The Fractured Mountains – Ch. 13

Dreekt felt sheer pleasure as he flew up from the skittering creepers to fight the noxious flyers. He was flying! He brought his scythe down on several flyers. After the first few he realized that he only needed to take a wing and they would go plummeting to their deaths. After he sent a few more to their doom he decided to lower back down to the skittering creepers. If he was flying and transformed back into a skravyn he would be unable to keep in the air. He would share their fate.

He glided to the ground, the battle below coming into view through the haze of lazily drifting snowflakes. The peaceful, white snow had hidden the dark and bloody battle below. The inky black ichor that served as blood in the Dark Under creatures stained the snow, making it harder to see in the deepening night.

Burner was standing with the archers on the wall, her face uncovered and her glowing orange eyes a beacon. She was no longer casting spells but was shooting off arrows from a small bow. Dreekt had seen the small bow once or twice peeking out from her pack but had never seen her use it before. Many a noxious flyer fell to her true aim.

Gaemacirch tore skittering creepers apart with his claws, never once using his mouth to bite or tear. His armor was streaked black and would need a thorough scrubbing at the next opportunity.

As Dreekt hung in midair, observing the sight, the defenders of Dregton looked up and saw him there. An avatar of death surveying the battle. His scythe thick with the black ichor of Dark Under creatures. The thrill of battle easily read from its face. They hesitated, all of them, for a moment.

Noticing the collective stare Dreekt shook his head. Gotta get back to the battle. He dove down to the skittering creepers and began to reap them as he had seen farmers do with wheat the few times he was near fields at harvesttime.

“Look, an avatar of death helps us!” Some of the men cried out.

“Either The Balance is with us, or The Desecrator is. Either way, we will win this fight! Onward!” The captain of the guard charged forward to join Gaemacirch in the fray. As he did so a large beast burst from the ground. It had six legs, three on each side, a large tail, and the scent of poison filled the air.

Gaemacirch froze in mid strike. He turned and faced the creature. “Strange salamander.” He turned to the captain of the guard. “We cannot hope to win against that. If we can hold it here until daylight it will go back underground, but many men will lose their lives if we do so.”

“And if we don’t we will lose the town.” The captain over at Dreekt, still reaping strange salamanders. “The tower mage sent me a message. That’s your skravyn friend over there.” He looked concerned. “The men see it as a good sign, but if they knew it was a skravyn that turned into an image of The Desecrator…I’m not sure what they would think.”

“Dreekt!” Gaemacirch called out. “Can you distract the big, ugly thing?”

Turning at the sound of his name Dreekt saw the strange salamander. He had been too preoccupied with thinning the skittering creeper ranks to notice it. He flew over to Gaemacirch. “I don’t think so. If I get hit even once I think I’ll change back.” Dreekt shrugged. “Wouldn’t do any good to get killed out here.”

The guard captain spoke up. “Can you cast spells in that form?”

No, you would lose concentration. You are not strong enough for that. The spirit told Dreekt.

“I don’t think I could do that without changing back.” He shrugged. “I don’t think you want me to do that here.”

“No, but there isn’t much we can do about that.”

The nearby guards stared at the avatar of death hovering next to the captain. They were instilled by both fear and awe as it turned back into a skravyn. Fear because of the ancient stories of the armies of The Desecrator, filled with skravyn, that used to reap whole cities at a time. Awe because he had slain so many of their enemies.

“Okay,” Dreekt said, “is there any specific type of spell I need, or do I just go ham?”

“Go ham but defending the troops should be a priority. If you can protect them I would appreciate it.” The captain said, still staring at the strange salamander. “We need to stop that thing from taking the capital of Newwar province.”

– – –

Burner looked down at the beast in horror. He had heard tales of strange salamanders, but their monstrousness was even more terrifying in person. Slinging her bow over her shoulder she motioned to some of the archers. “Come, we need to stop that thing. The footmen are not enough.” The creature was far out of their range.

A few of the archers nodded and left ranks. The other archers spread out to cover the weak points. They followed Burner down the stairs and through the gates that shut promptly behind them.

Burner pulled out her rapier as the bowmen switched to their scimitar daggers. They looked oddly elven to be held by a mostly human force, but burner just shrugged and moved forward through the skittering creepers. The group cut through most of the creatures in their path before the remainder shied away, watching instead of attacking.

The archers saluted the captain and slung their bows off their backs. They then turned to Burner as if waiting for her command.

“Surround the creature. When it faces away from you shoot it.” Burner said when the captain nodded at her. “The creature will become confused and distracted.”

