Krakust swam quickly towards the figure that had thrown a fishing spear at him. As he did so the creature threw another one. It glanced off of Krakust’s arm, taking a chunk of flesh with it. Grunting in pain he continued forward towards the creature. He was finally close enough to make it out. It was a large, blue-green, anthropomorphic frog. He hadn’t seen anything like it before, all he knew was that it had attacked him first. He swam faster and, before the creature could throw another spear, he buried his dagger deep into one of its large eyes. He pulled the dagger back and slashed the throat of the frogman. A thick, black sludge seeped out of the wounds and into the water. Krakust backed away from the substance then turned to continue the swim downward.
Ember was having a hard time keeping up with Krakust. Foxes were not designed to swim under water and she had to fight against her buoyancy with paws that wanted to push her towards the surface. The close call with the first spear did not help and she floated upwards quite a ways. She tried her hardest to keep up with Krakust, who didn’t seem to notice, or didn’t care, that she was falling behind. Looking around at the rocky walls of the deep pool she decided that it might be better to push off them to get downward momentum. She swam to one and tried pushing off of it. It certainly was faster than swimming by itself, but not very much.
Slow down! I can’t keep up! She tried to communicate telepathically with Krakust, but he didn’t seem to hear her. Shast!
Krakust continued to swim downward. After a long swim he saw the bottom of the pool expand into and underwater cavern. The heat from the water was increasing. It wasn’t uncomfortably hot yet, but he expected it would get much warmer the farther down he went. Glancing around he noticed another frog creature guarding an underwater cave. He oriented his body to swim that way when he realized Ember wasn’t with him. He looked up to see her slowly making her way toward him. Well, the sentry hasn’t noticed me yet, I’ll wait for her to catch up.
Pushing off the walls took a lot of Ember’s concentration. She pushed off the wall again and realized there was no more wall below her. She looked around frantically and noticed Krakust waiting for her. With a sigh of relief that released bubbles into the water she began swimming toward him. He nodded at her then turned to swim in another direction. Well, at least he waited for me before going out of sight. Ember made her short legs work all the more to try to keep up with the orc. How did Helena get this deep? I certainly would’ve drowned by now without the potion Krakust had. Ember shook her head. No, don’t think about that. She must be fine.
The frog creature finally turned to face Krakust, but it was too late. He was already reaching out with his dagger to kill the sentry. The same black substance from before oozed out of the creature and Krakust once again made sure not to swim through it. He swam into the cave and up into an air pocket. He heard the distant sound of struggling and almost ran towards it before remembering Ember was still behind him. “Probably should’ve brought the dwarf with me except he would sink like a stone.” He muttered softly to himself.
After a few moments Ember surfaced and made her way out of the water. She shook herself dry and looked around, confused. “Aren’t we below the water level?”
“Keep your voice down,” Krakust said softly. “This is an air pocket and it’s probably not very big.” A scream echoed down the narrow passageway as if to punctuate his point. “We might want to get a move on.”
“Agreed.” Ember started padding quickly down the passage, not waiting for Krakust. She poked her head around a nearby blind corner then pulled it back. By this point Krakust had caught up with her. “Helena is tied up and looks unconscious. There’s two of the frog things with her.”
Krakust nodded. “I can take them. The other ones were pretty weak.” He took a moment to focus, then his muscles became move defined and his blood vessels stuck out slightly. “Here we go.” He rounded the corner and lunged at one of the two frog men.
Following behind Ember saw the other frog man shoving something into Helena’s mouth then turned to attack Krakust. She ran forward to Helena to see what it was.
A pink object changed color to match Helena’s tongue. Helena’s eyes went wide as the thing ripped her tongue out and attached itself to the stump. She then passed out again.
Ember turned to see Krakust finish off the second frog creature by smashing its head in with his pick hammer. “Quick!” She yelled. “Helena’s tongue was replaced by a parasite!” She pointed at the slab of pink flesh on the ground with her snout. “You need to cut it out!”
“What?” Krakust looked at the flesh. “If I do that she won’t be able to talk.”
“Just do it!”
“Fine.” He pulled his dagger out and wiped it off on his leg. “Here goes.”
Donaar jumped onto the raft and gripped a femur tightly with his left hand. With his right he started passing out the potions of acid resistance. “Here, chug them and we might make it out of this alive!”
Sorley and Lourek each took one of the potions and downed them swiftly then gripped onto the raft.
“Here it comes!”
The wave crashed into the bone raft and the three creatures holding onto it were covered in acid. There was about a half a centimeter invisible barrier keeping the acid from touching their skin. The kobold above didn’t have that luxury and he appeared to be having a hard time holding onto the piece of debris.
Orby, Sorley thought at the elemental, can you push that creature closer to us?
It’s called a kobold, since you don’t seem to know what it is. Orby replied. I could, but the acid would hurt me. As long as I stay part of you it won’t affect me.
Sorley mumbled something to himself then grabbed a handful of flour from a sack he had tied to his waist. He then threw the flour toward the kobold. The flour imploded halfway between the two groups causing them to get closer to eachother.
“What are you doing?” Lourek yelled. “We’re already in a precarious position! Don’t make it worse!”
Throwing another handful of flour Sorley responded, “this isn’t going to make it any worse. In fact it might make the wave smaller.” The flour imploded again, taking some of the acid with it where ever it was going.
– – –
On the surface of the hot spring the serpent’s face contorted and it started coughing and hacking. Lukren and Evryn backed away from the serpent as it began to thrash about wildly. It was yelling something in draconic, but Lukren didn’t understand the language.
The serpent yelled in draconic again then started to calm down.
