The Rise and Fall of Glamorfell

why not pt 1

She walked down the street huddled against the chill and the snow, the big bag by her side looked to be filled with groceries. It actually contained her reversible overcoat, she couldn’t be too sure that walking around three sides of a walled compound with watchtowers wouldn’t attract attention. Her hands were in her pockets and her head was lowered, her boots crunching on the mashed snow that covered the icy sidewalk, her attention was on the walls and the guards huddled in their ramshackle towers. She rapidly became aware that there was someone, or maybe a group, following her. She reached an alleyway and turned down it. She made it almost to the end before they stepped out in front of her. She didn’t understand all of the language, but she got the gist: there was going to be bad times in her immediate future if she didn’t get away. Her right hand tightened slightly on the grip of the snubnosed .357, her left on the curved knife, both in her jacket pockets, as a small shiver of fear ran up her back. She managed to dodge a punch or two before a blow struck her high on the cheekbone, the shock of it threw her off balance and she started to fall. Yelenya managed to kick the feet out of beneath one of her opponents and send him crashing into another as she fell, the ice aiding her. She took a kick to the back and threw herself into the wall to avoid one to the head as she regained her feet. Yelenya dashed out of the alleyway panting and slid into the street before she managed to redirect herself. She was breathing heavily as she broke contact and got away, her pace slowing to a normal stride as she wandered aimlessly back to their hide site. She climbed the stairs up to the apartment that they had taken over several nights ago. There wasn’t much of a watch posted, mostly because it was becoming daylight. She tapped out the code on the door before opening it with a key. Sayd was the only one visible that was still up, his back to the door and a cup of coffee, probably spiked with brandy in one indolent hand. He stared at the wall, hate burning feverishly in his eyes, as she stalked up next to him. There was a picture of a man wearing a helmet in the shape of a skull of some sort, a candid shot taken as he was giving orders to his lieutenants. It was an old photo, Sayd had it for over a year. The man had cost them several of their companions previously and now they were going to get another crack at him. Yelenya had memorized his face long ago and to her it was just a piece of paper with a dead man on it, Sayd had been consumed with gaining revenge for the loss of his comrades. Without looking he held out his other hand and she accepted the glass of red wine, sipping slowly. Finally he stirred:
“Report”
“There are watchers on at least three sides, and they are not shy about making contact, I imagine that they are augmented by watchers on the roof of each building, possibly cameras although I did not see any. The watchers… there are too many to simply force our way through, we’ll need a decent diversion to draw their attention so that I can slip the wall. The wall itself is shoddy, but topped with broken stone and glass, the inside may have barbwire, but I cannot be sure until I get a better look. The only obvious way in is the front gate, four guards in towers, but they were staying huddled up under shelter. Long range interference is a possibility, but without a way to deal with the watchers and anyone else outside the gate it is at best a one shot deal.”
Sayd nodded distractedly and turned to her to say something, but his mouth worked wordlessly for a moment before a far too casual “how does your head feel?”
“It hurts, I got hit by the watchers, two or three times, is it bruising?”
“Ah, no, no you are bleeding rather alarmingly from the left side” He pushed her hair back and sighed, “new rule, no more wearing stud or otherwise sharp backed earrings when on the job.” He pulled her ear free from where the metal posts had stuck into her skin with a wince. Yelenya opened her eyes a little unsteadily as he packed a folded cloth, her cashmere scarf, against the wound.
There was concern in his voice “do you think that you will be up to some snooping tomorrow night? Maybe we can send the new girl in…”
“No, I’ll hit them tomorrow night, see if we can learn something.”

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Curtainfall

Curtainfall, by Edgrin Galesong
Based on his experience of the assault of Death Hill

What madness drove us there that night
To catch an eagle fast in flight
I do not, can not hope to know—
Save that our leader bade it so.

“Tis our sworn duty,” so he said,
whose silver tongue so well misled,
and none but gods could hope to win
the fury from blackhearted Krynn.

So matched Sayd pace for pace we did,
Until we found the place where hid
The Stag Lord and his savage men,
Curled fast like vipers in their den.

A portrait now, of Death Hill’s gate:
a place the gods had loved too late;
so black and frozen lay the posts,
so thrilled with hunger screamed the ghosts,

And zombies rising from the snow,
And archers stalking those below,
Gave currency to my own fear.
Twas then I heard what I must hear.

The voice sang out o’er midnight’s pitch,
each word to bind my faith as stitch.
Twas HE who sang the demon’s part
And met my fear with steely heart.

“So now we dance the game of knives!
The one with surest hands survives!
In dark and night, the wolves may glower,
But I, Sayd Krynn, shall stand the hour!”

Let all men know from here to Geb,
from the rushes to the spider’s web,
from temples draped with gold and pearls
to the hovel where the river curls:

The Stag is dead, his heart lies still;
His life was cut by ferocious will;
The Black Cat howls, his voice is power;

The Stolen King has stood the hour.

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The Demon in Winter, Part Two

The window burns to light the way back home,
a light that warms no matter where they’ve gone.
They’re off to find the hero of the day—
But what if they should fall by someone’s wicked way?

- Metallica

16 Calistril, 4711 AR
I knew I was dreaming, but it was more than that, some magic or witchery I have not before now seen. I spoke with a woman, and she was not a figment of my dream. I felt her kiss on my cheek, so familiar. Her voice was poison, and cure. We stood upon a plain of cratered white rock, devoid of ornament—the stars stood as pinpricks of fire, and the soft blue glow of Golarion bathed us like angels. I was on the moon.

