motherly rage. It ran away from Gaemacirch, and lunged at Burner. Under the weight of the elder, Burner lost consciousness. The boost she had been giving herself and her allies fell away.

As Gaemacirch’s opponent ran away and took out Burner, he glanced at the patriarch and realized he was heavily wounded. With a bestial, guttural roar he lunged at the patriarch, mouth aimed for his throat. He ripped the patriarch’s throat so violently that his head was torn from his body. With shock in his eyes Gaemacirch spit the visceral from his maw and started heaving.

Dreekt saw Burner go down and rage boiled up inside him. “Not again! I will not let you do this. Pulling at the air like pulling the strings of puppets Dreekt caused many large rocks to fall on the matriarch. When the dust settled pieces of skittering creeper chitin and black ichor littered the scene. Realizing that he could have just killed Burner Dreekt ran to the rubble and began to pull it away.

“I’m here. I’m trapped, but I’m still alive.” Burner’s voice echoed out from under the rubble. “Just get me out of here. Then we take care of this nest and leave. The Dark Under is seeping into you and Gaem. We can’t let it consume you.”

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Terra Incognita – Ch. 13

Lourek awoke deep in the bowels of a large beast. He heard the beast’s voice echo around. He couldn’t understand it, but he assumed it was in draconic. “Well, this is just wonderful. I take a dip in the hot springs and I end up in the belly of a serpent without my armor or weapons.”

Taking a look around Lourek realized he was on a small island in the serpent’s stomach. The pile was made of undigested bones, the remains of armor, and acid-damaged weapons. With a mighty sigh he sifted through part of the pile and found a damaged short sword.

Swinging the sword a few times, Lourek nodded. “Well, it’s better than nothing.” His voice echoed through the cavernous stomach. He thought back to all the stories he had heard growing up of heroes. None that he could remember involved anyone being swallowed by a serpent. “Probably because nobody ever survived to tell the tale.” He muttered to the large, stench-filled cavern.

– – –

Lukren edged to the water and pulled his armor and Lourek’s armor and weapons away. “Ok, let me put on my armor and we can talk about what to do.”

“I think my friend Donaar should try speaking with the serpent. It does speak draconic, right?” Krakust motioned at the hematite dragonkin.

With a shrug Donaar sheathed his sword. “It wouldn’t hurt.”

Helena nodded then said something to Donaar in a language that sounded like deep growls with grating consonants.

A similar sounding string of words responded to Helena. Then, in common, Donaar addressed the group. “I think Helena might be a little better at this. She knows more about serpents than I, and she obviously speaks draconic very well.”

“Well, I don’t see why not.” Sorley nodded at Helena. “I assume you want to do this?”

“Of course.” Helena approached the edge of the pool and called out in draconic. “Serpent, I seek a moot with you.”

Rising from the pool, a large brass colored serpent sprayed warm water into the air. “Speak, elf of the sky.”

“I am Helena Dabaetodh, a dracomage. I wish to know what you want in return for spitting up our dwarven friend you have swallowed.” Helena did the same intricate bow she had done for Donaar earlier.

The serpent laughed a large, booming, mirth-filled sound echoing in the hot spring clearing. “Once swallowed you must find your own way out. If you wish to enter and help him you may, or you may send him items you think will help. There is nothing you can do for me to just spit him up.”

With a deep sigh Helena nodded. “Very well, I shall commune with my companions and we shall decide what to do.”

“Take your time. I believe he landed on, ahem, dry land.” With that the serpent coiled back into the water but kept his head near the shore. “Toss in anything or enter. Anything that goes in my mouth will be swallowed.” The serpent opened his maw and stopped moving.

Donaar was already telling the others what the serpent had said when Helena returned. “So, I think we should send him his weapons and armor first, then decide what else we wish to do.”

“Agreed.” Lukren took the bundle of armor with Lourek’s items and tossed it into the serpent’s mouth. At once the serpent reared its head up and swallowed. Then it lowered its head, resuming the open maw position.

– – –

Lourek had just found an old, tattered raft made of something that seemed to resist the serpent’s stomach bile when he felt a rumble and a package landed next to him with a loud thump. He looked at the bundle in shock and realized that it was his armor and items.

