Dreekt came to in the middle of a battlefield in the Great Plains. The fields were burning, and the air reeked of burning flesh and smoldering metal.
“Three-En-Ar-Three-Five-Five, report!” An automaton shouted. The voice was low-quality and had an undertone of static.
A matte black automaton arm broke through a layer of rubble and glistened in the fire. “3-NR-355 reporting. Enemy wave eliminated.” The automaton pulled itself out of the rubble.
“No, you missed a skravyn.” The first automaton pointed at Dreekt.
Enress turned her head to look. “No, he’s fine.”
“What did you say?”
“Does it look like he has wings, Smithed?”
Smithed turned his scrape-covered head to get a closer look at Dreekt. “What in the name of The Commander?” Smithed raised his pick hammer defensively. “Get off the battlefield before they see you!”
“Who sees me? Enress, what’s this dream about?” Dreekt looked around the battlefield, confusion in his eyes.
Enress shook her head. “So, Syb sent you in, did he? Smart bird. He can’t be here for this. The Winged War…rather, he’s already here.” She pointed up in the sky. “Leading them, in the thrall of The Desecrator.”
Dreekt turned to look up. His beak started clicking in terror. “Th-there’s hu-hundreds of th-them!” The sky appeared to be full of winged skravyn, all glistening black and dark grey. At the head of each group was a golden skravyn with a red ring around its head.
“No, there is only one group of twenty left. The others are illusion.” Enress rubbed her head with her hand making a sound like the gritting of teeth. “I ran the first time, and Smithed lost his memories. I will not turn back now! I will stand my ground!”
The fear disappeared from Dreekt’s face and the chittering of his beak slowed and finally stopped. “The Desecrator has him under his thrall?”
“Well, I think I can do something about that.” A black cloud began to surround Dreekt.
Smithed’s pick hammer rushed down in front of Dreekt’s face, missing by the width of a feather. “No, that’s how he turned them. They summoned The Desecrator’s power and it corrupted them!”
“That’s not what Dreekt does, this comes from within him. He can help.” Enress laid her hand on Smithed’s shoulder. “Trust me.”
With smiling eyes Dreekt finished the transformation into a visage of death, scythe and all. “I will deal with the regular ones. Enress, try to break The Sentry of this curse.”
“What?” Smithed turned to Enress. “That’s The Sentry? A god is being controlled by another god?”
Enress shook her head. “Apparently so.”
– – –
Multiple winged skravyn divebombed at Dreekt as he approached their altitude. He immediately turned and dove back down toward Smithed.
What in the world are you thinking, Dreekt?! The spirit’s screech echoed through Dreekt’s skull.
Dreekt had to speed up his dive to avoid stalling in the air. Calm down! It’s a dream! Weren’t you paying any attention up to this point?
It took me this long to reach your thick-skulled mind. Your body will take damage if you take damage here. This is an unnatural dream! Can’t you tell?
What? Pausing for a moment Dreekt glanced behind himself to make sure the enemy was still following him. They weren’t too far behind and he continued toward Smithed. Well, we better resolve this quick then. My dream wasn’t quite so dangerous.
The spirit chuckled. Just because you didn’t notice the danger didn’t mean it wasn’t dangerous. Just be careful, and don’t cast any spells if you can avoid it.
With a thwump Dreekt landed next to Smithed. “Hey, uh, is there any reason I shouldn’t cast any spells here?”
“Yes!” Smithed said, alarmed. “Don’t cast anything! The Desecrator has cursed this field of battle. If you cast anything other than necromancy here it will backfire.” The automaton faced Dreekt. “I know you’re the visage of death right now, but please don’t cast any necromancy unless your life depends on it.”
“No problem. Since I don’t know any.”
We’ll have to change that.
“And I don’t particularly want to learn any.”
Smithed nodded. “That’s a good idea. No necromancy, no chance for it to corrupt you.” He held up his pick hammer, ready to swing. “Here they come!”
The first winged skravyn learned a valuable lesson about trying to fly with wings smashed by a hammer, and the second took a scythe to the face. Behind the winged skravyn The Sentry watched as they began to pick apart his last battalion. He started to move forward when Enress pulled herself out from under a pile of smoldering dirt.
“Not so fast, turncoat!” Enress jabbed at the yellow skravyn with her brass knuckles.
The Sentry laughed. “You think you can take me, a god, on head to head?” He pulled a wicked two-handed scimitar from his back. “Let’s go, mortal.” He swung the sword down, towards the base of Enress’ head, where the neck would be if she were organic.
“The automatons are not mortals!” Enress grabbed the sword with her left hand. “If I die here, I will be reborn.”
“How did you stop that?!”
Enress held up a glowing, azure stone in her right hand. “By The Commander, I cleanse thee!” The glow of the stone expanded and covered both the fighters in its light, obscuring them from the view of Dreekt and Smithed, who were still fighting the winged skravyn.