I did not see her for true, for she appeared as many figures, all women. At once she turned her head and locks of white cascaded down, and she looked at me with the pitiless gaze of Pharasma, the Lady of Graves, but a moment later she held her fingers aloft with songbirds resting on them, and appeared as the seductress Quintessa Maray. Languidly she transfixed me with her words and morphed through slow turns into any woman I might know, from Yelenya to Baba Migori.

She did not speak but smiled, drinking in my wonder, waiting for me to do more than gaze in awe.

At length I smiled back, as one does, and opened my mouth to speak. “Who—”

“Are you,” she finished. Her voice was as soft and cool as mist. She pursed her lips.

“Do you not know me, Sayd?” she said. Except she did not say “Sayd.” She called me by my birth name.

I nearly became angered with surprise, when I realized that I did know her. She swayed slightly in front of a promontory of white rock.

“You are…Phoebe,” I said. “The priestess of Calistria. Phoebe Kissingdeath. You saved my life.”

She smiled sweetly, beaming at the recognition, and before my eyes she assumed her true form—a svelte young halfling woman with purple and black hair, shining green eyes and a playful smattering of freckles on her cheeks.

“Tis your true form,” I marveled. “Why did you not show me before?”

“I walk in many guises, dear one,” she said. “But Sayd, I fear I must press on to the reason for my…visit.”

“Go on,” I urged. Looking about the blasted landscape, I wondered if I could control the stuff of my own dreams. With effort I caused an ornate table and two chairs to appear. On the table was a tea set and a rose in a vase. She seemed impressed and we sat down, laughing to ourselves at the absurdity of having tea on the moon, in a dreamscape. I poured us each a cup.

“Sayd, when I saved you from the Maghrattan’s poison before, I told you a story,” she said. “Do you remember?”

“You told me I was special to Calistria,” I said.

“Yes,” she fretted, twisting her napkin. “That was true, in a sense. But also a lie. I said I had read your past, that you were born as a pawn in a fued between followers of Nocticula and Lamashtu, both Demon Lord of the Abyss. That is indeed what I saw in my vision. And that you were rescued by a knight loyal to Calistria…here, look—”

She spread her hand and an image appeared in the air of a yellow desert in far southern lands. In the background, a massive temple sunk into the earth. In the foreground, a weathered knight in a brown robe, a massive sword slung across his back, carried a baby away from the wreckage. A blond baby, with a tiny horn and tail.

“That man, his name was Bonn Meridyth. No greater swordsman ever lived, nor fiercer drunk—or so they say. He named you on the day of your birth. He carried you across the sea.”

“Phoebe,” I said, “I’m literally all ears, and I find this endlessly fascinating, but perhaps you’d tell me why this is so suddenly and vitally important that you would use sorcery to cross the leagues and tell me of it.”

“You do not wish to know this,” she sighed.

“I am who I am, dear,” I said softly. “Knowing the past will not change that. I knew the people who raised me in Kaer Maga.”

“Then I will not tell you,” she said. “What’s important is this: you have a benefactor among the priesthood of Calistria. This person calls upon me for favors in watching over you, because I am close by and they are far, far away….” she paused. She look up at me, her finger rimming the edge of the teacup, and her eyes grew greener, her smile more sly, and she laughed.

“I am sorry, but I can’t keep doing this,” she said, barely containing the gales of laughter. She collected herself, but one look at the apparent consternation on my face set her off again.

“Oh Sayd,” she said. “In truth, I have not come to warn you of anything.” She licked her lips.

“You’re not Phoebe,” I said.

“You know exactly who I am,” she said. My blood turned to ice in my veins.

“You….you are not her,” I said. “This is impossible.”

“Mmmm,” she laughed, “perhaps I am just her servant, then. Perhaps she is too busy for ego-stroking whelps like you.”

“Why are you in my head?” I demanded.

“I came to touch you,” she said, smiling. And slipping across the table faster than I could move, she put her hand into my chest and broke something I didn’t know was there.

I was back on Golarion, in a misty thicket. I was watching myself. There I was, and Wally, and Teret, and only us. We stood before a white statue of a beautiful maiden, a shining red apple in her cupped hands. I watched myself reach out and take it while the others hesitated.

And I could see it for what it was.

It was all the stolen wilds, the still water and the raging water, the hurricane and the flower petal, the claws of the beast and its fury, the mountain’s fall and the inky black of the abyss condensed into a single glistening dewdrop. I watched myself bite it. I watched Sayd throw my head back, savoring the taste of the fruity flesh, and no one who lived was ever more beautiful.

You can’t stop it now, fool she whispered, this time invisible. This time inside me. You INVITED us in. She laughed, waves of fluttering ecstasy filling me. Don’t you know why your kind calls them the Stolen Lands, dummy? Because they are full of the stolen. And now they’ve stolen you, too. You just couldn’t help it, you HAD to have that apple. Do you know why it tasted so good? Because the gardens of the First World are BEYOND PEER, you joke. All you needed was a little touch, blond baby. Your blood is strong to protect you, but not strong enough.

When I woke up, I could smell them all—my friends, the horses, the shrews. I could hear water dropping from a branch across the meadow. I felt so hot, so fevered. I saw my image in a dark puddle, so hot with living. I knew then that Sayd Krynn of Kaer Maga would never leave this place. I would stand at a clear pool’s edge and he would stare at me from the waters, trapped, a prisoner of the world.