With a last string of draconic the serpent shot water into the air then dipped beneath the surface of the water and disappeared from Lukren’s sight. “Great,” he muttered, “now it’ll be even harder for them to get out.”
– – –
Just as Sorley was close enough to reach out and grab the kobold the entire belly of the beast convulsed and the feeling of weightlessness came over him. “Quick! Grab on!”
Seeing the outstretched hand the kobold pushed off of his piece of debris and grabbed onto Sorley’s forearm. “Thank!”
The grip was so tight that the kobold’s claws broke Sorley’s skin in places, but he held on all the tighter in response. If he could save this innocent life maybe he could save others. Not like his parents had, sacrificing their lives, but surviving another day to save more. By the time the stomach acid had settled down his arm was oozing blood from several places and the kobold was unconscious. Carefully pulling the kobold onto the raft Sorley grabbed the tattered pieces of his tunic and wrapped some strips around his arm.
“Will he be okay?” Sorley asked Donaar.
“I’m not sure.” Donaar placed a hand over the kobold’s nose. “I feel his breathing, so possibly.” The dragonkin looked around. “Is there someplace we can land this raft?”
Lourek pointed at a distant pile of debris. “That looks as good a place as any.” He pulled an arm from the raft and started using it as an oar. “Only one way to find out.”
The raft slowly made its way to the isle of debris in the sea of stomach acid. The surface of the debris above the acid was by no means dry when they got there, but it was better than their raft. The acid immunity potions were starting to wear off and the acid was beginning to sting their eyes. By the time they disembarked from the raft the skin of Sorley and Lourek was starting to burn.
“Those scales sure come in handy. Another barrier before you start getting burnt.” Lourek motioned at Donaar. “Though, I suspect it’s worse once the acid gets through them.”
“I don’t want to find out.” Donaar threw the kobold over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. “We need to get out of here, and soon.”
Sorley pulled the pouch of flour off his hip and threw it into the stomach acid. “That’s ruined now. The acid got absorbed by it.” He started sifting through some of the debris that was piled up. “Maybe I can find some bone to grind into powder. Needs to be mostly unaffected by the acid, though.”
“Don’t worry about that right now. I think there’s something buried over there.” Lourek pointed at a piece of carved stone protruding from the pile. “Maybe it’s something more immediately useful.”
With a shrug Sorley walked towards the gray stone. Upon closer inspection it appeared to be part of a portal. Seeing that it could in fact be a way out Sorley started digging frantically only to discover it was shattered into various large pieces. He pulled up as many as he could and started arranging them.
“Well,” Donaar asked as he gently set the kobold down, “is it anything we can use?”
“Not if it’s as broken as it appears,” commented Lourek.
Sorley pulled his grimoire from his pack. The cover appeared to be a little damp, but he quickly wiped it off. Undoing the buckle on the cover he flipped to a blank page. “It’s not very helpful right now, no, but I think it could be important.” He pulled a quill and a stoppered bottle of ink out. “I’m going to sketch it. It appears to be a teleportation circle or a summoning circle. Could be either at this point. I’ll do some research on it later when we aren’t in this situation.”
“Wait, could you teleport us out of here?” Lourek stood on a piece of debris to look over Sorley’s shoulder. “I’m no expert, but if you’ve been somewhere before it should be simple, right?”
“Simple?” Sorley paused from his sketch. “Teleportation is an exact science. There’s no simple about it.”
“What about a portal? You said one brought you here to Domhan. Could you make a smaller one to jump to a point you remember here?”
“That would be better if I could see where I was going. Not very possible from where we are. If I get anything wrong,” Sorley resumed sketching the magic circle, “we could end up in the wrong place in pieces.”
The kobold opened its eyes and looked around weakly. “Where Kefderent now?”
Donaar turned to the kobold. “What’s Kefderent?”
“I Kefderent. Of Kef Clan.” The kobold slowly stood up. “Me sore, but alive.”
With a smile Sorley finished the sketch and turned to the kobold. “Hi, Kefderent. I’m Sorley Aelfson.”
“I’m Donaar ‘Shield Biter’ Thruuvth a knight of the Order of Defenders. The dwarf is Lourek.” Donaar motioned at Lourek.
“Aye, nice to make your acquaintance.” Lourek turned back to Sorley. “Well, will you at least try to make a portal?”
Sighing, Sorley took a seat on a piece of the magic circle he had pulled from the detritus. “I’ll need to commune with Gormaliev first. I’ve never cast anything that complicated before.” He folded his legs and fell into a trance. As he did so Orby floated out of him.
I can’t be part of that conversation. Orby thought to Donaar and Lourek. Is there anything I can do for the two of you?
Krakust shrugged. “If I hadn’t killed him he would’ve killed me.” Sitting down he smiled. “And if I couldn’t defend myself there I would have given up any claims to return to my tribe. Even if I had Helena and Sorley with me.”
“Which you never will, not as slaves.” Helena stood and started walking away. “I’m going to find a smaller pool to relax in. Yell for me if you need anything.”
Ember got back to her feet and trotted after Helena. “I’ll keep an eye out for you.”
Walking swiftly Helena found a secluded pool and stripped to her underclothes. “Keep watch for me and when I’m done you can have a turn.” She slowly lowered herself into the warm water and let out a sigh of relief. Sinking under the water she realized that she couldn’t feel the bottom of the pool. Before she could start swimming back up to the surface something grabbed her by the foot and pulled her under.
