Terra Incognita – Ch. 17

Krakust swam quickly towards the figure that had thrown a fishing spear at him. As he did so the creature threw another one. It glanced off of Krakust’s arm, taking a chunk of flesh with it. Grunting in pain he continued forward towards the creature. He was finally close enough to make it out. It was a large, blue-green, anthropomorphic frog. He hadn’t seen anything like it before, all he knew was that it had attacked him first. He swam faster and, before the creature could throw another spear, he buried his dagger deep into one of its large eyes. He pulled the dagger back and slashed the throat of the frogman. A thick, black sludge seeped out of the wounds and into the water. Krakust backed away from the substance then turned to continue the swim downward.

Ember was having a hard time keeping up with Krakust. Foxes were not designed to swim under water and she had to fight against her buoyancy with paws that wanted to push her towards the surface. The close call with the first spear did not help and she floated upwards quite a ways. She tried her hardest to keep up with Krakust, who didn’t seem to notice, or didn’t care, that she was falling behind. Looking around at the rocky walls of the deep pool she decided that it might be better to push off them to get downward momentum. She swam to one and tried pushing off of it. It certainly was faster than swimming by itself, but not very much.

Slow down! I can’t keep up! She tried to communicate telepathically with Krakust, but he didn’t seem to hear her. Shast!

Krakust continued to swim downward. After a long swim he saw the bottom of the pool expand into and underwater cavern. The heat from the water was increasing. It wasn’t uncomfortably hot yet, but he expected it would get much warmer the farther down he went. Glancing around he noticed another frog creature guarding an underwater cave. He oriented his body to swim that way when he realized Ember wasn’t with him. He looked up to see her slowly making her way toward him. Well, the sentry hasn’t noticed me yet, I’ll wait for her to catch up.

Pushing off the walls took a lot of Ember’s concentration. She pushed off the wall again and realized there was no more wall below her. She looked around frantically and noticed Krakust waiting for her. With a sigh of relief that released bubbles into the water she began swimming toward him. He nodded at her then turned to swim in another direction. Well, at least he waited for me before going out of sight. Ember made her short legs work all the more to try to keep up with the orc. How did Helena get this deep? I certainly would’ve drowned by now without the potion Krakust had. Ember shook her head. No, don’t think about that. She must be fine.

The frog creature finally turned to face Krakust, but it was too late. He was already reaching out with his dagger to kill the sentry. The same black substance from before oozed out of the creature and Krakust once again made sure not to swim through it. He swam into the cave and up into an air pocket. He heard the distant sound of struggling and almost ran towards it before remembering Ember was still behind him. “Probably should’ve brought the dwarf with me except he would sink like a stone.” He muttered softly to himself.

After a few moments Ember surfaced and made her way out of the water. She shook herself dry and looked around, confused. “Aren’t we below the water level?”

“Keep your voice down,” Krakust said softly. “This is an air pocket and it’s probably not very big.” A scream echoed down the narrow passageway as if to punctuate his point. “We might want to get a move on.”

“Agreed.” Ember started padding quickly down the passage, not waiting for Krakust. She poked her head around a nearby blind corner then pulled it back. By this point Krakust had caught up with her. “Helena is tied up and looks unconscious. There’s two of the frog things with her.”

Krakust nodded. “I can take them. The other ones were pretty weak.” He took a moment to focus, then his muscles became move defined and his blood vessels stuck out slightly. “Here we go.” He rounded the corner and lunged at one of the two frog men.

Following behind Ember saw the other frog man shoving something into Helena’s mouth then turned to attack Krakust. She ran forward to Helena to see what it was.

A pink object changed color to match Helena’s tongue. Helena’s eyes went wide as the thing ripped her tongue out and attached itself to the stump. She then passed out again.

Ember turned to see Krakust finish off the second frog creature by smashing its head in with his pick hammer. “Quick!” She yelled. “Helena’s tongue was replaced by a parasite!” She pointed at the slab of pink flesh on the ground with her snout. “You need to cut it out!”

“What?” Krakust looked at the flesh. “If I do that she won’t be able to talk.”

“Just do it!”

“Fine.” He pulled his dagger out and wiped it off on his leg. “Here goes.”

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Terra Incognita – Ch. 16

Donaar jumped onto the raft and gripped a femur tightly with his left hand. With his right he started passing out the potions of acid resistance. “Here, chug them and we might make it out of this alive!”

Sorley and Lourek each took one of the potions and downed them swiftly then gripped onto the raft.

“Here it comes!”

The wave crashed into the bone raft and the three creatures holding onto it were covered in acid. There was about a half a centimeter invisible barrier keeping the acid from touching their skin. The kobold above didn’t have that luxury and he appeared to be having a hard time holding onto the piece of debris.

Orby, Sorley thought at the elemental, can you push that creature closer to us?

It’s called a kobold, since you don’t seem to know what it is. Orby replied. I could, but the acid would hurt me. As long as I stay part of you it won’t affect me.

Sorley mumbled something to himself then grabbed a handful of flour from a sack he had tied to his waist. He then threw the flour toward the kobold. The flour imploded halfway between the two groups causing them to get closer to eachother.

“What are you doing?” Lourek yelled. “We’re already in a precarious position! Don’t make it worse!”

Throwing another handful of flour Sorley responded, “this isn’t going to make it any worse. In fact it might make the wave smaller.” The flour imploded again, taking some of the acid with it where ever it was going.

– – –

On the surface of the hot spring the serpent’s face contorted and it started coughing and hacking. Lukren and Evryn backed away from the serpent as it began to thrash about wildly. It was yelling something in draconic, but Lukren didn’t understand the language.

The serpent yelled in draconic again then started to calm down.

With a last string of draconic the serpent shot water into the air then dipped beneath the surface of the water and disappeared from Lukren’s sight. “Great,” he muttered, “now it’ll be even harder for them to get out.”

– – –

Just as Sorley was close enough to reach out and grab the kobold the entire belly of the beast convulsed and the feeling of weightlessness came over him. “Quick! Grab on!”

Seeing the outstretched hand the kobold pushed off of his piece of debris and grabbed onto Sorley’s forearm. “Thank!”

The grip was so tight that the kobold’s claws broke Sorley’s skin in places, but he held on all the tighter in response. If he could save this innocent life maybe he could save others. Not like his parents had, sacrificing their lives, but surviving another day to save more. By the time the stomach acid had settled down his arm was oozing blood from several places and the kobold was unconscious. Carefully pulling the kobold onto the raft Sorley grabbed the tattered pieces of his tunic and wrapped some strips around his arm.