The archers nodded and fanned out. Slowly surrounding the creature from a distance.

Bowing slightly to the captain Burner then turned and joined the archers.

“May The Jester guide our hands.” The captain turned back to his foot soldiers. “Follow Gaemacirch’s lead.”

“My friends call me Gaem.” Gaemacirch said, then turned to face the creature. “If you can get under it that’s where it has the least defense, though its hide is still tough.” Without waiting for a response, Gaemacirch’s ferret form started loping toward the strange salamander.

As Gaemacirch was running Dreekt cast a protective spell over him, then swiftly placed a general ward on the collective foot soldiers. As he finished the captain of the guard placed a dagger in his taloned hand.

“Here, I feel you should have this. If I don’t survive to tell you about it, ask my wife.” The captain turned and ran to join his men, leaving Dreekt staring at the dagger.

The dagger was curved like a scimitar but looked different than the ones he had seen the archers using. There was a place in the pommel for a stone. The shape of the empty spot looked familiar to Dreekt, but he didn’t have time to mull it over. He focused his attention back on the fight. He used the same strategy that Burner had told the archers to use. Only striking when the creature was facing away, to confuse it.

The foot soldiers passed their throwing spears to six of the foot soldiers. They stood back to throw the spears at the strange salamander, careful not to be in the line of fire the archers were using.

Gaemacirch and the majority of the foot soldiers approached the strange salamander from all angles, having fanned out along their approach. Dreekt noticed that there were just over fifteen foot soldiers actually attacking the monster.

Those protection spells were a good start, Dreekt.

How nice of you to speak up, spirit. Is there anything we know that can help this fight?

Avoid acid-based spells.

What do I know?

Just reach for the power. I’ll give you the spells. We need to discuss what I have for you later. Casting the spells yourself makes them more powerful.

 Nodding both to himself and the spirit Dreekt reached for the power he felt in the back of his mind. It left the faint taste of undeath in his mouth, but he knew, somehow, that this undeath was not against the balance of life and death. This spirit was willing to come back to teach him.

Before any of the others had a chance to attack Dreekt shot a large bolt of draining energy into the strange salamander from behind it. The energy washed over Dreekt, making him feel he could take more abuse before succumbing to it.

Just as Dreekt felt the increase in defense the strange salamander turned to him and spit a stream of acid from its mouth. Without thinking Dreekt rolled to the side and ran forward. The creature attempted to correct its aim, but only succeeded in getting a few droplets on its target. Dreekt’s feathers protected him from most of the droplets and he backed away again.

When the strange salamander had spit the acid Gaemacirch saw his chance and scrambled under the beast. He flipped over, onto his back, and clawed at the belly of the beast with the metal armor claws. The other soldiers were stabbing at it from both sides.

Roaring in pain the strange salamander began stomping the ground with its middle set of legs. The tremor knocked several of the soldiers off their feet. The strange salamander’s tail swung and hit two footmen. They crumpled inside their armor. The rest of the men hurried away from the tail but realized if they went too far the jaws would get them. They were stuck between a blunt instrument and a sharp-toothed grin.

As the tail raised for another swing it was peppered with arrows and spears. Some of the spears temporarily pinned the tail to the ground, but the soldiers realized their mistake as the tail came back up with the spears still inside. The tail was more deadly than it had been before.

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World of Souls Chapter 7: Ghost Station

The ISS Dominiot continued following its trajectory. The signal was getting closer and the crew was on edge. The third root language had been found, Earthish. Earthish was the term for the human language after years of the languages of Earth co-mingling on the generation ship that saved humanity from its dying sun. Now, most humans called New Earth home, a planet as close to Earth as they were likely to ever find. This information rushed through Blavet’s head as he looked at the report from AB-775.

“So,” Blavet turned to face the crew, “we’re coming up on an old research station.” He paused to let the absurdity sink in. “The signal is on continuous loop. AB put a translation together.” Placing a fingertip to his tablet Blavet sent the translation to the three crew members in front of him.

This message is on a loop, please do not respond.

This is research station 093 dash 702. If you are stuck in warp space come to our coordinates. There’s a way back, but you aren’t going like it. If you choose to stay, we have formed a colony on the station.

This message is on a loop, please do not respond.