Walking back and forth Ember heard some splashing then bubbles break the surface of the pool. Thinking nothing of it she waited a minute before checking on Helena. She peered over at the hotspring only to see nobody in the water. “Helena! Where are you? This is no time to play games, you know.” Ember looked around for Helena and found no tracks and no scent to follow. “This isn’t good.” She turned and scampered back to Krakust and Lukren.
The two were passing their alcohol back and forth when Ember ran back into sight. “Help! Helena is missing!”
“Again?” Lukren jumped to his feet. “Where was she?”
“She disappeared under the water, I think. I couldn’t find a trail of any kind.”
Krakust got to his feet and pulled a compass from his pack. “I can find her with this.” He focused on the compass and pointed in the direction of the pool she had chosen. “This way to start. He glanced at Ember and Evryn. “Evryn, stay here. I’ll go with the fox.”
With a short wine Evryn curled up near Lukren.
“Well, uh, sorry about earlier Evryn.” Lukren said.
Evryn snorted softly and looked at the gaping mouth of the serpent.
“She’ll forgive you eventually.” Krakust said over his shoulder. “At the very least she’ll keep you safe cause I told her to.”
Ember scurried behind Krakust as the green orc hurried towards the pool. When they arrived at it he circled it multiple times. “She’s below the surface, I think.” He glanced up at the sky. “She’s certainly not above us. The sky is oddly clear today.” He began to remove his armor, making sure to keep his pickhammer and dagger on him then pulled a potion out of his pack. “I only have one of these, and I was hoping I wouldn’t need it.” He chugged most of the potion then held it out for Ember to drink. “It’ll allow us to breathe underwater.”
“I guess since you drank first I shouldn’t worry too much about it.” Ember drank the small amount of liquid remaining in the bottle.
With a grunt of approval Krakust dove into the pool, head first. As he went under he saw a jutting rock barely miss his face. Probably shouldn’t do that again. He used the momentum to swim swiftly downward. As he passed what appeared to be the half-way point of the depths a fishing spear flew past his left ear and he turned to see it barely miss Ember as well. He readied his dagger, the pickhammer was too big for underwater use, and swam towards his assailant.
– – –
The two kobolds lunged repeatedly at Lourek and Sorley. They connected a few times but only left minor scratches and bruises.
“How long,” Sorley said between dodges, “until we can dispatch them?”
Donaar looked across the board, remembering where the pawns were before. “Now isn’t a bad time.”
With a grunt Lourek swung his short-swords and heavily damaged on of the kobolds. Immediately after the swing Sorley shot a bolt of energy at the same kobold, dropping it.
“No!” The spirit of the mage cried out. “You’ve blocked my king in!”
“And with this outstanding move I’ll get you into checkmate.” Donaar moved a rook in to check the mage’s king. “Checkmate.”
“Wait.” The spirit looked over the chessboard. “Shast! You’ve won, sir knight.” The spirit bowed. “What is it that you want?”
“Help us get out of this place,” Donaar motioned at the belly of the serpent, “safe and sound.”
The spirit smiled and produced three potions from under the table. “These are potions of acid immunity. Use them well.” Then the spirit disappeared.
“I’m not sure how to use these yet.” Donaar picked up the potions and put them in his satchel. “Let’s continue in the direction Lourek was heading and think about it.” He motioned for Lourek to move on when he realized the second kobold had stopped attacking and was looking around, confused. “Oh,” Donaar said in draconic, “I thought you would be returned home after I won.”
The kobold turned to face Donaar, its metallic scales the same color as Donaar’s. “I need go home,” it said in broken common. “Where here?”
“Uhh…the belly of a serpent…” Donaar said hesitantly. “We’re trying to escape.”
“I help escape you help me.” The kobold pointed in the direction Lourek was heading. “Me be advance scout.” It scampered off and out of sight.
“We won’t see that thing again, will we?” Sorley asked, watching it disappear.
“Most likely, yeah.” Donaar shrugged. “I can only hope it doesn’t try to swim in the bile.”
The belly of the beast rumbled and a wave of acidic bile rolled towards the characters in the direction they were heading. The kobold was riding the wave by holding onto a piece of debris.
“Quickly!” Lourek yelled. “Get on the bone raft!” He pointed at the thing he had found earlier and everyone ran for it.
So, it’s been a while since I posted here. I’m going to be taking a look at some of the stories that I’ve gotten really far in and choose one of those to focus on. I want to get one of them done then go back to the others afterwards. Chances are that it will be either Darkness Ascending, Terra Incognita, or Medakus Grimoires that I focus on. I’ll start posting chapters again as I finish them.
Dreekt came to in the middle of a battlefield in the Great Plains. The fields were burning, and the air reeked of burning flesh and smoldering metal.
“Three-En-Ar-Three-Five-Five, report!” An automaton shouted. The voice was low-quality and had an undertone of static.
A matte black automaton arm broke through a layer of rubble and glistened in the fire. “3-NR-355 reporting. Enemy wave eliminated.” The automaton pulled itself out of the rubble.
“No, you missed a skravyn.” The first automaton pointed at Dreekt.
Enress turned her head to look. “No, he’s fine.”
“What did you say?”
“Does it look like he has wings, Smithed?”
Smithed turned his scrape-covered head to get a closer look at Dreekt. “What in the name of The Commander?” Smithed raised his pick hammer defensively. “Get off the battlefield before they see you!”
“Who sees me? Enress, what’s this dream about?” Dreekt looked around the battlefield, confusion in his eyes.
Enress shook her head. “So, Syb sent you in, did he? Smart bird. He can’t be here for this. The Winged War…rather, he’s already here.” She pointed up in the sky. “Leading them, in the thrall of The Desecrator.”
