Terra Incognita – Ch. 14

Around the pool Ember, Lukren, Helena, Drakust, and Evryn sat restlessly.

“Are you sure I shouldn’t go join them?” Ember asked, as she stood and began pacing in a circle around Helena. Her red fox fur standing out against the white snow.

Evryn snorted softly and rested her ice wolf head on Krakust’s lap. The orc patted her head and turned to look at Lukren, who was periodically drinking from a flask. “I assume you don’t want to share that?”

“What would you have to drink about? One of my kin is inside a serpent. I think only the dwarf should be drunk, anyway.” He took another swig, and a bit of ale spilled onto his unkempt beard.

Helena stood and motioned for the flask. Her sky elf skin blending into the background of snow. “Well, may I have a drink?”

“Sure, sure.” Lukren handed the flask over. “It’s almost empty anyway.”

With a swift motion Helena chugged down the remainder of the flask. “Ah, that’s not as good as wine, but it definitely has a kick.”

Krakust stared at Lukren for a moment then pulled a bottle of whiskey out of his pack. “Here.” He handed it to Lukren.

“Uhh…thanks.” The dwarf took the bottle and started drinking.

– – –

Sorley and Lourek watched as Donaar the dragonkin started playing chess against the spirit of an ancient mage. His magnetite colored stales reflected the dim light emanating from the bowels of the great serpent.

Turning to Sorley, Lourek stroked his braded dwarven beard. “So, how exactly is this game played?”

The human Sorley scratched his hairless face idly. “Well, the goal is to capture the opponent’s king. It’s the piece with the cross on the top of it. Different types of pieces do different things. Pawns, the short ones, can only move forward directly, or diagonally to capture other pieces for example.”

“So, it’s a war strategy game where both sides are equal and have the same resources?”

“Yes, I suppose that’s exactly what it is.” Sorley shrugged. “I’m not very good at it myself.” He turned his attention back to the game slowly advancing. “He seems to be doing fairly well from what I know.”

“Well,” the mage’s spirit said, “looks like your friends are bored. Let’s give them something to play with, shall we?” The spirit waved its incorporeal arms and two goblins appeared near Sorley and Lourek, weapons drawn.

The goblins said something in a language they couldn’t understand and ran forward. Meanwhile, on the chess board, two pawns, one from each player’s side, disappeared from the board.

The spirit shrugged. “I have to keep the game balanced.”

– – –

The serpent closed its mouth and laughed. “Oh, I forgot how well that mage played his games. Well, it seems your friends are in a combat situation. They should be fine, though. The old mage isn’t up to his full strength these days.”

Helena quickly translated the words of the serpent to the others. “I don’t think they’ll have a problem. When Orby is enhancing Sorley, he seems to have better tricks up his sleeve. I’d never heard of that before, but that’s how he was able to defeat you in the cavern.” She nodded at Krakust.

“That explains a lot. What is Orby, anyway?” Krakust took the whiskey back from Lukren and took a swig before giving it back.

Ember pawed at Evryn then curled up next to her. “Orby’s a light elemental. He’s Helena’s familiar.”

“I see. I’d never heard of a light elemental before now. Then again, the orcs aren’t really known for their grasp of the arcane.”

“No, we aren’t, are we brother?” A voice echoed from the forest surrounding the hot springs.

“Who goes there!” Lukren jumped to his feet, instantly sober, wielding his short sword.

Two orcs stepped out from the edge of the forest.

One spoke up. “Those sent to check that Krakust is doing his task.”

“You don’t seem to be doing that, now, do you?” The other added.

Krakust stood up and Evryn pushed Ember away so she could do the same. “That’s not very honorable of the chieftain to send someone to watch after one of their greatest warriors.”

“You were an exception,” the second orc said. “The chieftain doesn’t doubt you, but the elders have worries about you.”