“By the gods, they’re making deals with the beast! What are they thinking?” Lourek took the armor and donned it, strapping his daggers to his side and putting the bag on his back. “Well, I’m grateful none the less.” Lourek climbed onto the raft and saw a long pole cobbled together with bones with sinew used as twine. “Looks like it’s time to move.”

– – –

“I’m definitely offering to go in there to help…Lourek was it?” Donaar looked to Lukren for confirmation.

“Yes, it’s Lourek.”

“But if I go in alone, then he will probably see me as a threat.” Donaar scanned the other’s faces. “Who else is willing?”

Sorley shrugged. “I’ll go.” He looked at Ember. “You stay here, though.”

Helena nodded. “Orby will go with you. I’ll keep an eye on Ember out here.”

“Ok, as long as you have someone looking out for your back, I guess.” Ember shook her head, her red fur reflecting the sunlight. “I just don’t like the idea of you or anyone going in there.”

“Well, it’s decided.” Sorley held a hand towards Orby. “Let’s go, shall we?”

Orby floated over and flowed into Sorley’s hand. This still feels weird, but Helena obviously trusts you to let this happen twice.

I guess so. Sorley smiled at Helena. “Thanks.” He turned and nodded to Donaar, his face more serious. “Let’s go, dragonkin.”

With a curt nod Donaar approached the serpent, Sorley in tow. They climbed up onto the beast’s tongue and felt what all food feels. The sensation of being completely swallowed.

– – –

Lourek reached a new island of bone and undigested food. He looked around and saw a pedestal with a few runes. “Well, let’s take a look, shall we?” As he approached, he heard a distant scream. “Well, it seems I’m not the only unfortunate soul in here.” Looking around he tried to locate where the sound was coming from. It was approaching rapidly from somewhere. By the time he thought to look up he didn’t have time to move out of the way. Donaar and Sorley landed on top of him.

“Sorry, Lourek. Once we started falling, we couldn’t steer.” Sorley helped Donaar off Lourek and then reached out a hand to help the dwarf up. “This is Donaar, a dragonkin that’s willing to help.”

Shaking his head Lourek offered a hand. “I’m Lourek, but I don’t know who would’ve been dumb enough to come down here, there’s no way out except dead.”

“Don’t worry,” Donaar said, “we made no deals with the serpent. He said if we wished to help, he would send us down here. He acts like people have survived this before.”

“Well, if there were people who got out alive…there weren’t very many of them.” Lourek motioned at the surface of bones they were standing on. “Pretty much a million to one odds.”

Sorley nodded. “Oh, Orby’s here too by the way.”

“Right.” Lourek looked back at the pedestal. “I was about to examine the runes on this. Looks like some sort of puzzle.”

The group walked, or floated, over to the pedestal. The three natives to Domhan seemed confused by the carvings.

“Almost looks elvish, but not as flowing.” Donaar traced the side of the pedestal. “Anyone read elvish?”

Sorley chuckled lightly. “It’s in English. My native tongue. Let me take a look.” He approached the pedestal. On the edges there was a single sentence. “It says, ‘Capture the king, let not your king be captured’. Does anyone know how to play chess?”

As Sorley said chess the top of the pedestal flipped, and chess pieces appeared. On the opposite side of the pedestal a man in green robes appeared. “Welcome, traveler. This is my magic chess board. If you win a game against me, I will give you a great boon. But if you lose, you will battle for my amusement.”

“What boons might you grant us?” Donaar eyed the figure. “You are but the shadow of a great mage. You are not here.”

“I am not, but a piece of my soul is. I can enchant armor and weapons or give you a clue on how to get out of here.” The figure swept his arms wide. “If you win ask, and I may be able to give.”

Donaar stepped forward. “I know a thing or two about chess. Let’s have a go.”

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The Fractured Mountains – Ch. 18

After a short rest to get their breaths back the four adventurers and the automaton started moving again. It didn’t take long for the tunnel to start looping to the right. When they noticed it had turned almost all the way back around again, they were able to smell burning skittering creepers.

“Great, it loops.” Julian sighed with annoyance. “I think we’re going to have a welcoming party.”

“Don’t worry, friends, you have me now. I won’t let you die on my watch.” Enress saluted by clanging her fist on her chest.

Burner smiled slightly. “Yes, I know. You and Julian saved our hides back there. Thanks again, Enress.”