It is the 16th day of Calistril, 4711 AR.

I have been Stolen, ne’er to return, and the thought makes me smile from my soul, and my eyes shine with pale fire.

The night hath been to me a more familiar face than that of man; and in her starry shade of dim and solitary loveliness, I learned the language of another world.
- George Gordon Lord Byron

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Horse work

The day was sunny, though cold, and she could feel the warmth in her bones. She disliked it. The light bothered her eyes and while, less effectively than at night, she kept an eye on the land before them she mulled over different ways to limit the sunlight. Options considered and discarded littered the paths of her musings as she sat cross legged atop her horse. It was an unconventional way of riding that allowed her to slide off to the ground at a moment’s notice. Bucksy (they would have to find a name they both agreed on) was trained, but not to the extent of Silverwind, and she was not a natural rider and so she fought from the ground. Different materials wandered through her mind, sooner or later everything turned up in Kaer Maga, and the list was rather long. She settled on glass, made partially opaque. There was likely something more durable available, but would be difficult to source locally. She made a little snicking noise and the horses’ head came up and he turned right as she tapped him on the side of the neck. Teret was fussing with a buckle on his armor as she steered her horse over to where he was riding. Silverwind snorted a little nervously, she had spent a lot of time feeding and grooming Bucksy to make him less nervous around her, and inwardly she smiled that the horse was as twitchy as the human. Her voice was further muffled by the purple scarf she had pulled up to just under her eyes and she spoke in what was, for her a shout, "I need you to train my horse so I can fight on him. Silverwind can teach him how to fight on his own, right?

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Beginnings Again

Today is a good day. Today we hunt the Stag Lord. It has been a very long time coming. We chose to hunt him earlier, and while I do not blame him defending himself, he will still die, and I do not care what he thinks about it. Shelyn teaches us to love, and I do the best that I can, but I will not grieve his passing. Everyone that i’ve killed, I remember even if dimly. The Stag Lord I will remember, possibly for hundreds of years. I am no oracle, nor do i pretend to see the future, but I do see the past. And soon we will be at a turning point. Jacob Featherstep is coming with us… better to have named him Chickenfeather, it would give him room to grow. I am somewhat disappointed by his lack of field skills, although after waking that manticore he was game for fighting it. I worry a bit about him. Guts will get you killed. We succeed in killing our enemies through speed, surprise, and violence. Without at least two we have a debacle like in Albany’s woods. If he can shoot and is willing to learn, we can teach him the rest. I rather wish we had Kimi, and Jeva. Poor lonely Jeva. Slip her over the wall and let her be herself. I worry that our companions do not understand what is going to happen here: this is not going to be clean, we are not shiny knights in the sun with pennants fluttering. This is going to be extermination, no quarter given until we’re done. I don’t think it has dawned on them yet. They have been spoiled fighting mites and kobolds. They haven’t had much experience fighting they’re own kind. I don’t have that problem, nor does Sayd. Monsters never do.

She put Sayd’s journal back in his pack and sipped her cup of tea. Kaede and Teret were beginning to stir and soon it would be time to break camp.

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Repose

I dream of peace; love the idea, hate the consequences. I prefer the life I live now: chasing oblivion, slaying as I will, drinking the last gasps of life. It warms my soul, if I flatter myself in believing I have one, and brings everything into focus. The cold night air surrounding me when I rest beneath the stars, the warmth of my companions when nature forces me to shelter beneath a tent and blanket. I freely admit that the visual capabilities of my allies irritates me, I would vastly prefer to hunt throughout the night, a unfortunate issue that they cannot see in the dark. Well, magic overcomes. Perhaps. I have a new amulet, for the moment, and that pleases me. Poor Albany, forced by another hand to defy his nature. I very rarely get angry to this extent, but I would happily drain that fey to the dregs and defile her corpse. Later, perhaps. So many things rely on chance: the kobolds, Olegs’, the Black Cats, the Stag Lord. So many chances, so many things. I gambled a bit on one of those chances earlier, Jeva. I have no urge nor reason to try to bend her to my will, the optimist in me thinks that if she is shown that there are ways to exist with the monster rather than surrendering to it she may follow. It costs nothing to be kind, and it may buy a life. My companions, the foolish ones anyway, do not trust her. I do trust her, specifically I trust her to be her. I would love to bury my face in her fur and whisper that everything will be alright, ultimately though it is her choice as it should be. My gaze catches on the piece of sable unicorn hide, the weather will dry it, under Kaede’s guidance I have scraped the meat and fat from it. Poor thing, to have lived a decent life, to be twisted against your nature, and now I muse, be made into a vest. I think the fastenings will be dragon teeth through rings of legendary boar bone. That would be a fitting gift. I care not about favor, but it amuses me to do the unexpected. Yesterday we killed a unicorn. Today we journey to get paid for it. Soon we go to end a very specific life. And flowers will bloom.

Yelenya stretched silently. Her list of things to do was long, and as days went by they were ticked off one by one. She rubbed her thumb on the unicorn hide and bid it’s previous owner to rest.

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The Demon in Winter, Part One

The Voice is worship
Follow the Inner path
Speak only in True Need

- Skyrim

15 Calistril, 4711 AR
Next week it will be one year since our party left the bustle of Restov for the wilderness we now call home. The people I traveled with—the bookish elf with her tiny bird; the soldier, still wet behind the ears, who received cardiopulmonary resuscitation from a dwarf (!); the fearsome bumpkin we rescued from mites—all strangers to me then, are now my dearest friends, and, with Yelenya, are the closest thing I have to a family in this world.

