Cerdic the Usual – Ch. 8

Grimm let go of the vampire Patrick and fell back in a defensive position in front of Cerdic. Veron was up and running away from the confrontation. He knew he couldn’t help and motioned for Cerdic to follow.

With a small shake of his head, indicating he wasn’t going to leave, Cerdic watched Jeremy as he started to cast a spell. The geometric shapes forming in the air in front of his waving hands reminded Cerdic of the residual shapes on the tire, and they were aimed directly at Eric’s center of mass. Without hesitation Cerdic yelled, “look out!” and tackled Eric to the ground. The magic went over the two of them and hit a nearby fence post, reducing it to ash.

Eric looked at the fence post and back at Cerdic. “Uh, thanks…how did you…?”

“Later, Eric!” Henry yelled. “We need to deal with Jeremy first!”

Cerdic rolled off Eric and helped him to his feet. “He’s using some sort of aging magic. Be careful.”

“I see that now…my only question is, how did you? But Henry is right. We have a more immediate concern.” Eric moved his left hand and gripped his grimoire with his right. As he made motions Cerdic saw a barrier appear in front of Eric. It covered his body, but his arms were on the outside. He decided that was so Eric could cast through the barrier.

“Grimm. Be careful.” Cerdic turned and joined Veron behind a nearby rock.

Giving a small bark of recognition, Grimm tried to bite Jeremy in the leg, but Jeremy was prepared. He sent a blast of energy at Grimm then turned to ward off a spell from Henry. Grimm was pushed back towards the rock Veron and Cerdic were hiding behind and stood there, menacingly.

Veron nudged Cerdic. “Jeremy is a powerful warlock. Grimm probably wouldn’t be able to get into his inner defense. Let’s just watch.”

“Fine.”

Henry grabbed his grimoire from his side and flipped it open. He turned to a page near the middle and cast a spell on Patrick, the now prone vampire. Tendrils of dark energy erupted from the ground and bound him in place. “We shouldn’t have to worry about you recovering, now.” He turned towards Jeremy. “Two on one, do you think you can take both of us?”

“Maybe. Let’s find out.” Jeremy grabbed his grimoire and opened it to the last page, then he stuck his arm elbow deep into the page. When he pulled his arm back out it was covered in dark black ink, and he held a strange bone in his hand. “The bone of a great old one, broken.” He snapped the bone and Cerdic saw a rush of shapeless energy engulf Jeremy. “Blood of the warlock, freshly spilled.” He took a bone fragment and stabbed it deep into his forearm.

“We need to stop him!” Eric yelled at Henry. “Hit him with everything you have!”

“Okay!” Henry began making exaggerated motions with his hands. “Veron! Run!” He shot a deep red mass of energy at Jeremy. Cerdic noticed, as he turned to run, that the geometry was jagged and unfinished. It seemed to him that the spell was not yet perfected, like Henry was still working on it.

As the mass of energy splashed into Jeremy the energy surrounding him dissipated it into his surroundings. A deep gash appeared in the ground in front of and to the sides of where he was standing. “Impressive. I didn’t know you had spells that would kill, Aelfson.”

With Jeremy’s attention on Henry, Eric attempted to shoot smaller, more precise spells at the energy surrounding their foe. He was casting many small, slightly different iterations trying to see what would get through his shield.

“Now, where was I? Oh, yes. Just after blood of warlock freshly spilled.” Jeremy stuck his arm back into the page of his grimoire and pulled a wand from it. “Wand of wizard, ground to dust.” He cast a spell on the wand and it started to disintegrate, leaving a small pile in the palm of his hand. “Ingested for power unleashed on good.” He swallowed the pile of dust with a slight cough then strode over to his vampire companion. “Sorry, Pat, but I need you to hold still.”

One of the small missile spells Eric had been pounding the energy with broke through. The green flames it was sporting burned up Jeremy’s arm for a moment. “Dragonfire spells! They break through!”

“Shast!” Henry began flipping through his grimoire. “I have one in here somewhere.”

Eric began mumbling something in Latin and moving his arm in very specific, practiced ways. “Draco,” was the last word he mumbled as he shot a green ball at Jeremy.

Laughing hysterically Jeremy reached up and grabbed the ball of dragonfire. “Oh, yes. It breaks through, but I knew it would. I have wards against dragonfire all over my body, Eric!” He gripped the bone in his other hand. “With the bone of Bugg-Shash I sacrifice this vampire and call you forth again!” He began moving the bone down towards Patrick’s prone form when an arrow flew through the air and shot the bone from his hand. It landed in the dirt a few feet away.

In surprise and anger Jeremy looked up to see Cerdic holding a small crossbow tied to his wrist.

“Where was that?” Veron looked at Cerdic’s arm. “You definitely didn’t have that before.

“Parting gift from Tibdast. Said I would know when to use it.” Cerdic loaded another bolt into the crossbow. “Apparently that energy doesn’t protect you from mundane weapons.”

