Archive for the ‘Writings’ Category

Aftershocks: Playthings Pt. 3

October 20, 2018

Aftershocks Playthings

Once again, Lydia insisted on driving, pushing Rob into the passenger seat since he was still a much younger kid. Nancy climbed into the back and made sure everybody buckled up before they started off toward the toy store. Nancy thought about how normally she would have been overjoyed to explore a toy store, even an abandoned one. Now, she knew that this was not going to be fun. It was going to be the gym and the hotel all over again. Beneath the fear was an anger quite unlike her usual happy demeanor. She clung to that anger a little, trying to use it to fight back the fear as she bounced a bit in the backseat of Rob’s big black car. Lydia glanced back at Nancy, a little worried for her best friend.

“So what’s our plan?” Lydia asked. “Go in hot like usual?”

“They’ve already hurt the parents,” Nancy said. “We need to crush them before they go after the kids.”

“Agreed,” Rob said. “Besides, the tactic has worked for us before. I don’t know what their plan is but we have to stop it.”

Nancy nodded. “For the kids,” she said.

“For the kids,” Lydia and Rob agreed. The three of them were still all under the age of eighteen but they did not really feel like kids anymore. Nancy looked over at Rob and wondered about him most of all since he was the youngest but had way more experience fighting these things.

Lydia felt the whole thing was unfair. She and Nancy had been pulled into this because of their shadow-touched pasts. They never chose it, it had been thrust upon them. Lydia was in this because her parents had dragged her to that house and things had gone off the rails. He had nearly married her and would have been unleashed on the world. Nancy’s story was even worse. She was only in the game because that demon had somehow impregnated Nancy’s mom so the process had been started long before her birth. It was maddening but if they could not get away, they both had decided to confront the problem head-on.

The three of them piled out of the car at the toy store and they opened the trunk to get out their weapons. Rob pulled out his silver blade, the one he called an ‘angel blade’ which was curious knowing what they had seen during their first encounter with the boy. Lydia pulled out her sword, an item that always made her feel sufficiently badass. Nancy grabbed the iron fireplace poker that she had taken from their last adventure in the hotel. It had served her pretty well and it was something she was more comfortable using than her own powers. Lydia was ready to use her magic spells. Finally, Rob grabbed a shotgun which Lydia was going to object to but thought better of it. The kid obviously knew what he was doing and they would be fighting sentient toys, not people.

Rob picked the lock on the sliding doors out front which raised some eyebrows with the girls but both of them let it go. The three of them slipped into the store which had shelves of old merchandise. Obviously, that made the three of them tense from what they had seen back at the bunker. They stood in the middle of those aisles and before any of them could comment, the shelves erupted with living toys. The three of them sprung to their defense and all three slashed at the attackers. It was an absolutely ludicrous sight to see three kids smashing and cutting up a whole bunch of toys. Everybody involved was screaming bloody murder and when the dust settled, the floor was littered with stuffing, plastic bits, springs, and all sorts of other parts. The three demon hunters were relatively unscathed. They walked toward the back.

“Where are you, Charles?!” Lydia called out, working at getting her breath back.

“Your plans are over!” Rob yelled.

They walked into the back and they almost ran into a baby doll, a teddy bear, and a jack in the box. The baby doll was smoking a cigarette calmly.

“This is the end of the line, kiddos,” the baby doll said. Its voice certainly sounded like it smoked.

“For you,” Nancy said.

“Charles isn’t here,” the jack in the box said, its voice like nails on a chalkboard. “We have a deal. He gets the kids, we get you.”

“What do you mean he gets the kids?” Nancy asked.

“Enough talk,” the baby doll said. With a growl, the teddy bear grew into a real bear and lunged after the three. Rob, Nancy, and Lydia spread out and the bear ended up chasing Lydia. The others each went after Rob and Nancy. Lydia swiped her sword at the bear, making sure to keep out of its reach the best she could. A couple of times, the bear nearly took her head off. She led it back into the shelves. Each slice with her sword only exposed stuffing under the bear’s fur. She was getting nowhere and she could feel her arms beginning to hurt and her swings started to slow down. Backed into a corner, she waved her hand and called out an incantation and set the bear on fire. As it panicked, it lost interest in Lydia before falling to the concrete and slowly burning away. Lydia leaned against the wall and tried to recover.

The baby doll had chased Nancy through the storeroom. It moved surprisingly fast for something with such little legs but Nancy supposed that demons worked with different rules of physics. She turned and swung the poker at the thing and was startled when the baby doll blocked the shot with a switchblade knife. Nancy thought it must have looked ridiculous as she started to fence with a baby doll. She was never going to look at another doll the same again. After a few moments, she gained an edge over the baby doll. At last, she disarmed the doll, sending the switchblade flying across the room and sticking into the wall. She drove the poker into the doll’s face and, as it shuddered and stopped moving, she worried about the nightmares this might cause.

As for Rob, he squared off with the jack in the box which laughed maniacally, showing off needle-like teeth. After spending some time trying to stab the thing with his angel blade, he gave up and retreated. As the thing laughed in triumph, Rob cocked the shotgun and blew its head off. The laughing abruptly stopped.

“This isn’t over,” Lydia said. “Charles is going after the kids. Where are the kids?”

“They’re all gathered together,” Rob said. “at the social services safe house.”

“Let’s end this then,” Nancy said. “Nobody messes with kids when I’m around.”

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Aftershocks: Playthings Pt. 2

October 13, 2018

Aftershocks Playthings

While they were waiting for Rob, Lydia and Nancy had tried to do their best to research the problem. They had called a few people to see if they could separate fact from the rumors that had started to circulate. They found out which parents had died specifically and they had started to theorize what the actual plan was. The children were all going into the system but in the meantime, they were being held at a Social Services-sponsored group home. Without more information, neither of them had a clue what was going on. They were not even sure that the problem was supernatural in nature. There was definitely a killer on the loose, though.

Rob showed up at the bunker a bit later in the day, hanging his coat up near the door. He looked tired as he laid his magical blade across two pegs on the wall of the bunker. He took a deep breath and turned toward the girls.

“So,” he said. “People are getting murdered again.”

Nancy nodded. “A lot of them so far,” she said. “At least the kids got away. Do you have any ideas about what did this? Is it a demon again?”

“Slow down,” Rob said. He was a serious little kid and he looked sternly at Nancy’s frantic behavior. “I poked around little myself and yeah I think it’s demons.”

“What makes you think this is demons?” Lydia asked.

Rob pulled out his phone. “I found some stuff at one of the houses,” he said.