Am I leading them to their deaths?

Tis a valid question to ask, here in dark scribblings on the page. The plains are moon pale, silent and drifty with snow, but I require no light to go about my business. Scant paces away, Yel rests upon a pitted stone, her eyes lidded, her keen ears alert for aught that might trouble us. “Can you hear it, darling—the song of the night?” I might ask her. But there is no need to ask her. I know she can hear the song of the night. We are of Kaer Maga, the City of Strangers. In my satchel I carry a banner upon which all the history of my life is writ. I do not fear death. The black cat that saunters by, back arched, under the ladder, by the broken mirror, holds no malice for me. I’m a black cat, too.

And yes, we know the night. Gods, a tiefling and a dhampir? The night is our mother. The night taught us to steal. The night sky, where Desna holds her court, is the temple of my people. The temple of Yel’s people. “We shall know no rest from travel”—I read that somewhere. A snippit of poem from one of Kaede’s books, perhaps. I read them sometimes while she meditates in silence, dead to the world, living an inner life I cannot fully grasp. At any rate, it is a fair description of a Varisian.

So no, the night does not trouble me, nor the snow. Nor the threat of that manticore returning. What troubles me are two simple questions, the first already voiced: am I leading my friends to their deaths? The second is far more insidious, far more restless.

Why did I come to the Stolen Lands?

I told them it was for revenge. Yelenya and I, and our friends, were hired out of Daggermark to wax the Stag Lord. We didn’t know who he was—some pretentious bandit or other, who happened to be out of his own territory and who someone wanted dead. There was a timetable, a travel route he would be taking, and a payoff that we wouldn’t get to collect on. He was the first man to defeat me in single combat. If not for Yelenya, I’d be dead, just like our friends.

So when we recovered, we took the job in Restov and met the others. It was another chance at the bastard, with another pot of gold attached. And when we first left the city, I was as full of vitriol as any man might be, in my boots. But it didn’t last.

One year, I wrote. One year since we left Restov. Does my passion burn as bright? Of course not. This turned out to be far more than any job Yel and I have taken. Surveying a country. Uncovering the mysteries of the Narlmarches. In the last year I have decapitated bandits, slain a Singing Tree, surrendered to a giant Honey Queen, killed a creature of myth by shoving it into a furnace, murdered a kobold king and lain with his wife, then installed a new kobold king and traded her off to him. I have fallen in rivers, leapt from roof to roof, held off a mite army by refusing to yield. I was nearly killed by an old tick of the First World. I watched my friend eat the corpse of an undead dragon. I burned down a witch’s hut by accident. I stopped the charge of a shadowed unicorn with my bare hands, and cast its corpse down upon the snow with a borrowed wand. I made friends and bitter enemies, most of whom are now dead. And I realized something.

I am a killer, plainly said. My business is taking lives. Of course our cause is just. It is, right? Well what exactly is our cause? We violently transgress from situation to situation, never knowing quite what we are doing. Sometimes it is more clear cut than others. We rescued the children of Hollow, all of them. To do so, we killed many and more kobolds, let a werewolf go free, stopped a dark ritual, etc, etc. Only Pharasma knows which of these things bodes well, and which ill. We are cloaked in confusion, and yet our clearest path out of the fog is the one we cleave with our swords. That is what being a hero means. It means you face down death and kill all who oppose you, without really knowing why. And I—

I want to know why.

16 Calistril, 4711 AR
I have had a revelation. No other word can describe it. No other word is appropriate. It was so much more than a dream. By Shelyn, it was more real than real life. I startled Kaede half to death the way I awoke. Daybreak is here, and the others are breaking camp, but I must write this down, must commit it to the page. Every detail may be important. I have been left a map, a map to a treasure that is beyond gold and jewels.

But Gods, how can I write when the world is howling in ecstasy?

TO BE CONTINUED

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To Master Norwick

It is not often that I find myself in need of specialty items. A mutual friend of ours has spoken of your abilities and I think that you may be the best chance of finding what I need. I seek information as to whether or not it is possible to create a item that changes positive energy to negative energy. One of the downsides to my birth is that healing injures me. I would prefer to be able to visit churches and not feel ill, or be wounded by a blessing. I’m sure that you understand. Enclosed is a sum that should help your search, although I would ask that you be careful in your inquires.

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Down the Well, 9 Neth 4710 AR

“Darling, he’s dead,” Sayd said.

In front of him lay a mass of chains, swirling black echoes of the creature that was, now melding into the ashen cloud like sheets of dark mist. Beyond the pile of soot cloaked metal stood Wally, his eyes burned shut by the hot embers. He held a chain in each hand. He had ripped the scion of Droskar apart. Sayd stepped across the pile of chains and embraced his friend.

“You fought like a dragon,” he said, his voice startled with awe. In all his long years he had never seen a more dangerous warrior.

“Well sheeyit,” the mulleted berserker exclaimed. “Tweren’t nuthin.” But the tiefling could see that it was something. Lacerations from the chain and hammer marks covered Wally’s body. Sayd helped him out of the ash cloud, to where Kaede and Teret waited. As the cloud dissipated, the flame mephits skittered back cackling to the forge and entered it. Teret rushed to help the bound child where he lay.