“I was with you the whole time. When did he give you that?”

Cerdic shrugged. “Remember when we went out to the car? You went outside first, and he came back and gave it to me.”

“Mundane weapons, eh?” Henry smiled broadly and pulled three throwing knives from his jacket. “Perfect.” He tossed the three knives at once and they buried into Jeremy’s right chest, shredding his lung.

“Stupid treefting Usual!” Jeremy shouted as he started coughing up blood. He took a few steps away from Patrick then fell backwards.

Eric nodded at Cerdic. “Good job. You have a good head on your shoulders.” He walked over to Patrick. “Well, let’s see what the council wants to do with you and your friend, shall we?”

Patrick said something intelligible.

Henry cautiously approached Jeremy, who was still coughing up blood. “Is the energy gone?”

With a glance Cerdic saw the energy was dissipating into the ground. “It will be soon. Give it a moment.”

“I wasn’t asking you, but you seem to know what you’re saying.” Henry waited a few seconds then approached the warlock. “We’ll get that lung fixed up at the council hall. Let’s go.” He carefully picked Jeremy up and teleported immediately.

Eric shook his head. “I’ll be going too. I’ll send a car to pick you two up…” He looked at Veron’s car for the first time since the spells started slinging around. “Uh…and I’ll see about replacing that.” The back-passenger door fell off the car. It was the last door still on it, and the rest of the car was covered in dents and burns.

“Great. I guess I better get my stuff out of it.”

– – –

Veron was able to talk the driver into giving him the car and teleporting back to where he had come from and was currently sitting behind the wheel of a sleek black car with tinted windows. “This is a nice car. I’m pretty sure it’s also warded up.”

“Yeah, it seems to be.” Cerdic looked around the car and saw a lot of overlapping triangles and squares.

“What do you mean?”

Cerdic shrugged. “I started seeing things. I think it has something to do with Grimm.”

With a nod of understanding Veron took a right turn on the road. “Yeah, bonding with a supernatural creature can do things, for sure. Never heard of a Usual having the Eyes of the Magus, though.” He paused. “You do have a bond with a church grim, though. That’s extremely unusual for anyone, especially a Usual.”

“It’s starting to sound like I may not be a Usual.” Cerdic said, jokingly.

“You jest, but that may just be true. I think we need to take a short detour.”

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The Fractured Mountains: Darkness Ascending Ch. 23

[Just a note, I kept forgetting to update the titles of The Fractured Mountains to the title of the first book of what I hope will end up a series, Darkness Ascending. I know that the story will not be wrapped up by the end of the first book. I also want to let you know that the adventures of Kreet and crew will eventually be laid out in the book Oceans Ablaze, which will likely turn into multiple books as well.]

Gaemacirch was scouting ahead of the group. Something that Burner didn’t normally ask them to do, but she was starting to get paranoid that something would attack out of the blue. She was sure it was just her being high-strung with the sidetracks to continuing north, but she still decided to heed the feeling. Julian was bringing up the rear, keeping an eye out for things coming from behind when he noticed that it was starting to get dark.

“Is it really that late already?” Julian studied the sky for a moment. “I didn’t think we left town this late.”

Dreekt shrugged. “The month is ending soon, so winter solstice is almost here. I assumed the days were just getting shorter from that.”

“I suppose so.” Julian looked back at the landscape behind them. “Just seems the days are getting shorter faster than they normally do.”

As the sun set on the party Burner called Gaemacirch back to look for a good campsite. Not long afterward Julian had to pull out his hooded lantern. “Ok, it’s definitely not supposed to be this dark already.” He pointed into the sky. “That’s the sun. What’s going on here?”

Burner followed Julian’s arm to look at the sun. “By the fount! What’s going on?”

No sooner did the words escape Burner’s mouth than an answer echoed across the plains. “Darkness is ascending.” A tall, slim human with short black hair and a short-cropped beard wearing scholarly robes and holding a strange, glowing red stone on a stick like it was a torch approached from the darkness.

“Who are you?” Burner looked at the human strangely, and why is a scholar out here?

Dreekt chuckled. “He’s a historian, not a scholar.” He waved at the human. “Well, hello there, Stigr.”

“The Pathfinder will do. You haven’t earned the right to call me by my first name yet.” Stigr nodded at Dreekt. “Though you will eventually, Wings.”

“Wings?”

“Oops…can’t say anymore. Spoilers.” Stigr blushed slightly. “We tend to meet out of order.”

Gaemacirch walked into the circle of light. “Hey, so it’s getting hard for me to see, and I grew up in Dark Under. Somethings…oh, hello traveler.” He bowed slightly. “I’m Gaemacirch, but people call me Gaem.”

“Call me The Pathfinder.” Stigr nodded even more slightly to Gaemacirch. “I believe you may be coming to the conclusion I came to warn you about.”