– – –
Dreekt didn’t get a chance to see what happened next, when the light faded he found himself lying on the ground next to Enress. She wasn’t matte black anymore. The silver color put him at ease as he sat up, rubbing his beak. “Enress, are you okay?”
With a chirp Syb landed on Enress’ shoulder and pecked at the side of her head.
“Yeah, yeah. Get off me, turncoat.” The words would’ve been harsh if the tone they were presented in weren’t so soft. She patted the bird as she sat up. “Well, who’s next?”
[With the holiday season I’ve had little time to write this last couple of months, but here’s part of the next chapter for Darkness Ascending.]
Syb circled the adventuring party’s limp bodies. He tweeted repeatedly in shrill tones, hoping the adventurers would awaken. They did not stir from their slumber. In desperation Syb landed on the shoulder of Dreekt, the skravyn, the most bird-like of the party. Using a claw, he began to scratch an arcane sigil into his armor, between the shoulder blades. He knew what the sigil would eventually do, but he needed to awaken one of the party before it was too late.
– – –
Four skravyn sat around a table. Dreekt and Kreet were fighting over who was going to get the largest portion of dessert. Their father was reading a book, idly shoving food into his mouth, while their mother cut exactingly equal proportions of Wishing Day Sweetbread.
“Now, now you two. I always give you the same portion of dessert. Especially on Wishing Day. Now take your portions and make a wish.” Their mother placed the cuts in front of them and sat down to her own, smaller piece. “Dear,” she addressed the skravyn reading a book, “your piece is on the counter when you finish your meal.”
A knock echoed through the house that made Dreekt hop a meter into the air. As he peaked and began to fall a pain exploded between his shoulder blades and the scene faded.
– – –
Dreekt found himself roaming mists. They weren’t the same mists from the stone visions, but they weren’t too dissimilar. “Hello? Is anyone there?” His voice was muffled by the fog.
“Yes,” a deep voice responded, “I am here.”
Dreekt approached the voice. He saw a skravyn silhouette start to coalesce out of the mist, but something was different about it. Something that made the pain between his shoulder blades pulse to life again.
– – –
Around Dreekt the vision of Wishing Day returned.
The chair clattered to the floor as Dreekt landed on it, unbalanced. He stood up quickly and ran to the door yelling, “I’ll get it!”
The door opened before Dreekt could get to it. A yellow skravyn stepped through the door. “Hello. I believe you are Dreekt, aren’t you?”
Dreekt’s dad put down his book. “You are not welcome here, Balare!” He stood up and approached the doorway.
“You don’t have any say in that. The Sentry request’s Dreekt’s presence.” He held up a hand and a pulse of energy emanated from it. “It is his decision, not yours.”
With a nod Dreekt walked out the door. “I’ll go.”
– – –
Dreekt once again found himself in the mists.
“This is not how that day went, was it?” The deep voice asked.
The figure in the mist was still to far away to make out more than a silhouette. “No, it wasn’t. We had Wishing Day out of the city that year. In the forest.”
“Why do you think that was?”
“Father, he didn’t want Kreet or I leaving to forge our own lives. I’m not sure what his reasoning was, but it seemed right to him.”
The silhouetted skravyn strode forward. It had the markings of a goldfinch, the same as Syb, but it also had wings between its shoulders. “Well, you’re here now. Let’s wake up, shall we?”
“Syb? You’re The Sentry?”
“Yes, cursed to have a finch’s form. Only here, in dreams, can I be what I truly am.” He grabbed Dreekt by the arm, turned him around, and slapped between his shoulder blades, where the sigil had been scribed.
– – –
Dreekt awoke to Syb pecking at his back. He turned over and sat up. He saw his friends lying face down in the dirt around him. Even Enress was affected by this magical sleep. He approached her first. “Syb, whatever you did, does it allow me to enter their dreams as well?”
The goldfinch nodded and landed on Enress’ back. He pecked lightly at the base of her head and chirped at Dreekt.“Well, here goes.” Dreekt reached down and placed his palm on the back of Enress’ neck, where Syb had pecked.
Syb lead the party to the stand of trees. In
the dim light the vines looked even more sinister than before. They writhed of
their own accord and lashed out randomly.
Holding her new stone torch high Enress
approached the vines. “I have only my knuckle dusters. You guys will need to do
most of the attacking.” She grabbed one of the flailing vines and attempted to
hold it down. It started to lift her off her feet. “Or all the attacking…”
With a swift motion Gaemacirch brought his
katana down on the vine, severing it near the base. He quickly ran away from
the swarming masses of vines swatting at him. “Well, you can still be useful.”
He smiled slightly at Enress. “Though, I suppose we should not grab these. If
it can lift an automaton it will fling any one of the rest of us.”
“Agreed.” Burner moved forward to the vine
and studied it. “Hmm…I’ve never seen this kind of vine before. Julian?”
Moving forward to get a better look Julian
shrugged. “I’m not really good with this sort of thing. It was Adalet’s area.”
Enress sighed. “Let me get a better look.