Dreekt turned to look up. His beak started clicking in terror. “Th-there’s hu-hundreds of th-them!” The sky appeared to be full of winged skravyn, all glistening black and dark grey. At the head of each group was a golden skravyn with a red ring around its head.
“No, there is only one group of twenty left. The others are illusion.” Enress rubbed her head with her hand making a sound like the gritting of teeth. “I ran the first time, and Smithed lost his memories. I will not turn back now! I will stand my ground!”
The fear disappeared from Dreekt’s face and the chittering of his beak slowed and finally stopped. “The Desecrator has him under his thrall?”
“Well, I think I can do something about that.” A black cloud began to surround Dreekt.
Smithed’s pick hammer rushed down in front of Dreekt’s face, missing by the width of a feather. “No, that’s how he turned them. They summoned The Desecrator’s power and it corrupted them!”
“That’s not what Dreekt does, this comes from within him. He can help.” Enress laid her hand on Smithed’s shoulder. “Trust me.”
With smiling eyes Dreekt finished the transformation into a visage of death, scythe and all. “I will deal with the regular ones. Enress, try to break The Sentry of this curse.”
“What?” Smithed turned to Enress. “That’s The Sentry? A god is being controlled by another god?”
Enress shook her head. “Apparently so.”
– – –
Multiple winged skravyn divebombed at Dreekt as he approached their altitude. He immediately turned and dove back down toward Smithed.
What in the world are you thinking, Dreekt?! The spirit’s screech echoed through Dreekt’s skull.
Dreekt had to speed up his dive to avoid stalling in the air. Calm down! It’s a dream! Weren’t you paying any attention up to this point?
It took me this long to reach your thick-skulled mind. Your body will take damage if you take damage here. This is an unnatural dream! Can’t you tell?
What? Pausing for a moment Dreekt glanced behind himself to make sure the enemy was still following him. They weren’t too far behind and he continued toward Smithed. Well, we better resolve this quick then. My dream wasn’t quite so dangerous.
The spirit chuckled. Just because you didn’t notice the danger didn’t mean it wasn’t dangerous. Just be careful, and don’t cast any spells if you can avoid it.
With a thwump Dreekt landed next to Smithed. “Hey, uh, is there any reason I shouldn’t cast any spells here?”
“Yes!” Smithed said, alarmed. “Don’t cast anything! The Desecrator has cursed this field of battle. If you cast anything other than necromancy here it will backfire.” The automaton faced Dreekt. “I know you’re the visage of death right now, but please don’t cast any necromancy unless your life depends on it.”
“No problem. Since I don’t know any.”
We’ll have to change that.
“And I don’t particularly want to learn any.”
Smithed nodded. “That’s a good idea. No necromancy, no chance for it to corrupt you.” He held up his pick hammer, ready to swing. “Here they come!”
The first winged skravyn learned a valuable lesson about trying to fly with wings smashed by a hammer, and the second took a scythe to the face. Behind the winged skravyn The Sentry watched as they began to pick apart his last battalion. He started to move forward when Enress pulled herself out from under a pile of smoldering dirt.
“Not so fast, turncoat!” Enress jabbed at the yellow skravyn with her brass knuckles.
The Sentry laughed. “You think you can take me, a god, on head to head?” He pulled a wicked two-handed scimitar from his back. “Let’s go, mortal.” He swung the sword down, towards the base of Enress’ head, where the neck would be if she were organic.
“The automatons are not mortals!” Enress grabbed the sword with her left hand. “If I die here, I will be reborn.”
“How did you stop that?!”
Enress held up a glowing, azure stone in her right hand. “By The Commander, I cleanse thee!” The glow of the stone expanded and covered both the fighters in its light, obscuring them from the view of Dreekt and Smithed, who were still fighting the winged skravyn.
– – –
Dreekt didn’t get a chance to see what happened next, when the light faded he found himself lying on the ground next to Enress. She wasn’t matte black anymore. The silver color put him at ease as he sat up, rubbing his beak. “Enress, are you okay?”
With a chirp Syb landed on Enress’ shoulder and pecked at the side of her head.
“Yeah, yeah. Get off me, turncoat.” The words would’ve been harsh if the tone they were presented in weren’t so soft. She patted the bird as she sat up. “Well, who’s next?”
[With the holiday season I’ve had little time to write this last couple of months, but here’s part of the next chapter for Darkness Ascending.]
Syb circled the adventuring party’s limp bodies. He tweeted repeatedly in shrill tones, hoping the adventurers would awaken. They did not stir from their slumber. In desperation Syb landed on the shoulder of Dreekt, the skravyn, the most bird-like of the party. Using a claw, he began to scratch an arcane sigil into his armor, between the shoulder blades. He knew what the sigil would eventually do, but he needed to awaken one of the party before it was too late.
– – –
Four skravyn sat around a table. Dreekt and Kreet were fighting over who was going to get the largest portion of dessert. Their father was reading a book, idly shoving food into his mouth, while their mother cut exactingly equal proportions of Wishing Day Sweetbread.
“Now, now you two. I always give you the same portion of dessert. Especially on Wishing Day. Now take your portions and make a wish.” Their mother placed the cuts in front of them and sat down to her own, smaller piece. “Dear,” she addressed the skravyn reading a book, “your piece is on the counter when you finish your meal.”
A knock echoed through the house that made Dreekt hop a meter into the air. As he peaked and began to fall a pain exploded between his shoulder blades and the scene faded.
– – –
Dreekt found himself roaming mists. They weren’t the same mists from the stone visions, but they weren’t too dissimilar. “Hello? Is anyone there?” His voice was muffled by the fog.
