Posts Tagged ‘History Check’

The Border Tavern

March 16, 2019

Syd stepped into the world-famous Iron Border Tavern and was immediately grateful that he had his knives tucked far into his jacket. Of course, there was a weapons collector. With the reputation that The Border had it would probably be a blood bath inside. Of course, with the rumors Syd had heard, there was a good chance of regular bloodbaths anyway. Walking through the deserts of Koshain to the border of Khull in a jacket and a hat alone was bad enough but it was worth it to gain access to one of the most famous places in the criminal underground. Syd had expected the place to be a lot rougher but it was actually quite nice.

He made a face at the weapons collector at the door and passed over the daggers that hung at his hips. He had had them for a long time, they were perfectly balanced. The man who took them gave him no ticket to reclaim them. Syd tried to mentally file away the man’s face in his memory and then walked towards the bar. Nobody stopped him to frisk him, they just believed that he had given up all of his weapons. Syd felt deeply uneasy about this. He glanced around the room, wondering if everyone had done the same exact thing or worse.

Syd knew that he could not be without weapons. He had no magic to speak of so he counted on steel and fists to protect himself. When you were a bounty hunter, you always had to be ready to fight. Syd had survived a lot just by being prepared and he had survived even more just by being quicker than the target. Right there in the taproom, there were plenty of mean-looking customers. There was a mean-looking half-orc by the end of the bar and table full of actual drows in the back corner. They were playing cards as if the sun was not just outside. The list of things that Syd would not have given for a death ward was short at that moment.

He stepped up to the bar and politely knocked on it and smiled. He waited for the bartender to walk over. She was a halfling so she was walking along a platform attached to the bottom of the bar. She looked weathered and tough like she was made of tattoos, leather, and wiry black hair. Syd liked the look of her immediately so it was not hard to give her a smile. She did a double take.

“A human with all his teeth?” the bartender said. “Now I’ve seen everything. Watch your pockets and your mouth, love.”

“Of course,” Syd said. “I know the drill in establishments like this.”

“There ain’t no place like this one,” the bartender said. “The Border is one of a kind.”

“I’m starting to understand that,” Syd said. “Can I get a glass of your worst whiskey?” He punctuated the question by setting down two gold pieces. “And the news of the day.”

The bartender raised both eyebrows high in surprise but she definitely reached forward and palmed the coins quickly. “What sort of news are you wanting?”

“Just wondering if anybody especially interesting has come through recently. I have heard that this place has the most amazing clientele pass through.”

“Criminally interesting, I imagine,” the bartender said. It was not a question.

“I have a feeling that you and I will be good friends,” Syd said. “Yes, those are the sorts of people I want to meet and greet.” Syd took out a journal and spread it on the bar. “In fact, it might help if you’ve seen any of these individuals.”

The bartender briefly flipped through the sketches shaking her head and Syd could feel disappointment start to set in. Finally, she pointed at one of the portraits. “Funny,” she said. “Somebody was asking about this one earlier.”

“Earlier?” Syd asked. “How long ago? Who was it?”

“Fancy lass,” the bartender said. “She’s upstairs in the room with the unicorn on it.”

Syd stood in thought for a moment and then it dawned on him. He downed his whiskey with a grimace and set the glass down. “I’ll be right back,” he said and then he headed up the stairs before anybody could object.

Syd strode up the stairs with confidence and a soft step, hardly making a noise. He started down the hallway while looking at the doors. He saw a bear, a wolf, a rabbit, a leopard and then looked down the hallway for more. Syd could not see the end of the hallway. He had a sick, frightened feeling in his gut at that moment and he felt like his brain was failing to grasp what he was seeing. He looked to his left and there was the door with the unicorn on it. He decided he did not need to know what was going on right at the moment. It was best to keep his head down and move forward. He knocked on the door, waited a moment, and then kicked the door open hard. As he rolled into the room, he just barely dodged a crossbow bolt.

Lacey Thorncatch stood tall in a fancy purple dress, struggling to put a heeled shoe back on while reloading a crossbow. “Syd Scaland!” She yelled. “I would think you would have the sense to not kick open a lady’s door. I’m disappointed.”

“How do you have a crossbow?” Syd asked with some shock. “Where did you hide it?”

Lacey blushed slightly. “A lady never tells,” she said. “You let them take your weapons at the door? I thought you knew how to bribe.”

“I guess I didn’t realize that was an option,” Syd said and stood up and shut the door. “I can’t believe you’re after one of my marks.”