Shine your lantern here, Julian.” She pointed at the end of the vine. The vine
squirted a purple liquid in Enress’ eye. “Well, good thing I’m a construct,
because that would have been very damaging to you organics.” She wiped the
liquid from her face. “It’s a purple deathgrip. The purple comes from the
poison’s color, since the vine itself is green. Also, if it constricts you pray
to your god that it grabs you around the ankle so you don’t die from it.
There’s also rumors that they’re animals and not plants.”
“Great.” Dreekt put his taloned finger out
and Syb landed on it. “Let’s keep you close.”
Syb tweeted something at Dreekt than perched
himself on the left shoulder.
Dreekt pulled out his dagger, Julian readied
his axes, and Burner readied her rapier.
“Well, dim as it is, sunlight is better than
night. Let’s go.” Burner moved forward, stabbing at any vine that dared move in
Following Burner’s lead, the rest of the
adventurers followed behind. Gaem cutting through vines, and everyone else slashing
Before too long the party found themselves
in a clearing filled with the bones of some ancient creature. After a moment of
silence as the party tried to process what kind of creature the bones could’ve
originated from Enress spoke up.
“That’s a cyclops skull. It only has the one
eye socket, but that’s a pretty big skull. A giant cyclops maybe?”
Dreekt nodded. “I’ve heard stories about
ancient creatures that were larger than their modern forms, but that would’ve been
millennia ago. These would be dust.”
“Let’s just be glad,” Gaemacirch
interjected, “that we don’t have to fight this thing.”
As the party began moving around the cyclops
bones the shriek of jekawir pierced the air. There were at least three distinct
“That’s not good.” Julian grabbed his
handaxes and looked to the sky.
Burner started humming a dissonant tune. “Get
ready.” She pulled her bow from her back and notched an arrow. “Take them down
as soon as you see them.”
The grotesque sight of the jekawir assaulted
the eyes of the adventuring group. The neckless creatures had pink humanoid
skin with tufts of grey fur that seemed placed on them at random. They had
large wings that were bat-like, and had legs like those of a frog, but with
human hands where the feet would be. Their tongues lolled out of their toothy
mouths and were accompanied by a noxious breath that made it hard to focus.
Burner and Julian launched their attacks at
the jekawir first. Burner’s arrow pierced the hide of one of the creatures, while
Julian’s handaxes fell harmlessly to the ground. He had underestimated the
Dreekt shot a bolt of arcane energy into the
sky. He didn’t end up hitting the jekawir, but he caused the injured one to
swoop towards the ground, creating an opening for Gaemacirch to swing at it.
With a mighty swing, Gaemacirch’s katana
beheaded the jekawir. The head of the creature went flying and knocked another jekawir
out of the air and onto its back. “Well, that worked out pretty good.”
The jekawir that was knocked to the ground
righted itself and flapped towards Gaemacirch. The one still in the air swooped
down and attacked Gaemacirch with the sharp nails at the end of its humanoid
hand-feet. It missed and shrieked in Gaemacirch’s face, getting its noxious
breath directly into his face, then Enress punched it in the face with her
knuckle dusters, surprising it more than hurting it with a glancing blow.
Swapping to her rapier Burner walked up to the
uninjured jekawir and jabbed at it, forcing it to jump to the side and leaving
an opening for the next person to attack it. Seeing the opening Julian ran for
one of his axes, picked it up, and chucked it at the jekawir. The flat of the
axe hit the creature in the back, causing it to cry out in pain.
Drawing his quarterstaff Dreekt turned and
whacked at the jekawir that Enress had punched. He forced it to lose some
balance, but he was unable to hit it. Seeing Dreekt set up yet another jekawir
for him Gaemacirch swung at the creature with his katana. He wasn’t able to hit
it, but it completely lost its balance and fell on its back. It hopped back up
and bit at Dreekt, ripping through the flesh of his arm, ripping out feathers and
exposing his skin.
The second jekawir slashed at Gaemacirch
with its wings. It didn’t hit, but caused Enress to lose some of her balance as
the wings slashed around in the same area she was occupying. In retaliation she
punched it in the chest, expecting to wind it, but she found extra resistance
“Are these things designed to take hits or
something?” Enress stared at the creatures. “These don’t look natural.”
“We can talk about it later. Just focus on
taking them down!” Burner jabbed at the jekawir that had just bit Dreekt. She also
found resistance just under the skin. “You may be on to something, though.”
Julian picked up his other axe and tossed it
at the same jekawir that Burner had just attacked. “Take some more of this!” The
axe buried itself into the creature’s hid and hung there. “That’s not what I
Seeing the creature in front of him was
barely standing Dreekt swung at it again. He missed and forced the creature to
bump its companion off balance, opening up yet another advantage for
“Look, I appreciate you creating opening and
all, but could you also do some damage?” Gaemacirch sliced at the jekawir that
was off-balance. He sliced its head off its non-existent neck and the swing continued
through to finish off the other jekawir as well.