“It took you long enough!” the pudgy Jurin Kreed cried as Teret released his bonds. “I assume my father sent you?” Teret look at the loose flesh hanging on the ingrates cherubic face, at his spiteful eyes, and saw all the aristocratic ponces he had backhanded in the military.

“Who is your father?” he said.

“Kreed,” Sayd replied over his shoulder. “That hatchet faced moron who runs the lumber mill in Hollow.”

“H-hatchet…why you—!” Jurin said.

“Can it, kid,” Teret said. He pulled the portly child to his feet.

“That chain,” Wally said, wiping the soot from his face and taking another pull from his wineskin. “It didn’t feel none to wholesome to me.”

“Indeed,” said Josef. “I believe this creature is what has been called a—”

“Forge scorned,” Kaede finished.

“That’s right,” Josef said with admiration. “The depth of your lore never fails to amaze, Mistress Kaede. This creature was tasked with endless toil, to bind the souls of its victims into a chain for Droskar, in whose unhallowed temple we find ourselves. I can feel the evil of that chain even from here. So many dead.” He paused. “Such tragedy. Tis the chain that holds the soulforce of this creature. Left alone, it may even return to complete its dark work.”

“We best bust it up, then,” Wally said, pushing up off the wall to stand—and then leaning back against it just as suddenly.

“Take your ease,” Teret said, placing a hand on the barbarian’s shoulder. “Josef has proven himself an able hand at kicking in doors. Let he and I give it a go.” And so they did, beating the chain upon the anvil until it broke, then taking up another section and beginning again. Of a sudden the entire length shattered, and Teret watched as ghostly blue wisps poured out of it with a pent up cry, like the sobs of a hundred orphaned children. It faded and the light was gone. Jojo looked across the anvil at him.

“It is done,” he said.

“But what of this?” Teret asked. He hefted a warhammer from a rack in the corner. “Is it not the one that beast swung? I could hardly see it for the smoke.”

“It is the one,” Sayd said. “The very same.” They examined the weapon. It was black as pitch.

“Tis heavy,” Teret offered, swinging it.

“Tis adamantine,” Kaede said. Yukimura chirped his agreement.

“Tis cursed,” Sayd replied jaggedly.

“None of you is wrong,” Josef said. They looked at him. The archaeologist ran a hand through his matted curls. “This is a weapon of great malice,” he continued, haltingly. “And it is adamantine for true. A matter as hard as the deeds that were done with it.”

“Well put,” Teret said, examining the material with more scrutiny. “I have never beheld adamantine, only heard whisper of its legacy. The hardest substance in the world, so sages say.” Then the tiefling’s delicate face was unnervingly over his shoulder.

“This thing will bring us nothing but woe,” Sayd said. “We should break it, ruin it. It’s existence offers grievance to the gods.”

“You say everything offends the gods,” Yelenya offered breezily. “Did you not say such of the silver daggers that saved our lives?” She was kneeling over Wally.

“Tis true,” Sayd admitted. “How is he?”

“He is sleeping,” she said, “no doubt put under the waves by your weighty arguments.” She brushed his forehead with a washcloth. Teret tucked the warhammer into his kit. Best to deal with it later.

They returned to the well room, though Yelenya tarried to examine a stone crevice too small for a human that disappeared like a tunnel straight down through the rock. Kimi Eaveswalker watched her from behind a natural pillar, then rushed to comfort Wally. Teret and Sayd carried the warrior between them and lay him down in one corner of the well room.

They examined the pit. A ten foot by ten foot wooden platform swung from a rope in its center, supported by a system of pulleys. Teret peered down into the dark, cursing his lack of darkvision. Anything could be down there. He looked over his shoulder to where Sayd, translated into draconic by Kaede, was grandiosly harassing the coward kobold, Keddremak. He listened as Kaede translated his responses, his details about what lay below. The halfling was challenging Sayd now, disgusted with his promises to the kobold. Kimi was getting restless.

“Enough,” Teret finally said. “There is one more child below, is there not?”

“Aye,” the halfling said. “What is your plan?”

“Plunge forward into darkness,” Sayd said, leaping onto the wooden platform. “And see what happens.”

“Why am I not thirlled with this plan?” Yelenya said, joining him. Teret moved to stand beside them on the platform, but Kaede stopped him.

“It is trapped,” she said. “Or shoddily made. So the kobold says. Regardless, it will not bear all our weight together.” She stepped onto the lift and Josef began to lower it.

“Why am I not in the van?” Teret said.

“We can see in the dark,” Sayd and Yelenya said in unison, annoyingly. The tiefling winked up at him.

“She can’t,” Teret said, pointing at Kaede. The elf smiled her soft, mysterious smile.

“I have my ways,” she said. A moment later and thirty feet below, the lift touched the ground and Kaede’s dancing lights shot down into the well after her.

As they lit up the room below, the three saw two hardy kobolds in chain mail and helms riding obscene, saber-toothed frog like creatures coated in a repulsive ichor wheel about, shocked. They’d been expecting comrades. Sayd stepped off the platform with his spear in one hand and a dark fire in the other.

“I am Sayd Krynn of Kaer Maga,” he smiled. “And you two are about to—”

He was interrupted as the slurk closest to him blurted out a massive gobby stream of disgusting slime that covered him head to toe like buckets full of mud, leaving nothing uncoated.

“—make me look like a fucking asshole,” he finished, the words bubbling out from where his mouth probably was. “Gross.”