“I’m the best,” Lacey said. “I’m after everybody.”

There was the sound of at least half a dozen people running down the hallway. Lacey and Syd looked at each other and almost simultaneously said: “You tipped them off!”

“The heat is too hot here,” Syd said. “We have to get out of here.”

“You have no idea,” Lacey said. “You have no idea what this place is. I’ve worked a long time to build a cover here. You ruined it!”

“Let’s go out the window,” Syd said. “We can make a break for it from there.”

“You don’t understand,” Lacey said. “This place works differently. This place has entrances around the world. If we use that window, there’s no telling what it might do to us.”

Syd pointed at the door which was now having heavy objects slammed against it. “Do you want to find out what they might do to us?”

Lacey placed her palm against the door and whispered a few words. “That should hold it for a second,” she said and then made a frustrated sound. “Fine! Let’s go out the window!”

Lacey grabbed a few things and threw them in a bag and then they both crashed through the window together. Their world turned upside-down and inside-out and then they plunged into a cold pool of water. They clawed their way out of the pool through patches of mushrooms.

“Where are we?” Syd asked, looking around and not really seeing anything through the darkness.

“Welcome to the Underdark,” Lacey said.

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When It All Ended Pt. 16

March 9, 2019

Morgan’s Raiders gathered once again in Percival’s Magical Mansion, a place that had been their home on the road for years. They had been brought before the Royal Court of Eloria as the chaos was winding down in the streets outside of the palace. They had all been in rough shape but high off their victory and honored to have an audience with the King and Queen. After that audience, they retreated into their magical mansion where they each took time to bathe and tend to their wounds. When they met again in the common room, they could all feel finality in the air. It was a momentous occasion. They had slain the dragon, saved the princess, and perhaps saved the kingdom. They had been through so much together.

“So what next, Raiders?” Morgan asked as she sat on the bar.

“Well,” Percival said. “There’s the King’s offer on the table. Posts in the six districts of Eloria. We’d be set for life.”

“Are we really willing to retire and take a government job?” Garth asked. He looked dubious as if he was gauging the others’ interest before answering.

“Forsake all of the glory for a relatively quiet life?” William asked.

“I think I’ve had enough, personally,” Cassandra said. “I’ve learned a lot with you all and I would like to pass that on to the students of the future.”

There was a pregnant pause after that admission. Everybody thought about that for a bit.

“I’m glad you said that,” William said. “I also want to teach. I think I could show the young a thing or two about how to swing a weapon.”

“I’m tired,” Galath said. “I’ve been doing this a long time. I think I’m ready for retirement.”

“What do you think boss?” Cassandra asked. She was suddenly worried that she had disappointed a woman who she had respected for a long time.

“I think we just lost half of our party,” Morgan said. “It would be hard to continue on after that.”

“I’m sorry,” Cassandra said but Morgan held her hand up.

“I’m kidding, Cass,” she said. “I think we’ve had our time. I want to go home and spend some time getting to know my mother better.”

“And I would like to return to the library,” Percival said. “I’ve been away for so long now and I’m sure the place is falling apart without me. Besides, you all have given me so many stories to write.”

“I guess I want to return too,” Cassandra said. “Back to New Moon Academy but as a teacher instead of a student.” She thought she might invite Princess Cora along just in case the princess was inclined to say yes.

“You’d be a great teacher, Cassandra,” Galath said. “I prefer the quiet life so I suppose I would choose the plains of Hasse. I have fond memories of traveling across those plains. Also, I believe that William wants to be near the mountains of Stull.”

“You are correct, Galath,” William said. “I have heard good things about the Battle Arts Academy. Besides, it’s closer to my native land.”

“And you, Garth?” Morgan asked. “You are being characteristically quiet. Do you have qualms about working for the law of the land?”

“Well,” Garth said. “I may be a thief but I only became one out of necessity. Over time your good influence has allowed me to change my ways. Maybe I can continue to use my criminal expertise for some good. I would like to get that pardon he offered in writing, though.”

“I’m sure that can be arranged,” Morgan said. “I’m a little nervous about installing you among the Guard near the sea but I suppose you’ve earned Eloria’s trust.”

“I suppose that closes this chapter in our lives then,” Percival said. “Do we have any loose ends here?”

“We unleashed a faery and a djinn on the capital of Eloria,” Morgan said. “Did anyone see what happened to them?”