“Ok,” Burner said, “let’s take a quick
break, and I’ll see if I can learn anything about how these jekawir tick.” After
ten or so minutes she had one of the creatures, the one Gaemacirch hadn’t
beheaded, flayed open. “Hmm…it seems the place where the neck would be is the
weakest area. No surprise since that’s how two of the three of them were
“Interesting, but we need to get to Slapper. Let’s get moving again, shall we?” Julian motioned at the next wall of writhing vines. “These vines seem more active than the ones we’ve already moved through. They may prove to be more of a hassle.”
[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.”
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’.
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.
Dreekt sat cross legged with a large flat
rock on his lap. He had another, smaller rock in his left hand. He was doing
some geometry and vectors. He looked at what was written on the rock. So
that’s what a spell looks like when the mana is swirling around it?
Kwase chuckled, when a mage, channeler,
or warlock casts a spell, yes. When a priest casts a spell, I imagine it looks
a little different, and when a sorcerer casts a spell it’s more of a maelstrom.
If you had the eyes of the magus, you would know what I mean.
What about bards? Somewhere in-between.
Their spells are based off performance which is more of an art than a science.
Dreekt stared at his taloned hands. How
does one get the eyes of the magus?
I doubt you will need them on your
journey, but if ever you feel the need speak to me. You will have to give
something up, but the eyes are permanent.
Very well. I see the others returning.
Let’s call this meditation here, yes?
Yes, but tonight I will be training you
in your dreams.
Dreekt wiped the arcane formulae off the
rock and stood up. “Well, are we ready to move on?”
With a curt nod Burner motioned toward a
tunnel between the entrances to the curving tunnel. “Right is always right, I
suppose.” She smiled at Enress. “Though, I suppose it’s a good thing we went
“Whole heartedly agreed.” Enress bowed
slightly at Burner. “I will follow where you lead, dear wick.”
– – –
After a long walk down a narrow tunnel the
adventurers found themselves at a fork in the tunnel. On the left the tunnel
continued as normal, and on the right, it appeared to open into a large cavern.
Visible at the back of the cavern, barely visible to Julian and Enress in the
darkness, was a honeycomb structure, like a beehive, but much, much bigger.
“Looks like there’s some sort of nest in the
back of that cavern. Do you think we should check it out, or see where the tunnel
leads?” Burner glanced over the group. “Rather, are we feeling healed up enough
to try to take it on?”
“I feel fit as a fiddle.” Enress pulled
Gaemacirch’s sword from her back. “Let’s go crush some larvae.”
Gaemacirch nodded his large ferret head. “Be
extra careful. Skittering creeper elders watch the nest. They are nastier than
the ones we’ve been fighting.” He dragged his metal claws against the floor a
few times, sharpening them. “They’re bigger too, so don’t let them surround
“Well, let’s go. I want to get this over
with so I can see the sky again. It’s been a long time.” Enress motioned with
the jagged katana.
Gaemacirch and Enress moved ahead with
Julian close behind. Burner and Dreekt kept some distance so they could cast
their spells without worry of being interrupted. After a few yards of this
movement two large skittering creepers appeared next to the honeycomb
“The mother and father. The mother will be
more vicious, she’s the bigger one.” Gaemacirch started loping forward. “For Dregton!”
He crashed into the female and gashed her across the face.
Immediately the father turned to protect his
mate, biting at Gaemacirch, but was unable to break through his metal armor. As
he did so Dreekt took a second to focus on a spell, then summoned a large rock
above the male. It fell on it with a glancing blow, but it got his attention
away from Gaemacirch.
Seeing the slight opening, Julian rushed
forward with his twin axes. He did a slashing motion with both and took some
chitin off the creature. The skittering creeper elder howled in pain.
The matriarch skittering creeper brought
down her large front paws in an attempt to smash Gaemacirch’s head into the
ground. She succeeded, and Gaemacirch felt a large headache beginning to throb
through his temples.
With a few bars of a strange melody, Burner
attempted to bolster her companions’ attacks. Her allies felt a surge of
confidence come over them.
The surge of confidence fresh in her steel,
Enress surged forward with Gaemacirch’s katana. “Die, foul stain upon the
land!” She struck out at the patriarch and dealt a glancing blow.
Gaemacirch slashed at the matriarch, but she
dodged out of the way. She bit at him in retaliation, and got a mouth-full of
Dreekt focused his energy on transporting
the rock he had attempted to use earlier, hoping to crush the matriarch this
time, but she was still pulling back from her bite and he misjudged the
The patriarch swung his large paw at Enress
and connected with her metallic frame. He wasn’t expecting so much resistance
and only scratched the surface. In response, Enress swung the katana at him.
She caught the chitin where its ear would be, causing the creature to leak ichor.
The axes in Julian’s hands swung at the
patriarch, and sunk them both into him. The creeper cried out in pain and
turned to face Julian.
Seeing a small opening, Burner pulled her
shortbow from her back and loosed an arrow at the patriarch. She wasn’t able to
get a good shot and pulled up at the last second to avoid hitting her allies.