Krakust raised his dagger, the only weapon he had on his person. “You defy the chieftain and say I am not doing my task?” His eyes became bloodshot and the veins on his arms stood out against his green skin. “I will defend the chieftain’s name since you soil it behind his back!” He stormed forward and stabbed at the second orc, his rage forcing his face into a scowl. “Traitors are to be killed!” He dug the dagger into the orc’s arm, let go of it, and pulled the pickhammer from his opponent’s back. He then kicked the orc backward into a tree with enough force to dislodge a large amount of snow. The snow dropped onto the surprised orc’s head with a loud thwump. Krakust turned to the first orc. “Well?!”

The first orc looked at Krakust with a searching expression. “Explar evost?”

“Epro, brother.” Krakust responded.

The first orc took his war hammer from his own back and crushed the second orc’s skull in himself. “I will tell the chieftain your travel goes well.”

The rage drained from Krakust and he relaxed. “I’ll be keeping the pickhammer.”

“I would expect no less, cheiflein.”

Krakust walked over and pulled his dagger from the dead orc’s arm then turned and walked back to Helena and Lukren. Putting his dagger in its sheath and strapping the pickhammer to his back.

“What in bloody Darkfall was that about?” Lukren put his short sword away.

“Something you might call kingdom politics.” Krakust sat down next to Evryn who was already lying down again.

– – –

Sorley let out a purplish-blue blast of fire at the first goblin, who convulsed and fell over in a smoldering heap. “They’re pawns. They seem to be pretty weak.”

Lourek nodded and pulled his daggers from his back. He threw both of them at the goblin, slaying it where it stood.

“Whoa, really? That’s too complicated! We were supposed to just be playing chess!” Donaar shouted in surprise. The two pawns that had disappeared reappeared on the board. “Guys, if he does that again, play with them for a while! That ruined my next move!”

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Cerdic the Usual – Ch. 8

Grimm let go of the vampire Patrick and fell back in a defensive position in front of Cerdic. Veron was up and running away from the confrontation. He knew he couldn’t help and motioned for Cerdic to follow.

With a small shake of his head, indicating he wasn’t going to leave, Cerdic watched Jeremy as he started to cast a spell. The geometric shapes forming in the air in front of his waving hands reminded Cerdic of the residual shapes on the tire, and they were aimed directly at Eric’s center of mass. Without hesitation Cerdic yelled, “look out!” and tackled Eric to the ground. The magic went over the two of them and hit a nearby fence post, reducing it to ash.

Eric looked at the fence post and back at Cerdic. “Uh, thanks…how did you…?”

“Later, Eric!” Henry yelled. “We need to deal with Jeremy first!”

Cerdic rolled off Eric and helped him to his feet. “He’s using some sort of aging magic. Be careful.”

“I see that now…my only question is, how did you? But Henry is right. We have a more immediate concern.” Eric moved his left hand and gripped his grimoire with his right. As he made motions Cerdic saw a barrier appear in front of Eric. It covered his body, but his arms were on the outside. He decided that was so Eric could cast through the barrier.

“Grimm. Be careful.” Cerdic turned and joined Veron behind a nearby rock.

Giving a small bark of recognition, Grimm tried to bite Jeremy in the leg, but Jeremy was prepared. He sent a blast of energy at Grimm then turned to ward off a spell from Henry. Grimm was pushed back towards the rock Veron and Cerdic were hiding behind and stood there, menacingly.

Veron nudged Cerdic. “Jeremy is a powerful warlock. Grimm probably wouldn’t be able to get into his inner defense. Let’s just watch.”

“Fine.”

Henry grabbed his grimoire from his side and flipped it open. He turned to a page near the middle and cast a spell on Patrick, the now prone vampire. Tendrils of dark energy erupted from the ground and bound him in place. “We shouldn’t have to worry about you recovering, now.” He turned towards Jeremy. “Two on one, do you think you can take both of us?”