“Now that we have this message we were able to isolate old text data from the broadcast and now know where we are in real-space coordinates.” Blavet signaled AB and the holoscreen in the hold flickered to life. “We entered warp space here.” A zoomed-in galaxy map appeared, a red dot started pulsating. The surrounding sector was mostly unmapped space. “And this is where we entered warp space.” The map zoomed out, moved to a well mapped section of space and zoomed back in. There was a green, pulsating dot there that was slowly moving towards a blue dot. “We’ve spent this entire time moving at warp speeds and are close to New Earth now.”

Allie nodded. “Right. We move through warp space at the same speed as real space, but usually with a shockwave effect distorting our view.” She shrugged and glanced at AB-775. “I had AB walk me through the warp travel process. We punch a hole into a ‘dimension’ with shorter distance between things, spend a predetermined amount of time there, and pop back to real space after.”

“We tend to assume we move faster here, in warp space, but we actually keep our velocity.” Blavet shrugged. “Things we don’t normally need to worry about.” He motioned at the map. “Gravity from real space is detectable here by our instruments but doesn’t seem to have any affect on the matter around us.”

“Wait,” Janine spoke up, concern in her voice, “the closer we get to New Earth the more ships there are jumping to warp…”

“And collisions become more likely.” Blavet finished Janine’s thought and started typing on his tablet. “Configuring collision avoidance for autopilot.”

“The odds of another ship ramming us in three-dimensional space are astronomically unlikely.” AB-775 commented. “I’d give you the number, but it’s very long and I would bore you before I finished.”

Blavet nodded. “That’s why I was fine with putting the ship on auto-pilot.” He shut off the holo screen and motioned to a small pile of cutting and welding lasers. “The only real personal gun on this ship is now hidden under my jacket, but I want the three of you to be armed when we dock with this station. We don’t know anything about them other than they’ve been trapped here for a long time.” He looked each of his crew members in the eyes. “If you are attacked do not hesitate to shoot, but only kill if your life is in immediate danger.”

The crew nodded one by one.

“Good. Elinog, I want you to set up a practice range here in the hold. I want everyone to spend at least an hour a day back here practicing. Is that clear?”

“Aye, captain!” The three subordinates answered.

“Dismissed.”

Allie and Blavet started leaving the cargo bay as Elinog started setting up targets and Janine helped. After walking a short distance Blavet felt a tug at the back of his shirt. He turned around to see AB-775 staring at him.

“Yes?”

“May we talk in private, captain?”

An odd request from an astrogation droid, but Blavet decided to oblige him. “Allie, you can fly solo while I talk to AB, can’t you?”

Allie shrugged. “Sure, I’ll expect you to do most of the flying when you get back, though.”

With a curt nod Blavet followed AB-775 into the medbay and shut the door behind them. “What’s up AB?”

“I request permission to use a laser cutter in defense of the crew.” AB-775 looked at Blavet, but with his flat, motionless features Blavet couldn’t read anything into the statement.

“Doesn’t your programming prohibit the use of weapons?” Confusion was easily read off Blavet’s Emris face, his three focused on AB-775.

“My programming allows the use of weapons to preserve this bot and crew members, but only if continuing function or life are in danger.” AB-775’s camera lights seemed to increase in intensity. “If I had been in the reactor room with you my computation matrix shows a 75% chance that Elinog would be whole still.”

Odd, thought Blavet, I didn’t know bots could feel, even if it’s driven by programming that sounds like he regrets not being there. “Okay, you have my permission to use any means necessary to protect the crew’s life when in immediate, life-threatening, danger.”

“I understand the need for clear, exact, commands when dealing with the life of the crew and will disregard your unintended implication that without a clear command I might act rashly.” AB-775 rolled past Blavet, opened the door, and began moving back to the cargo bay.

Shaking his head Blavet sat down on one of the two beds in the medbay. “What programming did you install on our astrogation bot, dad? I wish you would’ve told me.” A deep sigh exited his lungs as he stood. “Well, I guess I’ll just have to find out the hard way.”

– – –

Three days after translating the signal the station was visible on sensors.

Allie looked at the readout. “The power’s on, but I’m not seeing any exterior movement. Could mean nothing, but they aren’t responding to our hails for docking clearance.” He ebony feathers shuddered as a feeling of dread washed over her. “I hope nothing’s wrong.”

“I think that sentiment is shared by the whole crew.” Blavet slipped into the co-pilot seat. “Strap in everyone, we’re going in with or without clearance. We need to know how to get out of here.”

Elinog and Janine strapped into the other two seats.

“I’m not sure that’s the best idea, captain.” Janine voiced her concern. “What if they see us as a threat and open fire?”

“Then you better hope what extra plating you were able to place is enough to block defense lasers.” Blavet took ship controls and began to approach the station directly. “I’m hoping they’ll hail us before that happens.”