“Will he be okay?” Sorley asked Donaar.

“I’m not sure.” Donaar placed a hand over the kobold’s nose. “I feel his breathing, so possibly.” The dragonkin looked around. “Is there someplace we can land this raft?”

Lourek pointed at a distant pile of debris. “That looks as good a place as any.” He pulled an arm from the raft and started using it as an oar. “Only one way to find out.”

The raft slowly made its way to the isle of debris in the sea of stomach acid. The surface of the debris above the acid was by no means dry when they got there, but it was better than their raft. The acid immunity potions were starting to wear off and the acid was beginning to sting their eyes. By the time they disembarked from the raft the skin of Sorley and Lourek was starting to burn.

“Those scales sure come in handy. Another barrier before you start getting burnt.” Lourek motioned at Donaar. “Though, I suspect it’s worse once the acid gets through them.”

“I don’t want to find out.” Donaar threw the kobold over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. “We need to get out of here, and soon.”

Sorley pulled the pouch of flour off his hip and threw it into the stomach acid. “That’s ruined now. The acid got absorbed by it.” He started sifting through some of the debris that was piled up. “Maybe I can find some bone to grind into powder. Needs to be mostly unaffected by the acid, though.”

“Don’t worry about that right now. I think there’s something buried over there.” Lourek pointed at a piece of carved stone protruding from the pile. “Maybe it’s something more immediately useful.”

With a shrug Sorley walked towards the gray stone. Upon closer inspection it appeared to be part of a portal. Seeing that it could in fact be a way out Sorley started digging frantically only to discover it was shattered into various large pieces. He pulled up as many as he could and started arranging them.

“Well,” Donaar asked as he gently set the kobold down, “is it anything we can use?”

“Not if it’s as broken as it appears,” commented Lourek.

Sorley pulled his grimoire from his pack. The cover appeared to be a little damp, but he quickly wiped it off. Undoing the buckle on the cover he flipped to a blank page. “It’s not very helpful right now, no, but I think it could be important.” He pulled a quill and a stoppered bottle of ink out. “I’m going to sketch it. It appears to be a teleportation circle or a summoning circle. Could be either at this point. I’ll do some research on it later when we aren’t in this situation.”

“Wait, could you teleport us out of here?” Lourek stood on a piece of debris to look over Sorley’s shoulder. “I’m no expert, but if you’ve been somewhere before it should be simple, right?”

“Simple?” Sorley paused from his sketch. “Teleportation is an exact science. There’s no simple about it.”

“What about a portal? You said one brought you here to Domhan. Could you make a smaller one to jump to a point you remember here?”

“That would be better if I could see where I was going. Not very possible from where we are. If I get anything wrong,” Sorley resumed sketching the magic circle, “we could end up in the wrong place in pieces.”

The kobold opened its eyes and looked around weakly. “Where Kefderent now?”

Donaar turned to the kobold. “What’s Kefderent?”

“I Kefderent. Of Kef Clan.” The kobold slowly stood up. “Me sore, but alive.”

With a smile Sorley finished the sketch and turned to the kobold. “Hi, Kefderent. I’m Sorley Aelfson.”

“I’m Donaar ‘Shield Biter’ Thruuvth a knight of the Order of Defenders. The dwarf is Lourek.” Donaar motioned at Lourek.

“Aye, nice to make your acquaintance.” Lourek turned back to Sorley. “Well, will you at least try to make a portal?”

Sighing, Sorley took a seat on a piece of the magic circle he had pulled from the detritus. “I’ll need to commune with Gormaliev first. I’ve never cast anything that complicated before.” He folded his legs and fell into a trance. As he did so Orby floated out of him.

I can’t be part of that conversation. Orby thought to Donaar and Lourek. Is there anything I can do for the two of you?

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Terra Incognita – Ch. 15

“Kingdom politics?” Helena looked disgusted.

Krakust shrugged. “If I hadn’t killed him he would’ve killed me.” Sitting down he smiled. “And if I couldn’t defend myself there I would have given up any claims to return to my tribe. Even if I had Helena and Sorley with me.”

“Which you never will, not as slaves.” Helena stood and started walking away. “I’m going to find a smaller pool to relax in. Yell for me if you need anything.”

Ember got back to her feet and trotted after Helena. “I’ll keep an eye out for you.”

Walking swiftly Helena found a secluded pool and stripped to her underclothes. “Keep watch for me and when I’m done you can have a turn.” She slowly lowered herself into the warm water and let out a sigh of relief. Sinking under the water she realized that she couldn’t feel the bottom of the pool. Before she could start swimming back up to the surface something grabbed her by the foot and pulled her under.

Walking back and forth Ember heard some splashing then bubbles break the surface of the pool. Thinking nothing of it she waited a minute before checking on Helena. She peered over at the hotspring only to see nobody in the water. “Helena! Where are you? This is no time to play games, you know.” Ember looked around for Helena and found no tracks and no scent to follow. “This isn’t good.” She turned and scampered back to Krakust and Lukren.

The two were passing their alcohol back and forth when Ember ran back into sight. “Help! Helena is missing!”

“Again?” Lukren jumped to his feet. “Where was she?”

“She disappeared under the water, I think. I couldn’t find a trail of any kind.”

Krakust got to his feet and pulled a compass from his pack. “I can find her with this.” He focused on the compass and pointed in the direction of the pool she had chosen. “This way to start. He glanced at Ember and Evryn. “Evryn, stay here. I’ll go with the fox.”

With a short wine Evryn curled up near Lukren.

“Well, uh, sorry about earlier Evryn.” Lukren said.

Evryn snorted softly and looked at the gaping mouth of the serpent.

“She’ll forgive you eventually.” Krakust said over his shoulder. “At the very least she’ll keep you safe cause I told her to.”

Ember scurried behind Krakust as the green orc hurried towards the pool. When they arrived at it he circled it multiple times. “She’s below the surface, I think.” He glanced up at the sky. “She’s certainly not above us. The sky is oddly clear today.” He began to remove his armor, making sure to keep his pickhammer and dagger on him then pulled a potion out of his pack. “I only have one of these, and I was hoping I wouldn’t need it.” He chugged most of the potion then held it out for Ember to drink. “It’ll allow us to breathe underwater.”

“I guess since you drank first I shouldn’t worry too much about it.” Ember drank the small amount of liquid remaining in the bottle.