“Maybe. Let’s find out.” Jeremy grabbed his grimoire and opened it to the last page, then he stuck his arm elbow deep into the page. When he pulled his arm back out it was covered in dark black ink, and he held a strange bone in his hand. “The bone of a great old one, broken.” He snapped the bone and Cerdic saw a rush of shapeless energy engulf Jeremy. “Blood of the warlock, freshly spilled.” He took a bone fragment and stabbed it deep into his forearm.

“We need to stop him!” Eric yelled at Henry. “Hit him with everything you have!”

“Okay!” Henry began making exaggerated motions with his hands. “Veron! Run!” He shot a deep red mass of energy at Jeremy. Cerdic noticed, as he turned to run, that the geometry was jagged and unfinished. It seemed to him that the spell was not yet perfected, like Henry was still working on it.

As the mass of energy splashed into Jeremy the energy surrounding him dissipated it into his surroundings. A deep gash appeared in the ground in front of and to the sides of where he was standing. “Impressive. I didn’t know you had spells that would kill, Aelfson.”

With Jeremy’s attention on Henry, Eric attempted to shoot smaller, more precise spells at the energy surrounding their foe. He was casting many small, slightly different iterations trying to see what would get through his shield.

“Now, where was I? Oh, yes. Just after blood of warlock freshly spilled.” Jeremy stuck his arm back into the page of his grimoire and pulled a wand from it. “Wand of wizard, ground to dust.” He cast a spell on the wand and it started to disintegrate, leaving a small pile in the palm of his hand. “Ingested for power unleashed on good.” He swallowed the pile of dust with a slight cough then strode over to his vampire companion. “Sorry, Pat, but I need you to hold still.”

One of the small missile spells Eric had been pounding the energy with broke through. The green flames it was sporting burned up Jeremy’s arm for a moment. “Dragonfire spells! They break through!”

“Shast!” Henry began flipping through his grimoire. “I have one in here somewhere.”

Eric began mumbling something in Latin and moving his arm in very specific, practiced ways. “Draco,” was the last word he mumbled as he shot a green ball at Jeremy.

Laughing hysterically Jeremy reached up and grabbed the ball of dragonfire. “Oh, yes. It breaks through, but I knew it would. I have wards against dragonfire all over my body, Eric!” He gripped the bone in his other hand. “With the bone of Bugg-Shash I sacrifice this vampire and call you forth again!” He began moving the bone down towards Patrick’s prone form when an arrow flew through the air and shot the bone from his hand. It landed in the dirt a few feet away.

In surprise and anger Jeremy looked up to see Cerdic holding a small crossbow tied to his wrist.

“Where was that?” Veron looked at Cerdic’s arm. “You definitely didn’t have that before.

“Parting gift from Tibdast. Said I would know when to use it.” Cerdic loaded another bolt into the crossbow. “Apparently that energy doesn’t protect you from mundane weapons.”

“I was with you the whole time. When did he give you that?”

Cerdic shrugged. “Remember when we went out to the car? You went outside first, and he came back and gave it to me.”

“Mundane weapons, eh?” Henry smiled broadly and pulled three throwing knives from his jacket. “Perfect.” He tossed the three knives at once and they buried into Jeremy’s right chest, shredding his lung.

“Stupid treefting Usual!” Jeremy shouted as he started coughing up blood. He took a few steps away from Patrick then fell backwards.

Eric nodded at Cerdic. “Good job. You have a good head on your shoulders.” He walked over to Patrick. “Well, let’s see what the council wants to do with you and your friend, shall we?”

Patrick said something intelligible.

Henry cautiously approached Jeremy, who was still coughing up blood. “Is the energy gone?”

With a glance Cerdic saw the energy was dissipating into the ground. “It will be soon. Give it a moment.”

“I wasn’t asking you, but you seem to know what you’re saying.” Henry waited a few seconds then approached the warlock. “We’ll get that lung fixed up at the council hall. Let’s go.” He carefully picked Jeremy up and teleported immediately.

Eric shook his head. “I’ll be going too. I’ll send a car to pick you two up…” He looked at Veron’s car for the first time since the spells started slinging around. “Uh…and I’ll see about replacing that.” The back-passenger door fell off the car. It was the last door still on it, and the rest of the car was covered in dents and burns.