“Yes,” a deep voice responded, “I am here.”
Dreekt approached the voice. He saw a skravyn silhouette start to coalesce out of the mist, but something was different about it. Something that made the pain between his shoulder blades pulse to life again.
– – –
Around Dreekt the vision of Wishing Day returned.
The chair clattered to the floor as Dreekt landed on it, unbalanced. He stood up quickly and ran to the door yelling, “I’ll get it!”
The door opened before Dreekt could get to it. A yellow skravyn stepped through the door. “Hello. I believe you are Dreekt, aren’t you?”
Dreekt’s dad put down his book. “You are not welcome here, Balare!” He stood up and approached the doorway.
“You don’t have any say in that. The Sentry request’s Dreekt’s presence.” He held up a hand and a pulse of energy emanated from it. “It is his decision, not yours.”
With a nod Dreekt walked out the door. “I’ll go.”
– – –
Dreekt once again found himself in the mists.
“This is not how that day went, was it?” The deep voice asked.
The figure in the mist was still to far away to make out more than a silhouette. “No, it wasn’t. We had Wishing Day out of the city that year. In the forest.”
“Why do you think that was?”
“Father, he didn’t want Kreet or I leaving to forge our own lives. I’m not sure what his reasoning was, but it seemed right to him.”
The silhouetted skravyn strode forward. It had the markings of a goldfinch, the same as Syb, but it also had wings between its shoulders. “Well, you’re here now. Let’s wake up, shall we?”
“Syb? You’re The Sentry?”
“Yes, cursed to have a finch’s form. Only here, in dreams, can I be what I truly am.” He grabbed Dreekt by the arm, turned him around, and slapped between his shoulder blades, where the sigil had been scribed.
– – –
Dreekt awoke to Syb pecking at his back. He turned over and sat up. He saw his friends lying face down in the dirt around him. Even Enress was affected by this magical sleep. He approached her first. “Syb, whatever you did, does it allow me to enter their dreams as well?”
The goldfinch nodded and landed on Enress’ back. He pecked lightly at the base of her head and chirped at Dreekt.“Well, here goes.” Dreekt reached down and placed his palm on the back of Enress’ neck, where Syb had pecked.
Einar pulled the porcelain mask off his
face. “Can we switch to scarves? This is rubbing against my acne.” He scratched
at his left cheek. “I turned 15 last week anyway. I’m not required to use the
mask now.” He stood around five foot three inches and was very thin with a look
of dexterity about him. He quickly put the mask back on his face when he saw
the stern look in Hildr’s eyes.
Standing three inches taller than Einar,
Hildr sighed deeply. She, too, was thin and dexterous. “Next mission. The mask
must be stained with the blood of your first solo kill. Remember?”
“Fine, fine. Who’s the mark?” Einar grabbed
for the scroll nestled beside the knives and Hildr’s waist.
Hildr slapped his hand away. “Woah, no. Hands
off. You know the protocol.”
“Right. Wait until we’re in the city proper.”
Einar hung his head. “I’m just eager to see what they assigned me…and hope they
have an item I can trace backward. Needs to be relatively fresh, though.”
A smile crept across Hildr’s eyes. “Yes, I
know your gift. We’ve worked together for a couple years now. I wonder, though.
Will I keep you as a partner or put in for another apprentice?”
Einar swung down from the door in the side
of the assassins’ guild tower and down onto a rooftop. “Let’s go. You know you’re
the luckiest mentor to get someone with my gift on the second go.”
“Doesn’t mean you need to be snarky about
it.” Hildr muttered under her breath before following Einar onto the city
rooftops. “Let’s find an alley that’s clear and break the seal on this scroll.
Looks like it came from the top, by the way.”
With a smile hidden behind the porcelain
mask Einar started running along the rooftop. If it were daylight out he would
never risk such a move. The assassins’ guild was not officially recognized, and
as such the guards had carte blanche as to whether they should be shot on sight,
taken in, or ignored all together. Rentaz had a difficult bureaucracy to
navigate, what with it hosting The Council of Zentar in the district known as
The Cave. That would be an interesting
place to try to find a mark. The busiest area of the city aside from the market,
and better watched, too. Einar pulled himself out of his thoughts as he
approached a clear alley. He dropped down and waited for Hildr to follow him
down. She wasn’t far behind.
“Did you do all the checks?” Hildr looked
around the alley then stopped herself. “Oh, right. The Sight.”
Einar nodded. “Let’s see it, then.” He held
his hand out for the scroll. He was now tracing paths backwards from the
scroll, trying to decipher if there was an item on it that could lead to hints
of his mark, but without a specific item in mind the web grew too quickly.
“Catch.” Hildr tossed the scroll toward a
mud puddle, but Einar was there almost before it left her hand, snatching it
out of the air. “You’re getting better at reading people…whichever way you’ve
ended up doing it.”
“Thanks.” Einar broke the seal of Taithleach,
The Sneak, from the scroll and unfurled it. “Is this actually from The Sneak,
or did someone attain the rank of guild master again? I didn’t hear anything,
but last time it took months for the information to trickle down.”
“Nope, no new guild master. Either someone
was told they could use her seal for this, or she sealed it herself. Either way
it’s from her.”
Quickly skimming the scroll Einar confirmed
that it was either written or dictated by The Sneak, because Taithleach had
signed the scroll and stamped it. There was a talisman attached to the scroll
with sealing wax. He traced the feel of the item in his hand backwards through
the many people who had held it recently into The Cave and around the neck of a
man who lived there. He opened his eyes and read the scroll again, this time
looking for the details for the hunt.