With a grunt of approval Krakust dove into the pool, head first. As he went under he saw a jutting rock barely miss his face. Probably shouldn’t do that again. He used the momentum to swim swiftly downward. As he passed what appeared to be the half-way point of the depths a fishing spear flew past his left ear and he turned to see it barely miss Ember as well. He readied his dagger, the pickhammer was too big for underwater use, and swam towards his assailant.

– – –

The two kobolds lunged repeatedly at Lourek and Sorley. They connected a few times but only left minor scratches and bruises.

“How long,” Sorley said between dodges, “until we can dispatch them?”

Donaar looked across the board, remembering where the pawns were before. “Now isn’t a bad time.”

With a grunt Lourek swung his short-swords and heavily damaged on of the kobolds. Immediately after the swing Sorley shot a bolt of energy at the same kobold, dropping it.

“No!” The spirit of the mage cried out. “You’ve blocked my king in!”

“And with this outstanding move I’ll get you into checkmate.” Donaar moved a rook in to check the mage’s king. “Checkmate.”

“Wait.” The spirit looked over the chessboard. “Shast! You’ve won, sir knight.” The spirit bowed. “What is it that you want?”

“Help us get out of this place,” Donaar motioned at the belly of the serpent, “safe and sound.”

The spirit smiled and produced three potions from under the table. “These are potions of acid immunity. Use them well.” Then the spirit disappeared.

“I’m not sure how to use these yet.” Donaar picked up the potions and put them in his satchel. “Let’s continue in the direction Lourek was heading and think about it.” He motioned for Lourek to move on when he realized the second kobold had stopped attacking and was looking around, confused. “Oh,” Donaar said in draconic, “I thought you would be returned home after I won.”

The kobold turned to face Donaar, its metallic scales the same color as Donaar’s. “I need go home,” it said in broken common. “Where here?”

“Uhh…the belly of a serpent…” Donaar said hesitantly. “We’re trying to escape.”

“I help escape you help me.” The kobold pointed in the direction Lourek was heading. “Me be advance scout.” It scampered off and out of sight.

“We won’t see that thing again, will we?” Sorley asked, watching it disappear.

“Most likely, yeah.” Donaar shrugged. “I can only hope it doesn’t try to swim in the bile.”

The belly of the beast rumbled and a wave of acidic bile rolled towards the characters in the direction they were heading. The kobold was riding the wave by holding onto a piece of debris.

“Quickly!” Lourek yelled. “Get on the bone raft!” He pointed at the thing he had found earlier and everyone ran for it.

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Rebuilding Brangmar – Pt. 12

Mother Ironbark lead Aram, Erin, Tribst, and Throbor to a tree larger than the others. “This is the first rediron tree to be planted here. It was brought from another realm. Perhaps one of you is from there.”

“Maybe. So, where is the town we’re going to?” Aram looked around the forest floor, confused at the lack of buildings.

Mother Ironbark smiled. “Oh, really. Have you looked up?”

“Humans never think to look up.” Erin responded. “We’re used to the threats coming from our level or lower.” She then looked up and was amazed at the walkways and buildings that seemed to grow out of the very trees. The sprawling sylvan city was quiet, but there were lights and Erin noticed some figures walking the paths.

“Oh, oh no.” Tribst said, noticing the city. “I am terrified of heights. If I could just wait down here…”

A large basket lowered itself to the foot of the great tree. A gnome stood in the basket. “Oh, hello! I see Mother Ironbark has collected some new people. I’m Tibdast.”

Tribst’s eyes couldn’t grow any wider, but they twitched when he heard the name. “Tibdast?”

“Oh, hello Tribst. I believe we, well you and another me, have met.” Tibdast smiled broadly. “I’m afraid I don’t have any ale here, only this elevator now.”

“You two know each other?” Mother Ironbark got on the elevator. “Well, if the knowledgeable gnome here finds you friendly you will be most welcome. We don’t have any guest rooms on the forest floor, however, so our hospitality stays only in the treetops.”

“How, might I ask, do you normally get up to the city. I don’t imagine you use this lift every time.” Throbor motioned at the number of elves in the hunting party. “Even just the few of you can’t all fit.”

One of the other elves smiled. “Only druids go out in such large packs.” At that all the elves other than Mother Ironbark transformed into various different birds and flew up to the treetops.

“Your druids are powerful, to be able to fly so easily.” Tribst watched the birds rise into the air. “It takes our druids many decades to master such flight.”

Mother Ironbark frowned. “Are your druids not of the air?”

“No, I think not. The druids I know are in many different orders. I imagine that the other non-elvish races are much the same.” Tribst shrugged. “And perhaps not.”

Tibdast nodded. “Yes, the elves of this land all are of the circle of air, whereas there are almost no non-elves in the circle. No outsiders have picked it up in centuries.”

The elevator began to rise to the treetops as Mother Ironbark stared at Tibdast. “I don’t believe you’ve been here near that long, sir gnome.”

“I’m good at paying attention to information. It’s sorta my thing.” He winked at Tribst.

Soon the adventurers found themselves in the treetops, surrounded by elves. It was getting hard for Erin to focus, with all the beauty around her.

“Please, Tibdast, show our new guests around. I must speak with the elders and see about an audience with them. It could be a few days, or a few months. They do love to deliberate.” She turned and ran off down a narrow, handrail free, walkway.

Tribst pulled Tibdast aside. “So, uh, what are you doing here, Messenger? I thought our pantheon couldn’t leave our realm.”

“I didn’t leave, I’m actually from here…but I’m also in each of your realms. In Aram’s and Erin’s respective realms I’m a human, but in Throbor’s I’m a dwarf.”

“So you exist simultaneously with the save view as all your other selves?”

“No, no.” Tibdast sighed. “I mean that happens sometimes, but we normally get the memories of each other version when we sleep.”

“I see. Do you want to keep this secret form the others?”

“Yes, please…and stop licking your eye!”

“Sorry.” Tribst pulled his tongue back into his mouth with a slurp. “Force of habit.”

“Anyway,” Tibdast turned to address the rest of the adventurers. “I don’t own a bar here, but I can recommend one, and the elves are sure to cover room and board. If you wish for currency conversion I can do that for you at my house over here…”

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Rebuilding Brangmar – Pt. 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – –

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

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

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

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

“Oh, that it does.”

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Terra Incognita – Ch. 13

Lourek awoke deep in the bowels of a large beast. He heard the beast’s voice echo around. He couldn’t understand it, but he assumed it was in draconic. “Well, this is just wonderful. I take a dip in the hot springs and I end up in the belly of a serpent without my armor or weapons.”