The station slowly became visible to the naked eye. Blavet had angled the ship’s trajectory to give a clear line of sight. It soon became apparent that the station had a lot of debris collisions. The exterior was dented in many locations and a small ring of debris orbited the station in a ring.

As the ISS Dominiot approached the scanners picked out an open docking bay. With the doors open the bay would be nothing but had vacuum.

“We have a suit big enough for Elinog, right?” Blavet passed the controls over to Allie and turned to face Janine and Elinog. “If not, we’ll have to figure out how to get him inside. There’s been absolutely no activity and we’ve made our intent fairly obvious. I think it’s likely that the station is abandoned.”

Janine had been monitoring the sensor data. “I agree, the power doesn’t seem to fluctuate at all. In short, the data backs up your conclusion. It’s either abandoned, or the people have lost all knowledge of how to run the station.”

“The second option seems less likely, but that’s the one I’m hoping for.” Elinog shook his head. “Yes, there’s a suit that fits me. It’s just bulky. That’s why AB had to help Janine with the shielding.”

The ship started to match the station’s rotation. It took a moment for the internal compensators to correct the gravity generators. “Okay, I have to put it on auto-pilot until our velocity matches the docking bay. Just hope nothing fires on us.”

Blavet nodded. “Alright, you two go start suiting up. I’ll join you in a moment.”

Janine and Elinog gave a small salute and started unstrapping.

“So,” Allie asked after the salamen had vacated the cockpit, “why did you send them ahead?”

“So they wouldn’t groan in disgust when I did this.” Blavet grabbed Allie’s head and kissed her beak. “I love you, remember that in case something happens.”

Allie blushed under her feathers. “I love you too. Prepare for the worst all you want. We’ll be fine.” She squeezed Blavet’s shoulder. “Now, go. I’ll join you after we’ve landed.”

– – –

The five crew members, including AB-775, stood in the only airlock on the ship. Elinog carried a folding ladder with him, the airlock was a couple of meters from the ground.

“Okay, last checks. Look over your partner’s suit. Anything looks wrong check it. We don’t want anyone losing pressure. We don’t know if there’s any air on this station. A slow leak is a slow death.” Blavet started looking over Allie’s suit again. After a few moments of checking seals and hoses everyone gave the all clear. “Cycling airlock.” Pressing a few buttons on the console Blavet initiated the airlock sequence. Air was being pulled from the small room to be used to pressurize when they reentered the ship.

Once the airlock opened Elinog placed the ladder in its slot and flipped it down where it slowly unfolded. “Ladder down.” He started climbing down it, head-first. He had chosen a longer ladder, so it would function more like stairs than a ladder. He turned to face the ship from the bottom. “Alright, next.”

Allie, Blavet, Elinog, and Janine stood at the bottom of the ladder staring up at AB-775. It was looking like they might need to leave him behind. He couldn’t make it down the ladder and he was too heavy to be carried.

“Fine,” Blavet said over the comm, “I guess there’s no reason not to do this. The knowledge that I can do this could save us.” He reached toward AB-775 with his hand and the bot started to float above the ground.

“Warn me next time. My sensors are going crazy.” AB-775 complained as Blavet slowly lowered him to the docking bay deck.

Janine stared at Blavet. “You’re a telekinetic, and didn’t think to tell your doctor?” She shook her head. “I take it you two knew?” She looked at Elinog.

“Yes, but he told us not to tell you except in emergencies.” Elinog shrugged. “It didn’t occur to me to say something, being in critical condition.” He looked at Allie. “I assume you were too emotional to say anything.” It was obvious he was making a statement more than a question and Allie just nodded.

Walking between them Blavet started heading for the nearest airlock. “I was born in warp. I can do things. Now is not the time to discuss this, agreed?”

“Agreed.”

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The Fractured Mountains – Ch. 12

Riverdale was a small village on the edge of the river. It was so small that Kreet didn’t even remember passing by it. She could’ve blinked and missed it, but she suspected she wasn’t paying attention to anything at the time, trying to ignore her father’s ranting about Dreekt.

The village had slant-roofed buildings, but they all slanted in one direction instead of having a peak. This allowed them to half a small second story and keep the snow off their roofs at the same time.

Krashaeletin walked down the street directly towards the docks. “Come on. They’re this way.” He motioned at a house right up against the river bank.

Draveth, Kreet, and Grefin followed behind. The few villagers that were outside doing chores stared at the riverfolk. The stares were more of surprise than hostility. Grefin waved at a couple of the human villagers.