The arrow thudded harmlessly into the honeycomb structure.
Seeing the arrow strike the nest, the
matriarch roared in motherly rage. It ran away from Gaemacirch, and lunged at Burner.
Under the weight of the elder, Burner lost consciousness. The boost she had
been giving herself and her allies fell away.
As Gaemacirch’s opponent ran away and took
out Burner, he glanced at the patriarch and realized he was heavily wounded.
With a bestial, guttural roar he lunged at the patriarch, mouth aimed for his
throat. He ripped the patriarch’s throat so violently that his head was torn
from his body. With shock in his eyes Gaemacirch spit the visceral from his maw
and started heaving.
Dreekt saw Burner go down and rage boiled up
inside him. “Not again! I will not let you do this. Pulling at the air
like pulling the strings of puppets Dreekt caused many large rocks to fall on
the matriarch. When the dust settled pieces of skittering creeper chitin and
black ichor littered the scene. Realizing that he could have just killed Burner
Dreekt ran to the rubble and began to pull it away.
“I’m here. I’m trapped, but I’m still alive.” Burner’s voice echoed out from under the rubble. “Just get me out of here. Then we take care of this nest and leave. The Dark Under is seeping into you and Gaem. We can’t let it consume you.”
After a short rest to get their breaths back
the four adventurers and the automaton started moving again. It didn’t take
long for the tunnel to start looping to the right. When they noticed it had
turned almost all the way back around again, they were able to smell burning
“Great, it loops.” Julian sighed with
annoyance. “I think we’re going to have a welcoming party.”
“Don’t worry, friends, you have me now. I
won’t let you die on my watch.” Enress saluted by clanging her fist on her
Burner smiled slightly. “Yes, I know. You
and Julian saved our hides back there. Thanks again, Enress.”
Enress shook her head. “No thanks required.
We have shown we will help each other. I trust you, and I hope that goes both
With a nod Burner moved out of the tunnel and
looked around. “Stay sharp. There’s some skittering creepers out here.”
Gaemacirch lumbered forward in his ferret
shape and motioned with his snout at Enress. “Hey, take my sword. Consider it
yours until we find you your own weapon.” Enress took it and nodded in thanks.
Gaemacirch jumped into a group of creepers, distracting them for long enough
for Enress to attack them and she took quite a few out. After a few scrapes the
five came through just fine.
“Okay, Enress, do you know where we need to
go to get deeper into Dark Under and seal the darkness?” Julian leaned against
a wall, a little winded.
With a sigh Enress nodded. “I was afraid
that was why you were here.” She sat down with a thud. “Yes, but only if you make
me a better face, Julian.”
“Fine.” Julian motioned back towards the
tunnel they had just come back through. “Let’s go.”
Burner, Dreekt, and Gaemacirch looked at
each other and shrugged.
“So, should we come with, or…?” Burner
“No, we’ll only be a few minutes.” Julian
waved as he went into the entrance of the tunnel that they had gone in first.
“The metal’s pretty close to this end of the tunnel.”
– – –
“Magnus, sir, more news from the realm.” A
man in a beautifully crafted grey tunic handed a parchment to another, slightly
taller man with short blonde hair, piercing blue eyes, and a golden tan wearing
a deep blue robe.
“Thank you, Jersun, I’ll just take a look at
that.” Magnus took the parchment from his manservant. “I wonder what lies
they’ve been spreading about me.”
“Well, sir, they’ve done something worse. I
think maybe you should sit down before I tell you.”
Shrugging, Magnus sat down on a cushioned
stool. “Well, tell me.”
“It’s about your wife, sir.” Jersun paused
for a moment. “They’ve kidnapped her.”
“What?!” Magnus Overton stood at his full
six-foot, two inches. “Where have they taken her?”
A popping noise resounded through the halls
as a woman with orange skin appeared next to Magnus’ table. “That’s a good
question, Magnus. I’ll tell you where they have her, but only if you make a deal
Magnus looked aghast. “Adalet! The Sorceress
told me you were missing!”
“The Vengeance is never gone for long.”
Adalet smiled broadly. “If I tell you where they have her you hire a certain
group to save her. You don’t go yourself.”
“This will be binding? If so, I will get the
appropriate components.” Jersun motioned towards a door out of the small dining
A small, insincere smile came to Magnus’
lips. “I believe she does intend that. Grab the components.”
“Very well, sir.” Jersun turned and walked
out of the hall.
“Another thing. Next time you marry the
offspring of the gods? Make sure not to lose her.”
Magnus’ eyes grew wide. “Surely The Warrior
and The Vicious are not out for my blood. Their daughter can hold her own
against fifty armed men.”
The Vengeance shook her head. “Not when
she’s been drugged, she can’t.”
Jersun entered the room with an odd
collection of spell components. “Here you are sir,” he turned and nodded at
Magnus, “goddess,” he nodded at The Vengeance.
“Thankyou, Jersun. You may take the rest of
the night off, if you wish.” Magnus took the components from him.
