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