“You snuck into an active crime scene?” Lydia asked, her eyebrows rising up in surprise. “That’s a huge risk.”

“It’s not like we could flash a badge and pretend I’m FBI like my family does,” Rob said. “I’m too young for that. Nobody would buy that you two are law enforcement.”

“Thanks,” Lydia said with an edge of sarcasm. “I guess it’s fine as long as you didn’t get caught. People’s lives are on the line. What did you find?” Lydia was pragmatic and, although she was not much of a rule breaker, she recognized that the demons obviously did not care about rules.

Rob showed them the screen of his phone and the word ‘Playtime!” was written on the wall in a reddish brown liquid. The two girls had seen enough violence to know blood when they saw it. It still made them cringe and feel a little sick. “I found this written on the wall of the garage where one of the dads was found.”

“Oh geez,” Nancy said. “Why would somebody write that?”

“I have a theory but I wanted to check if the cops have uploaded the crime scene photos yet,” Rob said and moved toward his laptop.

“How?” Nancy asked.

“I have a backdoor into their server,” Rob said. “I installed it months ago to keep tabs.” He started to type on the computer.

Lydia took a deep breath. “I’m going to hold back my disapproval and just focus on how all the crimes you’re committing are saving lives.”

“It’s kind of a family tradition,” Sam said. “Look at these.” On screen there were a series of photos of similar writing on walls. Messages like ‘Friends til the end’, ‘Jack wuz here’, and ‘Wanna play?’ all written in blood. There were dozens and dozens of messages. “The messages are all written close to the ground like really close to the ground. That confirms my theory. The toys killed the parents.” He got up from the computer and headed toward the door.

The girls looked at each other and then back at Rob. “The toys?” Nancy asked.

“Are you alright?” Lydia asked. “Did you hit your head or something?”

“I’m fine,” Rob said and started fishing through the pockets of his coat. “I found something else at the house.” He pulled out a plastic container and walked into the interrogation room, the room where the three of them had officially become a team. He dumped the contents onto an elaborate symbol engraved on the table’s surface. The girls walked in to see what the fuss was about and saw a little sailor doll which looked kind of cute. Except that the doll was moving around by itself and its little hands were stained with blood.

“What the Hell?” Lydia said, joining Nancy in taking a step back from the creepy little doll.

“Exactly,” Rob said. “It’s possessed by a demon.” He turned toward the little demon sailor. “Tell us what happened.”

“Go f%9# yourself!” The little doll yelled. Despite its efforts to seem tough, it came off a little bit cute if creepy.

“I don’t think it’s going to talk to us, Rob,” Nancy said.

“Strange,” Lydia said. “We’ve killed quite a few of his kind so far.”

“You don’t scare me, lady, you’re a c&*7!” The little thing yelled at the top of its tiny lungs.

Lydia started to gather a fireball into her hand but Rob caught her wrist. “Hold that thought for a minute,” he said. “I have something they’re all afraid of.” He started to chant in what sounded a bit like Latin and the sailor started to scream and writhe in pain. “Talk and the pain stops!” He yelled at the demon. Nancy backed up a little further and hugged herself.

“Stop! Stop!” the demon screamed and Rob stopped chanting. “I’ll tell you what you need to know.”

“Go ahead and talk then,” Lydia said.

“He told us to kill the parents but I was out of practice and I hung around too long and that’s why you caught me,” the demon said indignantly. “It just felt so good.” The demon sighed. “He’s going to be mad.”

“Who’s he?” Nancy asked. One could practically see her pulse speed up.

“Charles,” the doll said in a mocking voice. “What a loser.” Nancy started to relax and Lydia reached over to squeeze her hand gently.

“Where are the other demons?” Rob asked. “Where’s Charles?”

The doll hesitated, looking down. “I dunno,” it said but gave itself away by smirking.

Rob started to chant again. “Talk!” Nancy yelled, furious at this little creature for harming the children she cared for. Her eyes flashed inky black for a moment and the doll recoiled from that even as it was in pain from the chanting.

“Harbin’s Toys!” The doll yelled out. “43rd and York! Please!”

Rob tapped that into his phone and then nodded at Lydia who tossed the fireball onto the doll and the three of them watched it writhe as the flames consumed it. It melted before the flames got hot enough to actually burn it to cinders. Lydia extinguished the flame with a gesture and they all left the room. Rob sat down at the laptop and searched the address.

“It’s an abandoned toy store,” he said.

“Perfect for finding little murderous bodies to inhabit,” Lydia said.

“We have to stop them,” Nancy said. “Charles must die.”

“I’ll get the car,” Rob said.

Aftershocks: Playthings Pt. 1

October 6, 2018

Aftershocks Playthings

Charles stepped into the back of the toy store and admired the blood stains on the walls and floor with glee. The only thing he regretted was that the deaths that had occurred in the storeroom were not his handiwork. He had been out of the game for far too long and he was ready to spill plenty of blood himself. He placed one of his small hands against a blood spatter on a shelf of toys and found that it was still wet. He reveled in the feel of blood on his flesh once again. He wondered if enough of it was wet that he did not need the blood he had brought with him. He shrugged and figured he might as well use the bucket he had gotten out of the taxi driver.

He dipped his finger into the bucket of blood repeatedly as he drew the pentagram on the floor. He was really more of a voodoo guy but this was how these things were done. He focused his will on the symbol and a little boy appeared in the middle of the pentagram but partially transparent. He looked impatient and annoyed which turned to complete disdain when he saw who summoned him.

“Oh,” the boy said. “It’s you.”

“Yeah yeah,” Charles said. “It’s me.” He liked being recognized but usually, that recognition brought unreasoning fear. “We haven’t actually met yet but we’ve both worked with sort of a similar theme.”

“I’m far more creative than you are,” the boy said, folding his arms over his chest. “The other yous are slightly smarter but still not as smart as I am.”

“And yet you failed once and haven’t done squat since,” Charles said. “Look, I have a different plan from those other mes and I need a power source to do it.”

“Why do you think I will help you?” the boy asked, his eyes narrowing.

“Look, I know this is a crapshoot,” Charles said. “You are plan C after things with Toulon and Hartwicke didn’t work out.”

“I’m so flattered,” the boy said.

“If you help me,” Charles said. “I’ll make sure to give you credit and when He hears how much you helped, he might let you out.”

“Then playtime could really begin again,” the boy said with a grin. He thought of the last time he had gotten to come out and play and the lives he had been able to take. Of course, Charles had been right when he had reminded him of his failure. That door was shut forever but new doors could always be opened.