Enress shook her head. “No thanks required. We have shown we will help each other. I trust you, and I hope that goes both ways.”

With a nod Burner moved out of the tunnel and looked around. “Stay sharp. There’s some skittering creepers out here.”

Gaemacirch lumbered forward in his ferret shape and motioned with his snout at Enress. “Hey, take my sword. Consider it yours until we find you your own weapon.” Enress took it and nodded in thanks. Gaemacirch jumped into a group of creepers, distracting them for long enough for Enress to attack them and she took quite a few out. After a few scrapes the five came through just fine.

“Okay, Enress, do you know where we need to go to get deeper into Dark Under and seal the darkness?” Julian leaned against a wall, a little winded.

With a sigh Enress nodded. “I was afraid that was why you were here.” She sat down with a thud. “Yes, but only if you make me a better face, Julian.”

“Fine.” Julian motioned back towards the tunnel they had just come back through. “Let’s go.”

Burner, Dreekt, and Gaemacirch looked at each other and shrugged.

“So, should we come with, or…?” Burner asked.

“No, we’ll only be a few minutes.” Julian waved as he went into the entrance of the tunnel that they had gone in first. “The metal’s pretty close to this end of the tunnel.”

– – –

“Magnus, sir, more news from the realm.” A man in a beautifully crafted grey tunic handed a parchment to another, slightly taller man with short blonde hair, piercing blue eyes, and a golden tan wearing a deep blue robe.

“Thank you, Jersun, I’ll just take a look at that.” Magnus took the parchment from his manservant. “I wonder what lies they’ve been spreading about me.”

“Well, sir, they’ve done something worse. I think maybe you should sit down before I tell you.”

Shrugging, Magnus sat down on a cushioned stool. “Well, tell me.”

“It’s about your wife, sir.” Jersun paused for a moment. “They’ve kidnapped her.”

“What?!” Magnus Overton stood at his full six-foot, two inches. “Where have they taken her?”

A popping noise resounded through the halls as a woman with orange skin appeared next to Magnus’ table. “That’s a good question, Magnus. I’ll tell you where they have her, but only if you make a deal with me.”

Magnus looked aghast. “Adalet! The Sorceress told me you were missing!”

“The Vengeance is never gone for long.” Adalet smiled broadly. “If I tell you where they have her you hire a certain group to save her. You don’t go yourself.”

“This will be binding? If so, I will get the appropriate components.” Jersun motioned towards a door out of the small dining hall.”

A small, insincere smile came to Magnus’ lips. “I believe she does intend that. Grab the components.”

“Very well, sir.” Jersun turned and walked out of the hall.

“Another thing. Next time you marry the offspring of the gods? Make sure not to lose her.”

Magnus’ eyes grew wide. “Surely The Warrior and The Vicious are not out for my blood. Their daughter can hold her own against fifty armed men.”

The Vengeance shook her head. “Not when she’s been drugged, she can’t.”

Jersun entered the room with an odd collection of spell components. “Here you are sir,” he turned and nodded at Magnus, “goddess,” he nodded at The Vengeance.

“Thankyou, Jersun. You may take the rest of the night off, if you wish.” Magnus took the components from him.

“I believe you will need a friend, sir, don’t you?”

“Yes, yes. I believe I shall. Please, stay.”

Magnus and The Vengeance mixed a thick brew out of the spell components and soaked a rag in them. They then tied the rag around their right hands, which were in a clasp.

“I will tell you where your wife is, and in return you will hire the one group I specify to find her, and no one else, including yourself, will go to find her for at least a year.” The Vengeance looked at Magnus in the eyes. “Are these terms agreed upon?”

“Yes, they are.” Magnus kept his eyes locked on The Vengeance’s eyes until the spell was complete. “Well, where and whom?”

– – –

While Julian and Enress were away Burner and Gaemacirch sat down on some rocks while Dreekt did some circuits around the cavern. The gaseous tendrils were still floating about, but they seemed disinterested in him.

About ten minutes went by and Burner started to get concerned. “Hey, Gaem, do you think you can go check on them? I don’t really know what they’re doing, and I feel the need to stick together.” She glanced over in Dreekt’s direction. “After that spider run-in I think Dreekt was right. No small groups.”