“Darkness is ascending from the depths, yes?” Gaemacirch motioned at the darkness around them. “It’s getting thick like the depths of Dark Under. The parts we were told to never wander, even in groups.”

Stigr nodded. “Yes, exactly. I also came to tell you that you must rescue Slapper. He is integral to the future.” He then turned to Enress. “Here, Enress.” He handed her his strange torch. “Keep the stone safe. You’ll know what to do with it when you get there.” With a big smile Stigr disappeared.

“Well, that was foreboding.” Enress looked at the stone torch. “I have no idea what this is, but he seemed to think I would.”

Dreekt pulled out the black stone in the dagger and held it up to the red stone. The dagger leaped from his hand and the stones pressed together. The rattling they made was the same sound two smooth magnetite stones make when they pull together, only louder. The darkness around the adventuring company thinned out as if clean water was poured into a pool of muddy water, then the darkness slowly started flowing back in.

“That wasn’t expected.” Dreekt pulled the dagger from the stone torch. “I expect that there’s some way to make that more powerful. Cleanse the whole realm.”

– – –

When the company finally came to a halt for their rest the chill of the night forced them to scrounge around the plains for sticks to light a fire. Enress offered to keep watch all night again, but Burner insisted on having regular watch rotations on top of that. They had no way of knowing what else was ascending with the darkness.

The first few watches went without a hitch, but when Burner was talking the third watch there was an unmissable rattle that was coming closer and closer to the campsite.

“What is that?” Burner asked, walking toward Enress. “You do hear it too, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do.” Enress held the torch higher into the air, increasing the radius of light. A glint of white was just visible on the edge of the lit area. “Could be that.” She pointed at the glint. “I don’t know what it is, though.”

From the darkness six shambling skeletons approached with bits of shadow seeming to billow off of them like cloaks in an invisible wind.

“Everyone, wake up!” Burner turned to shake Gaemacirch awake. “Shadow skeletons are attacking! Six of them.”

Running forward to engage with the creatures Enress threw a punch at the gut of one skeleton, missing because it had not gut. “Shast.”

In response to the swing the shadow skeletons moved in and started to siphon Enress’ life energy away from her. The shadowy bits seemed to grow larger as she felt her life essence being drained.

Swinging again, with more carefully aimed punches, Enress’ spiked brass knuckles shattered the skull of one of the shadow skeletons.

Burner helped Gaemacirch to his feet then slung an arrow at the nearest shadow skeleton’s neck, breaking its head off and sending it to careen into another one.

Getting to his feet Gaemacirch approached and tossed a kunai at one of the shadow skeletons. The kunai passed through a pair of ribs and landed on the ground behind it.

The shadow skeletons were not deterred in their attempts to drain Enress’ life energy and drew even more life from the automaton, healing in the process.

Dreekt stood and tossed a spell at the shadow skeletons, causing a third to fall to the ground in pieces.

As the shadow skeleton fell, Julian’s axe flew through the air and nicked one of the shadow skeletons.

Seeing the shadow skeletons starting to fall Enress punched at the one closest to her. Its arms were outstretched to drain her life essence, but they did not keep the blows from hitting it and turning it to splinters.

With his katana Gaemacirch brought one to the brink and burned it badly. He assumed it was able to stand because it was being bolstered by the life energy being drained from Enress.

Burner shot an arrow at the neck of the shadow skeleton Gaemacirch had almost taken out and severed its head from its body as well.

The last shadow skeleton siphoned life from Enress and used it to bring back its ally whose head had just been severed. The head reattached to the spine and the shadow skeleton stood back up.

A spell passed by one of the shadow skeletons as Dreekt made an opening for Julian to move forward to attack in melee.

Julian approached and brought the flat of his axe’s blade up to smack the shadow skeleton’s head back off. He wasn’t sure if it would work, but it did.

With a final flurry of hits Enress reduced the remaining shadow skeleton to splinters. She then began gathering the bones.

“What are you doing?” Burner asked, not sure what to make of the arrival of the creatures.

Enress didn’t look up from her task. “I’m gathering the remains up to burn them. You know what these things are, is that a good idea?”

“Yes, if there are anymore shadow skeletons, they would be able to bring these ones back if we don’t dispose of them.” Burner sat down heavily. “I don’t know why creatures from Darkfall are doing in Nevre, but it must have something to do with this rising darkness…” She stopped talking, falling deep into thought.

Gaemacirch helped Enress collect the bones to throw on the fire. “The veil must be weakened between here and Darkfall if they’re appearing, right?”

Burner nodded. “Let’s hurry and get Slapper. It’s not going to get any brighter out than this, and then we need to get to Magnus. I’m sure this has something to do with what’s drawing me northward.”

“Yes, let’s hurry. I’m getting a bad feeling.” Julian started packing up his area of the camp. “I wish Adalet was here. She would know what’s going on. She always seemed to, anyway.”