“Monela and Clio? I saw them fly off together,” Cassandra said. “I mean I promised Monela she could go when the battle was done but I wish she had stopped to say goodbye.”

“Same goes for Clio, I guess,” Garth said. “I had a feeling she would bolt.”

“I worry about the damage the two of them could do together,” Morgan said.

“Should we go after them?” Percival asked. “You know we would follow you on one more adventure.”

“And yet we just retired as adventurers,” Morgan said. “So I guess we’ll have to wait and see if they cause trouble. The king can command us to take action at that point.”

“Agreed,” William said.

“I think it will be fine,” Galath said with a shrug. “What can they really do?”

“Maybe Monela will do something better with her second chance,” Cassandra said. “And Clio was never really evil, right?”

“She always looks out for number one,” Garth said. “She isn’t so stupid to bring the world down around herself.”

“Then I guess we have to go back to court in the morning and tell them our decision,” Morgan said. “Take your time and drink and eat. We have plenty of time. I’m going back upstairs to rest.”

They all said their goodnights to Morgan and she took her leave and went back up the stairs and into the bedroom. After so much time she was grateful to feel the burden of leadership slide off of her. She looked forward to her new life of relative ease. A few moments later, Percival stepped into their room and she turned to smile at him.

“You didn’t have to come up here too,” Morgan said. “You could have stayed down there with them.”

“It was important that I come up here,” Percival said. “Or should I say I came up here for something important.”

“What?” Morgan asked and laughed. “Speak plainly, librarian.”

Percival sank to his knees and held up a golden ring. “Morgan Moonglow, will you marry me?”

Morgan was taken aback for a moment but she grinned and reached for the ring. “Yes!” Her hand slipped through the ring which was somehow insubstantial.

“Sorry,” Percival said. “That was an illusion. I don’t have the real ring yet but we can get it.”

Morgan laughed again. “You know I don’t need anything too gaudy. We’ll pick it out together.”

“Yes,” Percival said. “Together.”

And then they kissed.

When It All Ended Pt. 15

February 2, 2019

Morgan’s Raiders had circled the roof of the palace. The dragon Kanaaq suddenly appeared in the very center of the roof in human form thanks to the courage of the Princess. The dragon looked pissed, her eyes glowing a fierce green. So, it was with great courage that William Havelock walked toward the dragon, his sword and shield in his hands. The dragon gave him an arrogant smirk, hands on hips. It looked like she would have laughed had she not been so angry at being interrupted and torn from her makeshift lair. That laugh died somewhere in her throat and for a moment, wisps of green blew out of her nostrils and her skin shimmered as scales for a moment before returning to a perfect human form.

“Dragon!” William yelled. “I’m giving you one chance to fly away now before we kill you dead right here, right now.”

“Puny warrior,” Kanaaq said. “Run before I make a snack of you. Take your friends with you. I grant you your lives. Just this one chance.”

“Puny? I am William Havelock, the first Lion of Eloria!” William shouted, pointing his sword at the dragon. “We are Morgan’s Raiders and we will end you! Look around, the city is rising up against your followers. It’s all over.”

As if on cue, <C> the djinn flew by at top speed, fighting the Wyvern riders in the air. The djinn was making sport of it and that brought out Kanaaq’s rage yet again. “Come and try!” The dragon yelled and started to change shape.

To his credit, William did not flinch as the dragon began to tower ovewr him. The dragon breathed green gas into the air and started to tilt that spray down toward William. That was when Morgan herself let fly an arrow that hit the dragon in the throat. Then the battle began in earnest. Morgan’s Raiders were a practiced and experienced team. Morgan kept moving around the roof, sniping at the dragon and ocassionally shouting strategy. William stayed in the dragon’s face, trying to keep its attention and taking swipes with his sword. Cassandra tossed every spell at the dragon that she could remember, her hands and fingers a blur of constant motion and her lips constantly moving. Garth darted in and out and stabbed the dragon whenever its back was turned. Percival shouted constantly, his words healing his friends and hurting the dragon. Galath moved as fast as his short legs could carry him, trying to keep everybody healed and on their feet.