Taking a look around Lourek realized he was on a small island in the serpent’s stomach. The pile was made of undigested bones, the remains of armor, and acid-damaged weapons. With a mighty sigh he sifted through part of the pile and found a damaged short sword.

Swinging the sword a few times, Lourek nodded. “Well, it’s better than nothing.” His voice echoed through the cavernous stomach. He thought back to all the stories he had heard growing up of heroes. None that he could remember involved anyone being swallowed by a serpent. “Probably because nobody ever survived to tell the tale.” He muttered to the large, stench-filled cavern.

– – –

Lukren edged to the water and pulled his armor and Lourek’s armor and weapons away. “Ok, let me put on my armor and we can talk about what to do.”

“I think my friend Donaar should try speaking with the serpent. It does speak draconic, right?” Krakust motioned at the hematite dragonkin.

With a shrug Donaar sheathed his sword. “It wouldn’t hurt.”

Helena nodded then said something to Donaar in a language that sounded like deep growls with grating consonants.

A similar sounding string of words responded to Helena. Then, in common, Donaar addressed the group. “I think Helena might be a little better at this. She knows more about serpents than I, and she obviously speaks draconic very well.”

“Well, I don’t see why not.” Sorley nodded at Helena. “I assume you want to do this?”

“Of course.” Helena approached the edge of the pool and called out in draconic. “Serpent, I seek a moot with you.”

Rising from the pool, a large brass colored serpent sprayed warm water into the air. “Speak, elf of the sky.”

“I am Helena Dabaetodh, a dracomage. I wish to know what you want in return for spitting up our dwarven friend you have swallowed.” Helena did the same intricate bow she had done for Donaar earlier.

The serpent laughed a large, booming, mirth-filled sound echoing in the hot spring clearing. “Once swallowed you must find your own way out. If you wish to enter and help him you may, or you may send him items you think will help. There is nothing you can do for me to just spit him up.”

With a deep sigh Helena nodded. “Very well, I shall commune with my companions and we shall decide what to do.”

“Take your time. I believe he landed on, ahem, dry land.” With that the serpent coiled back into the water but kept his head near the shore. “Toss in anything or enter. Anything that goes in my mouth will be swallowed.” The serpent opened his maw and stopped moving.

Donaar was already telling the others what the serpent had said when Helena returned. “So, I think we should send him his weapons and armor first, then decide what else we wish to do.”

“Agreed.” Lukren took the bundle of armor with Lourek’s items and tossed it into the serpent’s mouth. At once the serpent reared its head up and swallowed. Then it lowered its head, resuming the open maw position.

– – –

Lourek had just found an old, tattered raft made of something that seemed to resist the serpent’s stomach bile when he felt a rumble and a package landed next to him with a loud thump. He looked at the bundle in shock and realized that it was his armor and items.

“By the gods, they’re making deals with the beast! What are they thinking?” Lourek took the armor and donned it, strapping his daggers to his side and putting the bag on his back. “Well, I’m grateful none the less.” Lourek climbed onto the raft and saw a long pole cobbled together with bones with sinew used as twine. “Looks like it’s time to move.”

– – –

“I’m definitely offering to go in there to help…Lourek was it?” Donaar looked to Lukren for confirmation.

“Yes, it’s Lourek.”

“But if I go in alone, then he will probably see me as a threat.” Donaar scanned the other’s faces. “Who else is willing?”

Sorley shrugged. “I’ll go.” He looked at Ember. “You stay here, though.”

Helena nodded. “Orby will go with you. I’ll keep an eye on Ember out here.”

“Ok, as long as you have someone looking out for your back, I guess.” Ember shook her head, her red fur reflecting the sunlight. “I just don’t like the idea of you or anyone going in there.”

“Well, it’s decided.” Sorley held a hand towards Orby. “Let’s go, shall we?”

Orby floated over and flowed into Sorley’s hand. This still feels weird, but Helena obviously trusts you to let this happen twice.

I guess so. Sorley smiled at Helena. “Thanks.” He turned and nodded to Donaar, his face more serious. “Let’s go, dragonkin.”

With a curt nod Donaar approached the serpent, Sorley in tow. They climbed up onto the beast’s tongue and felt what all food feels. The sensation of being completely swallowed.

– – –

Lourek reached a new island of bone and undigested food. He looked around and saw a pedestal with a few runes. “Well, let’s take a look, shall we?” As he approached, he heard a distant scream. “Well, it seems I’m not the only unfortunate soul in here.” Looking around he tried to locate where the sound was coming from. It was approaching rapidly from somewhere. By the time he thought to look up he didn’t have time to move out of the way. Donaar and Sorley landed on top of him.

“Sorry, Lourek. Once we started falling, we couldn’t steer.” Sorley helped Donaar off Lourek and then reached out a hand to help the dwarf up. “This is Donaar, a dragonkin that’s willing to help.”

Shaking his head Lourek offered a hand. “I’m Lourek, but I don’t know who would’ve been dumb enough to come down here, there’s no way out except dead.”

“Don’t worry,” Donaar said, “we made no deals with the serpent. He said if we wished to help, he would send us down here. He acts like people have survived this before.”

“Well, if there were people who got out alive…there weren’t very many of them.” Lourek motioned at the surface of bones they were standing on. “Pretty much a million to one odds.”

Sorley nodded. “Oh, Orby’s here too by the way.”

“Right.” Lourek looked back at the pedestal. “I was about to examine the runes on this. Looks like some sort of puzzle.”

The group walked, or floated, over to the pedestal. The three natives to Domhan seemed confused by the carvings.

“Almost looks elvish, but not as flowing.” Donaar traced the side of the pedestal. “Anyone read elvish?”

Sorley chuckled lightly. “It’s in English. My native tongue. Let me take a look.” He approached the pedestal. On the edges there was a single sentence. “It says, ‘Capture the king, let not your king be captured’. Does anyone know how to play chess?”

As Sorley said chess the top of the pedestal flipped, and chess pieces appeared. On the opposite side of the pedestal a man in green robes appeared. “Welcome, traveler. This is my magic chess board. If you win a game against me, I will give you a great boon. But if you lose, you will battle for my amusement.”

“What boons might you grant us?” Donaar eyed the figure. “You are but the shadow of a great mage. You are not here.”

“I am not, but a piece of my soul is. I can enchant armor and weapons or give you a clue on how to get out of here.” The figure swept his arms wide. “If you win ask, and I may be able to give.”