“I believe you will need a friend, sir,
“Yes, yes. I believe I shall. Please, stay.”
Magnus and The Vengeance mixed a thick brew
out of the spell components and soaked a rag in them. They then tied the rag
around their right hands, which were in a clasp.
“I will tell you where your wife is, and in
return you will hire the one group I specify to find her, and no one else,
including yourself, will go to find her for at least a year.” The Vengeance
looked at Magnus in the eyes. “Are these terms agreed upon?”
“Yes, they are.” Magnus kept his eyes locked
on The Vengeance’s eyes until the spell was complete. “Well, where and whom?”
– – –
While Julian and Enress were away Burner and
Gaemacirch sat down on some rocks while Dreekt did some circuits around the
cavern. The gaseous tendrils were still floating about, but they seemed disinterested
About ten minutes went by and Burner started
to get concerned. “Hey, Gaem, do you think you can go check on them? I don’t
really know what they’re doing, and I feel the need to stick together.” She glanced
over in Dreekt’s direction. “After that spider run-in I think Dreekt was right.
No small groups.”
“Agreed.” Gaemacirch slinked off.
Dreekt noticed Gaemacirch leaving and
swiftly returned to Burner. “What’s up?”
“I sent Gaem to check on Julian and Enress.
I’m getting a bad feeling.”
“Oh, good idea.” Dreekt leaned against the
wall and looked out over the quiet, still stinking, cavern. “I’m going to
meditate for a little bit. You may need to shake me out of it when we move on.”
Burner’s glowing eyes stared into Dreekt’s
avian eyes. “Don’t use the stone, not in here.”
“No, no. I’m meditating on my powers. With
any luck I’ll be better with them afterward.”
“Good.” Burner took a position to watch the
cavern and the tunnel entrance.
Ok, spirit. We have some time. How do we
do this knowledge thing?
Like this, Dreekt. Also, now that we aren’t
in any danger, my name is Kwase.
Nice to meet you, Kwase.
So, Kwase began,
in order to use your powers more effectively you need only commune with me.
You may do that like this for a short boost in abilities, or in a dream state
where I can train you more directly. I think a dream state is not the best at
Agreed. Dreekt set
his bag on the ground and folded up into lotus position on the uneven ground.
Kwase laughed lightly. I don’t believe
that does anything, but not a bad idea. Now, grab some paper and a quill. You
will be doing arcane formulae today.
Great, more school. Dreekt pulled the aforementioned materials from his pack and grabbed a
stone tablet for a writing surface.
You forget, I know you slacked during
basic math. This will be much, much harder.
– – –
Gaemacirch rounded a corner in the tunnel
and saw Julian literally molding the metal of Enress’ face. Gaemacirch slowly backed
away and curled up on the ground. “Hey, guys! Burner sent me to keep watch. I’ll
just be over here, not watching.
“Prevest!” Julian yelled. “Wait, I can fix
it. Gaemacirch just startled me.”
“No, I like it.” Enress said with
satisfaction in her voice.
A few seconds passed, Gaemacirch assumed
Julian was assessing whatever happened.
“Well,” Julian said with genuine agreement, “it
does look ferocious…and a little attractive.”
Enress chuckled lightly, the sound was that
of small bells. “Yes, I agree. Let’s go rejoin the group.” Enress came around
the corner and Gaemacirch got a good look at her new face. It looked like
Julian was going for a small nose and subtle features, and when Gaemacirch had
startled him he had brushed along her face from the bottom left to the top
right. It made lines that looked like war paint. Gaemacirch had to admit to
himself that it was indeed attractive.
“That looks very nice. A great improvement,
of course, but also a work of art.” Gaemacirch bowed his ferret head. “My
compliments to model and artisan.”
“So, myself twice?” Enress asked, amusement
in her voice.
Julian punched her lightly on the metallic
shoulder. “And me once, for the current state of your face.”
“Right, right.” She turned and hugged
Julian. “Thank you so much!”
Gaemacirch stood up from his curled position
and motioned his head towards the mouth of the cave. “Let’s go…and I saw what you
were doing. That’s an interesting magic you have there.”
“It runs in the family…kinda.” Julian looked
mildly embarrassed. “I really wasn’t supposed to show anyone, but now I guess
the creeper’s out of the trap.”
With a hearty chuckle Gaemacirch turned to head back to Dreekt and Burner. “I never noticed how stupid that zarx saying was until you said it.”
Automatons were long thought of as machines without sapience. They had enough sentience, people thought, to follow the orders of The Commander and little else. However, whenever The Commander was not commanding the automatons around, they did things of their own accord. At first, they took care of the creation and repair of themselves – which they still do – but eventually they began to leave The Commander’s army. Amir knew that this was happening, but he had long known that automatons were sapient. He knew that any who left would return to his call if he truly needed them, but he doubted any such time would come. In my interactions, limited as they are, with this god I have heard the tale of how automatons came to be. The souls of ancient humans, not ready to become gods, were included in the great ascension and, instead of becoming immortal in their own flesh, their souls were bonded to the automatons they were creating. Amir knew these people before and said that afterwards he always had a feeling they were more than they seemed.