“Ah, you on river often.” He said to one. “Never take lot fish. Only little.”

The man nodded. “Uh, yeah. I never saw you, though.”

“Good. I not rusty.”

The man chuckled lightly and carried his pile of firewood towards a building. “If you’re with Krash you’re welcome here.” He disappeared through the door.

“Nice guy.” Grefin said, speeding up to keep pace with Krashaeletin.

“Yes,” Krashaeletin replied, “they all are, I think.” He stopped in front of the house at the river’s edge. “Here we are.” He knocked on the door. “Darla, I’m here for that favor.”

The door opened, and an elf stood there. “Already, Krashaeletin? You were only gone a couple days at most.” She nodded at the other three people at the door. “You make friends fast, don’t you?”

“It seems so. People must be attracted to my maddening charm.” He smiled broadly.

“Maddening, yes. Charming? Needs work.” Darla sighed. “What’s the favor?”

Krashaeletin shrugged. “Can you spare a small riverboat?”

“Why?” Darla looked at the riverfolk with Krashaeletin. “Planning on going native?”

“Of course,” Krashaeletin chuckled. “What better way to go mad is there?” He stopped chuckling and his face went serious. “However, that’s not what I’m doing. The riverfolk are being harassed by the sea srengaa. I wish to help.”

“Ah, I see.” Darla glanced at the riverfolk again. “Your tribe is the local one?”

“I chieftain. Call Grefin.”

“If your tribe can provide us some fish for the winter we’ll give you our best riverboat.”

“I see to it now.” Grefin nodded then ran to the end of the nearby pier and dove into the water.

Krashaeletin shook his head. “Man of action, that one.”

“So are you.” Darla smiled. “Where are my manners? It’s cold out. Come in, come in!” She stood out of the doorway. “You must introduce me to you friends.”

Kreet and Draveth followed Krashaeletin into Darla’s house.

“Oh, right.” Krashaeletin motioned to Kreet and Draveth. “This is Kreet, and this is Draveth. I met them not too long ago, but they saved me from a rogue riverfolk tribe. Not Grefin’s tribe, but I’m still not sure how much we can trust him.”

Darla raised an eyebrow. “Yet you’re going to help him fight the sea srengaa?”

“Yes, nobody said I was completely sane.” Krashaeletin smiled broadly.

“No, I suppose not.” Darla shook her head. “So,” she turned to address Kreet, “how did you meet Krashaeletin?”

“We were traveling north on the road, and he was traveling south. Draveth and I had just fought off some sraixen but Draveth had been bitten. Krash took the time to heal Draveth and we asked if he wanted to travel with us.” Kreet shrugged, her ebony feathers reflecting the lamp light. “It never hurts to have a priest of The Wanderer with you.”

“Unless he goes mad.” Draveth added.

“I promise I won’t do that on purpose.”

Darla chuckled lightly. “One rarely does.” She started walking towards the back of her house. “Come, I’ll show you the riverboat while we wait for Grefin. All the boats are inside now unless they’re in use. Can’t have the ice building up and ruining the wood.”

They walked down a hallway with closed doors on either side and stopped at a door at the end of the hallway. Darla fumbled with a ring of keys then inserted one into the lock. There was a click as she turned the key and she opened the door. Beyond was a small room with another locked door and a pile of firewood in the corner. The room was colder than the hallway.

“This is our firewood room. It connects the boat storage and the house.” Darla motioned everyone inside then shut the door behind herself. “Also helps keep more of the heat inside.” She locked the door to the house and unlocked the other door. It opened on a partially enclosed boat dock. There were four boats tied up and a large, shut portcullis made up one wall.

“You keep them here to keep them from freezing?” Draveth asked. “It feels pretty close to freezing to me.”

“Things don’t freeze as easily under cover.” Darla motioned at one of the medium riverboats. “That’s the largest riverboat we have that can be crewed by four people or one in a pinch.” She glanced over the three people with her. “I should probably give you three a rundown on how they work. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think any of you have worked a riverboat before.”

“Well, I haven’t and I’m fairly sure Kreet hasn’t either.” Draveth glanced at Krashaeletin. “Have you ever worked a riverboat?”

Krashaeletin’s eyes went out of focus for a moment, like he was remembering something from his past. “I have. It was a while ago, though. Best to have a refresher.”

“When did you ever work on a riverboat?” Darla asked.

“Maybe I’ll come back and tell you one day, but not today.” Krashaeletin grinned. “You don’t how many different things I was before I settled on being a priest.”

