The Fractured Mountains: Darkness Ascending – Chapter 25 (pt 2/2)

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?”

“Yes.”

“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?”

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The Fractured Mountains: Darkness Ascending – Chapter 25 (pt 1/2)

[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.

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The Fractured Mountains: Darkness Ascending – Chapter 24

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 her direction.

Following Burner’s lead, the rest of the adventurers followed behind. Gaem cutting through vines, and everyone else slashing and stabbing.

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 cries.

“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 range.

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 there.

“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 meant…”

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 Gaemacirch.

“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 killed.”

“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.”

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The Fractured Mountains: Darkness Ascending Ch. 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wings?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re right. Let’s get moving.”

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The Fractured Mountains – Ch. 22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Exactly.”

– – –

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

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

“Thanks Sam.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why, certainly.”

– – –

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

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

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

“It’s pissy.”

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Most certainly.”

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

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

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

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

– – –

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

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

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

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

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

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The Fractured Mountains – Ch. 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who?”

“Please, just heal the finch.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – –

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

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

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

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

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The Fractured Mountains – Ch. 20

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

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

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

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

– – –

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

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

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

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

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

– – –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you understand?”

“Yes, I do.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Right.”

– – –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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