“Great. I guess I better get my stuff out of it.”

– – –

Veron was able to talk the driver into giving him the car and teleporting back to where he had come from and was currently sitting behind the wheel of a sleek black car with tinted windows. “This is a nice car. I’m pretty sure it’s also warded up.”

“Yeah, it seems to be.” Cerdic looked around the car and saw a lot of overlapping triangles and squares.

“What do you mean?”

Cerdic shrugged. “I started seeing things. I think it has something to do with Grimm.”

With a nod of understanding Veron took a right turn on the road. “Yeah, bonding with a supernatural creature can do things, for sure. Never heard of a Usual having the Eyes of the Magus, though.” He paused. “You do have a bond with a church grim, though. That’s extremely unusual for anyone, especially a Usual.”

“It’s starting to sound like I may not be a Usual.” Cerdic said, jokingly.

“You jest, but that may just be true. I think we need to take a short detour.”

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The Fractured Mountains: Darkness Ascending Ch. 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wings?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re right. Let’s get moving.”

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Help Us Jor-Val Ondelios, You’re Our Only Hope! – Pt. 5

Jor-val Ondelios sat at the piloting console of the Tempest. His eyes were closed as he meditated in the Force. Visions of the temple of Balance on Vergaiun passed before his mind’s eye. Then he found himself in hyperspace. He looked at the astrogation computer next to him and saw coordinates for wild space. The coordinates burned into his mind.

With a gasp Jor-val sat bolt upright at the console. “Hey, Tate!”

T8-T3 rolled up from behind the cockpit. He whistled in a questioning manner.

“I have some coordinates I want you to run through your databanks.” He typed the coordinates into the navcomp and waited for T8-T3’s response.

– – –

On the moon Ao and Dor Thay found nothing but a barren, porous landscape of volcanic rock.

“Hey, Ao, what are the chances a moon this size has a molten core?” Dor Thay asked, motioning at the barren landscape.

Ao grabbed a small rock and put it into a pouch on his vac suit. “Unlikely. My guess is it was broken off an existing planet. Possibly a meteor impact with a lava planet.

With a nod Dor Thay did a last look around. He was considering a suggestion to return to the ship when he saw a cave. “Should we do some spelunking, or just head back to the ship?” He motioned at the cave entrance.

“Let’s at least take a quick look. It’ll look better in the report.” Ao activated the comm to the ship. “Hey, Jor-val. We’re going underground for a second. We may lose comms.”

“Ok. I’m checking into some coordinates…by the way, Dor Thay, where were we headed?” Jor-val’s voice was already lined with static.

Dor Thay smiled slightly. “Vergaiun. I have rumors that the Balance know something about the vergence.”

“I have coordinates, but let’s continue to Vergaiun to get some corroboration.” Jor-val sighed slightly. “The Force can be vague sometimes. I have coordinates but not a safe route through wild space.”

Ao stopped in his tracks. “A vergence in wild space? Well, this trip just got a lot more interesting. Anyway, going into this cave. We’ll let you know what we find, if anything.”

“Don’t be too long, I’ll send Tate after you if you’re gone for more than two hours.”

“Sounds good. Thay out.”

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The Fractured Mountains – Ch. 22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Exactly.”

– – –

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

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

“Thanks Sam.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why, certainly.”

– – –

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

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

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

“It’s pissy.”

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Most certainly.”

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

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

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

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

– – –

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

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

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

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

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

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Medakus Grimoires: Mendacium – Ch. 2

It was a cold morning. The pickup keys were in the ignition and Daren tossed his bag in the back. He slipped into the driver’s seat and turned the keys. The truck didn’t start. It made a clicking noise and Daren hit his head against the top of the steering wheel in exasperation. “I guess I’m walking today.”

He got out of the pickup and pulled his bag from the bed. He walked to the street and looked up and down before he started to cross. As he did so he saw the school bus coming. “Sweet, the bus hasn’t gone by yet!”