The team worked in concert, moving like nobody could unless they had worked together for a long time. As time went by, both the dragon and Morgan’s Raiders were injured. The battle raged on around the castle roof but neither the dragon or the adventurers had time to pay it any mind. Both sides had put their pieces on the board, they would have to trust that. The bloodied dragon started to lash out more desperately and the Raiders were heartened by what they correctly perceived as fear. The adventurers tried to hold on, ready to fight to the finish. In the end, the bloodied dragon was no longer seeing green, it was seeing pure red. She lunged at the frailest of Morgan’s Raiders, Cassandra but William stepped in between. Cassandra cast a spell reflexively and William grew to twice his size and grabbed hold of the dragon, keeping her from reaching Cassandra. Morgan shot an arrow below the dragon and vines stretched up and between the vines and William, the dragon was wrestled to the ground. Garth jumped from the tallest tower, bringing his dagger down hard into the back of the dragon’s head. The thing fought briefly but slumped to the stone, eyes rolling back into its head.

The Raiders stood there breathing hard, hardly believing their own victory. Then they turned to look out over the battle still raging around them. One by one they started shaking their heads. They had nothing left. They had just fought a dragon. They could barely stand much less join the battle around them. Then, a miracle occurred. The King’s forces muscled their way through the northern gates. Cassandra started to jump up and down and cheer and the rest of Morgan’s Raiders were all smiles as they watched the soldiers return to clean house. William walked over to the dragon and slowly dragged his sword across its throat, its poisonous blood gushing over the stone roof. Morgan gave him a look and William shrugged.

“Just to make sure,” William said. “How many times have we thought we killed something and it came back to try to kill us?”

“He makes a good point,” Percival said. “Though they’ll need more than a mop to clean up that mess.”

“I can only imagine what it looks like downstairs,” Garth said. He had been grinning as he admired his handiwork atop the dragon. The rest of Morgan’s Raiders felt that they would always be reminded by Garth that he had gotten the killing blow.

“Oh no!” We have to check on the Princess!” Cassandra shouted. “She might have been injured getting the dragon up here.”

“Let’s go down there then,” Galath said. “We need to help whoever we can.”

They searched and found some stairs and made their way down into the castle. The place was eerily quiet after the chaos of outside. The atmosphere felt strange. All over there were strange plants growing through the cracks in the stone of the castle. Garth watched one closely and William pulled him away just before it belched a little cloud of spores. They moved on, keeping their hands to themselves. Finally, they found what had to be the throne room and William and Galath worked together to muscle the door open. As soon as there was a gap big enough between the double doors, Cassandra made for it even though Morgan tried to shout for caution. Cassandra rushed into the room and thankfully there were no traps, no troops. The arrogant dragon had put everything outside of the castle. Instead, there was a shaken young woman sitting in the throne who got to her feet and readied a sword. When she saw Cassandra, Princess Cora broke down in tears and dropped the sword. She and Cassandra embraced as Morgan and Garth hurried into the room, followed by the rest. The Princess was sobbing but smiling with pure relief.

“It’s going to be alright, Princess,” Cassandra said. “We’re here.”

Galath moved to tend to the Princess’ wounds as Morgan’s Raiders established a perimeter and Cassandra comforted the exhausted princess.

Banished

January 19, 2019

Katelyn stumbled and tripped and it was only then that she realized that she was on top of a hill. She started to tumble down the hill, as an alien landscape flew by in a blur. A string of curses flew out of her mouth as she tucked and rolled, trying to protect her body from the fall. She felt her body hit several hard objects but thankfully they were only glancing blows and each hit drove the breath from her body, leaving her gasping for air as she rolled to a stop. She ended up on her back looking up at the sky. Well, it would have been the sky if it were not for all of the trees. She had no idea where she was but she had never seen trees before. Well, she had seen them in books and at the gallery but had never seen any in person. She decided to rest for a moment as there did not seem to be any danger close at hand.

“Is dead?” A deep voice asked. Katelyn tried to move her head to follow the sound but winced at a literal pain in her neck.

“She moved,” A female voice said. “I would think that means that she’s alive.”

“No eat?” The deep, gravelly voice asked. To Katelyn, whoever it was sounded disappointed.

“I keep telling you,” the woman said. “people don’t really taste very good. Are you really that hungry?”

“Always,” the gravelly voice said.

“Fair enough,” the woman said.

Katelyn sighed. “Can you show yourselves?” She called out. “You can actually talk to me and not just about me.” Katelyn was used to being the center of attention but this was not the same.

Two heads popped into her field of view and if she felt up to moving, she might have tried to scramble away. What she saw was a half-orc with a broken-looking face and a red-skinned demon. Her mind tried to make sense of things but for a moment her eyes just went wide. Then she realized that the demon was actually a tiefling, one who had demon energies in the blood. The woman was neither good nor evil inherently. Still, strangers were not to be trusted.