“Ewwwww,” Yelenya said.

Kaede wasted no time, leaping between the two mounted warriors as Josef hustled to pull the lift back up. She struck with her double chain kama and deftly dodged their attacks as Yelenya loosed arrows. One of the slurks charged the dhampir and bit into her hard. Kaede’s head jerked in that direction in time to see the sultry stalker hit the floor, unconscious. A moment later, the giant blob that was Sayd scuttled back to back with her.

“Defenfive maneuverf!” the blob cried. “Thif ftuff is hard to moof iff!”

“Foolish roundeye!” Yukimura chirped in Tien, drawing a scolding glare from Kaede. The elf parried a short sword thrust with the flat of her hand then swung around with her double chain kama to entwine a spear thrust meant for Sayd from the other side. As she did, she kicked up a cloud of dust behind her with one foot, thwarting the slurk that tried to pounce on her unguarded flank. She leapt up as a spear went underfoot and swung her kama around again, slicing a rider. Sayd meanwhile somehow had to composure to use the hardened ichor to block the paws and teeth of the slurk who encroached on him.

Then the platform banged down again and Teret and Josef leaped into the fray.

“What the hell happened to you?” Teret said to Sayd, incredulous.

“Noffing ferioff,” Sayd replied. “Minor inconvenienff.”

In spite of everything, Teret had to laugh. “Let me help,” he said. He grabbed into the hardened goo and tried to pull it away, but the stuff wouldn’t budge. “What the hell is this shit?” he said.

“Riiif?”

The nearer slurk, apparently thinking Teret presented a better target, moved against him and was immediately rebuffed by a flurry of whirling steel. He cut into the slurk just as Sayd, who was somehow half-wielding his spear from inside the slimy cocoon, stabbed the kobold rider in the back.

“Well struck!” Teret said.

“Fankff!” Sayd replied.

[Editors note: this is when I had a cigarette break and missed the big finish, so we’ll imagine a few details.]

The distraction gave Teret a chance to leap, Achilles like, to the side and plunge his sword through the kobold’s armor at the shoulder. It screeched in pain and wailed in draconic. As it turned to flee it caught a shuriken to the throat from Kaede and slumped in its seat, held in place by ichor. The elf whirled back and, leaping over the upturned mouth of the slurk, caught the other kobold warrior’s head between her thighs. She cracked his neck with a smooth twist and a disgusting popping sound and sat momentarily perched upon his shoulders before twirling off and landing on the stone floor as softly as a falling petal.

“Impressive,” Josef said. They all heard a thunderous crack and looked to see the slime shell come crashing off Sayd as he stood flexing his arms underneath.

“What happened?” the tiefling said.

“We won,” said Kaede simply, and went immediately to kneel at Yelenya’s side. The dhampir was unconscious and very badly injured. “We should stop,” she said. “Rest.”

“Lay her out beside Wally,” Sayd said, brushing some remaining crumbs and tangles from his hair. “We still have a child to save.”

“Agreed,” said Teret.

They took some time to move Yelenya up the lift, then some more time for Josef to re-jigger the mechanism to hold more weight. Sayd, Teret and Kimi were lingering below when Sayd heard a rasping coming from a nearby room. He cautiously looked in and saw an abberation—tall, spindly, with tentacled fingers and an alien visage—gasping for breath in the corner. A spear was stuck in its shoulder.

“Can you understand me?” he tried in the common tongue, but the creature did not answer.

Teret approached it. The creature recoiled from him, wheezing. The young warrior knelt in front of it and pulled the spear from its shoulder. He looked at the substance on the spear tip. “Poison,” he said.

“Kill it!” Kimi demanded.

“Shush, girl,” Sayd said as Teret actually dug into his pack and applied a poultice to the wound. “Do not judge a tome by its cover.” He wandered back to look up the well and see how things were progressing.

“Why is Ser Teret helping that thing?” Kimi asked, following.

Sayd looked up the well to where Josef was working. “Because he is a just man,” the tiefling replied. He looked down into her eyes. “All we really have, Kimi Eaveswalker, is who we are,” he said.

She thought about it. “Why does everyone say you’re a bad man?” she said. He laughed, and walked back to watch Teret and the choker through the doorframe.

After he didn’t answer for a while, she crept back to his side. “Wally said you fought the Stag Lord before, once. He said he killed your friends and threw you into a canyon. Left you for dead.”

“Wally says a lot of things,” the tiefling replied absently.

She balled her fist up. “You know when my dad comes back, he’s not going to like you being with my mom,” she said. He looked at her then, his irises softly alight with green fire, for so long that it became unnerving and she looked away. Frustrated, she looked right back to find his gaze unaltered. “Say something!” she finally yelled. Teret came rushing back to the doorway at the sound.

“You poor girl,” Sayd finally said, and turned away.

The platform hit bottom again, this time bearing Silverwind. Teret went to attend to the horse. Soon his saddle and kit and gear followed, along with Kaede and Josef. They sent Kimi back up on the platform.

“Take care of Wally and Yelenya,” Kaede urged her.

“And try not to do anything foolish,” Teret added. Keddremak conferred with them. The main passage forward, where the slurks had retreated, was designed for ambush. The side passage to the east led to the mines, where Lekmek the Cruel lorded over an army of slave miners.

“Lekmek the Cruel is horrid and terrible! We should slay him at once!” Keddremak entreated.