Donaar stepped forward. “I know a thing or two about chess. Let’s have a go.”

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Rebuilding Brangmar – Pt. 10

The tarrasque looked at the small guard outpost. A group of creatures left the building. It cocked its head to the side, trying to decide what to do. It shrugged slightly and moved back to its original path. It passed within two meters of the guard outpost, knocking it over with the tremor from its passing.

“What was that?” Throbor asked. He glanced at Tribst who was sketching the creature in his spellbook.

“Yes, tell me what it was called so I can title this sketch.” Tribst put a few finishing touches on the drawing.

Erin shook her head and sighed. “That was a tarrasque. Apparently they just walk around the plains here.” She fell silent and looked over towards Aram.

Aram was kneeling and seemed to be praying. The rest of the party waited for him to finish before turning and walking back toward the forest. It was still raining, but now they had nothing under which to take cover.

The trek to the forest was mostly uninterrupted. They saw few beasts during the day, and those they noticed at night kept their distance. Lurking just outside the firelight, eyes aglow. During one such night Aram’s and Erin’s watches overlapped.

“So, what’s it like?” Erin asked.

Aram sat up from his bedroll. “What’s what like?” He pulled his sword from the ground beside him and stood to belt it to his side. He strapped his shield to his arm with the quickness of long practice.

“Living among non-human creatures. It probably just feels normal to you.” Erin shook her head at her self-perceived naivete.

“Actually, on Yerkir, the humans are on a pogrom against winged snake creatures.” Aram shrugged. “I don’t know how it started, but both sides are vehement about killing. At least most of them…I don’t really want to talk about it.” He motioned at Erin’s bedroll. “You should sleep. Long day tomorrow.”

Erin shook her head and went to her bedroll. To her surprise there was a suit of studded leather armor next to the bedroll with a note on top.

“Erin, this is the armor I made for you. It should fit pretty well because I was praying to the metal while I did the ritual. Don’t worry, I stayed in the camp while I did the ritual.”

With a grateful sigh Erin lowered herself into her bedroll and let sleep wash over her.

– – –

Tribst shook Erin awake with his hand over her mouth to keep her quiet. He whispered to her as he pulled his hand away. “Shh. We’ve surrounded by creatures all night, but some of them are getting closer. I think they’ve been following us since the tarrasque passed by.”

Looking around the camp Erin noticed a pride of lions surrounding them. The sun was slowly rising from the horizon.

“Well, at least they don’t have a blue aura.” Erin said, now knowing that silence would make no difference. “Teblats would not be a welcome sight.” She started putting her new armor on with the help of Tribst.

One of the lionesses approached the camp. In an instant all eyes were on the creature, prepared to fight it off. Then, to everyone’s surprise the creature changed shape into an elf. The elf had short pointed ears, one of which had several wooden earrings.

“Greetings, outsiders. We have been tracking you for the past few days. Why do you go to our forest, and how did you escape Domhan?” The elf stared at the four of them, awaiting an answer.

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Terra Incognita – Ch. 12

Donaar sat in front of a hastily made fire. “So, Krakust, you want information on other realms. Why?”

A couple of ice-hares had been skewered and was cooking over the fire. Krakust filled two tin cups with snow and ice then set them next to the fire to melt the ice. “I want to explore. Not much chance to do that here in Domhan.”

“Yet here you are!” Donaar threw his arms wide. “Exploring!”

Krakust chuckled. “Yeah. I suppose I am.” He took a sip from the slightly melted ice. “Well, it’s better than nothing. I suppose Sorley wasn’t wrong.”

“Wrong about what?” Donaar pulled a hare off the fire. “I prefer mine a little raw…if you don’t mind.”

“No, go ahead. Not like I haven’t seen it before.” Krakust patted Evryn’s head. She growled softly and returned to eating her raw hare. “He said something about not being enemies when next we met.

“Ah, interesting.” With a swift motion Donaar peeled the skin off the ice hare and started eating. The bones cracked under the strength of his powerful jaws. He ate them along with the meat.

Krakust pulled out his compass and focused on it. One of the needles began spinning then stopped, pointing northward. “Well, they’re still heading north. I wonder if they’re above ground yet?” He pulled his hare off the fire and skinned it. He tossed a few of the organs over to Evryn and stared eating. “Could use some seasoning.”

“Still north?” Donaar was picking his teeth with one of the bone fragments.

“A little to the east as well, but mostly north.”

“Maybe they’re going to come up at the hot springs.” Donaar stood up and stretched. “It would feel pretty good to take a quick soak in there after all this snow.”

Krakust nodded. “That it would. Where is it from here?”

Donaar pointed. “About that direction.”

“Good. That’s not far out of the way.”

– – –

Sorley and Ember walked at the back of the group. The dwarves had recommended assigning roles for when they left the tunnel.

Helena would lead because she knew more about the layout of southern Domhan than the dwarves. Lukren would keep his eyes open for any game. Lourek would keep his eyes open for threats and scout ahead.

Sorley was stuck with bringing up the rear. If anyone started to lag behind he was supposed to get them moving again, but his main job was keeping an eye out for any dangers coming from behind.

“Okay, we’re finally above ground.” Helena stretched and looked around. “Ah, the south-eastern forest.” Evergreen trees and small bushes covered the land. I don’t know any elven settlements here. I’m from the north-western forest.”

“You can navigate here though, right?” Lourek asked. “If not, we need to figure out which way is north and just go that way.”

“No, I can navigate.” Helena pointed to her left. “North is that way.”

Sorley looked where she was pointing and saw a standing stone. “What’s that?”

“Ah, nature marker.” Helena walked toward it. “Commonly known as standing stones.” She brushed some moss off the stone. “I don’t know this language.”

“Let me look.” Sorley approached the stone and saw it was covered in flowing script. “I can’t read it. Seems familiar, though.” He pulled out his grimoire. “Is there more under the rest of the moss?”

Helena shrugged and used a fire spell to burn off the rest of the moss. “There.”

Sorley opened his grimoire and turned to a page near the center. “Ah, here. The language in here isn’t complete, but I think this says something like warm, this says stream or pool, and this says west.” He pointed at three words. “This seems to be a directional marker.”

“There’s supposed to be a natural hot spring somewhere in this forest. I could do with a warm bath.” Helena pointed west. “Well, it’s that way. Let’s go.”

“Sounds good to me.” Sorley glanced at the dwarves. “Well, that sound good to you two?”