“Agreed.” Gaemacirch slinked off.

Dreekt noticed Gaemacirch leaving and swiftly returned to Burner. “What’s up?”

“I sent Gaem to check on Julian and Enress. I’m getting a bad feeling.”

“Oh, good idea.” Dreekt leaned against the wall and looked out over the quiet, still stinking, cavern. “I’m going to meditate for a little bit. You may need to shake me out of it when we move on.”

Burner’s glowing eyes stared into Dreekt’s avian eyes. “Don’t use the stone, not in here.”

“No, no. I’m meditating on my powers. With any luck I’ll be better with them afterward.”

“Good.” Burner took a position to watch the cavern and the tunnel entrance.

Ok, spirit. We have some time. How do we do this knowledge thing?

Like this, Dreekt. Also, now that we aren’t in any danger, my name is Kwase.

Nice to meet you, Kwase.

So, Kwase began, in order to use your powers more effectively you need only commune with me. You may do that like this for a short boost in abilities, or in a dream state where I can train you more directly. I think a dream state is not the best at this time.

Agreed. Dreekt set his bag on the ground and folded up into lotus position on the uneven ground.

Kwase laughed lightly. I don’t believe that does anything, but not a bad idea. Now, grab some paper and a quill. You will be doing arcane formulae today.

Great, more school. Dreekt pulled the aforementioned materials from his pack and grabbed a stone tablet for a writing surface.

You forget, I know you slacked during basic math. This will be much, much harder.

– – –

Gaemacirch rounded a corner in the tunnel and saw Julian literally molding the metal of Enress’ face. Gaemacirch slowly backed away and curled up on the ground. “Hey, guys! Burner sent me to keep watch. I’ll just be over here, not watching.

“Prevest!” Julian yelled. “Wait, I can fix it. Gaemacirch just startled me.”

“No, I like it.” Enress said with satisfaction in her voice.

A few seconds passed, Gaemacirch assumed Julian was assessing whatever happened.

“Well,” Julian said with genuine agreement, “it does look ferocious…and a little attractive.”

Enress chuckled lightly, the sound was that of small bells. “Yes, I agree. Let’s go rejoin the group.” Enress came around the corner and Gaemacirch got a good look at her new face. It looked like Julian was going for a small nose and subtle features, and when Gaemacirch had startled him he had brushed along her face from the bottom left to the top right. It made lines that looked like war paint. Gaemacirch had to admit to himself that it was indeed attractive.

“That looks very nice. A great improvement, of course, but also a work of art.” Gaemacirch bowed his ferret head. “My compliments to model and artisan.”

“So, myself twice?” Enress asked, amusement in her voice.

Julian punched her lightly on the metallic shoulder. “And me once, for the current state of your face.”

“Right, right.” She turned and hugged Julian. “Thank you so much!”

Gaemacirch stood up from his curled position and motioned his head towards the mouth of the cave. “Let’s go…and I saw what you were doing. That’s an interesting magic you have there.”

“It runs in the family…kinda.” Julian looked mildly embarrassed. “I really wasn’t supposed to show anyone, but now I guess the creeper’s out of the trap.”

With a hearty chuckle Gaemacirch turned to head back to Dreekt and Burner. “I never noticed how stupid that zarx saying was until you said it.”

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Cerdic the Usual – Ch. 7

Srathek didn’t like being in human form. Humans were the weakest of creatures he could appear as, but that was the only creature that was on Earth. Sighing to himself he approached a non-descript warehouse in Blackpool, Lancashire. The warehouse seemed abandoned, but Srathek knew better. This was likely a base for the Guardians of Humanity council. One of the few still guarded by people who listened for certain passphrases.

With a swift knock on the door Srathek stated the passphrase. “May Gormaliev not calculate against you.”

The door opened slowly. “And may The Calculating turn her schemes away from you, as well. Enter.”

Srathek walked into the warehouse. “I believe Shane is waiting for me. I’m Stan.”

“Yes, he is. Down the hall, third door on the right, Stan.” The guard closed the door and locked it before sitting back down behind a set of monitors watching the exterior of the building.

“I see you’ve added cameras to the setup.”

The guard grunted an affirmative then motioned back to the hallway.

Shrugging Srathek walked down the hall. “Third door on the right…ah, here we go.” He knocked on the door in rapid succession, three knocks. “It’s Stan.”