“Are you alright?” the woman asked. “It sounded like you took quite a fall.”

“You think?” Katelyn said with her best withering glare. “I feel about as bad as I look.”

“Pretty,” the Half-Orc said.

“Kris is right,” the woman said with a roguish smile. “you are quite beautiful.”

Katelyn blushed. “You’re not so bad yourself,” she said. “Are you a good tiefling or a bad tiefling?”

The woman grinned. “Only time will tell,” she said. “For now, we mean you no harm. What’s your name, stranger?”

“I’m not sure I should give it,” Katelyn said. “Why should I trust you?”

“That’s fair,” the woman said. “Let me put it this way: Can you move? If the two of us walk away right now, will you survive?”

“I guess that’s also fair,” Katelyn said. “I guess I’m just a little touchy, I just got betrayed by my one of my partners and I’m a bit suspicious at the moment.”

“I’ll tell you what, I’ll go first,” the woman said. “This is Kris and my name is Random Starfire.”

“That’s quite an odd name,” Katelyn said.

“It fits,” Random said. “I like to keep them guessing.”

Katelyn looked up at Kris. “And what’s your family name?”

“Just Kris,” Kris growled with a blank look in her eyes.

“I don’t mean to be rude,” Katelyn said. “but are you a boy half-orc or a girl half-orc?” She gave her best smile which Kris did not respond to.

“Kris is just Kris,” Kris said and looked away. “No flirt.”

“Sorry,” Katelyn said with a little laugh. “It’s a natural defense mechanism. My name is Katelyn Brandywater.”

Random was going to say something but she was cut off by Kris. “Don’t drown,” Kris said. Before Katelyn or Random could respond, Kris grabbed a bottle of viscous red liquid and overturned it into Katelyn’s mouth. She swallowed hard over and over, trying not to drown just like Kris had said. The liquid tasted somewhat spicy and bitter at the same time but not altogether unpleasant. When Kris pulled the bottle away, Katelyn found herself licking her lips as an afterthought.

“What?” Katelyn managed to ask.

“A healing potion,” Random said. “Sorry about Kris’ bedside manner but just relax and let it do its work.”

Katelyn closed her eyes and felt her bruises, cuts, and broken bones start to heal. She felt warm all over and she let out a contented sigh. She did not feel back to perfect condition but she felt a lot better and she slowly sat up and started to make sure all of her parts were still attached. Everything was still in place so she pushed herself to her feet and brushed herself off the best she could.

“My thanks,” Katelyn said. “Now I can properly introduce myself. My name is Katelyn Brandywater of Sigil. Actress, sword fighter, and all around performer extraordinaire!” Katelyn bowed with a flourish and rose back with a smile and just a touch of dizziness.

“Sigil?” Kris grunted, giving Random a questioning look.

“Search me,” Random said. “I’ve never heard of it myself.”

“It’s the City of Doors out there on the planar sea, so to speak,” Katelyn said. “The important part is that it was my home where I performed with my troupe. That is, until I was tricked by a woman I thought was my friend. She nearly killed me.”

“Didn’t,” Kris said with a shrug.

“Yes,” Katelyn said. “I suppose that’s the right way to look at it.”

“Kris and I are survivors too,” Random said. “It’s really the best kind of person to be.”

“Really? Katelyn asked. “What’s your story?”

The Faith of the Raven Pt. 8

December 29, 2018

The adventurers lept into action immediately. Carania ran directly at the two zombie goliaths. They swung their fists but Carania narrowly dodged their attacks. While the zombies were distracted, Galath pointed his holy symbol and there was a brilliant flash. The goliaths turned away in fear from the divine light and started to run but they accidentally ran into each other and fell to the ground in a tangle. Carania descended on them and slashed at them and then pierced both with her sword. Arne finished it by setting them on fire as Carania moved to safety. The zombies did not react as they started to burn to ash. Carania guessed that they did not even feel the flames.

Carania gripped her sword tighter and trudged toward the King of Crows. She stopped short when she saw that the King had a knife up against one of his captives’ throats. She heard Arne and Galath halt as well. She grunted and glared at the man. Close up, she could see how pathetic he looked. He was old and scared and Carania felt all of the adrenaline leave her system and she grew calm as death. The captive, a young girl, was shaking but Carania did her best to offer a reassuring look.

“Leave the girl and deal with me,” Carania said. “Face me fairly.” She gripped her sword tightly, calm but tense like a wound spring. Her years of training had prepared her for these moments and she was not about to back down.