“Okay, well I’ll give you a crash course then.” She turned to the riverboat. “Pun not intended.”

– – –

Draveth, Grefin, Krashaeletin, and Kreet waved to Darla for a moment before they turned to their duties.

Draveth began manning the bow with a pole to push the fore away from the shore. Grefin started looking at the sea charts Darla had given to them, making short notes in simple common on them. Krashaeletin sat down with his priest’s books and started to study wind and water spells in case he needed to turn aside a storm. Kreet looked over the provisions that had been packed and started writing down the different recipes she could put together with them.

Suddenly there was a gasp from below decks. Krashaeletin looked up from his books. “I’ll check it out. I think that was Kreet.”

“Ok. Can’t really go check myself unless you want to try your hand at this.” He motioned at the pole.

“No, no. I don’t think I can handle that.” Krashaeletin shook his head and started down the stairs to the small hold. “Hey, Kreet, is something wrong?”

Kreet looked up from next to the provisions. “Sorry, no. Just realized that helping the riverfolk means I won’t see my family, probably for years.” She took a deep breath. “This past week was the longest I’d ever been away from them.” Shaking her head, she went back to writing down recipes. “I’m fine.”

A skeptical look crept onto Krashaeletin’s face. “You’re fine?”

“Fine.” Kreet sighed. “I just don’t like the idea that my brother’s out there somewhere forging his own story without me, Krash. I knew we needed to leave the nest, but I didn’t expect to part ways for so long.” She shook her head. “I know I’m still part of his story, but not actively. More like in his past.”

“That’s how all siblings become.” Krash nodded. “I should know, my brother is out there somewhere, too. We all fade from their stories, but only so we can be the main characters of our own stories.”

Kreet smiled. “I guess you’re right. I am becoming my own skravyn. Flying off, figuratively, to my own destiny.”

“Yeah, but right now I need to get back to studying those spells. If you need anything, though, don’t hesitate to yell.”

“I won’t.”

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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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The Fractured Mountains – Ch. 11

[The Fractured Mountains will now be taking the Friday slot since The Gods of Nevre is complete.]

Burner, Dreekt, and Gaemacirch stood ready to fight back the Dark Under creatures. Burner stood with the archers on the town fortifications, her battle instrument ready. Dreekt stood at the top of the western mage tower and was in communication with the mage in the eastern tower. Gaemacirch stood with the men just inside the town fortifications. If the creatures broke through they would be the last line of defense.

Burner and Gaemacirch didn’t have enough time when they got back to Dregton to talk to Dreekt. They had given the quarterstaff to the captain of the guard, and then the defense horn sounded.

The captain didn’t want Burner on the wall, but he knew they needed everything they had and let her go.

“You, zarx, don’t transform into your animal form. I don’t know how my men would respond. Just stand and fight as you are.”

“Yes, sir.” Gaemacirch joined the ranks of the guardsmen. They were fine with him choosing to be in front, where the Dark Under creatures would be the worst.

– – –

Up on the tower Dreekt heard a voice in his head. It wasn’t the mage in the other tower, it was something else. Something he had felt in the back of his mind ever since he almost drowned in the Gigli canal in Rentaz.

Dreekt, it said, don’t forget. If you need the knowledge I have you need only ask.

“What do you mean?” Dreekt asked aloud. If he thought to the voice he might accidentally talk to the mage instead. “I know no such thing. This is the first time you’ve deigned to actually communicate with me.”

Don’t get your feathers in a fuss, boy. You’ve never needed my help before.

“And I do now?” Dreekt scoffed. “How would you know?”

You’ve never used magic in combat before. That’s how.

“Well, I’ll keep it in mind, then.”

– – –

Up on the wall Burner had a decent view of the road. The mass of creatures started out small, then more and more of them filtered out of the northern highland grasses and onto the road. The sheer number of them surprised her.

Burner immediately started setting up defensive wards as quickly as she could. Some of the archers looked at her strangely when she started rapping spells.

As the horde of creatures approached a thick snow began to fall from the sky. It was hard enough that they were approaching at night, now even those with night vision were having a hard time seeing the road.

– – –

At the top of the mage tower Dreekt was trying to hold two conversations simultaneously while keeping his sight on the Dark Under creatures.

Do you have any fire spells? The mage asked.

“Do I?” Dreekt asked the voice in his head.

The voice responded, yes. A sphere of fire.

I do, Dreekt responded to the mage. A sphere of fire.