The door opened so fast it practically flew off the hinges. “Stan? I thought you weren’t being serious about meeting here!”

Srathek looked amusedly at Shane. “My, my Shane. You sure set the appointment, though.”

Shane pushed his round glasses back onto his face and brushed his long, sweaty, black hair to one side. “I was making the precaution. Do you want to go for a walk, perhaps?”

“That would probably be best, Shane.” Srathek looked him up and down. “You look like you need the sun.”

– – –

Cerdic and Veron sat at a petrol station in the town of Hurst Green. They were waiting for the tank to fill and Cerdic was polishing off a hamburger.

“So, we’re just going to drive back down to Rawtenstall, then?” Cerdic fed the last bite of the hamburger to Grimm.

Veron sighed. “Yes, we are. We need to get you back to your handler and the railroad may be compromised. You remember the hyb-” He caught himself and looked around to see if anyone was listening. “The guy you met on the train?”

“Yes.”

“He may have been working for Albrite. We can’t be too careful.” Veron paid for the petrol and started the car back up. “Let’s get going. Southward bound.”

Cerdic shrugged in the left seat. “Aren’t you supposed to be in school, or something?”

An annoyed expression crossed Veron’s face. “First, it’s summer, and second no. I finished school and am a full-time agent.”

“Well, don’t you need to be on your assignment, then?” Cerdic said sheepishly.

“I guess they think I don’t need to worry about it.” Veron shrugged. “Let’s just get you home and back to work, shall we?”

“Sure.”

– – –

Veron and Cerdic sat on the shoulder of a country road next to the car. Grimm sat nearby, watching the road, though there weren’t any cars in sight. The back-right tire was flat, and the spare tire was on the road. The jack kit was lying open without a spanner in the kit.

“Well, I could have sworn I kept a spanner in there.” Veron leaned against the car. “My phone died and yours doesn’t have service. Man, we’re so lucky.”

“I know, I know.” Cerdic checked his phone again. “I just have the wrong carrier, I guess. Do you think your phone is charged up now?”

“Doubtful. It doesn’t turn on until it’s at 20% or more battery.”

With a sigh Cerdic stood again. “I’m going to take a look at that tire. Something’s bothering me about it.”

Veron shrugged and patted Grimm on the head. “He’s a strange one, you know. Maybe you should bond with me instead.”

Grimm cocked his head to the side and barked lightly.

“Yeah, yeah. I know. Gormaliev didn’t make a pact with me for a reason.” He slumped a little. “Don’t know why, but she has her reasons.”

Cerdic looked over the flat tire. When he looked at the right angle, he could see some sort of collection of triangles slowly fading away. They seemed to be made of shadows. Shrugging, Cerdic pulled on the rubber of the tire. It flaked away, as if it had become brittle. With a tug the rubber ripped from the wheel and Cerdic was able to see the inside of the tire. The tube was torn to shreds, but the inside of the tire had score marks all along it perpendicular to the rotation. He picked up the rubber and walked back over to Veron.

“Hey, Veron. Does this look like a normal flat to you?”

“What?” Veron stood and looked at the rubber Cerdic was holding. “Is that flaking off?”

Cerdic flicked the side of the tire and rubber flakes fell to the ground. “Yeah, I think we’ve been sabotaged.”

“That’s not good. Looks like necrotic magics.” Veron pulled an amulet out of his trouser pocket. “This is an emergency amulet. Do I need to use it?”

“There’s another thing, I saw something. It looked li-” Cerdic was cut off as a series of popping sounds went off.

“Shast!” Veron gripped the amulet and said something that sounded latin. “Help will be here soon. Keep your head down until then.” He dragged Cerdic down and around the car. He reached up and pulled a sheet from the back of the car. “Umbra,” he whispered as he pulled the fabric over Grimm, Cerdic, and himself.

The fabric was see-through from the inside, but Cerdic could have sworn the fabric was tan like the interior of the car.

A pair of feet worked their way around the car and when the person came into view Cerdic put a hand over his mouth to keep himself from gasping. He was a lanky with sunglasses, and blood streaming from his mouth.

“Pah, the local wildlife taste disgusting. Too bad we have orders not to feast on the targets.’