Charles laughed his wild laugh, his red hair flinging all over the place as he tilted his head back. “Exactly! But for now, it’s my turn.”

“I suppose I can learn to share,” the boy said. “On one condition. You have to say the thing.”

Charles hesitated and sighed and nodded slowly, mentally filing away that he was being forced to say the phrase once again. “Give me the power. I beg of you!”

* * *

Lydia was in the bunker, which was where she was spending much of her summer. She had always been pale and unathletic so going out into the sunshine hardly sounded like fun to her. She much preferred to dive into Rob’s collection of arcane tomes to research the world of magic. As she read, she realized that she had only just dipped her toes in the world of magic and there was so much more to learn that it made her head spin. It was all so fascinating and she ended up spending whole days absorbed in reading book after book.

Nancy, on the other hand, could not stand to be cooped up for too long and reading about demons made her nervous. Twice she had displayed her father’s demonic powers but in the real world instead of the dream world and it dredged up too many shadows and fears inside of her. She spent most of her days in the sunshine as a camp counselor run out of their school. Laughing and playing with kids in the light lifted her spirits and seemed to bring her back to herself. Sometimes she came to the bunker and brought Lydia dinner or a DVD so they could have a movie night. This was why Lydia was startled when Nancy walked in before lunch one day in early July.

“Lyds!” She called out as she burst through the door. “It’s so terrible.”

“Nancy?” Lydia said, looking up from yet another book. “What are you doing here? What happened to summer camp?”

“People are dying, Lydia,” Nancy said, pacing back and forth. “It keeps finding us no matter what we do.”

Lydia stood and hugged her best friend. “Slow down, Nance,” she said. “You said something terrible happened?”

Nancy took a couple deep breaths and then started speaking again. “Summer camp was canceled today since the parents of three kids died last night.”

Lydia took a moment and thought about that. The two of them had experienced death and violence before both before and after they met. Nancy was excitable and all but she was frantic. Children were involved and the deaths had happened at night. Lydia was able to put two and two together and realized that Nancy must have been reminded of her father. She made sure to hold onto her friend’s shoulders and looked her in the eyes. She tried to make her voice as comforting as possible.

“Nancy,” she began. “I know what this sounds like. I know how much you like kids. We’re going to get to the bottom of this. We’re going to stop whatever is happening.”

Nancy nodded and she started to shake a little less. She started to calm down but still clung to her best friend. “Alright,” she said.

Lydia nodded reassuringly. “We are going to need to call Rob to get him in on this. All hands on deck, right?”

“I already called him on the way here,” Nancy said. “I left a voicemail for him.”

“Wow. That was probably an interesting message,” Lydia said.

“Oops,” Nancy said. “Yeah, let’s actually fill him in.”

The Shield of Tau Pt. 2

September 17, 2018

“You should go back home to Lita,” Numa said. “You have a big day tomorrow.” She relaxed in her seat at the inn her family ran. She always felt safe and at home there.

“She is still doing her weekly component shopping, I think,” Jace said. “It takes forever and she knows how boring it is so she does it with her wizard friends.” He held out the bottle of Deneirian whiskey that he had been drinking from, offering a drink to Numa.

She pushed the bottle away gently and then thought better and took the bottle and set it back down out of Jace’s reach. “I’ll remind you that I’m on duty here and I can’t drink with you,” she said. “Besides, it’s unseemly enough that you are hanging out with a human. I can imagine the talk if you are seen drinking with one.”

“I’m not worried about that,” Jace said that, waving the question away with his hand. “Elves and humans are allowed to talk to one another. Besides, you’re my friend. Your family gave us shelter when the blink dogs came.”

“I remember,” Numa said with a shudder. “That guard shoved you and you and Lita through the door but that other girl didn’t make it.”

“Miza,” Jace said with a shudder. Even five years later it still felt bad saying her name. He was grateful that he had not looked back in the chaos and seen her shredded by the blink dog. It was bad enough hearing it. “The worst day ever.” As soon as he said it, it felt like an understatement.

“The silver lining is that it was the day you met Lita, right?” Numa asked.

“Of course,” Jace said. “It’s also the day that I first swung a weapon and hit an enemy.”

“Which led you to where you will be tomorrow,” Numa said. “The Grand Festival of Battle.”

“Yes,” Jace said. “Tomorrow. The Placements of the Tau. The final step toward my future. In front of the Lord of Tau himself and also everybody I have ever known.”

“You’ll do fine. Where do you think you will be assigned?” Numa asked with a smile. “Hopefully not the border.”

“I have no idea,” Jace said. “I just want to serve. I’ve always wanted to serve. The incursions have started to get worse again.”

“Do you think you might get tapped to investigate those?” Numa asked.

“I’m sure that won’t happen,” he said. “The incursions must be magical in nature and I have no aptitude for magic. I would definitely not mind protecting the city from the invaders.”

“You would be good at it,” she said. “and it would be good to stay close to Lita’s shop.”

“Those are basically the reasons I have for wanting that post,” Jace said with a laugh. “You’ve summed it up nicely.”

“The gift of speech is one of my best skills,” Numa said. “Oh! By the way, I might be able to watch some of your matches.”

“How are you going to manage that?” Jace asked with some surprise. “No offense.” The last was added in quickly.

“No,” Numa said. “I understand what you meant. My family was selected to help with the food for the event so we’re closing down our kitchen for the day.”

“Nice,” Jace said. “I will look for you in the crowd. You can stand with Lita.”

“I’d love to,” Numa said. “I so rarely see her these days since we are both so busy. But you need to go home, Jace. Sleep before your big day. Besides, we need to close for the night soon.”

“I have received your message loud and clear,” Jace said as he stood up. “I will try and spot you tomorrow.”

Numa walked him to the door with a smile. “Tomorrow,” she said. “Your destiny and my snacks.” Which earned her a laugh from Jace before she shut the door on him.

Jace walked down the street, briefly walking along a line of stones to test how drunk he was. He concluded that he was probably fine and he walked home through the cold air. He opened the door of what doubled as he and Lita’s home and her enchanting shop. He paused and sniffed and he could quickly tell that the shop was closed for the day. All he could smell were stale reagents and parchment. As he climbed the stairs to their small apartment, he could hear that Lita was home. He stepped through their front door and closed the door firmly behind himself.

“My husband,” Lita said, coming from the kitchen area. “Welcome home.”

“My wife,” Jace said with a smile. “How was your shopping?”

She shrugged. “It was routine,” she said. “It will be delivered the day after tomorrow. I’m in no hurry since I will have the shop closed tomorrow. I stopped by Marian’s to consult about an upcoming project.”