Enress patted Julian on the shoulder. “Hey, let’s get to Slapper. We’ll piece this together as we go.”

“You’re right. Let’s get moving.”

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The Fractured Mountains – Ch. 22

Burner and Dreekt sat next to Hereweald’s bed while Gaemacirch paced back and forth.

“Isn’t there some magic you can use to speed his recovery?” Gaemacirch asked.

Standing from the chair Burner approached Hereweald. “Have your burns healed?”

“Mostly.” Hereweald tried to move his arm to take off some of the bandages but was unable to take them off. “I think I lost some muscle. My strength isn’t the same.”

“The muscle will come back with exercise. I can, however, speed the healing in your limbs some more.” Burner reached for a magic that she didn’t use very often, and it pushed back against her. “I’m sorry, I can’t access it now. I don’t do this type of healing magic very often.”

Dreekt stood from the bed. “Let me try. We just want to speed his body’s recovery, right?” Burner nodded at him. “I’ll give it a shot.” Articulating his taloned fingers Dreekt focused his magic over Hereweald’s body. He slowly spread his arms wide spreading the magic across Hereweald’s body. The magic spread and the burns began to heal slowly, but noticeably.

“At that rate, you should be able to start rehabilitation tomorrow. Just don’t overdo anything, okay?” Burner watched the burns covering over with scars. “You’ll also get to tell people how you got those scars.”

“What, like, ‘you know how I got these scars?’”

“Exactly.”

– – –

Enress and Julian found themselves at the Blue Flagon. Samuel was behind the small bar polishing a mug with his lower set of arms. He was counting some coins on the counter and a small group was drinking around one of the tables.

“Oh, hello Julian. How may I help you?” Samuel slid a few of the coins into a money box and the other amount into his other upper hand. He set the mug on the counter and started walking towards the group in the corner. “I just need to give this group their change back.” The cohzen jingled as he walked to the table. “Here you go. You’re change.”

“Thanks Sam.”

Julian recognized the man’s voice as one of the surviving guards from the strange salamander attack. He pulled some cohzen out of his coin purse and handed it to Samuel. “The next round is on me, Sam.”

“I’m sure they’ll appreciate it. Now, what did you say you wanted?” He counted the cohzen and handed a coin back to Julian.

“We were just going to wait for Burner, Dreekt, and Gaem here.” Enress answered. “I believe they were off to get the quarterstaff of fatigue or something like that.”

“So, you did take care of the Dark Under entrance.” A look of relief passed over Samuel’s amphibian face. “That’s good. I believe they would have gone to visit Hereweald after that.”

“They told us they would be here. We are a bit early, though.” Julian sat on a stool by the bar. “Know anything about vines that move of their own accord?”

“Yes, they come from Dark Under, I think, and they can be cut down with magical blades. I think regular blades won’t be able to take them down, or they have more resistance. Something like that.” Samuel picked up another mug and started to polish it. “If you don’t have any you can find some in the shop down the street, or if you have a magic weapon and it’s not bladed, I think the local smith might be able to help with that. He’s actually a priest of The Smith.” He set down the mug and picked up a plate. “He reforges them or something. It has to be a metal weapon, though. He can’t remake wooden weapons.”

Julian nodded. “Thanks for the information. I think I’ll have something to drink. Do you have any red dragon crush?”

“Why, certainly.”

– – –

Dreekt opened the door to the Blue Flagon and saw Julian at the bar drinking a deep red wine and talking with Enress and Samuel. “Hi, Sam!” He walked over. “Burner and Gaem are getting some supplies at the shop nearby. Did you guys need anything?”

“Yes.” Enress stood up and started for the door. “I’ll meet up with them there…where is it?” She paused in the threshold.

“Go left out the door then take a right. Can’t miss the sign.” Dreekt waved as she left. “Well, Julian, how’s the wine?”

“It’s pissy.”

“What?”

Samuel laughed lightly. “It’s a joke. The sap that’s used for the recipe is known as red dragon piss.”

“Oh,” Dreekt shrugged, “that’s an interesting name. Anyway, is there anything you wanted, Julian?”

“Enress will get it. We ran into a snag going to help Slapper. There were vines moving around.” Julian shrugged and took another sip of the wine. “She’s pretty sure that Slapper’s in there, so we came back to get you guys to help. After that maybe we can be on our way to Rentaz.”

“One can hope.” Dreekt glanced around the tavern inn. “Where’s Syb, anyway?”

Julian chuckled and pulled his cloak open. Syb poked his head out and then ducked back in. “Seems he feels unwelcome in a bar.”

“As long as he doesn’t bomb anyone’s food or drink, he’ll be fine.” Samuel smiled at Syb. “You can come on out, little birdy.”

Syb hopped onto the bar and chirped at Samuel, annoyedly.