“Do you see them?”

“Nah, there’s nothing over here. Did Shane know who they were, exactly?”

A burly man came around the other end of the car. “Uh, a pactless Aelfson and a Usual.” He froze mid-step. “Grak! They activated an emergency amulet. Someone’s coming.”

“Well, let’s hurry, then. They must be cloaked. I’ll try sniffing for them.”

The burly man sighed. “And why, pray tell, were you not already doing that, dear vampire?”

With a sigh the vampire sniffed the air. “Because I still had the smell of my meal in my nostrils…they have a dog with them.” He walked right next to Cerdic, Veron, and Grimm. “Should be right here.” He groped in the air over their heads. “Odd.”

Rolling his eyes, the burly man started to bring back his leg as if to kick. He never completed the action, as a new set of popping noises surprised the man. “Quick, let’s get out of here.” The burly man made motions in the air with his hands and Cerdic saw geometric shapes forming around it. As the shapes started to intertwine a dagger-like triangle smashed through them, breaking them to pieces. As the shattered shapes dissipated two other men circled the car.

“Ah, Jeremy and Patrick.” Eric said. “What are you doing here?”

“Treeft,” the vampire swore. “I told you this was a trap, Jer.”

Jeremy sighed. “No, Pat. I told you to hurry. You were taking your time.”

“Grimm. Bite the vampire, will you?” Eric looked directly at Grimm, through the fabric.

Breaking out of hiding, with a snarl, Grimm chomped onto Patrick’s leg. The vampire cried out and started striking at Grimm. Most of the blows passed right through the grim.

With the fabric moved Cerdic and Veron were in the open. The second man that had arrived with Eric pulled the two of them to their feet. “I’m glad you used the amulet. I remember you telling me once you’d rather die than be rescued by me.”

Veron half-heartedly punched the man in the shoulder. “Shut up, cuz. Just deal with these guys. Henry won’t give Eric all the credit, will he?”

“Oh, fine.” Henry made a series of jerking motions with his hands. “Lux!” A ray of sunlight went directly into the vampire’s face. Cerdic noticed that the geometry that made up the spell was also designed to melt his sunglasses, and they did so readily.

With a loud shriek Patrick fell to his knees. “My eyes! My eyes!” He groped at his leg, trying to grip Grimm. “I need blood, now!”

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The Fractured Mountains – Ch. 17

Automatons were long thought of as machines without sapience. They had enough sentience, people thought, to follow the orders of The Commander and little else. However, whenever The Commander was not commanding the automatons around, they did things of their own accord. At first, they took care of the creation and repair of themselves – which they still do – but eventually they began to leave The Commander’s army. Amir knew that this was happening, but he had long known that automatons were sapient. He knew that any who left would return to his call if he truly needed them, but he doubted any such time would come.
In my interactions, limited as they are, with this god I have heard the tale of how automatons came to be. The souls of ancient humans, not ready to become gods, were included in the great ascension and, instead of becoming immortal in their own flesh, their souls were bonded to the automatons they were creating. Amir knew these people before and said that afterwards he always had a feeling they were more than they seemed.

Excerpt from the works of Jergolt, The Scholar

Burner, Dreekt, Gaemacirch, and Julian found themselves in a much smaller cavern than the first. In this cavern there were piles of metal and wires all over.

Julian handed the quarterstaff back to Dreekt whose taloned hand strapped it back to his pack.

Gaemacirch’s ferret head was turning left and right, scanning the room.

The glow of Burner’s eyes under her hood did little to light the room, but Julian’s lantern did light up the room.

As they surveyed the bare wires and metal Dreekt wished they had a dwarf with them. They would’ve been able to tell what kind of metals there were, and what they were most commonly used for. He moved forward slowly, careful not to cut himself on any jagged pieces.

The four adventurers rounded the corner and found a humanoid automaton lying on its back. Its lower face was missing, and its legs were pinned under a large piece of metal. Its head swiveled around at the sound of their arrival and it motioned at its legs, uttering no sound but that of metal sliding across metal.

With concern Gaemacirch approached in his ferret form. “Don’t worry, we’re here to help.” He nosed at the piece of metal, tested the weight and shook his head. “It’s too heavy, I cannot move it and none of you can. We’ll need to rig something together to deal with this.”