“Sure.” Lukren shrugged. “It’s not much of a detour, we need to go west anyway.”

Lourek motioned to Helena. “Well, let’s go then. Lead the way.”

– – –

Karkust watched as Donaar jumped straight into the steaming hot water. He shook his head at the dragonkin. “Does it feel good?”

“Feels great!” Donaar dove under the water then surfaced suddenly, spraying hot spring water everywhere.

Evryn ran past Krakust, jumped high, and splashed into the water. She barked happily.

“Ok, you two. I’ll keep watch.” Krakust started walking around the pool. “Just let me know when you want to swap.”

The sound of voices echoed over the snow and water. Krakust motioned to Donaar and Evryn. “Keep it down,” he said softly. “Do you hear that?”

Donaar cocked his head to the side. “I hear something, yes. You check it out. I’ll join you shortly.”

“No, don’t worry. I’ll just scout it out.” Krakust started walking toward the noise.

Shaking his head Donaar swam towards the edge of the hot spring pool. “Come on, Evryn. Let’s follow him.” He looked up and saw Evryn already on the shore, shaking the water off. “Ah, you are loyal. Aren’t you, girl?”

Evryn snorted softly and started following Krakust’s footsteps.

– – –

“Look, the hot springs!” Lukren and Lourek took off running and stripped off their clothing as they went. They jumped into the first pool they came to.

Sorley shook his head and turned to say something to Helena. She was facing the forest with her arms crossed. “Well, they aren’t very gentlemanly when it comes to hot springs, are they?”

“No, most certainly not.” Helena sighed. “Are they in the water yet?”

“Yup. Do you want to do a perimeter watch with me? I don’t feel like going in while they’re in there.”

“Sure, but if we find a secluded pool I’m staying there.”

Sorley nodded. “Fair.” He motioned towards the collection of pools. “After you.”

Orby manifested out of Helena and started floating next to Ember. It looked like they were having a mental conversation.

“So,” Sorley asked, “what are you planning to do once we cross the plains to your tribe? If it’s called a tribe.”

“It’s a tribe I suppose.” Helena shrugged. “I want to talk to my grandmother if she’s still there. Tell her about your vision. Try to rally the elves.”

Sorley nodded. “Makes sense. What will you do after the war?” He paused for a moment. “After we deal with that darkfall rend, of course.”

“Well, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll think of something after that.” Helena sighed. “Originally, when I was freed I wanted to go right home and stay there forever. Now I’m talking about starting a war and repairing the very fabric of Domhan. It’s a big change.”

Sorley jumped over a small stream of water crossing between two pools. “I’ve always wanted to live in a large city. That may be because I grew up in the woods with just my parents and Ember. Never really seen a town, let alone a city.”

Helena smiled. “I’ve thought of that before too, but there aren’t any here in the South Reaches, and nobody goes above the mushroom forest, at least not that come back.” She shrugged. “That could mean they found what they were looking for, or that could mean they died in the mushroom forest. Nobody knows.”

“What’s the mushroom forest?” Sorley asked.

“Exactly what it sounds like, a forest of mushrooms. There’s no trees, just really tall mushrooms.”

“Ok, I sup-“ a loud crack cut off Sorley. He whirled in the direction the noise had come from and grabbed his grimoire from his side. “What was that?”

Krakust stepped out from behind a nearby snowdrift. “A stupid twig under the snow, that’s what.”

The ice wolf appeared next to Krakust, and a weird lizard man walked around to stand on Krakust’s other side.

“I take it you know these two, then?” He approached, hand outstretched. “I’m Donaar ‘Shield-Biter’ Thruuvth. Knight of the Order of Defenders. Last known survivor of the Night of Gore.”

“Helena Dabaerosh, apprentice dracomage.” Helena did an ornate bow. “It is nice to see not all the dragonkin died off in the Night of Gore. Though my tribe calls it the Rending.” She shook Donaar’s hand then motioned to Sorley. “This is Sorley Aelfson, warlock.”

Sorley too shook the dragonkin’s hand. “Pleased to make you acquaintance. This is my familiar, Ember.” He motioned at the red fox and light elemental standing next to him. “Oh, and the light elemental is Helena’s…uh…familiar?”

“That’s right.” Helena nodded. “Orby is also a familiar, though maybe not in the same way.”

Krakust cleared his throat. “Ahem.”

“Yes?” Sorley asked. “Is there something you want to say?”

“Uhh…sorry?”

“Sorry’s not good enough. You tried to kill us.” Scales started to appear on Helena’s arm.

Calm, calm. He’s not hostile. Orby comforted Helena. He’s with a Defender Knight. He must’ve done something to gain his trust.

“Stand down, he’s not attacking.” Sorley put himself between Helena and Krakust. I know you were enslaved to him and I expect you resent that, but please stay calm. For my sake if nothing else.”

“Fine.” Helena’s arm returned to normal. “Orby brought up a good point.” She turned back to Donaar. “How did you two meet?”

“He saved me from dying in the snow. I had been ambushed and left to die. They took my outer armor but left my sword. They probably weren’t worthy to wield it. If you know of my order you know what that means.”

“What?” Sorley looked at the sword. “Looks like a regular sword to me.”

Donaar smiled and removed the sword from its scabbard. “Here, try to hold it.”

“No, don’t.” Helena put her hand on Donaar’s shoulder. “He doesn’t know anything about your group.”

“Well, he’ll learn now, if he wants.” Donaar held the blade out, hilt first. “Well?”

Shrugging Sorley grabbed onto the hilt. “He lifted the blade and looked at the runes along it. “Hmm. Interesting runes. Never seen them before.”

Helena looked wide-eyed at the sword in Sorley’s grip. “How?”

“He would make a good knight, if he weren’t already a warlock.” Donaar nodded.

“Oi!” Lukren yelled out from behind Helena and Sorley. “What’s that beast doing here?” He was wearing only his underclothes, his armor back by the hot spring pool.

“Calm down.” Krakust unbelted his dagger and tossed it on the ground. “I mean no harm.”

“Very well.” Lukren turned to the dragonkin. “By the blade you carry I assume you’re a knight.”

“Yes, Donaar ‘Shield Biter’ Thruuvth at your acquaintance.” Donaar did a slight bow.

“Ok, if you aren’t hostile then you can help.” Lukren motioned back to where he had come from. “A huge serpent showed up and swallowed Lourek!” “What?!” Helena and Sorley said in tandem, then turned and started running back toward the pool. Donaar and Lukren were close behind. Krakust paused a moment to gather his dagger and belt from the ground then followed with Evryn.