When I tell you to, place that in the center of the road about twenty feet from the gate. The mage said. I’ll cover the ground in ice just behind the sphere so when the skittering creepers try to divide some of them will end up in the fire. After that just kill any of them any way you can.

Got it. Dreekt prepared the spell, waiting for the mage’s signal.

You know, the voice told Dreekt, we need to talk after this fight. You shouldn’t need to ask what spells I have for you. You should know what you can cast and prepare them for faster casting. I’m only here to guide your powers. They belong to you.

“Remind me after the battle.”

Will do.

A layer of ice appeared on the road, snow immediately started covering it.

Wait for them to reach that patch, then cast the spell. The mage said. I’m going to end our communication now. It’s hard to concentrate with it in effect. The presence of the communication spell left Dreekt’s mind.

The first few skittering creepers hit the ice patch. Dreekt immediately loosed the fire orb from his hands into the center of the road. The skittering creepers who were on the road tried to run around the sphere but slipped on the ice and slid into it. A few more were caught in the trap before they started running around the icy patch.

Dreekt started to cast other spells, keeping the fire sphere up. It was melting some of the snowflakes and was giving more sight to the archers.

– – –

The archers started loosing their arrows into the mass of skittering creepers and Burner lobbed a few spells at them as well. Burner wasn’t focused on the ground, though. She was looking out for noxious flyers.

The skittering creepers were insectoid dog-like six-legged creatures. They would have a hard time breaking through the gates. The noxious flyers, however, could just go over the walls. The stench of noxious flyers wasn’t bad in small numbers, but if enough of them arrived it would make it difficult to focus on anything else.

She saw Dreekt fire a few bolts of lightning down on the skittering creepers. The creatures were falling fast, but not fast enough. Burner was considering casting the spells she was saving for the possibility of noxious flyers on the creepers when she saw movement in the snow-filled sky.

“Noxious flyers!” Burner shouted, casting a light spell up into the sky. “Where my light is.” The noxious flyers were momentarily distracted by the light and a few fell to arrows before the group of them turned to dive at the town walls.

– – –

“Open the gates!” The guard captain yelled. “Archers focus on the sky! Footmen, to arms!”

Gaemacirch was the first through the gate. The skittering creepers saw a zarx and some of them fell back in fear. The zarx that still lived in Dark Under had instilled fear into the creatures. Taking advantage of the opening, Gaemacirch swung his blade in an arc killing three of the skittering creepers. The guardsmen rallied to Gaemacirch and started pushing out into the horde of creatures.

“When the last of us are through close the gate behind us. Let no skittering creeper into Dregton!” The guard captain joined Gaemacirch in the thick of the battle. “Well, zarx, time to prove your worth.”

Gaemacirch smiled at the captain. “Well, the only way to truly do that is to transform. Do you think your men could handle that?”

“Sure, just be careful.”

“I will.” Gaemacirch fell to the back. “I need a moment.”

“When the zarx returns as a beast do nothing to him! Pass it along!” The captain stabbed at a skittering creeper, but the carapace was too thick.

Gaemacirch ran back to the Blue Flagon and waved down Samuel, the barkeep. “I need some help with armor.”

The salaman looked strangely at Gaemacirch. “You look well armored to me.”

“No, not this armor, my beast armor.”

Samuel’s eyes grew wide. “Is it that bad?”

“Not yet, but the archers are occupied with the sky and the footsoldiers will only last so long. Quickly!” Gaemacirch ran to his room and retrieved his pack. He spilled the beast armor on the ground. “I’ll tell you where each goes.” He transformed into a giant ferret. “Ok, the big one first, straps around my front legs.”

– – –

Burner saw Gaemacirch run for the Blue Flagon and saw the gate close shortly afterward. “When a giant armored ferret appears, don’t shoot it! It’s on our side!”

The nearby archers looked at the wick strangely then shrugged. They turned their attention back to the skys.

Burner started sending arcane bolts into the air, most of the humans were unable to keep track of what she was saying, she was rapping so quickly. Later, they would remember her as being the fastest spell caster they had ever met.

A group of archers ran out of arrows and another group moved to take their place. That’s when the dive-bombing began. The noxious flyers would dive down, release the fumes from their gas-sacs and take back to the sky. At first the gas was nothing, but then the gas started to overwhelm the archers and Burner.

“Cover your mouths! The gas is poisonous! It will cause your vision to blur and your hands to be slower!” Burner did nothing to cover her own mouth.

One of the archers nearby tried to hand Burner a cloth. “Here, cover up. We need your spells.”