“Dreekt, why don’t you and Julian stay here to work on that while Gaem and I scout further ahead?” Burner motioned forward.

“No, I think we should all work on this.” Dreekt made eye contact with Burner. “I don’t want you two going off alone.”

Gaemacirch sighed. “Look, we need to keep moving, Dreekt I-”

“No, either I go with you two or you stay here. The gem showed me something. You two need to stay with someone while we’re down here.”

Burner broke Dreekt’s eye contact and turned to Julian. “Can you handle this yourself?”

“Only if Dreekt leaves his rope.” Julian started to take the coil from Dreekt’s pack. “I have an idea and there’s a lot of material to work with here. We’ll catch up. If there’s a fork wait there.”

“Alright, Dreekt. You come with us.” Burner motioned forward. “We need to keep moving. The longer we spend down here the thicker the darkness seems.”

Julian watched his three traveling companions leave and turned to the pile of metal covering the automaton. “Ok, automaton, I’m going to do something. Don’t worry about it.”

Some of the automaton’s gears started spinning in its neck where its mouth would be if it hadn’t been torn off.

“Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you.” Julian sat cross-legged, pulled out a small notebook, set one of his hands on the metal and started reading something in a grating tongue.

After ten minutes of this he stood up, careful to keep his hand still on the metal. Once he was standing upright, he put his other hand under the lip of the metal and pulled. The metal seemed to grow where he pulled it, but the automaton soon realized that as he pulled the metal into a long, thick bar the metal that was on its legs was moving, almost as if Julian was sucking up water with a straw. Eventually Julian pulled enough of the metal away that the automaton’s feet were no longer pinned.

The automaton stood and felt surveyed its overall condition. It smiled at Julian and moved in to hug him.

“Wait, let me end the spell first. You’re made of metal.” Julian removed his hands from the metal, now in the shape of a bar, and said a few words in the same grating tongue as before. “Ok, now you’re fine. Not that I want the hug, but-” Julian was cut off by the automaton hugging him. “Right, now we need to go find the others. It’s been at least twenty minutes.” He picked the rope back up from the ground, uncoiled it, and recoiled it. “There, now it looks like I actually used this. Let’s go. Oh, I’m Julian by the way. The large ferret is Gaemacirch who is a zarx, the skravyn is Dreekt, and the wick is Burner.”

– – –

The tunnel cleared of metal after a few dozen feet. The concern Dreekt felt grew as they approached the small cavern he had seen in his vision.

“Here,” Dreekt said. “Be on the lookout for-” he was cut short as a giant spider attacked Gaemacirch by spitting acid at him.

“Spiders!” Gaemacirch loped towards the giant spider that had spit at him to slash at it with his claws. He missed, but as the spider avoided the attack an opening was created for Dreekt to shoot magic at the creature.

Seeing the opening Dreekt cast a bolt of fire at the creature who seemed to shrug most of the hit off.

Reaching for her bow and arrows Burner noticed another spider. “There’s a second one approaching!” She shot at the first spider, hoping that by focusing they would hold out long enough for Julian to show up to help. One giant spider would be no problem, but two? Big problem.

The second spider jumped forward and attempted to bite Burner but misjudged the distance and moved back again.

The first spider bit at Gaemacirch and managed to sink its fangs in. Venom injected into him, but Gaemacirch was able to shrug off the effects.

Burner turned and shot at the second spider, now realizing that if they ignored one of the spiders it would be problematic. The arrow found a gap in the spider’s protective carapace, dealing some damage.

Deciding it wouldn’t hurt to try again Dreekt shot another bolt of fire at the first spider. Once again, the fire seemed to bounce off the hide. He quickly addressed his spirit. Any ideas?

Don’t use fire, use force?

Good idea.

Large ferret claws ripped into the first spider, heavily damaging its front legs and making it harder for it to attack.

The second spider ran back up to Burner, not willing to judge a leap again, and bit at her. The bite took a large chunk out of Burner’s side but did not inject any venom into her.

The first spider bit at Gaemacirch again, but he was to swift for it. The spider backed off by climbing up the wall.

A wave of arcane energy blasted from between Dreekt’s outstretched hands and knocked the spider off the wall and back to the ground where Gaemacirch could get to it.