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Cerdic the Usual – Ch. 6

~ The events in Domhan, continued… ~

Craig walked the group to a set of narrow, steep stairs that lead below the temple. “Here is where you will have to continue without me. Will your companions be joining you? Normally the high priestess would go alone, but there have been occasions where they bring others if you wish.”

“I’ll take them with, thanks.” Morana motioned to the large skeleton. “After you, brother.”

With Doenranak following Morana and Veviir taking up the rear the group started down the narrow stairs. As they went Doenranak applied a powder around his eyes and cast a spell.

In the cavern below the temple was a collection of large, milky blue crystals. To Veviir, Morana, and Morana’s brother the crystals looked mundane and they started searching the rest of the cavern for anything of importance. To Doenranak, however, there were spirits tied to the crystals. He cast a spell on himself to hide from the others and quickly made his way to one of the crystals. He started talking to the shadowy figure bound to it, in hushed tones.

“Can I trust you?” Doenranak asked the figure.

It responded with a vulgarity. “Treeft you.”

Doenranak moved to the next crystal. “How about you?”

“Yes, you can. I won’t harm you, not that I really could.” The shadowy figure resembled a satyr.

“I believe you. Do you wish to return to life?”

“Of course, I do.”

“Will you give me your word that you will do nothing to myself or my companions if I do this for you?”

“You have my oath.”

“Very well.” Doenranak started to trace out a circle and set up a ritual to return life to the spirit.

While Doenranak was focused on setting the ritual up his companions battled three giant spiders able to move in and out of phase with reality. He was confused, at first, as to why they were acting like they couldn’t see the things, then he remembered he had enhanced his sight with magic earlier.

A short time after that they disappeared behind a wall. He hadn’t seen a passageway there before, so he assumed they had found a hidden area. At this time, he realized he should probably see if this creature was evil with his magic rather than take it at its word. He hummed a few notes and sensed the creature’s primary motivation in life. It was evil, pure evil.

Doenranak recoiled from the feeling of his insides being twisted into knots and stopped setting up the resurrection spell, instead he cast a different spell. He banished the creature from Domhan, then turned to seek out his companions.

The shadow demon felt himself being freed from the crystal. He rejoiced silently, then he realized that he wasn’t being resurrected, but instead he was being evicted from Domhan. Unable to do anything but go along for the ride he waited for something else to happen.

The next thing the shadow demon saw was the light of day. He had been trapped in the cave for so long he had forgotten what the sun felt like. Soaking up a little he turned and looked for somewhere to plan his revenge. He would need a way to return to Domhan.

– – –

~ Present day, Earth ~

“So, a leprechaun knows what I am?” The shadow demon sat on a fauteuil chair. “Kill it.”

“It’s not that simple, Srathek. It can tell when one of us is nearby.”

“Then send a normal human to do it. We have some of them in the cult, yes?”

“Yes, Srathek, we do.” The cultist bowed his head. “Your will shall be carried out.” The cultist backed out of the room and shut the door.

“How did a leprechaun find out about me?” Srathek, the shadow demon from Domhan, stood from his chair and shook his head. He mumbled something, and his form coalesced into that of a human. “Time to find out.”

– – –

Cerdic and Veron walked into the forest, electric torches ready in case they needed them. Grimm followed behind, sniffing every tree he could without losing sight of Cerdic.

“Come on, Grimm. You can’t smell every tree every time we stop.” Cerdic picked up the church grim. “Just come with me, boy.”

“Ok, it should be around here somewhere.” Veron turned on his torch. “It’s getting a little dark, so better safe than sorry.”

A figure approached the light. “Who’s there?” Cerdic set Grimm back down and turned on his own torch. He pointed it toward the figure.

“I’m Tibdast. Veron knows me.” A balding man with white hair covered his eyes. “Not in the face, please.”

Cerdic lowered his torch so it wasn’t pointing directly in the old man’s eyes.

“What are you doing here? Don’t you have a pub to run?” Veron walked forward and pretended to punch Tibdast in the shoulder.

Tibdast shook his head. “It’s not a time to be joyous. You need to leave, now.”

“Why, we’re on a mission from the council.” Veron cocked his head to the side. “You aren’t hiding information, are you?”

“No, the leprechaun is as good as dead.” Tibdast reached out and turned Veron around. “You need to go now, Aelfson. Take the usual with you. You know what happens when a leprechaun dies.”

Veron’s eyes grew wide with terror. He started moving back towards the car. “Cerdic, we’re leaving.”

“What?” Cerdic looked at Tibdast. “Why are we leaving?”

“Because when a leprechaun d-“ Tibdast was cut off by a gunshot. “Sorry, we’re going my way now.”

Suddenly, Cerdic felt like he was being pulled in a hundred different directions at once, and he couldn’t see anything. This feeling lasted for only a moment, but he would never forget it. When he could see again he found himself in a pub, sitting next to Veron. The pub was empty and Tibdast was polishing a mug at a counter. Grimm was sitting next to Tibdast, watching him polish.

“What happened?” Cerdic shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. “Last thing I remember we were in the forest, then I felt like I was being torn apart.”

Tibdast set the mug down on the counter. “Veron’s not awake yet. Give him some time.” He pulled a shot glass from under the counter and filled it with a golden liquid, then walked over and set it in front of Cerdic. “Here, this’ll refocus your thoughts.”

Cerdic sniffed the concoction, it smelled strongly of alcohol. “Well, at the very least it’ll wake me up.” He swallowed the liquid, it felt like swallowing a mouthful of honey. The blanket of fog immediately lifted from his thoughts. “Wow, you weren’t kidding.”

Grimm hopped into Cerdic’s lap and curled up to take a nap.

“What, why did you do that?” Veron lifted his head off the table. “Cerdic’s not teleport certified yet. He could be out for a week.”

“No, I’m fine. I woke up first.”

Veron looked over at Cerdic. “Really?” He sighed heavily. “Tibdast, give me the virgin martini, will you?”

Tibdast rolled his eyes and poured a golden syrup into a blender with water and ice. The sound of crushing ice made Veron squeeze his head in his hands.

“Couldn’t you have mixed it before I woke up?”

Tibdast shut off the blender and poured the iced drink into a glass. “Where’s the fun in that?” He put the glass in front of Veron.

“It’s called courtesy.” Veron drank the iced drink without tasting it. When he was done he put his thumb in his mouth and pressed it to the roof of his mouth. “Brain freeze! Ow!”