“Three against one is no fair fight,” The King said. His voice sounded a bit like a cawing crow. “Give me but a moment and I’ll summon up some friends.”

“No more moments, Crow,” Carania said. “My Lady of Ravens has requested I deal with you by sending you to meet her. Your time is up. I would not want to disappoint her as you have done.”

“If I go then I won’t be going alone!” The King crowed out and dragged the knife across the girl’s throat with a sick smile on his face. He started to chant something, waving his fingers.

The moment that followed felt like it flowed like molasses. Carania shouted wordlessly in anger and shock. She ran forward and stabbed the King of Crows hard through the stomach. His face seemed to freeze in surprise for an eternity. At the same time, Galath grabbed the girl and laid hands on her, healing the wound with holy light. Carania looked up into the branches above as the symbols of Nerull clattered to the forest floor. The ravens were up there in the trees, dozens of them, and they were glaring down at the necromancer. Carania smiled and calmly dragged the point of her sword across his throat as she mouthed a little prayer to Azrea.

As Carania stepped away, the ravens descended on the body of the King of Crows. She turned away and let them have it. She suspected it was their right as vassals of Azrea. She tried not to think of the sounds the birds made as they tore at the corpse. Arne was busy burning the symbols and tokens of Nerull and instantly the forest seemed to feel brighter. It was as if a fog was lifted and the evil evaporated from the fabric of the place. Carania walked over to Galath and the young girl. The paladin wore concern on her face.

“How is she Galath?” Carania asked. “Will she make it?”

“She will,” Galath said, looking up at Carania with a relieved smile. “She’s lucky a healer was so close by.”

“She’s also lucky the Talons were here,” Arne said.

Carania looked back over her shoulder. “Wait, who are the Talons?”  She asked.

“Just a suggestion for our little group’s name,” Arne said. “In honor of your patron, the Queen of Ravens.”

“I like the sound of it,” Carania said. “I think we’ll add it to our official introduction. I think we’ll be saying it a lot if we continue these fights.”

“I think you’re right,” Arne said.

“I agree,” Galath said. “I think this is exactly what we should be doing.”

Arne walked over and knocked on the cage holding the necromancer’s captives and the lock shattered and the door opened. The people started streaming out of the cage. They thanked the three adventurers profusely. Carania and Arne gave them directions back to town while Galath treated the most grievous wounds. As he did, Carania heard a noise from behind. The young girl was waking up. Carania knelt beside her. The girl was an elf so it was hard to judge her age but the light in her eyes looked very young. She had not yet reached physical maturity. She glanced around and saw no other elves which confused her.

“Are you alright?” She asked. “I’m sorry I couldn’t save you from that pain.”

“You tried,” the girl said. “and you saved us.”

“What is your name?” Carania asked. She smiled at the girl, remembering when her former charge had been this young.

“Taryn Moonglow,” the girl said.

“Are you here with someone?” Carania asked.

“No,” Taryn said. “I came here alone. I was on my way back home when I was surprised by these men.” She sat up a little, taking deep breaths as she took it slow.

“Where do you live? I could take you there. We could take you there,” Carania said.

“The Fangleth Forest,” Taryn said. “I live among druids like me among the trees.”

“The Fangleth?” Carania asked. “What brings you out this far?”

“I came here to fetch a rare flower that grows here,” Taryn said. “It is the Southern Star Flower.” She pulled a dark purple, five-petaled flower from her cloak and held it up for Carania could see. “It can be used to heal some of my people from a specific curse.”

“Well, perhaps we can help with that too,” Arne said.

“Really?” The girl asked.

“Of course,” Carania said and took the girl’s hand. “The Talons are here to help.”

The Shield of Tau Pt. 3

November 10, 2018

Jace arrived at the central city square before his time and so he was waiting when the Shields of Tau emerged to set up the trial. The others who would be trying out arrived around the same time. The Shields wordlessly unlocked and opened a trapdoor and everybody walked down a set of stairs. Right before Jace was about to descend below the level of the square, he looked around for a friendly face but he saw neither Lita nor <A>. The trapdoor clanged back into place behind them as they descended toward the Pit of Trials. They were brought into what looked like an ancient armory.

“My name is Captain Cahrn,” a man in armor yelled, his voice echoing in the small stone space. “Choose your weapon wisely.”