Expecting the spider to still be on the wall, Gaemacirch had leapt toward it and missed when it fell back to the ground, but he ended up between the spider and the cave wall.

Pulling out her rapier Burner stabbed at the second spider, but the spider saw the attack coming and moved out of range before moving forward again biting at Burner. This bite knocked Burner out and the spider moved to close on her two companions, planning to deal with her later.

The first spider turned to attack Dreekt, but he saw it coming and jumped back, out of range. He then pulled out his quarterstaff and attempted to break off one of the spider’s mandibles but missed.

With a slash of his paw Gaemacirch dealt another blow to the first spider. “Dreekt! Burner went down! There’s a second spider!”

As Gaemacirch called out the second spider moved in to bite at Gaemacirch who scuttled to the side, barely avoiding the bite.

With a quick strike that Dreekt couldn’t avoid the first spider sunk its fangs into his arm. The venom entered his blood and he could feel it work it burning through his veins. He swung at the spider with his quarterstaff, missing before falling to one knee, barely able to stand.

Turning back into his humanoid form, Gaemacirch gripped his large, katana-like weapon in his hands, but was unable to strike before the second spider bit his leg. This ended up knocking him over and he hit his head hard against the hard floor of the cavern. He went out at once.

Julian and the automaton entered the cavern just as Gaemacirch went down and then ran over to help. The first spider noticed this and with a swift motion injected more venom into Dreekt, knocking him the rest of the way to the ground and making him lose consciousness. Oddly there was a smile on Dreekt’s face as he went out.

With the sound of metal on metal the automaton charged forward and struck at the first spider, dealing minor damage to it.

A scream loosed from Julian’s lips and he swung and the same spider with both his axes. He was blind in his rage and was unable to connect with the spider.

Circling around, the second spider struck at the automaton and pulled some chunks of metal away.

The first spider bit into Julian’s arm, but he was able to break the hold before the venom was injected into his veins. With the momentum from pulling away Julian attempted to strike at the other spider and missed but created a small opening for the automaton.

Seeing the opening the automaton grabbed Gaemacirch’s katana-like sword from the ground and beheaded the first spider with it.

In anger at having its mate killed the second spider bit at the automaton twice, the second bite finding purchase on the metal, pulling more away from it.

The automaton sliced a slab from the spider’s side just as Julian threw both of his axes at it. Together they dealt a heavy blow against it.

In retaliation the spider backed off and spit acid on the automaton, eating through enough of the metal to cause it to fall, useless, to the floor of the cavern.

Picking up one of his axes Julian tossed it into the spider and picked up his other axe.

Backing away further the spider spit more acid at Julian who was able to avoid some of the acid, but he knew he would be unable to take another hit. Picking up the other axe that had dropped back to the ground Julian threw them both into the spider’s head, killing it.

Exhausted from the battle Julian quickly made his way to Burner, who he knew had the magic to heal his companions. He bound her wounds to stop the bleeding and fed some herbs he had picked up in town to her to wake her up.

With a gasp Burner opened her eyes. “The others, how are they?”

“They’re unconscious, but Dreekt seemed satisfied when I arrived with the automaton. Can you heal them?”

“I can. It will probably take a while, though.” Burner moved over to her friends and started sending healing energy over them. After a while they woke up.

While Burner was distracted with healing Dreekt and Gaemacirch, Julian was using some of his magic to put the automaton back together. With a flash of insight, he cut open the spiders and fished around in their guts. He found parts of other automatons in there, mostly deteriorated by the acid they had spit, but in one he found a voice box.

He brought the voice box over to the mostly repaired automaton and pressed it against the automaton’s throat. After a moment the automaton lifted its hands to hold the box in place while gears and wires snaked from its throat and from the box to join up. In a moment the automaton could speak again.

“Thank you, Julian. You are a wonder among men.” The voice had a metallic echo to it.

Julian shook his head. “Don’t mention it…what’s your name?”

“Enress, call me Enress.”

“Hey, Julian.” Dreekt walked over slowly, his wounds no longer visible with regrown feathers covering them. “How’s he doing?”

“I’m a she, and my name is Enress.” The automaton held out her right hand and offered it to Dreekt. “I believe your name is Dreekt?”

“Yes, it is.” He took the offered hand and shook. “Nice to meet you, ma’am.”

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