“And how did that work out?” Jace asked. He slipped his jacket off and hung it up.

“Do you really want to hear about mundane issues about my job instead of talking about your big day tomorrow?” She asked with a sly smile which drew a smile out of him. “Are you that nervous?”

“Yes,” Jace said. “I know how hard I’ve trained but I don’t know what I will face tomorrow and what I face determines much of the rest of my life.”

“Oh husband,” Lita said. “Whatever happens tomorrow, you will find a way to protect people. That is the fate you’ve chosen. And no matter what happens tomorrow, I will love you and I am proud of you.” She moved over to him and kissed him deeply. He kissed her back happily and pulled her close. When they had both had enough, at least for the time being, they broke the kiss and held hands. He looked down at his wife’s ink-stained hands and smiled. She was so smart and they had grown together so close.

“I love you, Lita,” he said with a smile.

“I love you too, Jace,” she said. “I am happy to spend eternity with you.”

“And I’m happy to spend it with you,” Jace said. “Shall we go to bed?”

“I think that’s a good idea,” Lita said. “Tomorrow is going to be a full day.”

In the Shanti Desert Pt. 2

September 15, 2018

Saara woke up slowly and she felt a bit like she had when she had fallen off a second story balcony during her second heist. She felt even worse when she contrasted that happy memory of freedom with her current predicament. She was laying on her back and she could see a stone ceiling above her. A young man who had been silent so far knelt down and pressed a hand against her shoulder and the pain lessened a bit and she felt like she could move again. She started to sit up and the young man gently pushed against her shoulder and prevented her from sitting up.

“I think he wants you to take it easy,” Arana said. “I have a feeling that he’s right. You passed out pretty hard.”

“Where are we?” Saara asked.

“After you passed out, I was able to create a magical shelter for us and we dragged you in here,” Arana said. “We’re on another plane. A sort of pocket plane.”

“Wow,” Saara said and she was genuinely impressed. She looked up into the eyes of the young man who was watching her intently. “And who are you?”

“He doesn’t actually talk,” Arana said. “We’re not even sure he can. His name is Adir and we hired him out of the Temple of the Winged Lady. He’s a great healer.” Adir nodded and smiled at that. He took her hands in his and gently helped her to sit up. Her head spun briefly but then she was alright.

“I’m not exactly sure what happened,” Saara said.

“As far as I can tell,” Arana said. “You held that protective spell longer than you should have and it drained a bit of your lifeforce. You have to be more careful.”

“Why are you being so nice?” Saara asked. Adir handed her a small clay cup full of liquid. She sniffed it and concluded that it was water. She took a big sip and she was proven right.

Arana shrugged. “For better or for worse, we’re on the same team now,” she said. “Also, you did kind of save our lives.”

“Where is everybody else?” Saara asked. She looked around and saw some of the group’s supplies but no camels or carts. There were a few boxes stacked near a door. There were rugs layered all over the floor and several bedrolls laid out. It was like a camp but the three of them were alone. She felt a little vulnerable all of a sudden.

“They’re out scouting for possible leads on the treasure,” Arana said. “Don’t worry, we’re safe in here. You have to have permission to enter my mansion. I’m not sure if any power on the material plane could force its way past that rule.”

Almost as if on cue, a large person pushed open the door, accompanied by wind and sand and then firmly shut the door behind themselves. Their face and much of their upper body were wrapped in cloth. Saara instinctively tried to gather her magic but it hurt so badly that her vision went dark for a moment. Adir held onto her hand to calm and steady her.

“Relax,” Arana said. “Like I said, they have to have permission and he has permission.”

“Who?” Saara managed to ask, her everything still hurting.

The man pulled the cloth wrappings away to reveal a simple red face mask. However, this caused Saara to instinctively flinch again. The Red Faces were known throughout Kofrain as the most brutal and efficient of law enforcers. They were rightly feared by the guilty and the innocent alike. The man slipped the mask off, revealing a rugged yet handsome face and a casual smile only partially obscured by facial hair.

“I am Sabri and I am the boss here,” the man said. “I bought your contract and I am sorry that we have not met until now.” He walked over and extended his hand and Saara shook it gently, she could tell he was strong. Instead of watching his face, she found that her gaze was drawn to the red mask hanging from his belt. “Ah, it is a little scary. A relic from a past life. I have changed my ways since then but the mask’s reputation is hard to pass up. It saves me so much time in negotiations especially.”

“It is nice to meet you,” Saara said. “I suppose.”

“How is your patient doing, Adir?” Sabri asked. “The workers in this room are the most versatile and useful that I currently have. We need to protect my investments.”

Adir gave Sabri a thumbs up signal but then qualified it by waving his hand in a ‘so-so’ movement which kind of made Saara nervous. Adir shot her a brief reassuring smile and a calming gesture.

“Let me guess, does she only need rest then?” Sabri asked.

Adir nodded in response.

“How many nights?” Sabri asked, his eyes narrowing.

Adir held up only one finger which made Sabri smile and nod.

“Excellent,” Sabri said. “You saved our lives and you won’t even delay our mission. Soon my men will locate the first marker that will lead us to the ruins that I found the last time I was out here. It can’t be far away now.”

“Then what?” Saara asked and Arana gave her a sharp look. Saara did not really care, she was already an indentured servant, there was not much to lose and Sabri seemed nice enough.

“Then you and my other three acquisitions help me get through the ruins to see if we can’t find any treasure,” Sabri said.

Saara nodded but then paused and counted on her fingers. “There’s only three of us here. Well, unless you’re counting yourself as an ‘acquisition’.

“There are five people in this room,” Sabri said and laughed softly when Saara looked confused. “I suppose it is safe to reveal our final participant.” He walked over to the pile of crates and pulled three keys from around his neck. He unlocked three locks on one of the crates and opened it.

“Oh, is it time for me to come out?” A voice from inside the crate said. “I was just about to fall asleep again, your accommodations were just so thoughtful.”

Taldonta Atlas Pt. 2

September 10, 2018

ContinentD

Khull
Orcs 56% Half-Orcs 25% Tieflings 10% Humans 6% Half-Elves 3%

The Kingdom of Khull is a large country full of desert and scrubland near the middle of the Emerald Continent of Taldonta. Since Orcs are almost certain to maintain a constant violent relationship with the other races on the continent, many decided to seize land inhospitable to less rugged races where they formed their own kingdom. This kingdom is undoubtedly ruled by one person, the Warchief, and everybody else is more or less on equal footing. With orcs, the strongest often rules and makes the rules so aside from the Warchief, the most brutal often keep the others in line. Their thoughts are constantly bent on war with their neighbors but it has been a long time since an actual war has taken place. Their southern neighbor is Shera which has built a tall wall all along the border to provide some relief from these vicious creatures as has The Bremid Empire. After its founding, the Kingdom of Khull opened its borders to any goblins, kobolds, tieflings, and even humans who wanted a new home. The newborn alliance worries the rest of Taldonta. The people of Khull have largely given themselves over to the darker gods and have created a religion that leans heavily on blood sacrifice.