Jace looked over his options. There was just about everything a fighter might want, really. There were several different flavors of swords, spears, halberds, shields, daggers, axes, hammers, and everything you could conceive of to slash, pierce or bludgeon a foe. Even though all of those weapons were relatively cheaply made, Jace was definitely wowed. He had grown up loving weapons and here was a room full to the brim. He started walking through the room, putting his hands on all of them and feeling their heft.

“Would you hurry up?” Cahrn said to nobody in particular.

Jace hurriedly picked up a shield and a sword and moved to line up near the door. The shield and sword was not the most exciting choice but it was a classic. More than that, it was the iconic pairing that Jace had fallen in love with when he and Lita had been rescued from the blink dogs. Whenever he thought about protecting the people of the Empire, he imagined himself using a shining shield and a wickedly sharp sword. He had no idea how that imagined reality would match up with his true future but he was definitely ready to give it a shot. Or at least, he was as ready as he was going to get.

They shuffled through a door into the next area. Jace counted five others who were trying their hand at this. There were two women and three men. Jace did not recognize any of them but in a city the size of Tau that was not so strange. They were led to a caged-in area and beyond was a bigger cage, a huge circle. It was the trial pit itself and at the top of it, Jace could see the sun filtering down and he could hear people gathering to watch outside. The Festival to Kord was a big yearly holiday in Tau and the Shield Placement was the biggest event so the crowd was very boisterous. It was a completely different atmosphere from the tension down in the pit as the fighters waited their turn. One by one Jace and his fellow applicants drew lots to see who went first. Jace drew second and started to prepare himself as he watched a young blond man enter the pit.

As the man stood there, a door opened on the other side of the cage and a crag cat leaped out, white and furry. The blond immediately dodged that first attack and tried to maneuver to a place to sink their spear into the cat. The two opponents began combat in earnest, both of them moving fast around the cage as the crowd gasped or clapped above. The crag cat would lunge with tooth and claw and the young blond man would try and dodge and counter. The crag cat was too nimble to be caught by such a simple plan. Fear started to sink in as Jace realized that the cat was toying with its prey. Unless something changed, the cat would win. A few moments later and his suspicions were confirmed as he watched the blond accidentally roll his ankle and succumbed to the claws of the crag cat. Shields rushed into the cage and tried to clear the cat from the body but the cat dragged the body back through the door while the Shields pursued it.

After a beat, Jace got the signal that it was his turn. He took a deep breath and walked into the cage. He saluted the crowd above and he tried to look for Lita. He could not spot her but knew that she would be somewhere in the crowd. He trained his eyes on the opposite door and tried not to look down at the bloodstains. It was time for his future to begin and he would let nothing get in his way. He swung the sword, trying it out again, and made sure the shield was securely strapped to his forearm. He listened to the countdown and then the door began to open but instead of one beast, there were two small ones. He knew these beasts all too well. It was a pair of blink dogs.

For a moment, Jace flashed back to the day one of his friends was killed by blink dogs. It was the first day that he had swung a weapon at another living thing. The horrible moment that had solidified his dream to forge himself into becoming a protector, a true Shield of Tau instead of just a kid pretending to be one. The memory of that promise pushed through the trauma and he felt his resolve become as iron as he gripped his sword tight. He did not wait for the blink dogs to get their bearings, he lunged forward. They both lunged at him but he fended off one with the shield and grazed the other with the sword. The one that was cut suddenly blinked away and Jace worked hard to calm himself. The dog suddenly reappeared in the air above Jace, trying to dive down onto him. He swatted it hard out of the air with the shield.

It was at this point that the other dog lunged at his feet, forcing him to step aside and plunge his sword into the thing’s back. The dog yelped and struggled but was unable to free itself and passed out, bleeding profusely. Meanwhile, the first dog had teleported to the other side of the cage. It growled defiantly at Jace and Jace glared back at it in return. He flicked the blood from the sword which caused the dog to charge in a rage. Jace charged the dog and he saw as the dog failed to teleport again and instead tried to bank right to circle around. Jace spun and struck at the beast, injuring its paw and causing it to stumble but keep moving. As the dog lunged one last time, Jace stabbed it in its throat, putting it out of its misery. The crowd cheered and the door opened and Jace was summoned to leave.

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.”

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.