“So,” Cerdic interrupted, “where are we?”

“And where’s my car?”

Tibdast chuckled lightly. “Your car’s in the parking lot. As to where we are, we’re in Tibdast’s Pub.” He motioned around the empty pub. “Three guesses who owns the place.”

Veron stood up and started walking to the door. “Tibdast, you brought us here, you explain. I’m going to make a call.” He went out the door and disappeared.

“So, you heard him. Explain.”

“You’re going to need another drink. A strong one.” Tibdast poured another drink and set it in front of Cerdic. “This one and the other one are on the house.”

“Thanks.”

“So, the leprechaun was shot while I was talking to you. I had hoped I was early enough to make you leave before it happened, but I’m not good with timing things.”

“Okay, but you said something about Veron knowing what happens when a leprechaun dies. What’s that?”

Instead of answering Tibdast turned on a TV. It was on a news station. A reporter was standing in front of a burning forest. Something about the flames looked off to Cerdic, like they were moving against the wind.

“That’s what.” Tibdast shut the TV back off. “They explode.”

Veron walked back into the pub. “The Council isn’t happy you teleported us, but they are happy you saved us.”

“Government at its finest. Happy you saved someone, mad at how you did it.” Tibdast shrugged. “What’s the cover story they’re going to feed the news for the fire?”

“They aren’t. The news is reporting it as a campfire gone out of hand. The council will fabricate some people to blame, and that’ll be it.” Veron shook his head. “They only wish we would’ve gotten that information from the leprechaun.”

Tibdast smiled. “Are you forgetting who I am? I know what you need to know.”

“The Council wanted to handle this without your help, but I guess now you’re the only way we’ll ever find out.” Veron sighed. “Well, tell us.”

“Shadow demon, from Domhan.” Tibdast turned his back on Veron and Cerdic. “Oh, I need to go.” He pulled a set of keys from the wall. “Lock up when you leave and then put those in the post slot.” He tossed the keys to Cerdic and teleported out of the pub.

“Who is he?” Cerdic asked.

Veron shook his head. “The closest thing on Earth to a god.”

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Rebuilding Brangmar – Pt. 9

Throbor adjusted the metal on his back and pointed to an opening in the crumbling city wall. “There, we can leave this wretched place. I only hope we can find others to help us.”

“Well, in my experience elves live in the forest.” Tribst pointed to the north-west. “If I’m not mistaken there are some trees on the horizon.”

Aram pulled a spyglass from his side and looked through it. “Yes, quite a few days away, I’d wager.”

“Where’d you get that?” Throbor motioned to the spyglass.

“Oh, Yerkir is an island realm. I’ve spent a lot of time at sea. I’ve spent some time in the crow’s nest.” He put the spyglass away and pulled out a sextant. “This might come in handy, but we can see the forest on the horizon so I don’t think we need it…unless we plan to travel at night.”

The party glanced at each other to see if anyone thought that was a sound plan.

“Well,” Erin voiced, “none of us can see in the dark, so that’s probably not a good idea.”

“True.” Throbor motioned to the horizon. “Well, let’s start going then. The daylight’s a waisting.”

– – –

After a half a day’s travel in cold rain towards the forest the group found an abandoned guard outpost. The outpost had flowers and grass growing out from between the masonry, but the roof was still intact. Thankful for the respite the party went inside the small building.

“So, how long do you think this place has been abandoned?” Tribst poked at the stools positioned around a small table. “The wood’s not rotten.” He sat down on the stool.

“I’d guess it hasn’t been used as a guardhouse for a long time. Maybe someone else has been using it.” Amir looked out the window, ever alert.

Erin tested another stool then sat down. “Well, at least we can have a short meal in peace.” She pulled a few pieces of dried jerky from her pack. “Who wants some?” She popped a piece in her mouth and began to chew slowly.

Reaching down and taking a piece from Erin’s hand Throbor shrugged. “Whoever’s been using this place isn’t here. It’s a cold day and it’s raining so it wouldn’t surprise me if they’re holed up somewhere.”

Tribst took a piece of the jerky and began chewing on it. “Aram, you want some?”

“Yeah, sure. Just don’t want to let anything sneak up on us.” Aram snagged the last piece from Erin and broke it in half. He put the first half in his mouth but didn’t chew.

“You, know, on Earth jerky is a delicacy.” Erin moved her stool against the wall and leaned back. “It comes in a whole bunch of different flavors, too.”

“Really?” Throbor sounded interested. “What can you tell us about Earth?”

“I can really only tell you about the country I’m from. I know some older stuff about other countries, but I haven’t lived there.” Erin shrugged. “I’m sure America would be interesting to you guys, but it feels boring compared to what I’ve done since I’ve gotten here.”

Aram chewed and swallowed the first half of his jerky. “This feels relaxing to me. I’m used to standing vigil on a ship for days straight then rushing into battle on the shore.” He shook his head. “That magic pulled me from a battle. I think I was about to die.”

“Well, I don’t know much about your culture. On Midgard, humans that fall in battle go to Valhalla.” Throbor shrugged. “I expect that they really go to the open arms of Hel, but I’m not a human.”

“Hel? Who’s that?” Tribst was jotting things down in a small tome.

“If I’m not mistaken,” Erin replied, “Hel is the goddess of the underworld, and the underworld is also known as Hel.”

“Right. You know a lot about the culture here and from my home.” Throbor motioned to Aram. “What about his culture?”

Erin looked at Aram. “What is the name of your home realm?”

“Yerkir.” Aram shrugged. “Our common tongue was once known as Armenian.”

“Oh,” Erin shook her head. “I don’t know much about Armenian myths. In my realm, there’s a country called Armenia, but they mostly follow a different religion. I don’t know anything about the old one.”

“What about Nevre, do you know anything about that?” Tribst asked, unsure if he wanted to know the answer.

Erin shrugged again. “Never heard of it before coming here. Nevre isn’t part of Earth at all…at least as far as I know.”

“So, what’s America like, then?” Throbor asked, intrigued.

“Not now,” Aram interrupted. “I see something approaching.”

Tribst glanced in the direction Aram indicated with a sweep of his arm. “Oh, gods. We need to leave, now.”

“Why, what is it?” Erin looked out the window. Her D&D knowledge set flags off at what she saw. “That’s not good. Move. Now! If it sees us, we’re dead!”

A large dinosaur, bigger than any of the ruined buildings in Brangmar, was walking towards the guard outpost. It was like a squat version of a T-rex, and it looked hungry.

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