Koshain
Humans 46% Half-Elves 14% Tieflings 12%
Elves 10% Half-Orcs 10% Dwarves 4% Halflings 3% Gnomes 1%

Koshain is a fair-sized desert nation ruled over by a King in the most fertile part of the desert, made so by magic. However, the nature of the desert nation’s isolation of urban centers means that local officials have more direct, actual authority over day to day matters. This has led to widespread abuse of power in the past. Examples include using prisoners for dangerous work, heavy taxation, harsh law enforcement, and even renting out prisoners to private interests. As a response, the criminal population is able to depict themselves as rebels. Public opinion is divided on the subject, usually along economic class lines, and the King seems to either not care or actively supports the corruption. There is a nomadic community that travels to stay separate from the government. Treasure hunting is a popular career and past time.  Another interesting tidbit is that the people of Koshain have evolved a fashion that often incorporates face paint and/or masks.  Originally, this was intended to block the harsh sun but it became a sign of status for the upper class and a way to hide identities for other lower classes.

Lavell
Dwarves 54% Goliaths 15% Humans 9% Half-Elves 7%
Elves 5% Gnomes 4% Half-Orcs 3% Halflings 2% Tieflings 1%

Lavell is mostly useless to surface dwellers. Not only is it a very mountainous region, it is also a fairly icy land as well. There are very few settlements on the surface and it is one of the few lands without an elf or human government. Instead, Lavell is ruled over by dwarves who, of course, live underground in massive cities. Because of the cold and barren climate, the other races have been welcomed into the dwarf cities where elves and humans are rarely comfortable. The citizens of the country pride themselves on being hardy and surviving what should have been an inhospitable land. There is very little trade and very little diplomacy especially since their closest neighbors have a difficult time traveling to the city entrances. Technically, Lavell has no central leader and is ruled by the leaders of the cities.

Mekar
Half-Orcs 30% Humans 23% Dwarves 20%
Half-Elves 10% Halflings 7% Elves 5% Tieflings 4% Gnomes 1%

Mekar is not really a country per se. It is a land whose borders were defined by people wanting to avoid and let alone the barbarians, druids, and monks that mostly reside there. This is a completely wild and lawless area but not in an inherently evil way like Khull. Most people who grow up in the region or move there just want to be left alone. Those who venture out of that region are usually seeking new challenges. There are a few monasteries in the mountains of Mekar and several monk traditions originated from there. Many monks issue forth from those monasteries to wander the land either cast out or to put their martial arts skills to good use. Most other residents of Mekar are largely nomadic and hard to pin down. Of course, there is usually no reason to go in and pin them down anyway.

Shera
Humans 46% Half-Elves 24% Elves 10% Dwarves 12%
Half-Orcs 5% Halflings 8% Tieflings 6% Gnomes 3%

Once known as the Kingdom of Shera, this place is mostly farmland, forest, and swamps. That is not to say that it is not civilized, it just lacks the diversity of biomes that Eloria has. Sherans are not completely unlike Elorians. The main difference has been formed by their more recent history. Years ago, the King of Shera decided to forgo all previous treaties and attacked the Kingdom of Eloria in a bid to gain all of the shipping resources of Eloria. As has been stated, that war was interrupted by Vistra’s forces and those forces killed the entire royal family of Shera. Liam III, the King of Eloria, decided not to annex Shera in the absence of their royal family. The grateful Sherans formed a Republic and they are now ruled by a council made up of the Mayors of their cities and various intellectuals. The new government reestablished treaties with all of its neighbors (except for Khull, of course) and work toward a brighter, more peaceful future.

Vedel
Humans 64% Half-Orcs 12% Half-Elves 9% Tieflings 6%
Halflings 5% Elves 3% Dwarves 2% Gnomes 1%

The people of Vedel are very superstitious and fairly resistant to outsiders which is why they erected a barrier around themselves. It is hard for a tourist to get in and it is apparently hard for tourists to get out as few have. The few that have reported on that land have reported a land of castles, put-upon villages, and a sort of gray feeling all over. A land steeped heavily in the feudal system, the people have no power and the nobles and royalty have all the power with extreme prejudice. The division between classes is also very rigid and many commoners could go their whole lives without seeing a single noble or royal. There have been rumors of vicious and exotic monsters within the walls as well.

#AndNew Pt. 1

September 8, 2018

(Non-Pro-Graps fans might need this handy glossary)

Gabriel climbed out of the cab and walked past the crowds entering the arena wearing merch from the show and saw how clearly excited they were. He paused for a moment and looked over his shoulder at the crowd and imagined they were wearing one of his shirts. He had been a pro-wrestler for five years but imagining that stardom never got old. He stepped into an alleyway so he could get around the back of the arena which is where he ran into a security guard at the door. The guy had a clipboard and a stern expression but Gabe watched as several performers he recognized got checked in and the stern face briefly gave way to a smile each time. He adjusted the duffle bag on his shoulder and headed for the door.

“Can I help you?” The guard asked.

“I’m here to, uh, perform,” Gabe said. “I’m on the card tonight.”

“Your name?” The guard asked. He looked skeptical.

“Jason Knight,” Gabe said.

The guard scanned the clipboard and then looked back at Gabe. “I meant your shoot name.”

“Oh,” Gabe said. “It’s Gabriel Thompson.”

The guard checked off something on his clipboard and nodded. “Go on in, sir. Just some friendly advice: there is a dress code.”

Gabe looked embarrassed and nodded. “Thanks for the tip,” he said. “I forgot about that. I’m new.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll hear all about it inside,” the guard said. “Just get into your gear as soon as you can.”

“Thank you,” Gabe said and he stepped inside and started to walk in search for where he was supposed to go. Finally, he saw a guy standing next to a board with papers on it. A few people were starting to crowd around the board. Before he could get a look at the board, the guy waved a hand in his face.

“Hey,” the guy said. “You’re a fresh face. Are you Jason Knight?”

“Yeah,” Gabe said. “Reporting for duty.”

“The name’s Brett Cooley,” the guy said. “I’m in charge of the talent back here.”