Please trace this amulet back to your mark. He is a minor noble in The Cave, though I suspect you traced the amulet back before you read this. His name is Lester Estran. He is a human male and is 32 years of age. You will most likely find him best killed in his chambers, but that may prove difficult to enter. Since you have The Sight you will have better knowledge of his movements than I. Kill him quietly. His death is not to be public. You can stash his body away if there’s someplace convenient and steal his money. This is meant to look like a robbery or mugging gone wrong. I have already alerted the thieves’ guild not to do an investigation into the matter. They do have strict rules about killing on the job, after all.
Taithleach, The Sneak
“Well, I’m off to
The Cave. Are you supposed to go with me? That detail was vague.” Einar shrugged
“The Cave? I have
the option to go with, watch from a distance, or leave you alone.” Hildr hopped
in excitement. “This one? I’m going with, of course.”
Einar nodded then
tensed. “Let’s go, someone’s coming.”
The two of them scurried back up to the rooftops just as a guard rounded the corner. “Hmm…must have been rats and not voices. Let’s keep going.” She turned around and left the alley.
Syb lead the party to the stand of trees. In
the dim light the vines looked even more sinister than before. They writhed of
their own accord and lashed out randomly.
Holding her new stone torch high Enress
approached the vines. “I have only my knuckle dusters. You guys will need to do
most of the attacking.” She grabbed one of the flailing vines and attempted to
hold it down. It started to lift her off her feet. “Or all the attacking…”
With a swift motion Gaemacirch brought his
katana down on the vine, severing it near the base. He quickly ran away from
the swarming masses of vines swatting at him. “Well, you can still be useful.”
He smiled slightly at Enress. “Though, I suppose we should not grab these. If
it can lift an automaton it will fling any one of the rest of us.”
“Agreed.” Burner moved forward to the vine
and studied it. “Hmm…I’ve never seen this kind of vine before. Julian?”
Moving forward to get a better look Julian
shrugged. “I’m not really good with this sort of thing. It was Adalet’s area.”
Enress sighed. “Let me get a better look.
Shine your lantern here, Julian.” She pointed at the end of the vine. The vine
squirted a purple liquid in Enress’ eye. “Well, good thing I’m a construct,
because that would have been very damaging to you organics.” She wiped the
liquid from her face. “It’s a purple deathgrip. The purple comes from the
poison’s color, since the vine itself is green. Also, if it constricts you pray
to your god that it grabs you around the ankle so you don’t die from it.
There’s also rumors that they’re animals and not plants.”
“Great.” Dreekt put his taloned finger out
and Syb landed on it. “Let’s keep you close.”
Syb tweeted something at Dreekt than perched
himself on the left shoulder.
Dreekt pulled out his dagger, Julian readied
his axes, and Burner readied her rapier.
“Well, dim as it is, sunlight is better than
night. Let’s go.” Burner moved forward, stabbing at any vine that dared move in
Following Burner’s lead, the rest of the
adventurers followed behind. Gaem cutting through vines, and everyone else slashing
Before too long the party found themselves
in a clearing filled with the bones of some ancient creature. After a moment of
silence as the party tried to process what kind of creature the bones could’ve
originated from Enress spoke up.
“That’s a cyclops skull. It only has the one
eye socket, but that’s a pretty big skull. A giant cyclops maybe?”
Dreekt nodded. “I’ve heard stories about
ancient creatures that were larger than their modern forms, but that would’ve been
millennia ago. These would be dust.”
“Let’s just be glad,” Gaemacirch
interjected, “that we don’t have to fight this thing.”
As the party began moving around the cyclops
bones the shriek of jekawir pierced the air. There were at least three distinct
“That’s not good.” Julian grabbed his
handaxes and looked to the sky.
Burner started humming a dissonant tune. “Get
ready.” She pulled her bow from her back and notched an arrow. “Take them down
as soon as you see them.”
The grotesque sight of the jekawir assaulted
the eyes of the adventuring group. The neckless creatures had pink humanoid
skin with tufts of grey fur that seemed placed on them at random. They had
large wings that were bat-like, and had legs like those of a frog, but with
human hands where the feet would be. Their tongues lolled out of their toothy
mouths and were accompanied by a noxious breath that made it hard to focus.
Burner and Julian launched their attacks at
the jekawir first. Burner’s arrow pierced the hide of one of the creatures, while
Julian’s handaxes fell harmlessly to the ground. He had underestimated the
Dreekt shot a bolt of arcane energy into the
sky. He didn’t end up hitting the jekawir, but he caused the injured one to
swoop towards the ground, creating an opening for Gaemacirch to swing at it.
With a mighty swing, Gaemacirch’s katana
beheaded the jekawir. The head of the creature went flying and knocked another jekawir
out of the air and onto its back. “Well, that worked out pretty good.”
The jekawir that was knocked to the ground
righted itself and flapped towards Gaemacirch. The one still in the air swooped
down and attacked Gaemacirch with the sharp nails at the end of its humanoid
hand-feet. It missed and shrieked in Gaemacirch’s face, getting its noxious
breath directly into his face, then Enress punched it in the face with her
knuckle dusters, surprising it more than hurting it with a glancing blow.
Swapping to her rapier Burner walked up to the
uninjured jekawir and jabbed at it, forcing it to jump to the side and leaving
an opening for the next person to attack it. Seeing the opening Julian ran for
one of his axes, picked it up, and chucked it at the jekawir. The flat of the
axe hit the creature in the back, causing it to cry out in pain.