– – –

At Yellow Mercantile and Weapons, Burner and Gaemacirch were looking through some food supplies when Enress entered the shop. She told them about the strange vines and what Samuel had said about needing magical blades and they took a moment to look around the shop.

“Excuse me, shopkeep, but do you have any magically enhanced blades?” Burner approached the gnome standing behind the counter.

The gnome smiled. “You won’t find them out there with the cheap weapons, but I may have some in the back.” He looked over at Gaemacirch and the large katana on his back. “Or I could enchant something you already have.” He pointed at the weapon. “That looks like it could do some large damage with a little bit of magic enhancement.”

Gaemacirch walked over to join Burner. “Did you say something about my blade?”

“Why yes, if you bought a weapon from me, I’d give you half price on enchanting the one you already have.”

“Enress,” Burner called back, “do you see a weapon that would suit you?”

“Yes.” Enress had stopped to stare at a pair of nasty looking knuckle dusters with large spikes on them. “Would that be something my cut would cover?”

“I believe so. How much for the brass knuckles?” Burner started talking pricing with the gnome and paid him the cohzen they settled on for the weapon, the enchantment, and the food.

“Now then, my zarx friend, what do you want as an enchantment on this blade?” The gnome rubbed his small, thick hands together. “You can make it even more vicious, or you can make it deal more damage, or you can add an elemental damage to it. Mostly whatever you want!”

“Fire damage would be interesting. Especially with what we’re going to fight next.” Gaemacirch nodded to Enress. “Do you agree?”

“Most certainly.”

The gnome smiled widely. “I’ll be back in a bit, then. Feel free to continue browsing while I’m gone.”

After a few minutes the gnome returned. “Okay, the enchantment was successful. This will deal quite a bit of fire damage when you strike with it. The blade was finely made, and the enchantment was easily woven.”

“How much for the rapier with the electric damage?” Burner was looking at a list of available enchanted weapons on the wall.

“Well, that’s not as powerful as what I just did with your friend’s blade, but if you trade in your old rapier it won’t be too much cohzen.”

– – –

Resupplied and rearmed Burner, Dreekt, Enress, Gaemacirch, and Julian began to follow Syb back to the writhing vines in a small stand of trees in the northern plains.

“As long as we head north as soon as we finish with this. I don’t want to go back to town again.” Burner turned her head to look in the direction of Frozen Pinnacle. “I am still being drawn to Magnus. I don’t believe he is the one I’m looking for exactly, but he will lead me there.”

Enress nodded. “I will continue with you after we find Slapper, if that’s fine with you.”

“If you wish to continue with us there’s a contract I need you to sign.”

“That wouldn’t be a problem.” Enress smiled at Julian’s back. “Not a problem at all.”

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Medakus Grimoires: Mendacium – Ch. 2

It was a cold morning. The pickup keys were in the ignition and Daren tossed his bag in the back. He slipped into the driver’s seat and turned the keys. The truck didn’t start. It made a clicking noise and Daren hit his head against the top of the steering wheel in exasperation. “I guess I’m walking today.”

He got out of the pickup and pulled his bag from the bed. He walked to the street and looked up and down before he started to cross. As he did so he saw the school bus coming. “Sweet, the bus hasn’t gone by yet!”

The school bus pulled up, Woodfalls Oregon School District stood out in black text against the yellow of the paintjob. The bus driver slowed the bus and stopped in front of the driveway. He waved at Daren to cross.

Daren walked up the steps onto the bus and nodded at the driver.

“Truck won’t start?”

“Yeah, cold snap got the battery. I was lucky you hadn’t gone by yet.”

“I guess it’s a good thing I’m behind schedule today. Find a seat.”

Walking down the aisle Daren sat down in a group of empty benches and tried to avoid the stares. He had only ridden the bus a few times in the last two years. He was glad he was the last stop on the route. As the thought of him being the last stop passed through his mind the bus stopped at the bottom of the hill and three students boarded.

Daren looked over at one of the other students on the bus who was staring at his phone. “Who’re they?”

“I don’t know, they’re new. It’s the first time the bus stopped here.” The student never looked up from his phone.

The three students filed back to where Daren was and sat in the empty seats. They all looked like seniors or juniors.

“Hello,” Daren said, “I’m Daren.”

The two boys muttered their hellos but didn’t offer their names. The girl didn’t even say hello. The rest of the bus ride to the high school was uneventful.

– –

Daren walked into his first period chemistry class. He shuffled by Mr. Hans and took his regular stool. He put his bag on the stool next to his and pulled out his textbook just as the tardy bell rang.

“Good morning class. We have a new student today.” Mr. Hans sounded excited if only to get the attention of his students. “Let’s welcome Ms…uh.” He looked down at his attendance sheet. “Ah, Ms. Sara Ainsley to our class.”

There was a half-hearted round of applause.

Mr. Hans nodded. “Yes, why don’t you introduce yourself?” He motioned Sara to step forward.