Excerpt from the works of Jergolt, The Scholar
Burner, Dreekt, Gaemacirch, and Julian found themselves in a much smaller cavern than the first. In this cavern there were piles of metal and wires all over.
Julian handed the quarterstaff back to
Dreekt whose taloned hand strapped it back to his pack.
Gaemacirch’s ferret head was turning left
and right, scanning the room.
The glow of Burner’s eyes under her hood did
little to light the room, but Julian’s lantern did light up the room.
As they surveyed the bare wires and metal
Dreekt wished they had a dwarf with them. They would’ve been able to tell what
kind of metals there were, and what they were most commonly used for. He moved
forward slowly, careful not to cut himself on any jagged pieces.
The four adventurers rounded the corner and
found a humanoid automaton lying on its back. Its lower face was missing, and
its legs were pinned under a large piece of metal. Its head swiveled around at
the sound of their arrival and it motioned at its legs, uttering no sound but
that of metal sliding across metal.
With concern Gaemacirch approached in his
ferret form. “Don’t worry, we’re here to help.” He nosed at the piece of metal,
tested the weight and shook his head. “It’s too heavy, I cannot move it and
none of you can. We’ll need to rig something together to deal with this.”
“Dreekt, why don’t you and Julian stay here
to work on that while Gaem and I scout further ahead?” Burner motioned forward.
“No, I think we should all work on this.”
Dreekt made eye contact with Burner. “I don’t want you two going off alone.”
Gaemacirch sighed. “Look, we need to keep
moving, Dreekt I-”
“No, either I go with you two or you stay
here. The gem showed me something. You two need to stay with someone while we’re
Burner broke Dreekt’s eye contact and turned
to Julian. “Can you handle this yourself?”
“Only if Dreekt leaves his rope.” Julian
started to take the coil from Dreekt’s pack. “I have an idea and there’s a lot
of material to work with here. We’ll catch up. If there’s a fork wait there.”
“Alright, Dreekt. You come with us.” Burner
motioned forward. “We need to keep moving. The longer we spend down here the thicker
the darkness seems.”
Julian watched his three traveling
companions leave and turned to the pile of metal covering the automaton. “Ok,
automaton, I’m going to do something. Don’t worry about it.”
Some of the automaton’s gears started
spinning in its neck where its mouth would be if it hadn’t been torn off.
“Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you.” Julian sat cross-legged,
pulled out a small notebook, set one of his hands on the metal and started
reading something in a grating tongue.
After ten minutes of this he stood up, careful
to keep his hand still on the metal. Once he was standing upright, he put his
other hand under the lip of the metal and pulled. The metal seemed to grow where
he pulled it, but the automaton soon realized that as he pulled the metal into
a long, thick bar the metal that was on its legs was moving, almost as if
Julian was sucking up water with a straw. Eventually Julian pulled enough of
the metal away that the automaton’s feet were no longer pinned.
The automaton stood and felt surveyed its
overall condition. It smiled at Julian and moved in to hug him.
“Wait, let me end the spell first. You’re
made of metal.” Julian removed his hands from the metal, now in the shape of a bar,
and said a few words in the same grating tongue as before. “Ok, now you’re fine.
Not that I want the hug, but-” Julian was cut off by the automaton hugging him.
“Right, now we need to go find the others. It’s been at least twenty minutes.”
He picked the rope back up from the ground, uncoiled it, and recoiled it. “There,
now it looks like I actually used this. Let’s go. Oh, I’m Julian by the way.
The large ferret is Gaemacirch who is a zarx, the skravyn is Dreekt, and the wick
– – –
The tunnel cleared of metal after a few dozen
feet. The concern Dreekt felt grew as they approached the small cavern he had
seen in his vision.
“Here,” Dreekt said. “Be on the lookout for-”
he was cut short as a giant spider attacked Gaemacirch by spitting acid at him.
“Spiders!” Gaemacirch loped towards the giant
spider that had spit at him to slash at it with his claws. He missed, but as
the spider avoided the attack an opening was created for Dreekt to shoot magic
at the creature.
Seeing the opening Dreekt cast a bolt of
fire at the creature who seemed to shrug most of the hit off.
Reaching for her bow and arrows Burner noticed
another spider. “There’s a second one approaching!” She shot at the first spider,
hoping that by focusing they would hold out long enough for Julian to show up to
help. One giant spider would be no problem, but two? Big problem.
The second spider jumped forward and attempted
to bite Burner but misjudged the distance and moved back again.
The first spider bit at Gaemacirch and
managed to sink its fangs in. Venom injected into him, but Gaemacirch was able
to shrug off the effects.
Burner turned and shot at the second spider,
now realizing that if they ignored one of the spiders it would be problematic.
The arrow found a gap in the spider’s protective carapace, dealing some damage.
Deciding it wouldn’t hurt to try again
Dreekt shot another bolt of fire at the first spider. Once again, the fire
seemed to bounce off the hide. He quickly addressed his spirit. Any ideas?