Gabe suddenly recognized the guy. “Holy shit, yeah, I recognize you. You’re ‘Diamond’ Rick Cameron. I used to imitate the Diamond Kick in my living room when I was a kid.”

Brett smirked. “Yeah, kid,” he said. “Now everybody’s doing it like it’s a normal move. Are you here to mark out are you here to work?”

“I’m here to work,” Gabe said, pulling himself back together. “Who have I got tonight?”

Brett took a deep breath. “They told you that you were coming in as a single?”

Gabe nodded. “Yeah, they said I was keeping my gimmick.”

“Well, there’s something you need to learn quick up here in the big leagues,” Brett said. “Things change. Shit happens. You’re tagging instead.”

“Oh,” Gabe said and he took a beat to manage his expectations and bounce back. “Who am I tagging with?”

Brett pointed at the board at a sheet of paper which was obviously the booking sheet for the night. It read like a schedule and Gabe scanned the page for his name and unexpectedly found it at the very top. He had thought he would be somewhere in the middle. Then he saw the word Dark next to that match which meant that he was not even going to be on television. Again, he managed his expectations. This was made easier when he saw the name Seth Powers. He had worked in the indies once or twice with Seth and he liked him. They were going up against The Nightmares, Jimmy Cable and Freddy Lang, and that was a good thing too.

“Good luck, kid,” Brett said. “Go get dressed, you’re on first.”

“Thanks,” Gabe said and stuck out his hand for a handshake and Brett smiled and nodded as they shook hands and then Gabe was following the signs to the dressing room.

Things had been moving fast for him. He had enlisted in a wrestling school a little over five years ago. He had broken into the indies a little later and he had performed in high school gyms and indoor soccer arenas. He had paid his dues and eventually he made his way up to bigger crowds until he got invited to a tryout for the big time. The tryout had apparently gone well and here he was making his big debut. Sure, he was in a dark tag match instead of debuting on television but he was ready to continue to pay his dues and get over with the crowd. He shook off the bad vibes of the little bit of a rude awakening and mentally prepared himself to be professional.

He walked into the dressing room and set his bag down and walked around the room and shook everybody’s hand. It was just something you had to do and, in professional wrestling tradition was important. He shook hands with guys he did not recognize, people he was a fan of, and people who he had grown up idolizing. He did it all in a respectful way and tried not to mark out too much. Finally, he came upon The Nightmares and Seth huddled together with legend Ron Castle. Gabe shook their hands and then sat down.

“Good to see you, kid,” Castle said. “We were just talking about the match. What’s your finish?”

“It’s a sitout lifting double underhook facebuster,” Gabe said.

“What a mouthful,” Castle said. The Nightmares chuckled at that and Seth even grinned.

“I’ve been calling it the Knight Driver if that helps,” Gabe said with a smile. He glanced at Seth and then looked back at Castle. “Are we going over?”

“No,” Freddy said. “But I’ll sell that move like a champ. Make you look real good.”

“Thank you,” Gabe said.

“I’ll make the save,” Jimmy said. “Then we’ll move on to you getting ol’ Seth tagged in. I’ll drag you off the apron and put you in the leg slicer on the floor so you can’t get in and make the save for Freddy putting Seth in the crossface.”

“The rest of the match will be called in the ring,” Castle said. “You alright with that?”

“I can handle that,” Gabe said.

Taldonta Atlas Pt. 1

September 3, 2018

ContinentD

Alscines
Half-Elves 50% Humans 20% Elves 10% Gnomes 10%
Dwarves 4% Halflings 3% Tieflings 2% Half-Orcs 1%

Alscines is ruled over by the Queen Cahlanas. Long ago, the great elven and human families of Alscines came together in a lasting and genuine bond of togetherness. As a result, the rulers of Alscines have often been half-elves and there is a significant half-elven population. Not all of the rulers have been half-elves but many of them. The country is also the home of the only gnome city at the base of Mount Eagle. The populace has a very magical bloodline in general because of the mixing of human and elven bloodlines. There are many empty plains in the country that are not explored because they appear empty. Most of the country is more concerned with the urban centers and the farms that surround them than an empty land of little to no worth. Put there, somewhere in the plains, is the vault of the true King of Crows, a powerful necromancer who was felled centuries earlier.

The Bremid Empire
Elves 50% Half-Elves 20% Dwarves 13% Humans 11%
Halflings 3% Gnomes 2% Tieflings 1% Half-Orcs 0%

The Bremid Empire has the largest concentration of elves on the continent of Taldonta. It has been ruled by an emperor (always an elf) for centuries. Before that, it was a loose conglomeration of principalities. One of these began to conquer the others and an empire was forged. Underneath this empire are the large Dwarf cities Angal and Lehnar. Much of the architecture and defenses of the Empire were inspired by the synergy between the two cultures and their alliance. The current emperor, Thal Karnar, is content with the Empire’s holdings and is content with taking potshots at Khull for entertainment and shows of power. The Empire is ruled by the iron fist of the emperor and his wishes are carried out by his governors and his legions. By law, the other races are not supposed to be treated as inferior to elves but in practice, elves have been in power too long for anything to change now. Still, anybody can have a happy life in the Empire as long as they follow the rules.

Callas
Humans 46% Half-Elves 17% Dwarves 13%
Elves 10% Tieflings 7% Halflings 3% Gnomes 2% Half-Orcs 2%

Callas is a destination for the very religious people of the continent. The culture of the land puts divine magic over arcane magic. In many areas of Callas, arcane magic is actually frowned upon and in the capital, it is actually outlawed. The biggest temples on the continent exist in the capital but mostly to the main pantheon. The Temple of the Three Suns is the biggest of them. Smaller temples are plentiful through the rest of the countryside and in the middle of a forest is one of the few temples dedicated to the Goddess of the Hunt. There is also a sort of safe haven for tieflings near the western coast where tieflings can go to be safe. It is one of three cultures guided mostly by elves and half-elves as they seek to teach the younger races about the gods. The government is ruled by a rotating priest figurehead for a religious council. This council is inclusive of representatives of all established religions except, of course, those who worship the evil gods.

Deneia
Humans 46% Half-Elves 14% Tieflings 12%
Elves 10% Half-Orcs 10% Dwarves 4% Halflings 3% Gnomes 1%

The land of Deneia is a land of lakes and rivers and because of that, it is a place of mostly swamps and forests. It is a very green land that is difficult to travel through because of the various bodies of water that must be crossed or avoided. There are very few large settlements in the center of Deneia. Most of the larger settlements are nearer the borders to enable trade with their neighbors and they have plenty of unique agriculture to trade. The royal court of Deneia figuratively and sometimes literally floats. The royal family of Deneia is notoriously paranoid and therefore moves their headquarters weekly to prevent being caught unawares by potential enemies or other undesirables. Part of the reason for this is that the royal family’s bloodline became Tieflings centuries ago. Some bad experiences set off long years of obsessions with protection.