Drawing his quarterstaff Dreekt turned and
whacked at the jekawir that Enress had punched. He forced it to lose some
balance, but he was unable to hit it. Seeing Dreekt set up yet another jekawir
for him Gaemacirch swung at the creature with his katana. He wasn’t able to hit
it, but it completely lost its balance and fell on its back. It hopped back up
and bit at Dreekt, ripping through the flesh of his arm, ripping out feathers and
exposing his skin.
The second jekawir slashed at Gaemacirch
with its wings. It didn’t hit, but caused Enress to lose some of her balance as
the wings slashed around in the same area she was occupying. In retaliation she
punched it in the chest, expecting to wind it, but she found extra resistance
“Are these things designed to take hits or
something?” Enress stared at the creatures. “These don’t look natural.”
“We can talk about it later. Just focus on
taking them down!” Burner jabbed at the jekawir that had just bit Dreekt. She also
found resistance just under the skin. “You may be on to something, though.”
Julian picked up his other axe and tossed it
at the same jekawir that Burner had just attacked. “Take some more of this!” The
axe buried itself into the creature’s hid and hung there. “That’s not what I
Seeing the creature in front of him was
barely standing Dreekt swung at it again. He missed and forced the creature to
bump its companion off balance, opening up yet another advantage for
“Look, I appreciate you creating opening and
all, but could you also do some damage?” Gaemacirch sliced at the jekawir that
was off-balance. He sliced its head off its non-existent neck and the swing continued
through to finish off the other jekawir as well.
“Ok,” Burner said, “let’s take a quick
break, and I’ll see if I can learn anything about how these jekawir tick.” After
ten or so minutes she had one of the creatures, the one Gaemacirch hadn’t
beheaded, flayed open. “Hmm…it seems the place where the neck would be is the
weakest area. No surprise since that’s how two of the three of them were
“Interesting, but we need to get to Slapper. Let’s get moving again, shall we?” Julian motioned at the next wall of writhing vines. “These vines seem more active than the ones we’ve already moved through. They may prove to be more of a hassle.”
“Hey, Daren. Can you stay a little later tonight? I need some help restocking the shelves.” Cal pulled a cart of boxes from the storage room. “Just got that new RPG lineup in. I’ll start rearranging now if you’re cool manning the register by yourself.”
“Yeah, no problem. I’m feeling
a lot better now. Mom won’t let me leave home without that drink powder.”
Cal started restacking some
board games. “When’s that storm gonna pass, you think? I’m getting a buzz in
the back of my head.”
A customer entered the store
and walked up to the counter. “So, I was wondering if you guys have an RPG
night. You know where people show up to join or run campaigns or one-shot
“We tried a few times but there
wasn’t much interest, so we stopped advertising it.” Daren looked over at Cal.
“Hey, Cal. He wants to know if we have an RPG night.”
Setting down the games he was
rearranging Cal made his way to the counter. “Game master or player?”
Cal had decided to completely
rearrange the store, not just the stock. “You can stay really late, right? It’s
Friday.” He started lifting one end of a shelf.
“Yeah, I have no plans.” Daren
grabbed the other end of the shelf and followed Cal’s lead to the corner of the
store. “I was wondering what you know about werewolves, though.”
“Always carry silverware. Not
the cheap stuff, the actual silver stuff.” Cal chuckled. “Joking aside, that
depends on what kind of werewolf. I’ve never met a real one, so I don’t know
anything first hand.”
Daren nodded as they set the
shelf down. “Yeah. My grimoire’s fairly non-specific on what myths and legends
are true, and what ones aren’t.”
“One thing I know is that
wolf’s bane should repel them and that they transform under a full moon. Other
than that, some legends have proto-werewolves that wear wolf’s skin to control
their transformation. Either those werewolves are actually shape shifters or
they used the skin to temporarily cut themselves from the moon cycle.” Cal
moved over to the next shelf. “Let’s put that one on the other side.” He
grabbed one end while Daren grabbed the other.
“Why the sudden interest in werewolves?
I can feel a faint presence on you. The taste of werewolf is faint, but it’s
there…along with something else stronger.” Cal almost dropped the shelf and
carefully set it down. His eyes were wide. “Who have you been talking to?”
Daren set the shelf down. “Just
some new kids at school. Why?”
“I feel the trace of vampires
on you. Two different kinds though I can’t quite tell which. One’s a blood
vampire, but the other…”
“Wait, other kinds of vampires?
I’ve only heard of the one kind. What’re the others? Hold on a sec.” Daren
jogged to the employee’s room and grabbed his grimoire and a pen then jogged
Cal had started moving some of
the smaller items in the shop. “Oh, gonna take some notes?”
“There’s nothing in here about
other types of vampires. If there are others I should write it down.”
“Okay. According to various
myths there’s some vampire-like creatures that feed off things other than
blood. They have all the other characteristics that are commonly attributed to
vampires. Undead as in reanimated, fast, able to persuade others easily. All
the minor powers and the ability to live forever if they are undisturbed. Also,
vampires aren’t affected by garlic. They are affected by aloe, though.”
“What other things can they
“Let’s see, life-force is one.
It’s different from blood sucking because those fed upon by blood suckers
aren’t necessarily made weaker by it.” Cal sat down in one of the chairs.
“Another is a psychic vampire. They can feed off the thoughts or the emotions
of others. If they are around a lot of people they can go unnoticed for
extended periods of time, but if they feed off only a few then those people
become emotionless husks.”
Daren was furiously writing in
his grimoire. “Emotionless husks. Do they feed actively like blood drinking
“The life-force ones do, but
the psychic vampires feed automatically. Also, unlike the other two they don’t
become physically sluggish if they overeat, they become mentally sluggish.