Don’t use fire, use force?
Large ferret claws ripped into the first spider,
heavily damaging its front legs and making it harder for it to attack.
The second spider ran back up to Burner, not
willing to judge a leap again, and bit at her. The bite took a large chunk out
of Burner’s side but did not inject any venom into her.
The first spider bit at Gaemacirch again,
but he was to swift for it. The spider backed off by climbing up the wall.
A wave of arcane energy blasted from between
Dreekt’s outstretched hands and knocked the spider off the wall and back to the
ground where Gaemacirch could get to it.
Expecting the spider to still be on the
wall, Gaemacirch had leapt toward it and missed when it fell back to the ground,
but he ended up between the spider and the cave wall.
Pulling out her rapier Burner stabbed at the
second spider, but the spider saw the attack coming and moved out of range
before moving forward again biting at Burner. This bite knocked Burner out and
the spider moved to close on her two companions, planning to deal with her
The first spider turned to attack Dreekt,
but he saw it coming and jumped back, out of range. He then pulled out his
quarterstaff and attempted to break off one of the spider’s mandibles but
With a slash of his paw Gaemacirch dealt another
blow to the first spider. “Dreekt! Burner went down! There’s a second spider!”
As Gaemacirch called out the second spider
moved in to bite at Gaemacirch who scuttled to the side, barely avoiding the
With a quick strike that Dreekt couldn’t
avoid the first spider sunk its fangs into his arm. The venom entered his blood
and he could feel it work it burning through his veins. He swung at the spider
with his quarterstaff, missing before falling to one knee, barely able to stand.
Turning back into his humanoid form,
Gaemacirch gripped his large, katana-like weapon in his hands, but was unable
to strike before the second spider bit his leg. This ended up knocking him over
and he hit his head hard against the hard floor of the cavern. He went out at
Julian and the automaton entered the cavern
just as Gaemacirch went down and then ran over to help. The first spider noticed
this and with a swift motion injected more venom into Dreekt, knocking him the
rest of the way to the ground and making him lose consciousness. Oddly there
was a smile on Dreekt’s face as he went out.
With the sound of metal on metal the
automaton charged forward and struck at the first spider, dealing minor damage
A scream loosed from Julian’s lips and he
swung and the same spider with both his axes. He was blind in his rage and was
unable to connect with the spider.
Circling around, the second spider struck at
the automaton and pulled some chunks of metal away.
The first spider bit into Julian’s arm, but
he was able to break the hold before the venom was injected into his veins.
With the momentum from pulling away Julian attempted to strike at the other
spider and missed but created a small opening for the automaton.
Seeing the opening the automaton grabbed
Gaemacirch’s katana-like sword from the ground and beheaded the first spider
In anger at having its mate killed the second
spider bit at the automaton twice, the second bite finding purchase on the
metal, pulling more away from it.
The automaton sliced a slab from the spider’s
side just as Julian threw both of his axes at it. Together they dealt a heavy
blow against it.
In retaliation the spider backed off and
spit acid on the automaton, eating through enough of the metal to cause it to
fall, useless, to the floor of the cavern.
Picking up one of his axes Julian tossed it
into the spider and picked up his other axe.
Backing away further the spider spit more
acid at Julian who was able to avoid some of the acid, but he knew he would be
unable to take another hit. Picking up the other axe that had dropped back to
the ground Julian threw them both into the spider’s head, killing it.
Exhausted from the battle Julian quickly
made his way to Burner, who he knew had the magic to heal his companions. He
bound her wounds to stop the bleeding and fed some herbs he had picked up in
town to her to wake her up.
With a gasp Burner opened her eyes. “The others,
how are they?”
“They’re unconscious, but Dreekt seemed
satisfied when I arrived with the automaton. Can you heal them?”
“I can. It will probably take a while,
though.” Burner moved over to her friends and started sending healing energy
over them. After a while they woke up.
While Burner was distracted with healing Dreekt
and Gaemacirch, Julian was using some of his magic to put the automaton back together.
With a flash of insight, he cut open the spiders and fished around in their
guts. He found parts of other automatons in there, mostly deteriorated by the
acid they had spit, but in one he found a voice box.
He brought the voice box over to the mostly repaired
automaton and pressed it against the automaton’s throat. After a moment the automaton
lifted its hands to hold the box in place while gears and wires snaked from its
throat and from the box to join up. In a moment the automaton could speak
“Thank you, Julian. You are a wonder among men.”
The voice had a metallic echo to it.
Julian shook his head. “Don’t mention it…what’s
“Enress, call me Enress.”
“Hey, Julian.” Dreekt walked over slowly,
his wounds no longer visible with regrown feathers covering them. “How’s he
“I’m a she, and my name is Enress.” The automaton held out her right hand and offered it to Dreekt. “I believe your name is Dreekt?”
“Yes, it is.” He took the offered hand and shook. “Nice to meet you, ma’am.”