The school bus pulled up, Woodfalls Oregon School District stood out in black text against the yellow of the paintjob. The bus driver slowed the bus and stopped in front of the driveway. He waved at Daren to cross.

Daren walked up the steps onto the bus and nodded at the driver.

“Truck won’t start?”

“Yeah, cold snap got the battery. I was lucky you hadn’t gone by yet.”

“I guess it’s a good thing I’m behind schedule today. Find a seat.”

Walking down the aisle Daren sat down in a group of empty benches and tried to avoid the stares. He had only ridden the bus a few times in the last two years. He was glad he was the last stop on the route. As the thought of him being the last stop passed through his mind the bus stopped at the bottom of the hill and three students boarded.

Daren looked over at one of the other students on the bus who was staring at his phone. “Who’re they?”

“I don’t know, they’re new. It’s the first time the bus stopped here.” The student never looked up from his phone.

The three students filed back to where Daren was and sat in the empty seats. They all looked like seniors or juniors.

“Hello,” Daren said, “I’m Daren.”

The two boys muttered their hellos but didn’t offer their names. The girl didn’t even say hello. The rest of the bus ride to the high school was uneventful.

– –

Daren walked into his first period chemistry class. He shuffled by Mr. Hans and took his regular stool. He put his bag on the stool next to his and pulled out his textbook just as the tardy bell rang.

“Good morning class. We have a new student today.” Mr. Hans sounded excited if only to get the attention of his students. “Let’s welcome Ms…uh.” He looked down at his attendance sheet. “Ah, Ms. Sara Ainsley to our class.”

There was a half-hearted round of applause.

Mr. Hans nodded. “Yes, why don’t you introduce yourself?” He motioned Sara to step forward.

Sara was somewhat short for a senior and had dyed her waist length hair crimson. “You already know I’m Sara I guess. Uh, I’m from Hilsonville, Washington. It’s kinda in the middle of nowhere in northern Washington.”

“Yes, good. I usually ask favorite colors. My guess is red.”

“I have no idea what makes you think that.” Her voice was obvious sarcasm.

Mr. Hans ignored the sarcasm. “Well, let’s get you assigned a lab partner.” He looked down at his seating chart. “Mr. Medakus, I’m sorry but your solitude has ended.”

Daren sighed and pulled his bag off the stool next to him. As he did so he forgot it was open and all the contents went spilling onto the floor. He looked at the bag in surprise for a moment before he reacted and started picking things up. The first things he grabbed were the baggies of spiders and quickly shoved them in the bag before anyone could register what they were. Then he started grabbing the more mundane looking objects.

A hand reached down and started helping Daren pick up the contents of his bag. He looked up and saw Sara helping him. “Thanks.”

She picked up his grimoire and shoved it in the bag. “You should always grab your journal first.” She continued to help him clean up.

“Okay, now that we’ve cleaned up our messes we can get to work.” Mr. Hans booted up the projector and started the class.

– –

During his third period PE class Daren noticed one of the other students who had gotten on the bus at the bottom of the hill. The PE teacher did a brief introduction.

“This is John Ainsley. He moved here from Hilsonville, Washington. Now, let’s get out of this gym and onto the track. I want to see some leg movement out there today!” Mrs. Carson looked ready to go. “I’ll be joining you on the track today. Anyone who can lap me gets extra credit.”

Daren jogged around the track, getting his heartbeat up, but not much more. He watched as John quickly lapped Mrs. Carson then when he came back around to Daren he slowed to his speed.

“I need all the extra credit I can get. Don’t you?” The question seemed rhetorical. He held out his hand. “I’m John Ainsley. You are?”

Daren jogged sideways to shake the hand. “I’m Daren Medakus. You seemed uninterested in my name this morning on the bus.”

“I’m not a morning person. Sara definitely isn’t either, but in-between classes she mentioned your journal, so I thought I’d introduce myself when I had a chance.” John slowed to a walk. “Let’s talk, shall we?”