Kaede went first, keeping her elven eyes sharp for traps. They heard the sound of mining coming from ahead, picks chipping away at stone. Presently they came into an open mine chamber where half a dozen slaves worked. Lekmek the Cruel stood above them all, a kobold with massive upper body strength but hilariously tiny chicken legs. He gripped a lash in one hand and a massive pick in the other.

He yelled something in draconic, probably intruders, kill them! or the like. “Kill him first,” Teret said, “and the rest will stop fighting.” Lekmek had other plans, though. A seasoned fighter himself, he easily dodged Kaede’s opening flurry of double chain kama strikes. Sayd charged forward and hurled his spear at Lekmek, but his aim erred by only a slight fraction and the kobold twisted, causing the spearhead to open a paper thin slit on his cheek but otherwise fly by. Teret hefted Glintaxe but in a stroke of ill fortune lost his grip on the weapon just as he went to swing, dropping it. Lekmek struck back hard with his pick, hacking into Kaede and wounding her badly. Before they could surround the overseer, they were themselves cut off by the horde of frenzied workers, so driven by their fear of Lekmek that they put no price on their own lives. Sayd tried to unleash his demonic magicks on the crowd but was tackled while doing so, ruining the spell.

Injured, Kaede drew back to heal while also striking down some of the slaves with her quick kicks and swinging kama. Sayd clawed one of the slaves, then hit it with the full weight of his greataxe and shattered the creature. Teret, drawing his sword, fended off attackers from both sides. They held the line. Josef healed Kaede and then stepped forward to shoot a precise bowshot through traffic that pierced Lekmek’s armor and caused him to give out a yelp. Seizing the opportunity, Kaede shadowstepped between two of the workers. Her eyes glowed with eldritch blue light and her hand seemed to produce an afterimage as she reached out and ripped the massive fire forged pick from Lekmek’s grasp with a twist. The move was so quick that Sayd could scarcely beleive it. The enraged overseer dove after her but was kicked hard for his troubles. Of a sudden, Kimi Eaveswalker emerged from behind the kobold line to shoot Lekmek in the back with a heavy crossbow bolt. Teret, breaking away from his attacker, used the opening to stab the open overseer hard. Lekmek turned on his tiny chicken legs to flee, but Teret hacked one of them off, then stepped over the still cursing overseer’s form and drove his sword home through his chest. The remaining slaves stopped fighting.

“How did you get down here, Kimi?” Teret asked.

“There’s a tunnel back there, going to the forge room. Yelenya found it, before she got hurt,” she said, breathless. “It led to this cave. There was a huge bat in there. It chased me!”

“You have to be more careful, Kimi,” Kaede said.

“Not good enough,” Sayd said. “When you do things like this, you put everyone at risk. We’re here, in some temple in the middle of nowhere, because you put all your friends at risk, leading them on this harebrained quest. It ends now. Are we clear?”

Her face turned red. “I was just trying to—”

Sayd’s tone softened. “Kimi, I do this for a living, ok? We do this for a living. If you want to help, you need to let us do our jobs.”

“I guess I can,” she said.

“Thank you,” the tiefling said. “These other kids need you to stay by their side.”

He switched gears, gesturing to the slaves. “Bring them up to speed, Keddremak,” he said. Kaede translated. They took stock of the situation. Wally and Yelenya were down. Teret and Kaede had some injuries. Sayd and Josef were out of power. They made the very hard decision to head back upstairs and camp.

“Where our demonic friend fears to tread, we would be wise to show caution,” Kaede said, echoing what they all felt. Sayd had not wanted to stop for anything. Even he admitted, though, that getting to the child before he was sacrificed would be meaningless if they all died in the process.

They slept in the ruined fane where Teret had boldly faced down the skeleton army only hours before. Sayd, Kaede and Keddremak spent several hours discussing Keddremak’s role in what was to come, the importance of letting the fued with the Sootscales die, and so on. In the morning, Keddremak proved useful by casting spells that healed Yelenya. Wally remained too tired to do much more than drink water and eat, with Kimi constantly watching over him. At one point Teret overheard Kaede and Josef discussing the barbarian in hushed tones, saying that the foul magic of the chain whip must have somehow made him ill, or perhaps the act of tearing apart that monstrosity with his bare hands.

“More like bear hands,” Teret laughed to himself. After a coarse meal, though, they were right back into the shit.

Yelenya led the way this time, sneaking along the next corridor and watching for traps. It wasn’t long before she found one, a ten foot long pit trap covered with a thin scree of debris. The tunnel was tight here.

“They say the gods hate a coward,” Sayd said, leaping over the area of the pit. Yelenya followed after him, putting a pile of stones to mark the pitfall’s edge. Sayd stepped forward. In the dark he saw two slurks in a room full of slurk cages, just as Keddremak had told them. Astride one of them was a mighty and gnarled kobold girded in armor and wielding a battleaxe.

“That would be Kathkep, the slurk master,” Yelenya whispered. “Oh never mind,” she said in a normal tone. “They see us.”

Kathkep, stuck to his mount by ichor, reared back and snarled in draconic. Sayd moved like lightning, taking one big stride out of narrow tunnel passage and then sliding across the greasy slime coating the floor like a dancer on a sheet of ice, his tail whipping behind him. A fifteen foot cone of black smoke and clashing red and black lightning erupted from his outstretched hand, blasting over the slurks and their master. The two slurks collapsed immediately, leaving Kathkep stuck on top of one of them with a look of fury on his curled back features.