Eloria
Humans 46% Half-Elves 24% Elves 10% Dwarves 12%
Half-Orcs 5% Halflings 8% Tieflings 6% Gnomes 3%

Sitting on a huge peninsula at the base of the so-called Emerald Continent of Taldonta, Eloria is a jewel nearly surrounded by the Calm Sea. For centuries, it has been ruled by the royal family in an unbroken chain since Galen I led the armies in the First Great War, defeating the evil, Vistra, and his Orc/Fiend alliance. This victory caused the formerly loosely allied districts to forge themselves into a new nation under the heroes of that war. The people crowned Galen and he laid down his sword in order to lead and protect his people. The crown was passed down the line from King to Queen to King and so on. Now it adorns the head of the current King, Liam III. He is supported by his wife Gianna, his heir Ariana, and twin princes Galen and Bram and Princess Cora. The Kingdom of Eloria is divided into six districts that surround the capital where the royal residence is. The land was divided into districts by land type and each is locally managed by a noble house, supported by lesser noble houses. The King has full say but cannot micromanage and a lot of trust is placed in the nobles and the people to maintain both efficiency and harmony.

Gosha
Elves 40% Half-Elves 25% Humans 20% Dwarves 5%
Halflings 4% Gnomes 3% Half-Orcs 2% Tieflings 1%

If you did not know better, you would think that Gosha was an uninhabited forest island. However, it is because the people on the island do not really believe in development or showing their faces. A largely druidic and simple living society, they are more in tune with nature and thus shun urban living. This also means that it is a greater hot spot for exposure to the feywild. The country is sometimes a destination for druid and ranger coming of age ceremonies. In exchange for being left alone, the druids of Gosha provide the rest of the continent with their fine wood from fallen and dead trees. That wood is used in some of the finest crafted objects, weapons, and boats across the continent.

The Great Seer

August 27, 2018

“That is the gnome delegation from Mt. Eagle,” Aara said. “They are here for the yearly trade negotiations.” She was pointing across the market at a couple handfuls of tiny but well-dressed creatures. It was kind of hard to see them as they were flanked by city guards who were humans and half-elves and were taller by nature. The presence of the guards ensured that the crowd parted around the delegation.

“The gnome diplomats?” Calend asked. “Is Onica with them? I don’t know what she looks like.”

“The seer? I think that’s her in blue and purple with the silver wound in her braids,” Aara said. “What is your deal with fortune tellers?”

Calend was too distracted catching glimpses of the young blonde gnome walking across the market. “Huh?” He asked.

“Fortune tellers,” Aara said. “you keep spending money on them. Everytime you find a new one, you keep dumping your cut on them.”

“First, a seer is different from a fortune teller,” Calend said. “A seer is like at least another level above a fortune teller. They are very legitimate.”

“Alright, whatever,” Aara said. “Why do you keep spending money on divination?”

“I was getting to that,” Calend said. “Second, I am looking for the Vault of Crows.”

“Oh that again,” Aara said. “I thought you had given that up.”

“My mother died looking for it,” Calend said. “In one form or another, I will never give that up. I have just hit a long dry spell when it comes to information.”

“I’m pretty sure that zero information ever is a pretty long dry spell,” Aara said.

Calend rolled his eyes. “That is less than helpful,” Calend said. “Where do you think they are staying?”

“I think I heard they were staying at the Golden Hawk,” Aara said with a shrug. “It makes sense. It’s one of the fanciest places outside of the palace.”

“So they’re not in the palace for sure?” Calend asked.

“I don’t think gnomes like being confined like that when it’s not on their own terms,” Aara said. “Besides, they have both city security and their own security. If you’re thinking of trying to meet her, you might want to think again.”

“Oh come on, Aara,” Calend said. “You know I have skills. I’ll see you later, all right?”

“What? It’s market day! You promised you would help me sell today,” Aara said.

“I’ll make it up to you,” Calend said, starting to step away.

“I doubt you will,” Aara said but she looked up and he had already disappeared into the crowd.

Calend asked a few of his other contacts and he found out that the gnomes were definitely staying at the Golden Hawk. He also found out that security was pretty tight. This was confirmed when he went to the lobby and asked if he could speak to Onica. He was told that was not possible. When he insisted, he was pushed back out into the street. It always seemed to come down to the hard way but Calend had been prepared for that.

When Calend’s mother had died, his father was at a loss and Calend was constantly looking for answers. He had met one of his mother’s associates who talked things out with him. His mother had met a lot of interesting people as a searcher of history, what some people called a ‘treasure hunter’. Caron had helped teach Calend’s mother how to infiltrate tombs and dungeons and, possibly out of pity, Caron had taught Calend the same skills.  Calend had practiced and had expanded on those skills. He had never used to them to actually steal anything, but they were definitely the same skillset as a thief. He would need those skills if he was going to meet Onica.

He waited until dark and then he snuck across the rooftops as light as he could step. He made his way toward the Golden Hawk and climbed the tower. There were small balconies that far up that he could grab onto and he took it slowly. He crept up the building, peeking in windows one by one. He eventually saw her. He suddenly found himself wondering if this was a good idea but he was desperate. If he could do this without getting caught, he would be able to solve not only one of the greatest mysteries of Alscines but also he would resolve a lot of personal issues.

He slid open the window slowly and as quietly as possible. He crept into the room and then put his hand over Onica’s mouth. She instantly woke up and after some surprise, she seemed to calm down quickly.

“Please do not scream,” Calend said.

She nodded in response and Calend let her go. “You will not hurt me,” she said.

“You saw the future?” Calend asked.

“No,” she said. “But I can see it in your eyes. Also, if you wished to kill me then you would have done so while I slept. Doing it after purposefully waking me would be foolish.”

Calend felt a little foolish now that she laid it all out. “I need your sight and wisdom, Onica,” he said. “I have a great mystery to solve.”

She sighed. “There is only one problem. I am not Onica, she could not make this journey,” the now mysterious gnome said.

“What?” Calend said. “This has been a pointless risk then.”

“I am her daughter,” she said. “My name is Lewin.” There was a short pause and then. “I also inherited her gift of sight beyond sight.”

Calend’s face brightened. “Can you help me then?”

“If I help you, will you promise to leave me and my mother alone?” Lewin asked. “In my experience, desperate people make things too complicated.”