The Faith of the Raven Pt. 6

July 28, 2018

They moved further into the forest, the three of them. The undergrowth felt dense, far too dense for a small forest like Hernon. Everywhere they went, thorns and thistles grabbed at them and branches scratched against them. It was subtly unnatural but they all knew that there was something unnatural going on in those woods. The dead should not rise and it was as if the necromancer’s dark purpose was corrupting the forest around them. Like many forests and landmarks in Eloria (and beyond frankly), the Hernon forest was named after elves. All over the continent, places were still named after them even if the elves had left the place centuries before. Names had a way of sticking and people had a way of sticking to them. Carania hated that this necromancer was giving Hernon a bad name. It hurt her elf blood even though she knew she did not own that land.

Still, they moved on and made their way through the best they knew how. Carania was always at the lead at her insistence and the others did not argue. She felt responsible as an expert close-up fighter and as the person who accepted this mission in the first place. She hacked at errant and aberrant vegetation with her long sword when she had to. She thought to herself that she might have to get a short sword for that purpose to save her blade’s edge on future hunts. She was surprised at herself at that moment how quickly he had adapted to her new role in life. She was equally surprised that her companions seemed to be just as determined. This was not their fight and yet they had taken it on. It was inspiring and it made Carania further believe that she had done the right thing.

Of course, Carania was also surprised that she had such faith that she would survive to see future hunts. There was no room to believe otherwise she supposed. She had long heard that faith was a big part of serving a god. It seemed obvious to trust that Raven Queen had made the right choice. How else had a woman with very little actual combat experience slashed her way through a horde of zombies like they were nothing but smoke? Faith and courage and a little wind at her back from the Queen herself. Not to mention that fate had handed her two capable companions who she was very grateful for. She could feel the talons of the raven reaching out for the necromancer and it felt so good.

As they walked, Carania saw little bones and trinkets dangling from the trees with little lengths of twine. Carania viewed the little things warily, not knowing quite what to make of them. However, she knew that looking at them made her feel bad inside like looking at food left out for so long that things were growing in it. The three of them all caught each other looking at the trinkets and for a moment there was an amused smile between them. It was a moment of pure connection. It cut through the gloom for a moment and they all seemed to welcome it.

“The followers of the necromancer must have hung them,” Galath said. “I’ve seen similar things before.”

“What in the seventh hell are they?” Carania asked.

“Offerings in the worship of Nerull,” Galath said. “Makes your stomach turn, doesn’t it?”

“Nerull?” Carania asked. “I know I’m still a bit ignorant but everybody knows that my queen killed him.” She smiled at taking ownership of her new goddess.

“As the necromancers show us, much that dies can rise again,” Galath said. “It is true that it is known that the Raven Queen defeated the God of Death while she was simply the goddess of winter. After she took his place, he was raised back up behind the veil.”

“As an undead god?” Carania asked with a shudder. “What does that even mean? Who raised him?”

“Nobody knows,” Galath said. “Well, if anybody knows they are not making it public. I always suspected that whoever did it was somebody who could also not pass through the veil between us and the gods. It is someone I would rather not deal with. I wonder if these followers or the necromancer even know an iota of what happened. I wonder if they even care.”

“How does somebody even become a necromancer?” Carania asked. All of this was great information to have. She had been given no manual or guidebook to follow.

“I suppose it’s the same as becoming a gang member,” Galath said. “A combination of bad luck and dark intentions.”

“He whispers to them,” Arne said, speaking up for the first time in a while.

“What?” Galath asked.

“Care to explain that, Arne?” Carania asked, glancing over her shoulder at the wizard. His familiar was nowhere in sight, most likely flying somewhere overhead.

“The undead god Nerull whispers to those with magical potential,” Arne said. “Not everybody with magic hears the whispers but he does whisper and he offers people the power to get what they desire. Whatever the cost.”

“That’s quite a rumor,” Galath said. “Where did you hear it?”

“I didn’t hear a rumor,” Arne said calmly, evenly. “I heard the whispers myself. In my darkest moment, the whispers came to me too. He offered all kinds of things. I said no.”

“Of course you did,” Carania said. She thought Galath had been about to say something and she did not want to take any chances with what it may have been. “What did he promise?” she asked. She had not meant to. She knew somehow that it was not a question she should have asked but the words got away from her before she had a chance to stop them. Carania was an eternal student, always grabbing at new information to wield just as easily as she swung her sword. She wondered desperately what could have been Arne’s darkest moment.

Arne took a deep breath. “That is private,” he said. “But I understand your curiosity. The point is, the dark wisdom that comes from those whispers is nothing to laugh at.”

“That is definitely the truth,” Galath said.

“Who’s laughing?” Carania asked. “This ends tonight.”


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