Daren slowed and looked at him. “I don’t know why the two of you keep saying journal like that. What do you want to talk about?”

“Mendacium interius veritas. We Ainsley’s aren’t that kind of family, but we know a few.”

The phrase wasn’t quite pronounced right, and by John’s second sentence Daren knew why. “Well, just so we know where we stand, veritas interius mendacium.”

“Don’t they always, though?” John asked in a way that expected a specific response.

Daren shook his head. “Dad never told me the other half of that line. Said I wasn’t ready.”

A smiled appeared on John’s face. “Just answer it how you feel it should be answered, then. I want to know.”

“I’ve always thought the answer was ‘so is reality’.” Daren stopped in his tracks, an inquisitive look on his face.

John stopped and walked back to him. “What’s wrong?”

Shaking his head Daren started walking again. “Why am I so trusting of you? There’s students passing by us. Any one of them could know and be an enemy of the council. If we want to talk about this…”

The school bell chimed, interrupting Daren.

“We can talk this weekend at your place or ours. Let me know on the bus. I have need of your…skills.” John started walking toward the gym. “That is, if you are willing to help an old dog out.”

“I actually have a job after school. We should talk at lunch.”

– –

At lunch Daren was reading his grimoire. He was sitting with his back to the lunchroom wall so that nobody could see the thaumatish written inside. The book was open to a section on supernatural dogs. Black dogs had always fascinated him, especially the church grim which seemed to be the only inherently good one. This time, however he was looking into humanoid creatures that were related in some form to dogs. John had said he had need of his skills if he wanted to help an old dog. That phrase is what caused him to investigate it now.

A lunch tray connected with the table Daren was at, causing him to look up over the lip of the grimoire.

“Is this seat taken?” The last one of the students that had gotten on the bus that morning was asking.

Daren noticed the two Ainsleys waiting beside him. “Ah, the last Ainsley I assume?”

“I’ll take that as a no.” The three Ainsleys sat down.

Putting the grimoire away Daren stared at his sack lunch. He didn’t feel hungry, but he started to eat mechanically. If he didn’t eat now he’d never make it through sixth period.

“So,” Daren asked between bites, “what do you want to talk about? Wolf related topics? Or perhaps the moon?”

John grinned. “See, Jayse? I told you that saying old dog was enough.”

The black-haired boy nodded. “I stand corrected. Nice to meet you, Daren. I’m Jayse.” He went back to shoving food in his mouth and swallowing without tasting it.

Sara shook her head. “Jayse, I know it’s hard for you, but you can at least pretend you’re actually eating.”

“You guys want to talk here, or somewhere else. I can make it hard for people to understand us if you want, but that doesn’t always work out.” Daren took another bite of his sandwich then added a blue and orange powder to his water bottle.

“If there’s somewhere else to talk that’d be best.”

“Okay, Jayse. Where do you recommend?”

“The forested area behind your house. After school.”

“Jayse, I told you Daren has work after school.” John took Jayse’s chocolate milk. “You won’t appreciate this. Why’d you even get chocolate?”

“Right. It’s getting a little hard for me to concentrate in here. I’m going for a walk.” Jayse gave his dessert to John and left with his lunch tray.

Sara shook her head. “Don’t worry about him. It’s a little too crowded in here is all.” She pushed her dessert over to Daren. “Do you want this?”

“Sure. So, we should talk this weekend then. Does that sound good?”

“It does, but it’s a full moon Saturday. How about Sunday?”

Daren looked at John. “You’re still tied down on that then? If you need my help with that I need to get to know you a little more. Now I know what you want, and that’s no small thing.”

“Well, up until now I didn’t care. Something’s come up, though, and I need to be a little more in control of some things.” “John, be careful. We can talk about that Sunday.” Sara picked up her food tray. “Well, see you then.”

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The Fractured Mountains – Ch. 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who?”

“Please, just heal the finch.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – –

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

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

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

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

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