“I promise,” Calend said. “I don’t want to complicate your life.”

“Ask your question then,” Lewin said and sat up in bed.

“Where is the Vault of Crows?” Calend asked.

Lewin’s eyes went a little wide and she looked worried. “You don’t want to go there,” she said.

“I must,” Calend said. “I must finish what my mother started.”

“Very well,” Lewin said. “If I cannot dissuade you, I will attempt to find the answers you seek.” She had a pitying look on her face that made Calend look uneasy. She closed her eyes and a point of light formed over her forehead and then that light sort of opened into the image of an eye. She remained in place so long that Calend worried that she had fallen back asleep. Finally, she opened her eyes and the third eye disappeared.

“I cannot find the vault itself,” Lewin said. “Some dark art still shields it from my sight. However, I have seen the first step in your path and it will definitely give you what you need and it will help a great many people besides. It is a blessing that we found each other.”

“Wow,” Calend said. He was not sure he believed her but at this point, he was ready to take what he could get.

“Go to the settlement of Bari in Kofrain,” Lewin said. “In the Inn of the Desert Tiger, you will find an expedition into Khull. Make sure you join it.”

“Khull?” Calend asked with apprehension. That was a lawless land dominated by orcs, evil men, goblins, and all sorts of other terrible things. It was the wasteland. “Alright. And then?”

“If you follow that path then I am confident you will make the decisions that lead to what you seek,” Lewin said. “But go now, there is a trade caravan leaving in a few hours that will get you to Bari on time.”

“Thank you,” Calend said. “If this works, I will remember you fondly forever.” Lewin just smiled and nodded and rubbed her eyes and Calend got the message and slipped back out of the window.

The Faith of the Raven Pt. 7

August 20, 2018

“Leave now or face the power and the might of the King of Crows!” A deep voice emanating from deeper in the woods said. After the sound of the voice, it felt like the whole forest was silent. In that silence, it was easy to hear Arne’s partially muttered response.

“More bullshit,” he said.

“What?” Carania asked. “What’s going on now?” If she was going to continue her greater quest, and she definitely was, she would have to study and learn. She needed to know these things herself. However, it did not hurt to have knowledgeable people along for the ride.

“It really is silly. The King of Crows is not one person,” Arne said. “It is a parade of necromancers each with aspirations of being the alpha necromancer. Most of them are crazy, all of them are dangerous.”

“There was a real King of Crows once,” Galath said. “He was a powerful necromancer who amassed an undead army in Alscines. He was in direct conflict with the Raven Queen and her followers. From what I know, he also had a Queen of crows with him. Sort of an undead bride. At least, those are the rumors. I read it in a book last year.” He shrugged.

Carania shuddered. “That is incredibly creepy,” she said. “The less I think about that, the better. So this guy is just a pretender to the throne?”

“I don’t know,” Arne said. “He definitely has power. We’ve seen that much already. I haven’t seen anything yet that has wowed me, though.”

“Right,” Carania said. “But we can’t let our guard down. Not until we take this guy out.”

“Agreed,” Galath said. “He is referencing the undead god and he is the fan club of one of the worst necromancers in history, those alone are red flags. Nothing has changed. We’re following your lead here, paladin.”

“We continue going straight for the heart of the matter,” Carania said. “If we kill him, the rest will be disorganized and, in theory, no new zombies can be created. That means those that die will stay dead.”

“I like it,” Galath said. “Elementary tactics but sometimes simple is best.”

“Now we just wait for that plan to go wrong so we can improvise,” Arne said.

“So negative,” Carania said. “Try and smile for once wizard.”

There was a cawing sound from the branches up above and all three looked up toward the sound. However, only Arne was already smiling as he had a full understanding of what that sound was. He nodded up at Grimalkin and they seemed to share some silent conversation.

“Grimalkin has spotted the main camp and can lead us there,” Arne said. “Are we ready for that?”

“We are as ready as we are going to get,” Carania said. “Do you still have prepared spells left?”

“I’m good to go,” Arne said. “I haven’t run out yet.”

“I also have some left to burn,” Galath said. “It appears that we’re good to go.”

“Lead the way, Grimalkin,” Carania said and Arne nodded up at the bird. Carania had only read about the connection between a wizard and their familiar and it was interesting to watch.

They worked their way through the woods as they did their best to follow the raven familiar as it fluttered along through the trees. It felt extremely right for Carania to be following a raven into battle. It felt a little like fate.

The three of them reached the edge of a big clearing and they were assaulted by the smell of freshly burned wood and other things. It looked like the King of Crows had burned a large circle into the middle of the forest, creating a clearing. They were lucky that the fire had not spread and endangered the surrounding areas. The burned clearing looked alien and lifeless. There were more men with crow feathers adorning their clothes and there were zombies both in cages and shuffling around some tents. Arne looked up at Grimalkin as if to ask ‘are you sure?’ and the bird nodded.

“Shall I cause a little chaos, boss?” Arne asked with a smile. Carania smiled and then nodded.

Arne conjured five candle-sized flames and tossed them one at a time into the clearing. The flames hit a couple of tents and also a couple of zombies and started some fires. One of the zombies panicked and ran burning into another tent. Chaos had been achieved.

Carania vaulted into the clearing with Galath and Arne trailing close behind. Her sword was once again a whirling blur as she carved into both living and undead enemies. At one point, she ran into one of the men who had shot and killed her. They barely had time to register her before being cut to ribbons. Carania fought with no anger or at least that anger was quickly fading away. This was a noble mission and that was enough to fuel her.

The battle was fiercer this time and a couple of zombies rushed Carania and managed to injure her. Galath moved fast to heal her while Arne protected them with a shield spell from his umbrella. After some more battle with a few more injuries, the clearing was quiet again. The three companions stood breathing hard as they looked around for their true target who had yet to reveal himself. Carania looked for Grimalkin for guidance but the familiar was hidden somewhere and was no help at present.

“You have crossed the line and I cannot let you go. I will be with you in a moment,” the booming voice said. “In the meantime, meet my friends. When they are done with you, I can add your bodies to my army.”  The thought of that happening was enough to turn the stomachs of all three of them.

The earth in front of the three adventurers broke open and two very large humanoids clawed their way into the open air. Carania could only guess that these had been deceased goliaths, a very rare race she had only read about. They were too short to be true giants but they were far taller than the tallest human or elf she had seen. There were definitely parts of them that were missing and she could see some ragged flesh and bones showing in places. They were caked with mud which made their wide, pupil-less eyes all the more menacing. They lumbered straight for Carania and her friends.


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