Though I’ve never heard of a psychic vampire overeating on purpose I suppose
“How do they accidentally
overeat? That doesn’t make sense.”
“If they are around trauma they
can absorb too much of the emotion. I’ve seen it-“ Cal caught himself. “I can’t
talk about that, though. Anything else before we move more shelves?”
Daren set his grimoire down on
the counter. “No, not if you won’t talk about the things you’ve seen. Let’s
move some more shelves.”
“The new kids are what?!” Neta Medakus was brewing in the
basement when Daren told her what Cal said. “Are you still planning on talking
with them on Sunday?”
Daren nodded. “If they were
going to do something they could do it at any moment. You know that.”
“I’m coming with. I’ll get the
Neta pulled two spray bottles
from a shelf. One was labeled wolf’s bane and the other was labeled aloe.
“These spray bottles.” She motioned at the small, three-inch-tall bottles with
press sprayers on them.
Daren stared at them for a
moment. “That’s what those are for?”
“Yes, protection. I expect that
if they were too deviant that the council would do something about it, but just
in case I’ll put spray bottles around the house.”
“Hey, you haven’t heard from
dad lately, have you? I have questions that I want to ask him.”
Neta smiled sadly. “I haven’t.
I’ll ask Octavianus if he can get ahold of him for you though. We talked
“Octavianus? Why were you
talking with him?”
“He’s trying to get me on the
council. I’m not even a warlocke, I’m just an herbalist. I don’t know his full
reasons, never could read that vampire.” Neta sighed. “It would make it easier
to get in contact with Darek though.”
“It’d be his seat, right? Kind
of a temporary member?”
“Maybe. Octavianus wants to
keep me on when your father gets back, but I don’t know about that. For now,
let’s focus on what to do for Sunday.”
Cal was playing with his
rottweiler, Shanta, on Sunday when he felt three presences getting closer.
Shaking his head, he looked at Shanta. “Well, girl. If we’re done playing round
up with the cows we should go check on Daren. It seems his friends from down
the lane are visiting.”
Shanta barked happily.
“Yes, you’ll get to see Daren.
Let’s go.” Cal connected Shasta’s leash and started walking down the driveway.
“Don’t let me forget to grain the cows on the way back.”
Shanta started walking down the
driveway and onto the road. She was walking so fast Cal had to jog to keep
himself from being pulled over.
“Whoa, girl. We don’t need to
go this fast. Calm down.”
Neta and Daren were waiting in
a clearing in the small forested area behind the house. Sara, Jayse, and John
walked into the clearing and were surprised to see Neta there too.
“Who’s that?” John asked as he
walked closer. “I didn’t think you were inviting anyone.”
“I’m his mother, Neta.”
“Ah, are you a warlocke then?”
Jayse asked, walking forward with Sara.
“Just an herbalist, I’m afraid.
Though that means I know how to deal with your kind.” Neta pulled out the spray
bottles. “I came armed in case anything funky happens.”
As she said this Shanta came
running up the path and tackled Daren. She was yipping playfully.
“Sorry, I couldn’t keep up, so
I let her off the leash.” Cal was able to get out between pants. “I’ll just sit
down over here and catch my breath.” He dropped down onto the grass in lotus
“Shanta, get off me! I’ll get
you a treat, just let me stand up.”
Barking happily Shanta licked
Daren’s face and removed her paws from his chest. Then she sat on her haunches,
waiting for the dog treat.
“Here,” Daren pulled a bit of
jerky out of his pocket and gave it to Shanta, “and next time don’t tackle me.”
Shanta took the stiff jerky and
started chewing on it, content for the moment.
“So, who’s that?” John motioned
“I’m Cal Stver, Daren’s boss. I
came over for a surprise visit. Shanta loves Daren for some reason.” Cal stood
up. “I just think he’s a lazy employee, even if he works late on Fridays.” He
noticed Daren was carrying his grimoire. “If I’m interrupting something
important then I can come back later. Shanta won’t leave for at least an hour
Jayse perked up. “Stver? I know
that from somewhere…where do I know that name from?”
“It’s an old Armenian family.
If he’s from the American branch, there’s no problems.” Sara patted Jayse on
the shoulder. “Nothing’s wrong here.”
“No, it’s something else. One
of the boxes…Stver, you’re coming with me. We’ll be right back.”
Before Neta could even think
about using the spray bottle Jayse and Cal disappeared. Shanta whined softly.
“He’ll be right back, girl.
Don’t worry.” Daren looked at Sara. “He will be right back, right?”
Sara sighed. “I think so. I
have no idea what he was talking about.”
“Some of the boxes came last
night,” John said. “The ones from Hilsonville. I’m not sure which ones though.”
“As long as he doesn’t forget
to tell Erik he’s bringing someone in the house. Erik hates it when Jayse does
stuff like this without telling him.”
“Erik?” Daren asked, “I thought
you three lived alone.”
“We have to have a fake
guardian. Jayse is pretending to be a Junior. I don’t know why.” John sighed.
“Well, back to the conversation at hand. I want to break from the moon cycle.
What do I need to do to gain that sort of trust from you?”
“Daren,” Neta stared into
John’s eyes, “can you do that? You’ve never done anything that complicated.”
John didn’t break eye contact
with Neta. “A Medakus warlocke can do it. I know your line, and I know the
original name of your line. If there’s a spell that can be cast, a Medakus can
“You say you go by Ainsley. Will the council know of you by that name?” “No, but if you ask Andali Windspeaker if he vouches for John, son of Thomas I assure you he will.”
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…”