“No, I’m immune to poison. Heated metabolism and all that.” Burner breathed deep. “Hmm…smells flammable. Careful! The fumes may combust!”

There was a strange clinking of metal and a form jumped over the archers. Gaemacirch’s blaze-patterned underbelly was visible for a moment, and none of the archers had enough time to react.

Gaemacirch was able to grab a couple of noxious flyers out of the air and landed on the mass of skittering creepers. His paw armor had metal claws attached and he began to rake through the mass of enemies. The foot soldiers watched in awe as he tore apart several skittering creepers in one turn.

“Stop staring and start fighting!” Gaemacirch’s voice sounded more feral than before. “I can’t take all of them myself!”

– – –

Seeing Gaemacirch jump over the wall Dreekt felt a longing in himself to do such carnage. To transform and take down the skittering creepers down on the ground, or to fly through the air and destroy the noxious flyers. As he delved inside himself to find out where this desire stemmed from a figure appeared before him.

The figure was covered by a black cloak and had shadows that floated under a cowl, blocking his face from view.

“Dreekt,” the figure said in a deep voice that sent chills through Dreekt, “you have power from death. Use it how you will.” He held out an ancient, pale hand. “Spirit, reveal to Dreekt his power.”

Dreekt’s desire to fight in the thick of the battle combined with his magical power and with the power of the spirit that had been talking to him. Inspired by the figure of death in front of him he turned into a pale reflection of that death.

“Yes,” the figure said, “become like the creator of your race. Like me. Like The Desecrator.” The figure faded away.

Dreekt, now looking similar to the figure of The Desecrator, held a scythe in his hands. He floated down to the skittering creeper mass and began to reap them.

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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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RPG Corner: Changing Difficulty

Say your player’s characters keep dying? Do you make the encounters easier? Do you relocate the PC’s? Do you keep running them through the gauntlet until a set of characters rises to the top?

In the most recent (at the time of writing) episode of Nevre: Yeodiax (which is set in a future of the setting for Fractured Mountains) I had to decide whether to send the group back to the wilderness, where they keep dying, or keep them in the city, where they have a chance to level up some before heading back out?

My solution was to keep them in the city and send them on a short filler quest to deliver a chest that turned out to be [spoilers]. (If you wish to watch the episode it’s on my YouTube channel linked at the end of this post.)

My solution was to send them somewhere I knew they were more likely to survive. I also toned down the encounters a little, but forgot to take into account that we had an extra player for the session. Survival rates increase greatly with just one more character.

There are many places and times that just pulling the characters out of the fire isn’t an option that allows the players to keep their buy-in. I had the only survivor captured and dragged to the goblin caves near the city, but that’s not always an option.

If I didn’t have somewhere close by to send the characters I probably would have started to tone down the encounters a little. I had already started doing this at the beginning of the campaign. I removed the ability for kobolds to use pack tactics because I had instituted flanking. Getting the characters thinking about optimal placement to both activate flanking and avoid being flanked goes out the window when enemies don’t have to position for advantage.

An easy way to tone down encounters is to have the enemies use bad tactics. Instead of flanking at the start of the battle they just spread out and try to take on characters one to one. The players are then free to disengage and position for advantage if they wish. The only exception to this is that the caster should not be targeted and the monsters that would target them should go after the fighter/barbarian/monk/etc.

So, when it comes to combat, to make it easier for your players either get them to move somewhere that has less difficult encounters or use less optimal tactics against them. There’s also the chance that your players aren’t tactically minded and using less optimal tactics doesn’t change anything. In that case I recommend lowering the CR of future encounters, little by little until you reach a sweet spot. Finding the CR sweet spot is difficult and CR is more of a guideline than a ruler.

Likewise, you can increase the combat difficulty, if the characters are breezing through things that you want to slow them down, by doing the opposite. Start using better tactics. If that doesn’t work then slightly increase the CR.

But what about if they keep failing your skill-based challenges? This is maybe an easier question. There are recommended difficulties for skills in the 5e DMG. Do not scale these up based on level unless someone is proficient in that skill, and then only by one or two. It may seem like the characters are failing a lot, but remember that their ideas on how to handle the situation should give modifiers to the roll.

For example, there’s three doors in front of the characters. Two lead to traps and one leads forward. There is a riddle in front of them which, when solved, tells them which door is the correct one. If the group’s survivalist wants to make the check easier by finding which door has the most air flow coming from beneath it, let him roll and if he succeeds give them a +2 modifier for solving the riddle (or a hint if you don’t want them to roll to solve the riddle).

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