Sara was somewhat short for a senior and had dyed her waist length hair crimson. “You already know I’m Sara I guess. Uh, I’m from Hilsonville, Washington. It’s kinda in the middle of nowhere in northern Washington.”

“Yes, good. I usually ask favorite colors. My guess is red.”

“I have no idea what makes you think that.” Her voice was obvious sarcasm.

Mr. Hans ignored the sarcasm. “Well, let’s get you assigned a lab partner.” He looked down at his seating chart. “Mr. Medakus, I’m sorry but your solitude has ended.”

Daren sighed and pulled his bag off the stool next to him. As he did so he forgot it was open and all the contents went spilling onto the floor. He looked at the bag in surprise for a moment before he reacted and started picking things up. The first things he grabbed were the baggies of spiders and quickly shoved them in the bag before anyone could register what they were. Then he started grabbing the more mundane looking objects.

A hand reached down and started helping Daren pick up the contents of his bag. He looked up and saw Sara helping him. “Thanks.”

She picked up his grimoire and shoved it in the bag. “You should always grab your journal first.” She continued to help him clean up.

“Okay, now that we’ve cleaned up our messes we can get to work.” Mr. Hans booted up the projector and started the class.

– –

During his third period PE class Daren noticed one of the other students who had gotten on the bus at the bottom of the hill. The PE teacher did a brief introduction.

“This is John Ainsley. He moved here from Hilsonville, Washington. Now, let’s get out of this gym and onto the track. I want to see some leg movement out there today!” Mrs. Carson looked ready to go. “I’ll be joining you on the track today. Anyone who can lap me gets extra credit.”

Daren jogged around the track, getting his heartbeat up, but not much more. He watched as John quickly lapped Mrs. Carson then when he came back around to Daren he slowed to his speed.

“I need all the extra credit I can get. Don’t you?” The question seemed rhetorical. He held out his hand. “I’m John Ainsley. You are?”

Daren jogged sideways to shake the hand. “I’m Daren Medakus. You seemed uninterested in my name this morning on the bus.”

“I’m not a morning person. Sara definitely isn’t either, but in-between classes she mentioned your journal, so I thought I’d introduce myself when I had a chance.” John slowed to a walk. “Let’s talk, shall we?”

Daren slowed and looked at him. “I don’t know why the two of you keep saying journal like that. What do you want to talk about?”

“Mendacium interius veritas. We Ainsley’s aren’t that kind of family, but we know a few.”

The phrase wasn’t quite pronounced right, and by John’s second sentence Daren knew why. “Well, just so we know where we stand, veritas interius mendacium.”

“Don’t they always, though?” John asked in a way that expected a specific response.

Daren shook his head. “Dad never told me the other half of that line. Said I wasn’t ready.”

A smiled appeared on John’s face. “Just answer it how you feel it should be answered, then. I want to know.”

“I’ve always thought the answer was ‘so is reality’.” Daren stopped in his tracks, an inquisitive look on his face.

John stopped and walked back to him. “What’s wrong?”

Shaking his head Daren started walking again. “Why am I so trusting of you? There’s students passing by us. Any one of them could know and be an enemy of the council. If we want to talk about this…”

The school bell chimed, interrupting Daren.

“We can talk this weekend at your place or ours. Let me know on the bus. I have need of your…skills.” John started walking toward the gym. “That is, if you are willing to help an old dog out.”

“I actually have a job after school. We should talk at lunch.”

– –

At lunch Daren was reading his grimoire. He was sitting with his back to the lunchroom wall so that nobody could see the thaumatish written inside. The book was open to a section on supernatural dogs. Black dogs had always fascinated him, especially the church grim which seemed to be the only inherently good one. This time, however he was looking into humanoid creatures that were related in some form to dogs. John had said he had need of his skills if he wanted to help an old dog. That phrase is what caused him to investigate it now.

A lunch tray connected with the table Daren was at, causing him to look up over the lip of the grimoire.

“Is this seat taken?” The last one of the students that had gotten on the bus that morning was asking.

Daren noticed the two Ainsleys waiting beside him. “Ah, the last Ainsley I assume?”

“I’ll take that as a no.” The three Ainsleys sat down.

Putting the grimoire away Daren stared at his sack lunch. He didn’t feel hungry, but he started to eat mechanically. If he didn’t eat now he’d never make it through sixth period.

“So,” Daren asked between bites, “what do you want to talk about? Wolf related topics? Or perhaps the moon?”

John grinned. “See, Jayse? I told you that saying old dog was enough.”

The black-haired boy nodded. “I stand corrected. Nice to meet you, Daren. I’m Jayse.” He went back to shoving food in his mouth and swallowing without tasting it.

Sara shook her head. “Jayse, I know it’s hard for you, but you can at least pretend you’re actually eating.”