“Oh hey,” the tiefling said, smiling. Yelenya followed after, loosing arrows, but Kathkep was a battle hardened veteran and dodged them adroitly as he unseated himself. Dropping his axe, he pulled out a bow, but his aim fared no better. Back in the tunnel, Josef pushed himself to the side. In his armor, jumping the pit was an uncertainty at best. Kaede leapt across it with a monk’s grace, though, and cursed their opponent with one of her witch hexes as Sayd advanced on him with his spear and Yelenya continued shooting.

Josef heard Silverwind coming around the bend before he saw him. He pushed himself back against the stones as Teret, astride the charger, came around the bend in the narrow tunnel, hunched, and leapt across the ten foot span of the pit without a second thought. The trap gave way as he did, adding to the spectacle and the drama. Charging out into the room, he backed Kathkep into a corner. He caught a lance from Teret, a claw from Sayd, strikes from Kaede, arrows from Yelenya. He could only hold them off for so long before going down. Silverwind finished the job with a hoof to the prone kobold’s head. They looked around. Before them lay a staircase headed north, up out of the inches thick floor slime. They knew what lay beyond. Keddremak caught up.

“Beyond lies the throne of Merlokep, first of his name,” the kobold said.

“And last of his name,” Sayd replied. “Come.”

TO BE CONTINUED

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Paths

Yelenya slipped through the darkened room and avoided stepping on anyone as she crept over to where Sayd was sleeping. After the midnight disturbance Teret had recommended that everyone get as much more rest as they could before they left at dawn. A difficult sleeper by nature, Yelenya had volunteered for watch duty in the anteroom. She carefully pulled Sayd’s journal and a pen out of his pack. Time passed slowly for her, and she might as well make use of it. She settled in to write facing the doorway._

Little one, I do regret that we did not have time to talk, and while I doubt that you will come back here there is a chance so I will take it. I am a firm believer in the 3rd option, you see. We all walk different paths, they may converge for a bit but each path is uniquely our own, footprints are the history of those who have walked a part of our path before, but no one but you will, can, or should, walk your path for you. All that said, you can, if you look hard enough, see others on their path as they walk it. I do so for my own curiosity as I travel with those around me. The elf, I am sorry to say, faces the very real possibility of losing the way she was when she joined me (she’ll probably not thank me later), the soldier is beginning to see that his path is not the one he thought he was on after abandoning a different one, the half elf seems to be finding both his footing and that no one cares who he is or what he is (just that he can do his job). But for us monsters… Sayd is finding his path lonely, he would like nothing more that to be sitting in a throne of bone, with a slave or two for his amusement and debauchery, and an apprentice or two to pass on his knowledge. I wish him a cottage in the sun, with fields and laughter. And a farmers daughter or two. Oh how he would hate it. Even after so long he considers himself a monster, I guess I failed in teaching him better. Whoops. Wally has become a goddess send, even when I am annoyed by him I enjoy his presence. The fangs and claws of course make him all the more interesting. He is one you should be wary of. He has been a wolf in sheep’s clothing longer that you have dear girl. His path is far more interesting than most, he walks a razor’s edge. Me? I do not walk a razor’s edge, most of my kind sprint it, and I have more style than that. I dance on the razors edge. I am not certain of my path, but I am certain of my destination. You spoke with Teret about religion, later I told him to have faith. Poor confused boy. Some are chosen by the gods, a friend of mine is one of those, and I hold her dear. Others choose which god they follow, what feels right to them, or none at all. I commissioned a shrine to be built before we last left Oleg’s and I have yet to see it, to plant flowers there. The shrine is to Shelyn, the goddess of love and beauty, the goddess of art. I do not speak of my beliefs to many, and I explain myself to fewer. You seem to need an anchor, so I will tell you of my path and perhaps that will help. I am certain that it will scare whoever else reads this. I see beauty in the things that others do not, what else can I do, and while others might create a great song or poem or book these forms of art elude me. I am, at best, a mediocre dancer and I cannot speak loud enough to sing, but my art, that I am born for. I stand at the edge of madness and look into the depths, most of my kind are down there asking me to join them. It would be too easy, effortless. I chose a different path. I see myself grown and standing tall as I walk through my garden. Here and there are roses, none would attract much attention but to me they are all perfect. Surrounded by thorns in the dark as I approach a table. On the table a candle, guttering in the still air. A being sits and watches my approach. That is the end of my path little flower. I tend a garden as best I may that is filled with flowers no one would cast gaze upon if there were no reason to. I do what I can to feed them, make them strong, but in the end they have only themselves and their paths. And sometimes, not often, but sometimes, the garden needs to be cleaned up and the plants pruned so that what remains may grow stronger. I encourage you to grow little rose. Choose a path and walk it, but do not be afraid to choose another path. Only fools believe in certainty… and maybe the faithful. I am smiling as i write this, I have such hope for you. It’s getting early, I need to get ready for tomorrow. By happy coincidence I am terribly Thirsty.

-Y

She carefully folded the letter and drew her new silver dagger. There was a little red spot on it that she licked off and gently pricked her finger, a drop of blood on the corner of the letter would make it more likely the girl would notice it. She sheathed the dagger and began inspecting her arrows by touch, her eyes never leaving the door. She was sad that the poor girl had had rough time of it, but people choose what to do. And if she chose poorly… well… her blood would taste as good as any others. And things would grow.

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