“You guys want to talk here, or somewhere else. I can make it hard for people to understand us if you want, but that doesn’t always work out.” Daren took another bite of his sandwich then added a blue and orange powder to his water bottle.

“If there’s somewhere else to talk that’d be best.”

“Okay, Jayse. Where do you recommend?”

“The forested area behind your house. After school.”

“Jayse, I told you Daren has work after school.” John took Jayse’s chocolate milk. “You won’t appreciate this. Why’d you even get chocolate?”

“Right. It’s getting a little hard for me to concentrate in here. I’m going for a walk.” Jayse gave his dessert to John and left with his lunch tray.

Sara shook her head. “Don’t worry about him. It’s a little too crowded in here is all.” She pushed her dessert over to Daren. “Do you want this?”

“Sure. So, we should talk this weekend then. Does that sound good?”

“It does, but it’s a full moon Saturday. How about Sunday?”

Daren looked at John. “You’re still tied down on that then? If you need my help with that I need to get to know you a little more. Now I know what you want, and that’s no small thing.”

“Well, up until now I didn’t care. Something’s come up, though, and I need to be a little more in control of some things.” “John, be careful. We can talk about that Sunday.” Sara picked up her food tray. “Well, see you then.”

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The Fractured Mountains – Ch. 21

During the night Enress watched as Julian awoke several times, looked around for who was on watch, saw Enress, and fell back asleep. It was like he didn’t trust whoever was on watch to do their job. Enress shrugged to herself and started to do a circuit around the campsite. A while later, close to sunrise, a small yellow bird, similar to an American Goldfinch, flew from the forest and landed on her shoulder. It chirped at her a few times like it expected her to understand.

“Syb? I don’t understand you. Don’t you hang out with Slapper?” She shook her head. “He doesn’t want to update even though he knows we can talk now. Poor soul.”

Syb chirped more slowly, like that would allow Enress to understand it.

“I can’t speak with animals. You’ll have to bring Slapper here if he wants to talk to me.” With a dismissive gesture Enress continued to do her circuit around the camp.

A short time later Syb came flying back into the range of the campfire. He was bleeding heavily and chirped weakly.

“Oh, that’s not good.” Enress moved swiftly to Burner and shook her awake. Syb was being cradled in Enress’ hand.

Burner slowly opened her orange, glowing eyes. “What is it?”

Holding Syb out Enress answered her, “heal Syb so he can lead me to Slapper. He must be in trouble if Syb looks like this.”

“Who?”

“Please, just heal the finch.”

“Okay. I hate to see creatures suffer anyway, so let’s take a look at this little guy.” Burner pulled a small vial from her pack. “Let’s get closer to the fire. The light will help. I may be able to see in the dark, but it’s not as good as actual light.” She poured the vial out over Syb before Enress started moving. “This will help the bleeding, at least.”

Syb chirped indignantly, but the bleeding did stop. He hopped a little on Enress’ hand then chirped again, in pain. His right wing was noticeably broken.

With a few hand gestures and a quick rhyme, “to find the minion that hurt this pinion, I heal thee,” Burner cast a healing spell on the bird.

Flying around Burner’s head Syb let out a few happy bars of birdsong. This awoke the rest of the adventuring party, who stared at the small yellow bird.

“What’s with that thing?” Julian said, gathering his gear together. “Well, it’ll be dawn in a couple of hours now. Might as well stay up.”

Syb landed on Enress’ shoulder again and chirped a few times, then he took off towards the west-north-west.

“Well, I’m going to follow the bird. It’s heading in the general direction of town, so it shouldn’t be too much of a detour.” Enress began following Syb’s flight path.

“Julian, can you go with Enress? We’ll go back to Dregton and wait for you there. I don’t want to keep the mayor waiting.” Burner started gathering her things.

Julian nodded. “Sure, no problem.” He smiled at Enress. “Lead the way.”

Dreekt watched at Julian jogged after Enress. “So, what are they going to do?”

“Something about someone named Slapper needing help.” Burner shrugged. “I don’t know how important it is, but she obviously wants to help.”

The group packed up the campsite and Gaemacirch put his pack over his shoulder. “I think I’ll be staying in my bipedal form for now.”

Dreekt nodded. “I think that would be best.”

– – –

In Dregton Burner, Dreekt, and Gaemacirch approached the mayoral building. They were ushered in quickly.

“Ah, hello Burner. I believe you are missing someone? The human?” The mayor looked the group over. “You seem to have had a hard go of it. I’m assuming the creatures cannot return through the cave?”

Burner nodded. “Yes, the cave is dealt with, and our other traveling companion is off helping someone we met on the road. We expect him back in a few hours.”

“Yes, yes. Quite.” The mayor turned to a large metal chest on his right and pulled a key from under his shirt. “Let me get that quarterstaff for you, and some cohzen of course.” He pulled a runed quarterstaff and a bag of cohzen out of the chest and relocked it. “Both for sealing the cave and helping to protect the town from the strange salamander attack.” He shuddered. “Hopefully another one of those won’t show up.”

“They are unlikely to show up.” Gaemacirch replied. “They tend to only attack settlements when there are overwhelming odds.” He shook his head. “I’m just glad we were here to turn the odds ever so slightly in your favor. If that had been an adult, we would have stood no chance.”

“Well, anyway, that’s your reward.” The mayor motioned at the quarterstaff and money on his desk. “Is there anything else?”

Dreekt spoke up, “yes, how does the staff work, exactly?”

“Oh, it affects the target’s mental fortitude as well as their body.” He shrugged. “It used to be used for interrogations, but I hope that you will find a better use for it.”

“We most certainly will try.” Burner curtsied and turned to leave. “Thank you for your hospitality and gifts. We must go visit you guard captain, now.”

With a swift movement Gaemacirch took the staff and cohzen from the mayor’s desk. “We hope you don’t have need of our services again, but if you do, I hope we are close by.”

“I do, too.” The mayor motioned after Burner. “You better go. I don’t think she likes to be kept waiting.”

“Right. Let’s go, Dreekt.” Gaemacirch turned and noticed Dreekt had already left. “Oh.” Gaemacirch left the mayoral building and started to head for Hereweald and Wassa’s house.

– – –

Julian followed Enress and Syb for a while before they came upon a strange growth of writhing vines growing from a stand of small trees, similar to the stand that was around the cave entrance to Dark Under. The vines would have looked normal if they weren’t moving.

“Uhh, maybe we should go to town and get the others. This doesn’t look good.” Julian tossed a small stone at the vines and they smacked it to the ground. “It really doesn’t look good.”

With a contemplative nod Enress turned to address Syb. “Let’s go to Dregton and retrieve my new friends. They should be able to help with this.”

Syb chirped and landed on Enress shoulder, as if to say ‘lead on’.

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Rebuilding Brangmar – Pt. 11

Erin stared at the elf. She had always played elves at her D&D table when she wasn’t DM’ing. The beauty of the creatures had always fascinated her.

“Excuse me,” the elf said, the wooden earrings clanking softly. “I asked you why you were traveling towards our village.”

Throbor bowed to the elven female. “We were seeking out survivors of Brangmar. We are not of this realm.”

The elf smiled. “I could tell that from the way you look, but you seem to speak our language fluently.”

“That’s because we met with Oghma,” Erin explained, “and he gave us the language we speak now.”

The elven woman looked impressed. “So, the gods speak to you? Why are you here, then?”

Aram spoke up this time. “We were summoned by a man named Sorley Aelfson. Perhaps you know of him and why he would do that?”

“Because the old man believes that he can save his child, the city, from its destruction.” The elf shook her head. “Maybe he can, but these Teblats are too powerful. They have taken over many beasts, and other creatures who hate civilization have flocked to their cause.”

Tribst nodded his head, his bulbous eyes catching the elf’s attention. “Yes, when you are old you wish all of your children to do well, and you see many more things as your children than the younger folk.”

“You know somewhat of how Sorley thinks, but he sees this whole region as his child. Not just the city.” The elf shook her head sadly. “We want the blight of the Teblats gone, but I don’t believe the city is the best thing for this realm.”

“Well, perhaps instead of one large city it will be a collection of towns.” Erin shrugged. “Just because it’s Brangmar doesn’t mean it needs to be the same Brangmar.”

The elf smiled. “Very well, you may come with us. I am Mother Ironbark. You may call me Mother Ironbark, or just Ironbark, but not just Mother.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Aram bowed deeply to Mother Ironbark.

“Now, follow us into the forest. We will grant you an audience with our elders.” Mother Ironbark motioned the group forward and turned back into a lioness.

“Well,” Tribst addressed his traveling companions. “Looks like we’re being escorted. Be on your best behavior…and that means you, frost giant.”

“Oh, stow it lizard boy.” Throbor patted Tribst on the back. “Sorry, salamander boy, not lizard.”

The four traveling companions chosen by Sorley moved onward, following Mother Ironbark and the other elves in lion form toward the north western forest.

– – –

As the party entered the forest the elves around them turned back from lions into their humanoid forms. They were beautiful, but the four travelers were not looking at them, rather they were looking at the cedar trees with bright red bark.

“What kind of trees are these?” Tribst brushed a bulbous finger against the bark of a tree. “They look like cedar trees, but their bark is a beautifully unnatural shade of red.”

“Those are rediron trees. The humans call tree’s sap red dragon piss because it smells horribly.” One of the elves that wasn’t Mother Ironbark replied. “However, they also made a delicious wine using that sap, so it does have its uses.”

“If you have any I would love to try it.” Tribst pulled his hand away from the bark of a rediron tree and continued following the group. “I imagine it has a powerful kick.”

“Oh, that it does.”

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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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